From Coding Dojo to Microsoft to Boeing, How Programming Became Matthew Shim’s Passport To Working At The World’s Top Companies

  • Laid off Manufacturing Engineer
  • Struggled with learning how to code on his own
After Dojo:
  • On a lifelong learning adventure
  • Worked for Microsoft & contributed to popular open source projects
  • Currently works as a Fullstack Software Development Engineer at Boeing
Program: Three full-stack bootcamp in Bellevue, WA

Just persist, believe in yourself, and get rid of any mentality that drags you back, no matter what that is. Because you’ve made it this far to take this step.

Tell us a little about yourself. Age, hobbies, passions, and what you were doing (professionally) before the bootcamp?

I just turned 32 and I was really into rock climbing at a younger age. I love music, play guitar, and grew up playing piano. Since COVID and quarantine, I’ve picked up cooking. I’ve learned how to make sushi and a lot of cheese based things I never really experimented with before. 

Right now I’m passionate about self-growth and evaluating new technologies to come up with easy ways to explain them to people from non-tech backgrounds. I was there too at one point and I still need to come up with all sorts of different ways to learn. 

Before bootcamp, I was a manufacturing engineer. A recently-laid-off one actually. It was just a small company out in Redmond, WA that did contracted design and engineering work and some manufacturing for various aircraft programs. 

Beyond the desire of learning to code, why did you decide to enroll in a coding bootcamp? 

I actually had no idea bootcamps even existed at that time. I had a coworker who got laid off six months before I did and he invited me to his orientation. He was going to a different bootcamp and that orientation was my first introduction to the space. I learned a lot and thought, “Oh, this would be cool if only I had the time.” 

And then six months later, I got laid off. Then I had all the time in the world. 

So I figured, “you know what, it’s only three months, why not just go see what happens?” My first exposure to coding was in high school and I hated it. Then I did it again in college and it went better because I had that prior exposure. I was originally at the University of Washington and it was very competitive. I thought I would never make it, so I didn’t try and then shelved the idea for a while. I tried to learn on my own off and on, but always got lost and felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere. I think a lot of people feel that way. Having the discipline to really learn it yourself is rare.

What was your bootcamp experience like? What parts came easy, and what parts did you struggle with?

I started Coding Dojo in August 2016 and we finished that winter in November or December.

It was really exciting but was also scary. A lot of us were in the same boat: just leaving careers and taking a risk on this program because tech jobs are in demand. We all really went “all out” and regularly worked 16-hour days. We all thought that because the program is only three months, we might as well get as much as we can out of it.

At first, it was hard just understanding how the pieces fit together and what we were trying to do. The first week was HTML and CSS, which went smoothly. And then we started whiteboard problems and it was still okay. Then I was introduced to the different technologies and how to use them. At first, the languages looked like gibberish so that part was hard. But it got easier once I understood what the abstractions were. Like, “Oh, we’re just installing a thing to use.” Or, “Oh, this is just a tool that does this.”

How did you overcome the obstacles or struggles you faced?

A lot of difficulty learning computer science, and software engineering in general, comes from people initially having this that it’s super precise and mathematical. But it’s almost the opposite, in the sense that you have to be able to look at it from high up, see the “big picture,” and not worry about the actual binary sequence of blah, blah, blah.

That being said, you kind of have to get into the weeds of it at first. I give this analogy a lot:

When you’re learning how to code, at the very start, it’s almost like you’re learning the alphabet. Your first few weeks of class are just you learning how to use the alphabet to build words. You take it for granted now, but think of how many weeks you had to practice that. Then slowly, as you write a more complicated program, that’s kind of like you’re writing a three-paragraph book report. Eventually, as you develop more comprehension, you’ll read it faster and then you can output. That means you can now write a news article or a short story or things like that.

Do you have any fun anecdotes to share about your time in the bootcamp? Make good friends? Fond memories?

I’m still good friends with a few of my cohort mates and we still keep in touch. One of them was already experienced and he’s some Senior Manager now. Another one works for this startup called Wrench. It’s like Uber for car repair. 

I’m actually pretty good friends with a guy who was in the cohort below me. We both started at Microsoft together as contractors and were hired just a day apart on the same team. Ironically, I didn’t know him at bootcamp. But we got to know each other really well through that shared experience and we still talk.

I just remember all the fun times at the bootcamp, finally figuring things out, feeling we were making progress together, and watching each other’s progress. 

How did the job hunt go? Where did you land your first job after graduation?

I won’t lie, it was hard. Like everyone’s probably experiencing, I had a lot of misconceptions and poor assumptions about job hunting that I had to get rid of and flush out. One was scoffing at contract work, when it’s kind of the norm in the industry. 

Early on, I mostly got rejections and a lot of no answers. It was actually easier to get interviews, applying around as a bootcamper than it was to find interviews for my last career. Mainly because there was no demand for the work that I was doing and the demand for software was so high. It was refreshing that, even with just my bootcamp experience, it felt easier than trying to find work as a mechanical or manufacturing engineer.

The one thing that I really got from my Career Services Manager was making sure to get everything on LinkedIn and to not stress about whether to “cold apply” or not — just do “cold reach outs” to as many people as you can. I did that and had interests from the recruiters at TEKsystems. They sent me a contract description for Microsoft for the Azure Bot team, back then it was called the Bot Framework Team. It was a support engineering role, but I didn’t scoff at it. 

