Shifting Gears: From Auto Mechanic to Full-Stack Developer

Jeremy “Jay” Krauss always built things. Classic cars, mobile games, houses, computers. You name it, he’s made it.

But after nearly a decade in the automotive industry, most recently as a diagnostic mechanic, Jay was looking for a way to use his problem-solving skills to build himself a new career.

So when a friend told Jay about an intensive, hands-on, 24-week University of Richmond Coding Boot Camp, he signed up without a second’s thought.

“I was looking to get out of automotive—I’ve been in it for years,” Jay explained when asked why he signed up so quickly. “Plus,” he continued, “I’ve always liked creating things.” But one thing he lacked completely was formal training for coding or computer science.

A truly hands-on approach

As a novice, Jay relied on his years of real-world problem-solving to build his coding and development skills.

“Building a classic car taught me a lot. It’s the same thing as web development. You learn by doing,” explained Jay.

And in a six-month full-stack development coding boot camp, you “do” a lot.

“[The program] was a lot of work,” Jay admitted. “As a diagnostic mechanic, solving problems is what I do every day. So solving problems in my code was easy for me.” Jay continued, “But certain parts of the syntax were difficult for me. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but it’s about how you use your strengths to improve on your weaknesses.”

When asked about how he enjoyed the project-based curriculum, Jay replied, “You don’t really learn unless you do something from start to finish.”

Putting in the time

Coding boot camps can be challenging enough for a lot of people, but in addition to a long commute, Jay completed his course while working full-time.

“I’d work from 6am to 4pm, then drive over an hour to Richmond, go to class, then do it all again the next day. It’s one of those things where you really have to go full boar,” explained Jay.

“You have to be able to manage your time—especially if you’re planning to work while taking the camp. Plus, time management is something you’ll need for the rest of your career,” concluded Jay.

And Jay wasn’t the only student in his coding boot camp familiar with hard work, sacrifice, and long hours.

“The students in my class spanned all walks of life,” explained Jay. “There were nurses, construction workers, and even other working programmers. Teaming up with all of these different people on group projects was definitely the high point of the course for me.”

In fact, Jay considered his first class project, a beer-based app called “Brewer’s Mark” that used an API database of 15 local Richmond breweries, to be “the best work I’ve done in 30-something years,” he said.

And the satisfaction he got from using real-world data to complete his class projects inspired a new way for Jay to learn how to code—he started teaching it.

Learning by teaching

For the past several months, Jay has been working as a teaching assistant and technical interviewer for the same boot camp he attended at the University of Richmond. When asked how he got involved in teaching, Jay replied, “It’s partly to solidify my own knowledge but also to continue to build my skills.

“The TAs [in my course] were very knowledgeable,” he continued, “but they didn’t have the angle that I can provide now as a student who’s taken the course. It’s one thing to teach the course,” he continued. “It’s another to take it—especially as someone with no prior experience.”

While Jay still works in the automotive industry, he’s also built his business as a freelance developer, and is looking for the right start-up to combine his growing coding skills with his real-world problem-solving abilities.

As a TA, Jay is constantly asked “Can I really do this?” by his students. His answer? “Yes. You just have to put in the time and work hard. Anybody can,” he said.

But his real advice for anyone considering a coding boot camp is surprisingly simple: “Spend less time considering whether you can do it and more time thinking about how it would benefit your life if you were to do it,” he said. “The course is structured to give you all the technical info you need. If you’re willing to put the work in, and want to learn, there’s nothing stopping you from being a web developer. So don’t worry about if you can become a developer and start thinking about how much better your life will be once you are a developer.”

Jay’s final piece of advice for anyone still on the fence? “Stop sitting in that dead-end job and improve your life. You’ll be glad you did,” he said.

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