Alumni Stories

How to Get a Programming Job in a City with No Bootcamps

Online Alum Kailee Gray on Getting a Tech Job in Fargo, ND

Josh Hirshfeld / 19 December 2016
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After studying and teaching math for years in Fargo, ND, Kailee Gray knew she was ready for a career change. She had been interested in programming since 2006 and had minored in Computer Science, but had never pursued it professionally. After reacquainting herself with code through Girl Develop It and Free Code Camp, Kailee decided that now was the time make her career change a priority and signed up for Flatiron School’s Online Web Developer Program.

Before even finishing our program, Kailee was hired as a web developer at one of Fargo’s oldest software companies, FBS. Kailee took a few moments away from her new career to chat with us about her coding journey.


kailee gray headshotThanks for chatting with us! What was your career prior to web development?

I worked for a few years as a math instructor. I taught basic algebra, college algebra, and introduction to discrete math. I worked with freshman and sophomore college students. I enjoyed the students and loved doing math every day. Leaving that career was a difficult decision. Now that I’m working in a different field, I know it was the right choice for me.

How did you discover programming? What drew you to it?

I did a little programming in high school but wasn’t interested. My freshman year of university, I took an introduction to programming course. My advisor suggested that I drop down to CS 105 instead of CS 150. That’s what pushed me at first – I wanted to prove I could do well in CS 150. My professor, Professor Rieck at Drake University, was incredible. He was patient, funny, caring, knowledgeable, and accommodating. After that course, I knew I wanted to take more computer science courses.

I enjoyed programming because it was fun, cool, and challenging. I liked watching lines of text change into something that looked totally different. I also liked that I could escape into the work – I was able to hyper focus and not worry about anything else.

What brought you to Flatiron school’s Online Web Developer Program in particular? Were there other coding bootcamps in your area?

I live in Fargo, ND. There are a few universities in the area but there is not a coding school or bootcamp. I considered investing in an another degree but I wanted a quicker solution. After trying free resources online for a couple months, I decided to make an investment. I read reviews of online web development programs. Posts from Flatiron founders and students persuaded me to try Learn.co. I wanted to get started as soon as possible. Most online programs had scheduled cohorts or longer admission processes. I loved Learn.co because I could start immediately. Then, I could go through the admission process later, if I felt the program was right for me.

What was your favorite part of the program or Flatiron’s Learn.co platform?

My favorite part of the program is the curriculum. The labs are engaging and funny but also challenging. I am thankful I struggled with the labs. Now, I’m better equipped to handle difficult tasks. I’m also quicker to admit I’m confused and ask for help.

I’m grateful the curriculum is test-driven. In previous programming courses, I would submit an assignment and wait for feedback. With Learn.co‘s labs, I get instant feedback. I am able to catch any misunderstandings before getting deep into the work.

I also like that we work in a realistic environment – we use git, command line, text editors. Even though I had some programming experience, the terminal freaked me out. I had to dive in and get comfortable. This made the transition to my new job much smoother.

The curriculum is well-organized and builds in difficulty. It is also well thought out and tested. It’s open-source so students are able to suggest edits and make comments on curriculum. Instructors appreciate feedback and input.

Did you run into any challenges as you learned to code? 

Yes, I ran into several challenges while learning to code.

I struggled with setting my own learning schedule. I tried to force myself to keep a strict schedule and adhere to certain deadlines, but I failed. I found it difficult to thrive and stay motivated without external pressures. During work and college, if I got stuck, I would need to figure things out ASAP to meet a deadline. In a self-paced learning environment, I didn’t need to figure things out as quickly. I could walk away and try again the next day. I usually figured things out after taking a break. Even though this took more time, I’m excited that I made progress and was able to take my time with the material.

I also struggled with uncertainty about my choice to leave my career and learn full-time. It’s hard to know if you’ve made the right choice, but I knew I wanted to take a chance and try. I didn’t overcome this uncertainty until I got the job and loved the job. I wish I could have let it go sooner.

I missed working – the schedule, community, money, stability. I considered picking up a part-time gig to help but I decided to focus all my energy on coding. Instead, I joined a co-working space. This helped me feel more connected.

I often lamented that this might be a never-ending journey and I wouldn’t finish. Then, I realized coding itself is a never-ending journey. And that’s why I love it: lifelong learning opportunities.

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Congrats on your job at FBS! Can you share a bit about your job search process? I heard you actually applied before finishing the Flatiron program! 

Thank you! I’m excited and thankful I found a job. I talked with a web developer at a hackathon who knew the local market and encouraged me to start applying for jobs. He told me about FBS Data Systems, the software company I work for now. After that push, I started completing applications for jobs in the Fargo area, including one at FBS. I think the best advice is to connect with your local community to learn about companies that may be a good fit. I forced myself to connect with people in tech at meet ups. I consider the people I met friends, instead of a network for employment.

After my first interview at FBS, I had to complete a project for the next interview. To be honest, I was about to withdraw from the process – I didn’t feel qualified and I didn’t think I could complete the project they requested. One mentor told me I was being dramatic (truth!). Another mentor at Flatiron School pushed me to do my best and present my progress. Community rocks! So, remember you don’t have to do it all on your own – lean on your community. Also, if you’re given a project, do your best; it’s good for employers to understand your skill level. Being imperfect doesn’t mean you won’t get the job. I think it’s more important how you handle those situations – stay graceful and positive.

'Being imperfect doesn't mean you won't get the job.' via @kaileegray @flatironschool Click To Tweet

What advice would you give a pre-code or pre-Flatiron Kailee?

  1. Be patient. Be kind to yourself.
  2. Enjoy the ride – you love learning!
  3. This is going to take a long time, that’s ok.
  4. This is going to be really hard. Your hard work is worthwhile.
  5. Difficulty during this journey will help you grow.
  6. Don’t underestimate yourself!

Want to learn to code and change careers like Kailee? Try our Bootcamp Prep course to get started. 

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