Q&A With Ryan Leon: From DigitalCrafts to Junior Software Engineer

Alumnus Ryan Leon always had an interest with technology, but became frustrated when he first tried out programming as a kid. Ryan went on to earn a B.A. in Government, and started his career in IT for both Halliburton and KBR. 

However, when Ryan was laid off after a decline in the oil business, he began to re-think his career. He started to wonder what his ideal tech role would look like, and researched the best way to skill up. 

Ryan found that DigitalCrafts in Houston had a lot to offer, like awesome alumni reviews, a centralized campus, and a 16 week time frame. He decided to go for it, and graduated from DigitalCrafts in 2017. 

Ryan's path to a new career was not without its setbacks. Hurricane Harvey hit only weeks after Ryan graduated, and his job search efforts stalled. He eventually landed a role with APG&E, thanks to help from DigitalCrafts. 

In an interview with SwitchUp, Ryan talks more about his path to software engineering, his job search, and the experience at DigitalCrafts. Check out the interview below, and read more DigitalCrafts student stories and reviews on SwitchUp. 

You earned a B.A. in Government, and worked as a Release Analyst and IT Business Analyst after graduation. How did you get your start in tech?

I've always had the "fiddling with computers" bug. I was building my gaming computers from spare parts since middle school, but was initially frustrated with programming. I was hired as a Release Analyst after impressing a manager during a government contracting project internship. I also experimented with IT Project Management and Business Analysis during my career because that's what I thought came easy. After the oil downturn and getting laid off, I realized how unhappy I was in my previous career. I decided that the path to doing something I liked and cared about was worth the extra challenge.


What made you decided to switch to a Software Engineering career?

My layoff made me rethink what I wanted in a job, and what I wanted to do, and what kind of company I wanted to work with. I also started to think more about the skills employers were looking for. 


What was your research process like when comparing bootcamps? How did you decide on DigitalCrafts? 

I founded that DigitalCrafts was highly rated in my area, along with UT Bootcamp and The IronYard. For me, DigitalCrafts won out because it was an upfront sell(the fact that they don't guarantee you a job removes any scammy gimmicks). I also liked the centralized campus, and the fact that it's 16 weeks instead of 12 to allow for more learning time. 


Tell me about the learning environment at DigitalCrafts. What was the curriculum and classroom instruction like?

The curriculum structured around a daily programming topic. We would have a brief morning lecture that's about an hour or two, and the rest of the day is working on exercises related to the lecture. For example, if the lecture was on API's, the exercises involved reaching out to API's and ultimately writing your own API. The best part was that the instructor and developers-in-residence (teaching assistant) were there to guide you over the inevitable bumps you would run through.

DigitalCrafts was also the perfect opportunity to experiment with any side projects. I knew that it would likely be the only time in your career that I would have access to a senior developer whose job it is to help out with any issues. 


For you, what were the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp?

The pros are that you learn your skillset very quickly and are hirable in a relatively short order. The cons are that there's little room to breathe and catch up. The lessons build up upon itself, so if you're behind in weeks 1-3, you're not going to have a great time in weeks 4+. The good news is that sometimes the individual project (at the end of the program) allows you to catch up. It's then that you realize that all the crazy stuff you tried to learn can be used to make something that actually works! 


What was your job search experience like after graduation?

Unique and harrowing. Graduation was literally a couple of weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit, and it was a job hunting desert afterwards. I went out and volunteered in recovery efforts, as the job hunt at the time was fruitless and useless. DigitalCrafts' Career Services team was there for me, and they checked in on me from time to time, and asked me to check in on my cohort-mates as well. One of DigitalCrafts' founders actually helped me find my first development job, by reaching out to a hiring manager and discovering that they'd had positive experiences with bootcamp grads. 


In your new role at APG&E, what does your day-to-day look like?

I live in a scrum world right now with weekly sprints, so the day to day can be varied based off of what I was assigned for that particular sprint. My work  could range from debugging a backend workflow, writing a SQL script for business reporting, modifying the UI, or setting up some multi-gpu pricing hardware. When the week starts, I am assigned tasks based on an estimated workload for that week. Then on Friday, the IT team demos their completed work to the rest of the company. 


How did DigitalCrafts prepare you for life as a Software Developer?

The skillset taught at DigitalCrafts is exactly what my job right now was looking for (Node.js, Express, SQL, React/Vue/Angular, etc.) So it was plug and play from the start; I was writing code for them from week one. 


What challenges did you overcome to get where you are?

My position was unique because I already had experience in IT, albeit a completely different world (enterprise level, tens of thousands of users) from the one I was attempting to enter (small business). One challenge that I constantly had to overcome was not being shoehorned into a Business Analyst role. The industry certainly needs Business Analysts like they need developers, but I didn't do all that work at DigitalCrafts to just do my old job. 


Tell us about your goals and plans for the future. How do you hope to build your software engineering career over the next few years?

My short term goal is to get as strong as I can in the technologies I interact with day-to-day. Long/mid term, I want my skills to be able to open doors to opportunities abroad or remote, where I'm not tied down by geography. 


What advice do you have for people who are interested in attending a bootcamp?

First off, check out Freecodecamp. I didn't go through the program, but was one of the stronger students by virtue of my work experience. The other strong students did Freecodecamp beforehand, and it's a great leg up for when things get hairy later. 

Also, keep in mind that repetition is the key to success in learning most things. By acknowledging this in my software development journey, I actively cultivated an attitude of constant growth. It's important to never let your skills stagnate, because tech is constantly changing. Oh, and do your pre-work - all of it! 

To read more about student experiences, check out reviews of DigitalCrafts on SwitchUp. 




Jason Ephraim

Campus Director, Houston