Through diversifying his programming skills at Code Fellows, Branton discovered a series of new, difficult problems to solve, and turned an exciting page in his career as a software developer.
What were you doing before you came to Code Fellows?
I’d spent the previous 13 years working on the Windows team at Microsoft. The features I worked on were BitLocker Drive Encryption, File History, and the sync platform for apps and settings.
What got you thinking about changing technology stacks?
In the tech industry, a lot of people change jobs every couple of years. Microsoft is a great place to work and I really enjoyed the people I worked with, so I’d never done that. After a particularly relaxing vacation, I decided I was ready for a big new challenge.
Years ago, when I first got an iPhone 3G, I tinkered with app development and created something that many of my friends used. It was a lot of fun and so it seemed like going back to iOS development as my big new challenge made a lot of sense.
Why did you choose Code Fellows?
I had two options to become an iOS developer. I could do it on my own at home, probably in the evenings and weekends. This would take longer and it would be up to me to try to find a new job while working in my existing one. Or I could do a program like Code Fellows, which requires a big commitment of time and effort but puts you back in the job market in 10 weeks. I was ready to fully commit to the career change, so Code Fellows made more sense to me than taking it on by myself.
What’s something that you learned about yourself during your time at Code Fellows?
The biggest thing I learned was that I wasn’t very good at the soft skills in an interview. The technical questions were where I’d placed all of my interview prep work, because those seemed to be the most important. I hadn’t worked on any of the non-technical questions so I’d fumble around when those were asked. Through the professional development portion of Code Fellows, I learned what to prepare for and got to practice those skills.
What were the challenges of learning to code? Code Fellows is a lot of work in a very short amount of time. How did you deal with that?
The big challenge for me was that I’d just walked away from a great job in order to specialize as an iOS developer. I wanted to land a job quickly after the course completed and I was going to have to convince companies that they should hire me as a senior mobile developer with no professional iOS experience. I had to make the most of the short ten weeks. I was often the first student to arrive and the last to leave. If I completed assignments early, I’d go deeper into the material and try to learn more. I made it a goal to write meaningful code every day, even on the weekends, and ended up with a GitHub streak of 81 days. My time in the course was intense, but I really enjoyed it and am very happy with the results.
Tell me about your job search. I know you had multiple offers and landed a job a week before your Code Fellows graduation.
Once again, the professional development portion of Code Fellows surprised me and was incredibly valuable. This was a footnote when I enrolled but ended up being very helpful. I learned a couple of things which I wouldn’t have thought to do otherwise.
First of all, we learned how to do very detailed job searches on LinkedIn. As someone who hasn’t really tested the job market since before LinkedIn existed, it was all new to me. I was able to efficiently find the new jobs that had been posted since my last search and keep a good pipeline of applications flowing.
For the companies that showed interest, I had a very organized approach to tracking everything. I had a spreadsheet with points of contact, date of last communication, next steps, general notes. This let me follow up when necessary, plan my time for interview prep, and be sure I didn’t forget anything important.
What made the biggest difference in your job search?
Without a doubt, the advice to make notes for the day of interviews and take them with me made the biggest difference. I’d use the company’s product and create a list of what I liked and ideas for improvements. I also took lists of questions I wanted to ask at the end of each interview. In the past, I would’ve tried to keep all of this in my head. By making the notebook, I was more confident, showed I was interested in the job, and more effective gathering data to make a choice between companies.
What are you working on now?
I’m now on the mobile team at Smartsheet. We build an online collaborative spreadsheet that’s often used for project management. If you ever find yourself emailing an Excel document around trying to coordinate updates from a bunch of people, chances are Smartsheet would work pretty well in that situation. I’m working on the iOS app, which is what I attended Code Fellows to learn, and I’m loving the new job!
What’s the work environment like at Smartsheet?
After spending my entire career at Microsoft, switching to such a small company is quite the change! The iOS team has four developers and most of our communication is verbal instead of over email. We’ve got a great test team and collaborate with them very well. I’m finding myself more productive in an open workspace, which was a nice surprise.
A couple of months ago, we had our first company-wide hackathon. The whole engineering team took three days for projects, often with people we’ve never worked with before. The rest of the company was invited to join, so we had some marketing and sales people involved, too. I wrote a bunch of Java code, which I haven’t done in 15 years, and helped build something pretty cool that won an award at the presentations. The event was a big success and now we’re planning on doing them regularly. This sort of thing makes me really excited to be a part of the company.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to change careers?
If you want to change careers, it’s going to take a big commitment and a lot of work. Leaving my job without structure in place and a clear path forward was a frightening thought. Code Fellows gave me that structure so I knew what was next and what I had to do to make the transition. Be bold and there are great opportunities out there in the tech industry.
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