Jason Wesson on his new career and why he values mentorship

Post update: Since his story was first published back in January 2022, Jason Wesson has moved into the role of Software Engineer II at 2U, an educational technology company. We recently caught up with him to ask about his transition to a second software engineering job and how the scholarship he received for our Intermediate Coding Bootcamp helped launch his career. We also asked about the importance of networking and community, which he helps facilitate through online meetups that he hosts for anyone with bootcamp, coding, and tech industry questions.

Below this new Q&A section, read Jason’s original story to learn about his first post-bootcamp job at Code for America.

Congrats on your latest job at 2U! What’s your role there, and what kinds of projects are you working on?

Thanks! I’m a Software Engineer II in what’s called the Aperture team. I’m part of a smaller team that handles a number of repos that can either be very React-heavy, such as a user’s profile or certificates pages, or backend heavy like our Django app that handles the demographics of a user. Since I’ve only been working here for about a month, I’m still picking up really easy tickets, but I know I’ll be owning knowledge on the profile page and credentials.

This is your second post-bootcamp job. Do you have any advice for folks looking to transition to a new role within software engineering? What was the process like for you?

I have to say that the thing that really stood out for my second job search was that my resume leaned more into the work I did over the past year at Code for America than the projects I worked on at Hack Reactor. With that in mind, my bullet points created a narrative of all of the things I worked on (ie. security, epic projects, A-B testing, documentation, leadership, etc.). For people looking to get back into the job search, it’s really important that you track anything you did over a given week and write them down in a rough “brag” document. You’ll be able to visit this when it comes to recreating your resume and seeing what impacts you made on your team and company.

The job search process itself was very much the same as the first time: network, network, network. I cannot stress enough that the bare minimum to a successful job search is to reach out to 1-3 recruiters and software engineers at every company for nearly every application that is filled out. It takes more time and effort, but I can confidently say that the majority of companies I heard back from were the ones I reached out to in the first place.

Looking back, did your bootcamp scholarship have any impact on your career?

The short-term impact that the scholarship had for me was that I had 5 months of rent that I could pay for while I was in the bootcamp (back when the deposit was $2000 – it’s now only $100). I was already 100% committed to attending Hack Reactor, but this easily made an impact on whether I’d be in more financial debt than I wanted to be. Interestingly, knowing that I was one of the very few recipients of the scholarship added a healthy pressure on me to keep doing my best and not to give up in the middle of the bootcamp, because I didn’t want the scholarship to go to waste. I also knew that there was a panel of people who I didn’t know, but they believed that I could make the most out of the scholarship, so that was a good confidence boost and motivation to keep going.

You do great work with our coding community online. What motivates you to host regular meetings and create that sense of community?

When I first started to learn how to code using the Basic Prep materials Galvanize provides for those interested in the Intermediate program, I would post on the Galvanize Tech Community Slack channel that I was hosting a video call twice a week in case anyone wanted to practice together. I was selfishly doing it so I could meet more experienced programmers who could help me, but it also held me accountable in my pursuit to become a software engineer. Now that I’m on the other side, I realize that nobody should have to feel as lost as I was when I was learning to code on my own. Plus, this is my favorite way of networking! If it means that I helped only one more person by making myself available to answer questions and share my experience, then it’s worth the past two years I’ve spent in the community.

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Original Q&A from January 2022 

I’d like to start by getting a sense of how you found your way to software engineering. What drew you to this type of work? And what keeps you interested?

Prior to software engineering, I was a middle school science teacher in east Austin. One year, I decided to host a coding club for my students, and that was my first introduction to programming. I had no idea what I was doing, and thankfully my students were able to quickly pick up the language. After resigning from teaching, I kept looking back on the time I spent pairing up with students to learn how to code, and so I decided to become a software engineer.

Now that I’m a software engineer at Code for America, I’ve found that my motivation stems from my team and users relying on me to help keep our product running and constantly improving. This has led to me exploring new technologies every week, studying the languages I’m working with, and volunteering for roles that need to be filled.

What led you to enroll in the Hack Reactor Coding Bootcamp?

