Making the Switch | Pt. 5: To Be Continued…

Editor’s note: Making the Switch is a five-part series written by Bellevue Dojo graduate Zach Jones. It highlights his career change from truck driver to developer with insights, anecdotes, and advice along the way. You can read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.

Hey folks! My name is Zach Jones, and I’m a Support Engineer working for Microsoft through Collabera. If you’ve read the previous entries in this series, that may come as a shock.  For everyone else, buckle up. I’m going to give you a quick recap of my journey up to this point.

In November 2019 I quit my job as a semi truck driver, which I had been doing professionally since 2011.  I learned how to drive trucks during my time in the U.S. Marine Corps, choosing to serve as a Motor Transport Operator instead of infantry because it was “close to the action” and “there would be jobs” when I got out.  During my trucking career, I worked on programming small game projects, small pieces of productivity software for my trucking company, and other such things.  2019 was a rough year for truckers and I wanted to properly learn programming since I was a kid. So, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to make a career change into a tech job.

December 9th, 2019, I arrived in Bellevue, WA at around 5AM PST. After several days of driving on and off, I nervously walked into Coding Dojo. Throughout the following three and a half months, I spent almost every waking moment programming, making friends, and occasionally even got the chance to kick back and enjoy some local food and craft beers. 

Then COVID-19 hit and I returned home 2 weeks prior to my graduation. My virtual graduation day came, then I was a free man. 

So, what happened next? For context, I’ll need to give you a candid look at what I was going through after graduating Coding Dojo.  I had roughly 3 months before my last paycheck ran out, and that was an optimistic timeline even while being very frugal. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t panicking. I applied to well over 100 jobs, but I also searched for small freelance projects with relatively quick turnarounds to keep the lights on.  With those projects, some help from my family, and a part-time position online as a Coding Dojo Teaching Assistant, I reached some semblance of survival. 

It was really hard. Looking back there were things I could’ve done to speed up the process, such as submitting more applications.  There were also several factors working against me, like my location and poor internet connection.  Then, in August, I was contacted by a recruiter with Collabera.  She explained that there was a new project with Microsoft, and that with my experience I seemed like a good fit. 

After a screener, a code-a-thon practicing the skills I would need to nail the interview, and plenty of additional studying, I got the news that my life had just changed forever. I got hired. I went from barely being able to afford medicine to wondering what kind of savings account I would need to get the most out of my money.  It didn’t feel real, even as I started training.  When that first paycheck came in, I got current on all my bills and even had enough for dinner and a movie with my wife — wearing our masks, of course. 

What’s life like at Microsoft? It’s pretty great.  The team I’m integrating into is jam-packed with smart, genuinely kind folks who’ve been nothing but helpful.  There’s a lot to learn but I’m confident in myself and the team.  It can be a little intimidating being the only person without a degree in the field, but we’ve all put in our time, one way or another. 

So what’s next?  

That’s a hard question.  I remember a retirement ceremony for a Marine who had just finished 20 some-odd years of service, and during his speech he got a distant look in his eyes and said, “This is the only job I’ve ever known.”  While I haven’t spent 20 years at any job, I think I know how he feels.  This struggle is just about the only thing I’ve ever known since I was a kid.  I do have a few ideas though.

I’m going to keep programming for one. Programming is a perishable skill and daily practice keeps you sharp.  I’m also going to start focusing on learning procedural generation and programming for art.  Beyond honing my craft, my wife and I can finally start looking at buying a house. Not as some distant dream, but as an immediate reality.  The story played out almost like a fairy tale, and I think I’ll take a nice long break before I get started with the sequel. 

For now it’s simply “To be continued…”

P.S.
This has been a long journey, and as awesome as I am, I never could have pulled it off without help.  I want to thank my mother and father who supported me all the way, even when I wasn’t exactly forthcoming about things like what my living situation would be like going into this.  

I want to thank my wife.  Without her, I would have lost my nerve and never committed to this awesome adventure.  As a trucker, I spent a lot of time alone on the road, so I also want to thank the friends I made along this journey who reminded me what it’s like to be human.  I want to thank my programming mentor who gave me the idea of going to a coding bootcamp, and my Marine Corps mentor for helping me realize that I deserved to do well.

And I’d like to thank Coding Dojo for a myriad of reasons, but I’ll keep it short.  I want to thank the instructors Cody, George, and Bryanna, who not only taught me everything I needed to be a web developer, but treated me kindly during a very hard time.  If you find yourself in Mississippi and I haven’t moved up to Washington yet, drinks are on me.  From career services, I want to thank Jori and Joseph for throwing tons of opportunities my way, and helping me set up my LinkedIn and resume.  I want to thank Luke for helping me not make a fool out of myself with the written word.  Finally, there are just too many people to mention specifically.  I’m deeply indebted to all of you. I promise, I’m gonna make you proud.

If you are interested in learning how to code to start your career change journey, Coding Dojo bootcamp offers accelerated learning programs that can transform your life. We offer both part-time and full-time online courses, as well as onsite (post COVID-19) programs. We also offer financing options, scholarships, and other tuition assistance programs to help you with financial barriers. 

If you want to invest in yourself and your future, there is no better time than the present! If you’re interested, use this link to schedule a 15-minute exploratory session with one of our Admissions representatives today.

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