The interview process at that time was just to build a chat bot and deploy it. I had no idea what a bot was and I only had a weekend to do it. It was really hard and I’m sure it screened out a lot of people who were not willing to put in that kind of work. So, I Googled every resource I could then tried it over, and over, and over again. Finally, I got a simple bot up Sunday night. 

Ultimately, I didn’t get it. But, I think that they saw how much work and effort I put in, so they thought I was serious enough. 

They ended up submitting me for four more Microsoft interviews. They didn’t all go well, but the fifth one, the very fifth one ended up being a different manager on the same team as the first manager I interviewed with. Looking back I think the first manager referred me to the position. When the fifth manager called me, we talked for about 45 minutes and they just gave me the job. And that was that.

It was kind of surreal and I was just…happy. It wasn’t a straight up development role, but it was still a role at Microsoft and I did manage to get development work and experience while I was there.

Walk us through your career journey. If applicable, where did you go after that first job?

I started a second Bachelor’s in Computer Science because I was really insecure about not having one at the time. I’m sure a lot of people feel the same. I ended up not learning anything, but I will admit that it has afforded me assumed credibility with HR recruiters, and it’s become significantly easier to get interviews now. 

I will say that I’m the only one I know who has gone on to get a CS degree after Coding Dojo. There’s plenty of people like my other friend Steven, who’s now full time at Microsoft who never bothered with a degree. And I would say he’s way more successful than me without having to do that. 

After getting my degree, I was thinking through my options given my past mechanical and aviation experience. Boeing was investing a lot into their development teams to get modern tech stacks and build out modern solutions within their own cloud. So I applied and got an offer, which was significantly higher than the contract rate I was getting at the time. I joined Boeing full time as a full stack developer back in 2018, almost two years ago.

How do you feel the skills you learned at Coding Dojo helped you in the workplace and/or advance your career?

It helped a lot in the sense that you really need to get used to not knowing things and just accept that’s how it is, no matter how experienced you are. You need to be comfortable with knowing where to look and how to configure things. Every project is unique and there’s a million different ways to do something. 

There’s a saying that, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” What Coding Dojo helped instill is the idea that you can’t be fixated on one way of doing anything. You have to just be humble and open enough to explore a lot of different ways. Even if you have something that works, that might not be the best solution long-term. 

Because when you’re maintaining a project over time, you can’t predict what the features are going to be. You can’t design around that. It’s just about learning the process of how to seek out what you need, then apply that info to solve a goal. 

What advice do you have for others who are interested in coding bootcamps or who are just starting one?

I have a lot of advice for people in it and going through it. I know everyone is taking it really seriously, because it’s a pretty big investment and there’s probably a lot of anxiety around it, understandably so. 

Just accept that this isn’t it. This is just the first step and there’s going to be a lot of ambiguity. Your career path is unique to you and you can’t really follow or do what other people do.

As far as job seeking goes, a lot of it is just luck and you need to just be open to roles that aren’t necessarily development-focused. There’s a lot of roles in software that are not actually software engineers. But those roles are a good way to get in. Be open to all sorts of different roles and don’t scoff at contract positions. I know a lot of people, myself included, came from sort of the traditional idea of, “Oh, I need a full time job.” And you just stay there forever. 

Any job in software or any project is a lot closer to a movie or a TV show where you are an actor or a stage worker. Every movie or show, no matter how big or how great the filming is, ultimately ends. Okay, fine. You can get lucky and maybe you’re Ross on 10 seasons of Friends. Right. But you really don’t want to be that person who cruises like that. Because look at his career now compared to say, Leonardo DiCaprio. He could have peaked at Titanic, but he kept going and eventually got that Oscar. 

Software projects are a lot like that, in the sense that most of them end. Some of them last a long time and you can stay there, but it’s actually in your interest to move around, earn your grit, and take on your battle scars from different projects. That makes you more valuable. I realize it may be kind of scary to think, “Oh, I have to change jobs all the time.” But it’s just how the industry is.

Just keep your own interests in mind, because sometimes it’s good to pivot. It’s the same thing when it comes to learning software. If something isn’t working just put it down, but keep going. That doesn’t mean you’re not good at it. You just need to persevere, pick something else up, and rotate. Then come back to whatever it was that frustrated you later. 

Another thing about job hunting is you don’t get to decide when the market is hiring. Always be on the hunt, always put out feelers, and treat it like a hobby. It’s almost dating in the sense that you’re going to get rejected a lot, but you only need “the one.” Just persist, believe in yourself, and get rid of any mentality that drags you back, no matter what that is. Because you’ve made it this far to take this step. 

Almost everything in life is a search for something. If you get good at searching for things, you can get good at coding. 

What are your goals/dreams for the future, say 5 or 10 years from now?

I would love to be a Senior Developer somewhere and I’m open to other tech roles because I’m hitting this point in my career now where there are bigger decisions that need to be made. I don’t know where I’ll be, but wherever it is, if it’s further than where I’m at now, I’ll be happy. I just got to keep progressing. 

Any final thoughts?

Don’t stop learning and growing. You cannot. That’s the one thing about this industry. You can’t allow yourself to be complacent ever. 

Take maybe three days a week to pick up a new skill, or invest an hour learning something new everyday for a month, or even just a week. My latest exploration is Redis, so I’m going through the tutorials. Then next month, I’ll pick up something else. You don’t have to be an expert on anything, you just need to have basic knowledge. 

If you are interested in learning how to code so you can make your dreams a reality, Coding Dojo 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.

Whether you’re unsatisfied with your career, or just 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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