The Greatest Wedding Present: How Coding Boot Camp Helped John Blackwell Start His Married Life on the Right Foot

For John Blackwell, the rigors of a career in the hospitality industry were getting old. He was tired of working nights and weekends. He felt there was no more room for professional growth. And to top things off, he had just proposed to his girlfriend and was eager to start what he calls an “adult life.”

“Working nights and weekends was fun in my 20s, but it wasn’t what I wanted to do forever,” John said. “My hours were not conducive to starting a family. It was time for a change.”

John’s sister is a data developer, and he’d always been interested in technology himself. When his future mother-in-law sent him a link to an article about the new University of Richmond Coding Boot Camp, he took it as a sign and signed up.

“I felt like this was exactly what I needed to start a career in a new field,” he said. It was.

Coming full circle

From the moment he stepped foot in the classroom, John dove headfirst into the coursework. After spending several years working as a banquet manager at an elite social club, it was exciting to be doing something totally different.

What he loved most was the way the lessons built on one another, making him feel a real sense of progress. Consider the first project that John and his team built together: a collaborative map for the local community to find and track the homes with the most outrageous holiday light displays, or as John describes it, a “tacky light tracker.” 

First, he and his team learned how to build the tracker’s front end. Then its back end. Then a database. A few weeks later, they learned how to make each component talk to each other and—ta da!—the tacky light tracker was ready for its festive debut.

“You started seeing the patterns in the code,” John said. “It was like everything came full circle.”

A masterclass in time management

As much as John loved the coursework, it wasn’t always easy balancing his classes with his work commitments—not to mention planning a wedding.

“I had proposed only four months before starting the boot camp,” John said. “All of a sudden, I was juggling classes with meetings with caterers and photographers. It was a lot.”

John sometimes had to miss a class to meet with potential vendors. While he was worried this would set him back, he found his instructors were more than willing to help him catch up on anything he missed. He was even provided a tutor to help him crack open his code any time he felt stuck.

“That’s one of the nice things about the boot camp. It’s so flexible. If you need to miss a class, there are resources to get you back up to speed,” John said.

More than just coding

The coding boot camp gave John the hard skills he needed to make a change in his life and career. But there was so much more to the course than learning how to use Ajax and the Google Maps API.

“You spend so much of the boot camp learning how to further yourself,” John said. “You’re not just coding, you’re becoming more independent and self-reliant.”

The career services team also helped him become more confident when applying for jobs. They gave him the tools he needed to tune up his resume and track applications, which was handy considering it had been a while since his last job hunt.

“One thing stressed was that you don’t just apply and move on,” John said. “The secret is to try and get in touch with the person behind the posting.”

It was that trick that helped him land his current job at RTS Labs, a full-service software development company.

John found the opportunity on a public Slack channel, a tool he discovered through the boot camp. He followed up with the person who had posted it, aced the interview, and started his brand new software engineering job in July of last year, just three months after graduating—and getting married.

“The wedding was a huge success, and I love my new job,” he said. “Now, my wife and I can actually spend time together. It was a lot of work, but it was all worth it.”

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