Over the past four years, code schools in Central Texas have graduated hundreds of students. Code schools say that a majority of these graduates have landed jobs in Austin’s fast-growing tech industry.
We spoke to graduates of three different Austin-area code schools to learn more about how they paid for it, what they learned and how the job hunt went afterward.
Here are their stories:
Cecy Correa picked radio, television and film as her college major because she wanted to “make things.”
At the time, she didn’t have the confidence to pursue a more technical career like software engineering, she said. “It just never occurred to me to go into that field,” she said.
But by her late twenties, she realized that working in the tech industry was probably a better fit for her.
By then, Correa had carved out a career working in social media and marketing for digital agencies.
She started by taking classes after work with a group called Girl Develop It here in Austin. But soon Correa wanted to take more in-depth classes, which meant taking the scary step of quitting her job to go to a code school.
In May of 2015 Correa enrolled at Iron Yard’s Austin campus, a national code school franchise that has since shut down. She picked Iron Yard because the school taught the programming language Ruby.
It wasn’t without financial sacrifices. Correa said she called the companies associated with her monthly bills and told them she would be out of a job for a few months.
“Most of them gave me a three-month grace period,” she said. The total cost of the 12-week program was $12,000 and she paid half of it with her savings and the other half with a loan.
“He would talk to us about how to work in a team well,” she said. “He would show us esoteric TED talks about how to write good code and how to think about good architecture.”
She graduated in July 2015 and immediately started looking for jobs.
“For me that process was not just applying for jobs but then also going to have coffee with people,” she said. “They can help you make introductions.”
Through those connections, she landed an interview in September of that year at company called Return Path, which provides tools and services that help marketers and other large-volume email senders increase their response rates and monitor performance.
“It was a paid internship for women who had taken time off of their careers to help build a family, or go to school,” Correa said. “During the interview I clicked so well with them, I was like, ‘I’m ready to work there if they’ll have me.’ They offered me the job.”
She started a month later. Two years later, she still works at Return Path.
Inside an aging building on the University of Texas campus, Anthony Pekearo stood in front of a folding table, waiting for people to stop by and hear about an app he built called “Hey Earl.”
The idea was to find a way to help people in rural communities find day laborer work. Pekearo said often the Internet isn’t as readily available in rural communities, so his app uses text messages to link a worker with a job. (Though there is a fully-functioning website with job listings, he said.)
“It helps people who have nothing or no options out there get jobs,” Pekearo said.
Pekearo built the app while attending a coding boot camp offered through the University of Texas’ continuing education program. The camp is technically run by Trilogy Education Services.
The class was offered over a six-month period at night, so it catered to people who had other jobs.
Pekearo paid the $9,000 tuition by cobbling together money he had saved by working several part-time jobs, he said. “And I have a family that was happy to support me with my living situation during the class,” he said.
Pekearo had a meandering path to code school. He showed an early interest in web development, for instance creating a GeoCities website devoted to “The Simpsons” TV show at age 12. After graduating high school, he took classes in nursing at Austin Community College but eventually decided that wasn’t the right career for him.
He explored different careers, from stagehand to pedicab owner, and thought he had found his calling in Bitcoin investing. Until his account was hacked in November 2013.
“I lost $275,000 in one night,” he said. “After that I didn’t touch a computer for two years, I was so angry.”
But as time wore on, he decided to give computers another chance. “I came back with a fury and determination to earn back my money using computers to make my life better,” Pekearo said.
After taking a few shorter-term boot camp classes, he discovered UT’s boot camp program, which focused on teaching software programming languages, and enrolled in the spring of 2017.
“Every single week was a new topic we would have to cover in the real world,” he said, noting that learning all these languages was “harder than learning to speak Portuguese.”
He graduated in October. Pekearo said he is still working on the “Hey Earl” app, which already has a few users, but he wants a full-time job to help pay the bills.
As of mid-November, Pekearo had not landed a job, though he said he’s “extremely confident” he’ll eventually be hired, and has already built several websites for local food trucks.
“I’m not going to give up,” Pekearo said. “I’ll just keep trying.”
After Stephen Webster was laid off from his job as a graphic designer in his 20s, he started to re-think his career.
Webster had master’s and bachelor’s degrees in graphic design from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. But he discovered that what a lot of companies were hiring for was something called “user experience design.”
He researched whether he should get another four-year degree to learn the skills and philosophy behind user experience design, which is centered around designing products or services around users’ needs. But the last thing Webster wanted to do was go to school for another four years.
The obvious solution was code schools, which in 2015 were starting to offer classes in user experience design. Webster decided to go to General Assembly in Austin, taking a 10-week course that costs about $10,000.
But it meant a long-distance marriage for a awhile while he went to school in Austin and his wife stayed in Fort Worth, where she worked as a nurse.
“We lived separately for about three months,” Webster said, while he stayed at his parents’ house in Austin.
The class started in June of 2015. “It’s 40 hours a week,” he said. “You’re basically getting a semester, maybe even a year, of college done in 10 weeks because it’s full-time.”
The classes combined theory and practice, Webster said. Some of the specific software tools they learned to use include Sketch, Envision and Adobe Illustrator, he said.
Having a background in graphic design gave him a leg up, he said, because he was already familiar with some of these design tools.
“The biggest thing is empathy,” he said. “Design always needs to start from the perspective of putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are going to design for.”
During the 10 weeks, Webster said they had three or four major projects to complete. There was minimal homework, he said, unless you needed more time to complete the projects.
At the end of the course, students were expected to have a portfolio of work to showcase their newly-developed skills. “I was able to put three projects on my portfolio,” Webster said.
He also met with General Assembly’s career coach, who provided guidance and steered him toward job listings that would be right for him.
Students were also taken on tours of different companies in the Austin-area that hire designers, and would have recruiters from these companies visit General Assembly. “That was really beneficial,” Webster said, and it was one of those tours that piqued his interest in IBM. “I actually remember writing in my notebook ‘This is design heaven,’ ” Webster said.
After graduating in August, Webster applied to work at IBM and had a phone interview, followed by an on-site interview in September.
“I interviewed on a Friday and I had a job offer by Monday,” he said. “I started at IBM on Nov. 2.”