Building a Solid Foundation for Success: Meet Arlington Alumni Aaron Harrington

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.
Benjamin Franklin

A four-year college degree is still perceived as the ideal baseline for completing one’s education. Given the amount of time and money college requires, a university diploma is considered enough to initiate one’s professional career. It’s a model that’s endured for centuries. But is it still the be-all and end-all of effective learning in technology?

Recent Arlington Dojo graduate Aaron Harrington earned a college degree in computer engineering. Upon graduating he pursued a path that supported his enthusiasm for giving back to the community and worked as a Director for the Boys and Girls Club in the Washington DC area. After two fruitful years in that position, he decided to pursue the technology career he prepared for in college. But in the brief time he’d been away from tech, the landscape had changed considerably.

I was really having a hard time getting back into the field. A lot of people were kind of giving me the notion that my degree was outdated or that the technology had been moving so fast.

With the speed of technological change outpacing the limits of his formal education, Aaron started surveying the landscape of technology education. He experimented with free online courses and small programming assignments, and although they served as credible entry points, a more immersive and comprehensive program appealed to him.

That’s when he came across coding bootcamp. Aaron thought a deep-dive approach was the best way for him to absorb everything he needed to adapt with the changes in technology. After recalling a brief introduction to Coding Dojo when the Virginia campus first opened, Aaron took a closer look at an open house night and decided to take the plunge.

[Program Success Manager] Bobby [Bethea] played a big role. Him reaching out to me and actually just taking the time to go up there for the open house. And then, sitting in on one of the lectures. But the biggest thing was definitely just talking to other people who were currently in the program and doing adequate research.

Aaron was excited–and slightly anxious–about bootcamp culture, and the prospect of 10-to-12-hour days the Coding Dojo course promised. But his experience helped him get through the pre-bootcamp prep in about five days, which typically takes up to two weeks to complete.

Even with a degree in computer engineering, Aaron came across topics in the very first week that his previous education hadn’t covered, including the design elements of HTML and CSS. This was the point where Aaron discovered that his formal education and the Coding Dojo bootcamp program weren’t redundant—they could actually support each other.

The biggest struggle for me was HTML and CSS. I’ve never actually programmed websites before, and so to learn everything in that first week was definitely stressful for me. But it actually kind of set the stage for me to have the right mentality moving forward. Of course, the instructors were great, so once I really got in there, I found myself helping a lot of my classmates a lot. It instilled a lot of confidence in me those first couple weeks of doing the program.

Aaron began catching up with the programming languages he hadn’t learned about as an undergraduate. He had familiarity with algorithms, Java and C++ in college, but not the burgeoning Python language that’s core to the Coding Dojo full-stack program. Although it wasn’t a cakewalk, Aaron said his instructors and dedication to hard work propelled him.

The long hours coding and learning other programming technologies revealed another facet that his college career didn’t duplicate. While college had taught him principles and philosophies about computer engineering, Coding Dojo taught him how to actually do it—and how to translate it into bona fide career skills.

The classroom or undergraduate is more theoretical: “This is what we can do with these, and this is how this improves your performance.” Whereas the bootcamp actually teaches you how to build [projects] and create things, so you can go on an interview and say, “Hey, look what I’ve made. This is what I know how to do.” Coding Dojo teaches you how to format your ideas, so when it comes to actually going into a job or workforce, you’re like, “Oh, I’ve done something like this before.”

Aaron also found that being onsite in an actual classroom—as opposed to taking an online course—was very beneficial to his comprehension of the coursework. The biggest advantages of the Coding Dojo onsite experience were the personal attention and hands-on efforts of both students and instructors.

One of the classmates in my group was actually doing the online version, and she could just talk about how the level of engagement was different being in the onsite program;  just how much more ready she is for it. I’ve seen her grow exponentially since starting the onsite program.

When Aaron restarted his job hunt after graduating from Coding Dojo, he found the experience much different than before attending the bootcamp. For starters, his confidence in his abilities was stronger. He’d also become so conversant in his new skills that he was able to make himself more marketable during the interview process. Additionally, he was able to cite the work he’d completed at Coding Dojo while discussing the job requirements during interviews. Due to his increased experience coding and enhanced soft skills, Aaron landed a developer job before he even graduated:

I was able to go in that interview and break down the concepts that I had been learning from the boot camp and referencing projects. Just having that refresher where I’m actually doing the work instead of just studying it or doing an online tutorial, the interviews went by. They skipped a round of interviews for me. The last interview, I was able to show them one of the projects that I had built. I think that’s what really got me the job. They didn’t hesitate. So by the time the last month came, the Coding Dojo had already been worth it for me.

Aaron’s example shows how Coding Dojo can actually complement and co-exist with previous education—and it takes a lot less than four years to gain the technical know-how he needed for a career.

If you’re interested in exploring how Coding Dojo can help you gain the skills needed for a career in tech, get in touch with a representative today. If you’re interested in watching the full interview with Aaron, please watch the video below.

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