Alumni Stories

Learning from Europe on Flatiron School’s Online Campus

Josh Hirshfeld / 29 August 2016
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While lifelong musician Brett Heenan debated his next move in the music scene during a trip to Europe, he discovered a new interest in programming. After meeting Avi Flombaum and falling in love with Flatiron School’s learning platform, Brett decided to attend Flatiron School’s Online Web Developer Course from Berlin via our online campus.

We recently spoke with Brett about his path to programming, what music and coding have in common, and what he’s up to now in his new job at CareerFoundry.

Tell me about your background. What were you pursuing prior to web development?

From a very young age, I was really passionate about music, especially guitar. My mother is a piano teacher and I grew up listening to the records she had around the house. I later became interested in jazz and moved to New York City to do a BFA in jazz performance. I stayed there for five years playing and teaching in the NYC area.

What inspired you to learn to code? And what brought you to Flatiron School’s online campus?

I was first exposed to programming through a musician friend who had recently completed a coding bootcamp in San Francisco that he really enjoyed. At that time, I had just moved back to the Bay area because I wasn’t having so much success in the NYC music scene. I wasn’t spending as much time as I wanted playing music because I had to work so hard in other jobs to make ends meet. I took some time to travel in Europe to reflect on what challenge I wanted to take on next and I met some people in Berlin’s vibrant tech scene. One of my new programmer friends, originally from NYC, recommended looking into Flatiron School if I wanted to try my hand at coding.

After having the opportunity to meet with one of Flatiron School’s co-founders, Avi Flombaum, and see Learn.co, the new online learning platform he was building for the school, I knew coding was the next challenge I was looking for. I went full speed ahead, completing the Learn curriculum and getting a job in Berlin after just a few months.

What was your favorite part of the Flatiron School experience?

I really loved the lab-based flow of the program. Learn’s structure has you work through every lab by passing tests written specifically for each task. Programming is hard. The small victories of passing each test help you stay focused and avoid frustration. It also reinforced how critical testing is to development. In my current job, I’ve even referenced the Learn labs for structure and syntax when writing my own tests.

So you attended Flatiron School’s online program from Berlin—what’s it like to learn with other online students from around the world?

The online community on Learn is incredible. Avi was present throughout the entire course. He gave lectures multiple times a week and knew everyone by name. I really felt like he was personally invested in my growth as a programmer. The platform’s structure also allows you to identify the other students who are at the same place in the curriculum as you. You’re therefore able to ask other students questions if you’re stuck. Some of us even started virtual study groups together, which eventually became a permanent Learn feature.

What was your biggest challenge when learning to program?

My biggest challenge while learning, and probably one that I share with many other new programmers, was imposter syndrome. Sometimes when you see others’ projects and the problems they’ve solved, you feel intimidated and doubt your own progress. The realization that programming is a long journey with many ups and downs helped me keep a positive attitude and maintain steady progress during the course. As a musician, I had spent many hours on my own honing my craft so I knew that mastery takes time and patience. I pulled on my past experiences as a musician to keep imposter syndrome at bay.

For tips on overcoming imposter syndrome, check out a Flatiron School developer’s advice on our new Medium publication, Learn. Love. Code.

Tell me about your role at CareerFoundry. What’s a specific project you recently worked on?

I was hired at CareerFoundry to be part of their Learning Experience team. We help maintain the site as well as build new features to make the students’ learning experience more enjoyable. I recently took on the task of overhauling the company’s invoice system and it has been such a great learning experience and a real joy to build. I never thought I’d have so much fun dealing with VAT and tax numbers!

That’s interesting that you ended up working at a bootcamp—did you always know you wanted to be professionally involved with education or is that a newer interest?

I’ve been teaching music for more than five years, so it was natural for me to consider working on an education platform when I graduated. I also feel good about working on a similar product to the one that opened up so many doors for me.

Of course, it’s a job, but feeling invested in your company’s mission is important to me. I’m so happy to be working on a project that will make a difference in people’s lives and teach them new skills relevant for years to come.

As a musician, how does music inform your approach programming? Do you see the fields as related at all?

Music and programming actually share a lot of similarities. Both require the ability to see patterns and reuse their structure in creative ways. Both require hours of intense study and a meticulous attention to detail. As a musician, I’m always striving to find beauty through simplicity and I find myself doing the same with my code.

READ
The Six Major Reasons Creative People Make Amazing Programmers

Any tips you’d like to share with newer programming students?

Stay positive, focused, and remember that your past experiences and skills are more relevant to programming than you think; embrace your existing skills and use them to hone a new craft!


Interested in pursuing a career in tech like Brett? Explore our Online Web Developer Program here.

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