The Path Less Traveled: The Story of Chicago Dojo Graduate Luis Salas

If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose. 

—Bishop T.D. Jakes

As the end of summertime approaches, there are many high school graduates weighing their options for the future. Luis Salas found himself in a similar situation shortly after he graduated high school. He thought seriously about what path to take toward a career. Spending four years (at least) at a university to get his degree seemed the obvious, easiest answer — but Luis didn’t believe it was his only option.

I always felt like the college route was a little bit too long until I really ever got to do any programming. Money factored in it, because I don’t want to even count all my friends that are in debt in college and haven’t even started working. So I always thought about that. I heard that college bootcamps got people into their careers quicker.

The new high school graduate has a host of choices about their first steps toward the future: college, trade school, the military, the proverbial “backpack across Europe.” Taking a “gap year” between high school and college is increasingly popular. The gap year allows for personal development and planning before leaping into the structure of higher learning. But it’s also a good time to take on new skills in more relaxed surroundings, like the Coding Dojo Gap Year Program.

Luis, who says he “messed around” with open-source platforms like Arduino and hardware like Raspberry Pi, started taking free courses through an online education source. When he decided to look more closely at the bootcamp model, he noticed that Coding Dojo was about to launch a new campus in Chicago. His interest increased after attending an open house.

The environment looked like someplace I could be at for like eight hours a day. You don’t want to be stuck in a little cubicle, not being able to talk with friends in your stack. The fact that it was new, and I was going to be their first cohort, made me feel like I’d be a part of something… They actually still have my face on the wall as one of the first people who got a black belt at the Dojo.

At the outset, Luis was a bit apprehensive about the seemingly large skill set needed to become a proficient coder, and whether Coding Dojo would be able to prepare him in such a short time. His worries were eased by the one-on-one guidance of the Chicago staff and the progressive flow of the curriculum.

I liked the special individual attention because I felt like I was going to need to prepare for a huge gap between me not knowing a lot of the stuff that they were about to teach us. But it wasn’t really the case. They really started from the bottom beginner levels, and kind of slowly worked our way up there.

One advantage of the Gap Year program is the time it gives a prospective college student time to adjust to the accelerated culture of college and the workplace — and to build a strong foundation of knowledge when they finally get there. For Luis and his classmates, the work stated quickly: Within a week of their introduction to HTML they’d built their own websites and scored the first, coveted yellow belt.

I felt super-accomplished. I’d passed the assessment. At first I was thinking, ‘Is three months really enough for me to become a developer?’ But after the first week, I quickly realized that I think I’d be more than prepared.

As the subject matter became more difficult when the class moved through the Python stack, Luis and his fellow students relied on each other to gain total understanding. In fact, Luis’ pre-bootcamp exposure to algorithms made it easier for him to help others with their challenges.

I feel like that really helps out when we all struggle through a concept together. I could just talk with my teammates and we kind of assess the situation. ‘Why is this code not working for us? What’s going on?’ And I would honestly say just struggling through something together, specifically the Python stack for me, would be one of my favorite moments.

Luis had a sense of meaningful accomplishment after graduating, but still felt unready to dive into the difficult task of finding a job worthy of his new skills — mainly, he says, because he’d never applied for a job before. 

I had never even gone through an interview. So, this was all new stuff to me. But in hindsight, now that I look back at it, the moment I graduated, I think that’s when I knew the most stuff ever. I still had everything fresh in my head: JavaScript, Python, Ruby on Rails… If there’s any advice I’d give to  newer people, it’s that I think you’re definitely ready right after the program. You have more than enough knowledge to be able to get into an entry-level position.

Despite being a very young newcomer to the process of job-seeking, Luis landed his first job at AT&T as a software developer, upgrading and debugging code for customer support services. He’s also a TA at Chicago Codes, an initiative of the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership that offers a full-time, tuition-free coding bootcamp on Chicago’s South Side. 

Learning how to learn was something super huge that I took from the program, and it applies even now in my life. I’ve picked up so many skills that I didn’t even know I could possibly do, because I would doubt myself. I’d never done that before, and I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable doing it. And, lo and behold, just with a little bit of commitment, you can get through it.

Are you interested in learning how we can help you reach your goals or start a new career? Get in touch with us to discuss your options. Or, if you want to check out the full interview with Luis, click here. 

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