Why Being Self-Taught Wasn’t Enough for One Coder

Austin Sharman was in high school when he first started learning programming. He enjoyed using Visual Basic to create video games during the first semester, but it was the second semester of coding in Java that truly sparked his interest.

“The video game aspect of it didn’t appeal to me as much,” Austin said. “The second semester, we started getting into more abstract concepts and mathematical stuff, and that got me more interested in coding.”

Following graduation, Austin took a job as a barista to pay the bills. But after two years, he was bored. Not one to settle for an unsatisfactory job, he dusted off his laptop and started coding again, teaching himself with the help of free online resources.

“I started to teach myself Python,” Austin said. “I was learning concepts, but I didn’t know how everything connected. I felt like I was in a vacuum.”

That’s when he realized he needed more structure and direction, two values the UCF Coding Boot Camp provided. He applied, was accepted, and eagerly waited six months for the course to begin—using the time to learn even more skills to prepare himself for the journey.

Connecting the pieces

Because Austin had heard the boot camp was challenging, he wanted to come in swinging. He familiarized himself with HTML, CSS, and other coding basics to build his foundation.

“I noticed the concepts were pretty easy for me to grasp, but I didn’t have enough structure to know how to implement them,” he said. “I remember thinking I know what an A-tag is, I know how to link between pages, I can build a really ugly page in HTML, but I didn’t know the breadth of what you could do with these things.”

That all changed once boot camp started.

From day one, Austin started incorporating new concepts into his knowledge base. Whereas before he was Googling things on an as-needed basis, now he was learning new vocabulary he may never have come across otherwise.

“We learned how to start a React project and how to hook it up to a back end with Node and Express,” Austin said. “Before I didn’t even know to look for that stuff.”

Most importantly, the instructors and TAs taught him how to be a better problem solver. 

“Your stamina is tested constantly throughout the course,” he said. “How quickly and efficiently can you solve problems? How discouraged do you get when you hit a roadblock? Are you able to quickly knock it down, keep trying different avenues, or brute force your way through to figure out how to do it? Or do you just give up?”

For Austin, the challenges only fueled his desire to succeed.

The learning never stops

Just as he was compelled to keep teaching himself in the lead-up to the boot camp, Austin found himself doing the same during the program.

“I would be eager to finish a homework assignment quickly so I could start learning the next thing,” he recalled. “It gave me this curious itch to just keep exploring and learning more and more—as much as I could.”

This was only possible because the program gave him the tools and knowledge to dig deeper. Austin found himself working long after class time, taking advantage of office hours, and picking his instructor’s brain to get extra information.

“I don’t think I would’ve found any of the resources or tools if I stayed solely self-taught,” he said. “It’s more than just learning programming languages. In 12 weeks of classes, I had a 10,000-foot view of how everything connects together.”

The view from the top

All the time and effort Austin spent teaching himself and gaining hands-on experience in boot camp was well worth it. With the help of the program’s career director, he had the confidence to go out on interviews and attend networking meet-ups.

“It was just reassuring knowing I had someone in my corner, always there to help me, who understood what the interviewing and application process was like,” Austin said.

One day, he ended up in a networking meet-up at a digital creative marketing company, 321 the Agency. His confidence must have shown because the technology director reached out to him on LinkedIn immediately afterward. One interview later, he landed a full-time job as a web developer.

“I highly recommend the boot camp for how it accelerated my career path,” Austin said. “Free resources give you basics and cookie-cutter templates, but this program brings it all together.” 

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