Kevin Collins

Kevin Collins

Ruby on Rails Developer

Kevin worked at a corporate job and wasn't satisfied with his career path. He followed his love for technology and now works in a job that's taken him places he never imagined. Here's Kevin's story.

Let’s start at the beginning; what were you doing before The Iron Yard and how did you hear about it?

Before The Iron Yard, I was working for Best Buy Corporate. Just traveling around store to store, kind of installing interactive displays and helping out with networking stuff for other stores.

I heard about The Iron Yard through my cousin who ended up being an instructor for a short time at the Atlanta campus. I was always peeking over her shoulder and seeing what she was doing with work and watching her code.

My nights and weekends were generally filled with tinkering around or just playing around. I found in a lot of my free time that my hobby became tinkering around with code and computers, that kind of stuff.

Sitting around so long at work, you start to see the complacency other people have. You start to realize how monotonous and underwhelming your job is. The more I learned about The Iron Yard and coding and it just being an ever-evolving field just got me excited about it. The challenges I knew I would face entering something like that and the difficulties.

I looked into The Iron Yard and I looked into a few other programs and The Iron Yard just seemed like the best fit.

Why didn’t you try to do online tutorials and go that route?

I mean, because there are so many out there you don’t really know which ones to choose.

And then, being in a classroom and having that face to face contact with other individuals, and reading all of these other first hand account  and about how passionate the instructors were at The Iron Yard and how much they willing to help, it all persuaded me to say “yes” to The Iron Yard.

It felt, to be honest, like a giant family. The amount of support they put behind you was really appealing.

That’s great and I’m glad you got that sense as it’s something that we try to do intentionally; that is, keep things small and relationship-driven.

So you said you looked at some other programs too. You don’t have to say which ones you looked at but what were the main differences you saw between other programs and The Iron Yard?

Well, the other programs were a little bit longer, and also cost a lot more. In general, it didn’t seem like they were as focused, whether that was front-end or back-end development.

Personally, I was really interested in the data side of things, so you know, Ruby on Rails stuff, and the price that some of the other schools charged (nearly 3 to 4 times) didn’t make much sense.

I felt like The Iron Yard was a very affordable program that allowed me to get my foot-in-the-door to the tech and software industry at a reasonable price.

Ah, so you had a focus already in mind when you were looking at other programs, right? You knew that you wanted to do Ruby on Rails from the beginning or was that something you warmed up to as you were doing your research?

No, I knew before I started applying to The Iron Yard that I wanted to go into that focus. I knew people that were doing Ruby on Rails and I would peek over their shoulder a lot of times and get really excited about the possibility of becoming a RoR developer.

I’m, at times, a bit too OCD when it comes to CSS and HTML and stuff so, you know, the thought of having to sort through 4,000 different shades of blue sort of sounded like just a horrible thing for me to have to do. I mean, none of these websites that will be able to run without the backend no matter how pretty it is. It needs data to populate it’s site and get things moving.That excited me to be on that back track that’s truly kind of supporting what everybody else is building on the front.

So, was the experience what you expected it to be? What was the class experience like?

It was tough, it was consuming, it was challenging, sometimes it took everything out of you, and at the exact same moment it was exciting, it was thrilling, it was fun.

The amount of knowledge you’re able to obtain in such a short amount of time is just incalculable. And then having the instructors behind me and the TAs that we did, it just makes a world of difference.

There was one instance where, it was the first or second week, and things just weren’t clicking for me and I was just feeling really down about myself being someone who’d always kind of felt like he’s picked things up in a little bit of a quicker matter and I was honestly ready to quit and I sat down with the instructor and he pretty much refused to let me quit.

He was like “Dude, you work hard, you’re kicking butt, just don’t quit. Things will click for you, things will start working.”

You know, if it wasn’t for that I – I had people who were nice enough to help mentor me after class in their off time to kind of help me understand things better. It was so tough, but at the same time, you got out what you put in.

It was just working hard and having fun. I mean, I feel like that’s a mantra of what The Iron Yard is. It’s work hard, play hard, and it was definitely a roller coaster of ups and downs.

You know what? It’s like fighting for 12 hours on one problem and then the sheer bliss of finally figuring it out. That’s what coding is and I’m so excited about it as a career.

Did anything surprise you or did anything happen or was any part of the experience really different than what you expected coming in?

Yeah, I think I was surprised the most about how all-consuming the program is, and, how much you really connect with all your classmates.