My former roommate, actually! Kela was going through Hack Reactor’s coding bootcamp during the time I was teaching. Given that I saw Kela holed up in her room for several months, I knew that “immersive” was a key component of this 12-week program. Additionally, I was drawn toward the Telegraph Track program, which I knew I wanted to take advantage of it I was accepted into the program.

What did you get out of your time in the program?

I think one of the most important aspects of the program, which is a core component of what I do at work every day, is pair programming. The first four weeks of the immersive that are dedicated to pair programming helped me keep moving forward and also helped me overcome my imposter syndrome. Everyone knows something that others don’t, which is why paired programming is much more effective than working individually. With that in mind, I’ve found pair programming’s philosophy to be applicable in most other things in my life, and I don’t think I would’ve appreciated it as much if it weren’t for experiencing it at Hack Reactor.

Congrats on your new job at Code for America! What is your role there? What do you do on a daily basis?

Thank you! I’m a software engineer for a product called GetCalFresh, which is a Rails application that helps Californians apply for access to nutritional assistance (SNAP/EBT). Our product was a response to the fact that California’s forms usually took an hour to fill out and the applicant was constantly coming across confusing language and repetitive questions. The app that we maintain reduces the number of questions by a significant margin and it can be completed in 12 minutes.

On a daily basis, I’m still learning Ruby and Rails, but I spend some portion of the day pairing with another software engineer and working on features and bugs. I also attend cross-functional meetings and sit in on conversations with California officials that help determine the focus of our product.

What do you like about your role? What challenges have you faced so far?

I like having a ton of support to take my time with learning everything. I have the tools that Hack Reactor helped me acquire so that I can learn on my own. On the other hand, I’m still experiencing moments of imposter syndrome, which especially comes up when I’m pairing with another software engineer and I feel like I’m barely holding onto what we’re working on.

The remote work lifestyle has its benefits and downsides, for sure. I think that if it weren’t for paired programming being a core practice at Code for America, I would’ve looked for an on-site role so that I could easily reach out to others for help. Being remote gives me the opportunity to work from home while I look after my dog, and it means I’m not tied to the city that I’m currently living in, which means a lot to me.

On your LinkedIn page, you write about your experience teaching and how you love it still today, even as you pursue a new career in software engineering. Do you see opportunities to continue connecting and teaching others in your new role?

Oh, absolutely! Given the number of cross-functional meetings I have every week, I know that it’s important to be able to present technical information to others in a way that they can digest and learn from. Plus, when I finally get the hang of my role in the team, I’ll likely be mentoring others coming into the team, which I’ve found has scratched the “teacher” itch that I always have on my back.

And on the side, I still mentor people who are trying to get into Hack Reactor by hosting weekly meetings and occasionally watching them complete coding challenges on their own. It’s something I’ve been doing since early last year, and I don’t have any plans to stop helping those who come from a non-technical background in switching careers.

Lastly, do you have any advice for someone who’s about to step into their first day of the bootcamp? How can they get the most out of their experience? 

If it’s your first day at the bootcamp, then I highly recommend you try to reach out to people in your cohort over the course of the first two weeks. Pop into random people’s Zoom rooms, ask what they’re working on (and never give unsolicited advice!). You’re about to be with these people for the next three months. You’ll effectively log more hours with them than their own families will have in that time span.

By breaking down the barriers from the very beginning, you’re more likely to survive the bootcamp, and your colleagues are as well. In the end, when you’re all graduated, you’ll be able to rely on each other again when the job hunt begins. You should never have to go through this life-changing experience alone, especially if you’re doing it through Hack Reactor.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Jason’s online meetups, sign up for our Galvanize Tech Community, where he posts about them regularly. 

Also, if you’re interested in learning about how to participate in our Scholarship Advisory Council, please contact scholarships@galvanize.com for consideration. A team member will set up a brief Zoom call to discuss your interest, the application review process, and our expectations of council members. Firsthand familiarity with Galvanize programs is helpful, though not necessarily required. Current or prospective students of Galvanize programs are not considered to avoid conflicts of interest. 

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