My Coding Bootcamp Journey: How a Pastor Became a Programmer

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When I changed my major from Mechanical Engineering to Bible shortly before my first semester of college, I realized that what I was studying was not going to make me rich.

So, throughout undergrad, seminary, and into a Ph.D. program in theology, the notion of “bi-vocational ministry” (serving the church while also making money outside of the church doing something else) was on my radar screen.

In fact, for a few months between finishing seminary and starting my Ph.D. program, I tried to teach myself the basics of web design (HTML, CSS, JavaScript) and Ruby on Rails. (I signed up for an account on Treehouse and on freeCodeCamp and I got to work!)

However, once I got accepted into a Ph.D. program (and realized that I needed to learn how to read in German ASAP in order to pass a translation exam), my programming learning fell by the wayside.

While a full-time Ph.D. student, I got some basic web design experience as the Managing Editor of a website. Most of my time was spent using WordPress, but I knew just enough HTML and CSS to be dangerous (i.e., to fix small problems).

Suffice it to say that the Ph.D. did not go as planned. (More on that some other time.) Neither did that part-time website job. So, after months of searching unsuccessfully for church (or church-adjacent) work, I resurrected the idea of teaching myself how to code. I dove back into freeCodeCamp’s curriculum and started chipping away.

But it was slow going. Getting a tech job seemed like an impossible dream. And, although there’s a TON of information online, I desperately craved having teachers and fellow students I could talk to. (I’m a big fan of asking questions. All the time.) I wanted some personal help in order to put things into context, to see the big picture and the path forward to a job.

When I first started learning how to code again, there were always enough church-related job opportunities to keep me distracted from coding. After all, I had studied the Bible and theology for over a decade. My training was church-focused (just look at my C.V.). So, if there were a church-focused job out there for me, obviously I should focus on finding it. Right?

After a particularly devastating disappointment (I was offered a church-adjacent marketing position that was then rescinded within 48 hours), I decided to go all-in on a coding bootcamp.

I’ll say more about my bootcamp selection process in another post. But I had my eyes on Tech Elevator because (1) they published their job placement numbers (to CIRR), (2) they had a campus in Pittsburgh (where we were moving), and (3) their curriculum contained not just coding information, but also a job-search component.

So, we spent just over $15,000 on the 14-week bootcamp in the Fall of 2021.

It was one of the most intense learning periods in my entire life! But I loved having teachers and fellow students that I could ask questions to. And I thoroughly benefited from the career coaching components of the bootcamp.

Tech Elevator not only taught me the (1) fundamentals of object-oriented programming in Java and (2) the basics of responsive web design. It also helped me revise and re-frame my experience to help me find a tech job. I rewrote my resume. I developed an “elevator pitch.” I prepared for common interview questions, both at the HR and the technical level (the dreaded whiteboarding experience!).

Tech Elevator hooked us students up with a handful of initial “matchmaking interviews,” one of which led me to my current position! This was a HUGE help because, without a computer science degree or industry experience, it can be a pain to get past the initial application phase.

Now that I’ve worked as a software engineer for a year, I can say that doing a coding bootcamp was one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

HOWEVER, it’s not for everyone. I would only recommend a bootcamp if you are a highly motivated learner. There’s a lot of information to find and digest, and you need to have a real hunger for learning (and a willingness to make mistakes and be wrong as you figure things out).

If you’re considering doing a bootcamp, take Tech Elevator’s Coding Aptitude Test for free! And dive into free “learn to code” resources online (like freeCodeCamp or The Odin Project) to see if you like the kind of thinking that’s required to do software development!

That’s all for now, but I plan to keep blogging about my journey into tech. So, if you’ve got any questions you’d like me to answer, please let me know in a comment below! (Or use the contact form to email me.)


UPDATE: On 2023-02-16, I was promoted to Software Engineer II! If you’d like to connect professionally, come find me @joshuapsteele on LinkedIn.

By joshuapsteele

The Rev. Dev. I solve problems with a pastor's heart for people and a programmer's eye for detail. Learn more at https://steele.omg.lol/

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