Coding and Creativity: How This Boot Camp Student Rediscovered Her Artistic Outlet

A lifelong artist, Hillary Hardiman has always been a creative person. But at 18, she put her creative juices on the back burner. Instead of majoring in art, Hillary studied biomedical engineering at Virginia Commonwealth University—and continued there to earn her master’s degree in product innovation. Hillary went on to become operations consultant at Bank of America—but found herself longing for a way to be creative again.

In college, Hillary had taken an introductory course in Java. She kept thinking back to it, and wondering if coding would fill the creative void she was feeling. She started researching coding boot camps—and found the University of Richmond Coding Boot Camp.

“I was bored with the career I’d built until then,” said Hillary. “Every day looked the same. I wanted to get back to building things and using my brain more. I thought coding might be the answer.” She signed up.

Learning from a base of support

As Hillary moved through the boot camp, she was struck at the outpouring of support. Although she had some foundational knowledge of Java, she describes her learning curve as fairly steep. Both classmates and instructors were quick to jump in and help—and the assistance went in all directions.  

“Everyone was really supportive and available,” she said. “We helped each other get through in-class activities and homework. Everyone just wanted everyone else to succeed.”

Hillary teamed up for her first two projects, one of which was an app that enabled users to input ingredients from their kitchens and discover potential recipes. She learned a lot from her classmates—and gave back, too.

“Getting to help people figure stuff out as they went along was really rewarding,” said Hillary. “Seeing a project go from literally nothing to a complete, interactive website online was really cool.”

Tapping into her creativity, at last

To raise the stakes, Hillary wanted her final project to be a risk. So she went solo for it—and let her artistic spirit fly.

Inspired by a game she had played in high school (in which two artists build a single drawing on a passed sheet of paper), Hillary created an app that allowed two users in different locations to create a drawing. One user would draw something and send it to the other user, who would add to it, and send it back. This went on, until the drawing was complete.

The project was a personal triumph for Hillary. She relished the creative process, and how it incorporated her nostalgic pastime.

“It was great to see my idea come to life,” said Hillary.

A new career path

Upon the completion of boot camp, and with the help of career services, Hillary got a job as an application developer at Capital One. After presenting her project at her boot camp’s Demo Day, she was handpicked by Capital One for the job—and started almost immediately.

“With the boot camp, you get out what you put in,” she said. “The more effort you put in, the more you will learn, and the better you will be able to apply those skills in real life.”

Hillary says that the boot camp helped to prepare her to learn how to use the kind of in-house programs that are specific to Capital One, even if she didn’t have any direct experience with them. “I’ve not had any trouble learning the new programs,” she said. “It’s been a breeze.”

Hillary hopes to continue working at Capital One and to move up the ladder. She treasures the boot camp experience—and credits it for helping her rediscover her love of creativity in all forms.

“I think coding in general is extremely creative,” she said. “There’s always at least 10 different ways to do the same thing. There’s always a different way to write an app. Building something out of nothing is just extremely rewarding and creative.”

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