Meet Lee: Project Manager Turned UX Engineer

Lee Broxson used a systematic schedule to apply for jobs and start a new career as a UX Engineer. Read on to learn the gameplan that leads to job offers from three different companies, plus his insight on how to land the right job after a coding bootcamp.

Lee Broxson

Congrats on your new job! Tell us about your new company and what you’ll be doing.

I’ve started a role as a UX Engineer with Avalara, a Software as a Service (SaaS) company that “makes taxes less taxing.” They started on Bainbridge Island, WA, and now have over 1400 employees across the country and on several other continents. My role is working on the front end of an app that automates customer tax filing. The company has a great culture and is ranked third on GeekWire’s Top 200.

What was your job search and interview process like?

It was a bit discouraging at first. I graduated the week before the Thanksgiving holiday week, which is the kickoff to the holiday season. While companies do some hiring during that period, it seems to be significantly reduced. Even though I was submitting five applications a day, I wasn’t getting a ton of response. I kept positive, though, and as soon as January rolled around, I started getting a ton of feedback from a lot of sources, and suddenly was swimming in interviews.

I set up 15+ job alerts per day, so I was constantly grooming my inbox with potential positions. I’d quickly go through one of these emails and if I saw one that seemed interesting, I’d open it up in a new tab and then apply to it once I’d gone through all the emails. This would usually lead to me having five to 10 tabs for jobs to apply to a day, and I wasn’t bouncing around between tasks as much.

Interviews were a mixed bag, but I will say that without a doubt, it got better (and I got better) as time went on. Every single interview went better than the last. In a way, each one was practice for the next. At the end of the process, I received three offers. The second offer I actually received via phone call on my way to the interview where I received the third, and I strongly feel that the offer I got that morning influenced my confidence level for that interview significantly. The third interview/offer was with Avalara, who offered me the job as soon as the day-long interview ended.

How did you find out about the opening at Avalara?

Funny enough, I actually applied for a different position with Avalara than the one I eventually took. I interviewed for a role, and while the hiring manager wasn’t sure I was the best fit, she handed my resume off to her colleague. At the time, Elizabeth—Code Fellows’ Director of Partner Relations—was in the early stages of forming a relationship with the engineering team at Avalara, and they briefly mentioned my name as a person that had come across their desks. They reached out to me for the role that I eventually took, and I interviewed again. It’s funny the way things work out.

That’s great! What do you think helped you the most as you applied to companies and got interviews?

I found myself most productive when I was at Code Fellows, so I started coming to campus every morning at 9 a.m., and typically stayed until 8 p.m. or so.

I had to manage my calendar and exercise discipline to stick to it. My typical schedule was:

  • Morning: Eat breakfast and get to Code Fellows by 9 a.m.
  • 9 - noon: Apply to at least five jobs
  • 12 - 1: Eat lunch and chat with folks at Code Fellows
  • 1 - 5: Study and work on some sort of new tool or concept, e.g. teaching myself React.js
  • 5 - 8: Practice whiteboarding problems, data structures and algorithms, etc.
  • After 8: Travel home or perhaps to a meetup or social event
  • Before bed: Read code or code-related books/materials

One thing I made sure to do every day (including weekends or random lazy days) was to commit something to GitHub. I had green squares on Github for eight straight weeks. Some days, I’d simply practice an algorithm problem on the whiteboard, write the code, and keep it on Github. It makes for good reference material later, if nothing else.

Also, I talked to everyone. There were a few startups or companies I wasn’t terribly interested in, but I spoke with them anyway and explored the opportunities. This helped me get good at simply talking about tech.

A lot of grads get nervous that they’ll bomb their technical interview. Got any anecdotes to share about your interview experiences?

Technical interviews can be hard, scary, and overwhelming. Like anything, though, practice provides confidence. And since tech interviews are typically done on a whiteboard, it’s the best idea to use a whiteboard to solve the problems. The TA from my 401 Javascript course and I started getting together two to three days a week, solving whiteboard problems and talking about code together. We would often do mock interviews on each other. It was unbelievable what having a “whiteboard buddy” did to influence my learning in this area. It was hugely game-changing.

So, when preparing for technical interviews:

  • Practice on a whiteboard (not a computer)
  • Get a buddy
  • Talk about the code with each other

Other than that, my interview experiences were ultimately just conversations. There’s this idea that interviewers are trying to fail you, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They’re just people who want you to be a good candidate. They are literally hoping that when you walk through the door you’ll be the person they want to hire, so it’s in their best interest to give you a fair interview that properly assesses your skill.

And never forget: you are interviewing them as much as they’re interviewing you. If you get the feeling they have a culture that you don’t want to be a part of, or they regularly work 80 hours each week (and you’re not into that) then you can reject them the same as they can reject you.

I had a very poor phone interview at one point that was discouraging. The interviewer was very difficult to communicate with and there was an immediate culture mismatch. It made the entire interview uncomfortable, and I made quite a few mistakes due to nerves. It bummed me out for a good week or so.

The best interview I had along the entire process was definitely with Avalara, where by the final interview of the day (six total), the interviewer was telling me that they were eager to hire me, and that he was now trying to sell me on the company. An offer was made before I left that day, which was head-spinning fast and quite encouraging.

How did you stay motivated throughout your job search?

There were a lot of ups and downs. Frankly, I wasn’t very motivated on a lot of days. But keeping as regimented a schedule as I could and sticking to it helped me to always be working on something important, even on one of those low days.

If you had to go back and redo your job search based on what you know now, what would you do again, and what would you change?

The biggest thing I’d possibly change is to spend a bit less time in November and December applying to places and more time studying. However, I will say that spending so much time applying and setting up job notifications (on Glassdoor, Linkedin, etc.) helped me be more effective come January. I think I would’ve also spent more time applying to positions that were better fits.

So Code Fellows is getting more well-known in the tech industry, but there are still a lot of hiring managers who aren’t familiar with bootcamps. How did you explain your training to them?

I got very good at talking to people about bootcamps and how they work. There were a surprising number of people out there who I spoke with who still aren’t super familiar with the concept/idea, or don’t know much about it. I talked about what the program’s structure was like, how an average day went, and the overall focuses of Code Fellows.

I spoke a lot about my program’s focus on a practical environment, and how much of the program—especially the project weeks—is focused on a pseudo-production situation. As a result, I got a good understanding of what a real-world dev job is like, and that is appealing to employers.

Thanks for sharing such great insights! Any final thoughts for other graduates who are getting ready to start their job search?

Structure your time. Make a schedule and stick to it. Put yourself into an environment that you can be productive—for me, that was the Code Fellows campus, for others, that might be their living room. Explore every job posting and opportunity. Talk to everyone. Go to meetups. Practice interviewing with your friends. Talk to all of your friends/network and explore any opportunities they might be tied to. Talk to everybody on the Code Fellows campus for referrals and networking. Code something and commit every single day.

It can be overwhelming and scary, but the hard work will definitely pay off!

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