You know you’re going to meet people, and you know you’re going to have friendships or whatnot coming out of this because you’re spending 12 weeks with people. And the next thing you know not only are you spending 12 weeks with people but you’re spending almost every waking hour with those people or communicating with them and the friendships and bonds that were built coming out of there.

Kind of everybody facing the same challenges and going through the same struggles at the same time made for a really great community experience.

So you went through the course, you made it, what was your final project?

My final project was an app that showed you all the local food trucks around you and you could like and follow a food truck and if it started serving food somewhere around you it would shoot you a text message letting you know that they were open that day and serving food.

What motivated you to create that? Not being able to find the food trucks that you wanted?

Exactly! Actually we were sitting there one day in class and everybody was talking about what they wanted to do for lunch and I was talking about how it would be cool to go to a food truck. I then realized there was nowhere in Charleston where they showed where all of the food trucks were mapped out. Just decided to make something where it brought it all together.

What did it feel like to have an idea and then actually be able to make it a reality?

Oh I mean, it’s insane! It’s one of the greatest feelings ever. That’s kind of what coding is. You can take a drunken scribble on a napkin and a random idea that you thought of over drinks with your friends and next thing you know you can have a minimal viable product for you to show off to people and know that you built it with your own hands, with your own brain, with your own knowledge.

You take an overwhelming sense of pride in the fact that you’re able to do that. And there’s such a small percent of the population that has actually, you know, can do something like that. It’s a wonderful feeling.

So you went through the class, you built an app, what happened when you graduated from the program?

Oh, man, I went straight to the bar and got a beer.

As you should have!

Okay, so, directly after the class I was fortunate enough to be invited back to be a teaching assistant for the next course. And so I got to do that and while I was doing that there was a couple different startups in the area that needed some help with some work so I had the opportunity to do freelance work in conjunction with being a TA which was really great because it gave me a taste of what it’s like to do freelance work.

And I truly like helping people so being a TA was a great experience to help people who were having the same struggles that I had had when I went through the program. I enjoyed giving them the support and helping them along. What a wonderful feeling.

When you were working with those startups were you intimidated at first? Did you ever ask yourself: “Am I going to have what it takes to do that?”

Oh, certainly! I mean I feel like there’s the whole paradigm of imposter syndrome and like, you think that, you know, everyone around you has 10,000 times more knowledge than you do but then you quickly realize that like, you know quite a bit and there’s no reason for you to lack confidence.

I think it just took a little bit of work here and there but you quickly realize: “Wow, what I learned from The Iron Yard is incredible.” It takes other people years to garner this much knowledge.

So you were just able to jump in and add value to those startups?

Yeah, absolutely!

So you did another stint as a TA, did freelance work for startups, and then what do you do now?

I finally started applying to more full time jobs. And it was insane I went from like one day I had no offers to less than a week later I had four or five offers on the table. For the first time in my life it wasn’t me, you know, trying to get somebody to hire me, it was somebody trying to hire me.

This was a much better place and it was incredible having the chance to really step back and look at all these different opportunities presented to you because of, you know, the hard work, and the dedication of other individuals that helped support you and all of a sudden here I was, you know, having the chance to pick out the job that I truly wanted, which was really cool.

I took my time and I wound up having the job that I wanted from the very beginning at the company that I wanted to be with.

Congratulations!

But yeah, so now I do software for a company in town that it is kind of a child company of a parent company from New Jersey that does electronic health records and medication management. And so, you know, just writing software that can truly help other people in a positive manner day-in and day-out.

That’s great! What was it like going from freelance to jumping in to a full-time job? Was that a pretty easy transition for you and do you feel like you’re able to jump into sort of a team based environment on a day to day basis?

Yeah, being on a team is great, and I’m fortunate enough to work for a company where they put a strong emphasis on learning so the first month on the job I literally just got to explore different avenues, new types of codes, kind of learn new things.

And then, you know, it’s certainly I think a little bit differently from than working freelance and  there was that curve to get up to speed. Now, I’m chugging away and being a real value to the team.

And, I’m still learning – I learn at least two or three new things a day and that’s one of the big draws to being a developer is that the ever-changing world of code allows you to continually grow and learn.

Awesome! This has been one heckuva trip!

It’s easily been the wildest and best year of my life and it’s just, you know, a year ago today I was freaking out about not having a final project idea and a year later I’m  working a job that I truly love.

And, you know, I look forward to waking up, going to my job, and it’s all thanks to the people and the program at The Iron Yard.

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