From graphic design to web development: Richard’s story
When Richard started his job as a graphic designer in Birmingham, Alabama after graduating with a degree from Auburn, he certainly wasn’t expecting to get into coding. But working in-house at a big company meant he was exposed to several areas of the business. He was asked to help create some email designs, so he started dabbling in a bit of code. It was a painful process, but he found that he actually started to enjoy coding.
Within three years, Richard knew it was time for him to focus full-time on his passion for coding. He researched his options, compared code schools, and chose to enroll with The Iron Yard in Atlanta. He graduated in December 2014, and we recently caught up with him to find out how he’s doing.
So, how did you come to the realization you wanted to focus on coding full time?
It was just a different experience than designing. It's actually getting to build something that worked and did something. I was just really drawn to that side. I taught myself for about a year, dabbling in HTML and CSS and building really basic websites. That's when I decided I wanted to really dedicate myself to coding. I knew it wasn't something I was going to be able to learn on the side of a full time job. I found The Iron Yard and compared it with a couple other tech code schools and just felt like it was really the thing for me. The 12-week format meant I wouldn't go six months to a year without a paycheck, which was helpful because I'm an adult. I still have to pay for myself. I wanted something quick but immersive, not a, “we'll teach you the basics of CSS on your weekends” thing. I liked that it was full time; you don't do anything but code for three months.
What was it like to go from graphic design to coding? What drew you to coding?
Development is almost like solving a puzzle; you really get to think through problems differently. It's just a different kind of problem solving. That's really what drew me to it. You're literally building a functioning thing, like a tool or a website.
I still had no idea how much there really was to it until I got into The Iron Yard. Even after The Iron Yard, I realized that it goes so much further than even what we’d been taught. The longer I go on working in this field, the less I feel I actually know. I went to a conference pretty recently with work and they were actually talking about that: how the better you get, the more you know you don't know. And the whole purpose of all this learning is trying to maximize the amount that you know you don't know so that you can learn some of it.
What was the code school experience like for you?
I feel like I had a lot of preparation. I talked to a former student before I went in, and talked with the Campus Director and my Instructor in the interviews. They made it pretty apparent that it was going to be difficult. I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn't know how hard it was going to be. Sometimes you feel like you're taking in so much that you can't possibly learn anything more that day. It's tough but it's also a good feeling. A week or two later, you'll look back and you'll be like oh yeah, I know how to do that now. It's amazing just how much progress you see as you go. It's different than a lot of other things just because it's so fast paced and it's so immersive.
What were some of the challenges you faced while in class?
Personally, I don't come from that much of a technical background at all, so getting into things like the terminal and using a command line and just writing code itself from a programming perspective was really pretty intimidating. I don't really consider myself naturally technically proficient. Collaboration ended up being kind of a tough thing too. Everyone in the class comes from such different backgrounds. But then when you finally got something working, it was just so rewarding.
Tell us about your final project
My final app was a fly fishing app. If you're a fly fisherman, you're always checking the weather of certain fishing spots. They are always reading about water conditions and about different hatches that are happening. And so there's all this information that you have to gather before you go on a trip, so you can choose the kind of flies that you use for fishing with. There's this big community surrounding it.
When you take a photo of a fish you catch with the app, it gets all of the current information for that spot at that time and makes a post with your picture so other fishermen can go and see that you caught this fish at this specific spot and under these conditions.
Actually accomplishing something like that in three weeks just shows you, man, you can really build anything you want with this kind of stuff. If you’re willing to put enough effort and time into it, you can build just about anything. That's a pretty cool feeling.
I think more than anything it's just very freeing. I think that as a designer you have a lot of creative freedom. But with development you can make all of this stuff on your own. You can just have an idea and build it. And that's so cool to be able to do that. You literally need no resources other than a computer and internet access. And you can just make things. The kind of freedom that comes with that is just amazing.
That’s very cool. So where did you go from there?
Even as a junior level developer, one that had basically three months of experience, I had more interviews than I knew what to do with. I eventually had multiple offers to choose from. It was just so different from my previous job hunting experiences. It was kind of ridiculous. My girlfriend (now fianc) and I were trying to figure out whether we wanted to live in Atlanta near our families or travel elsewhere. And I had offers that gave us that choice. We could have done either one, which is great. We ended up deciding to stay in Atlanta.
I'm now working at a company called Razorfish. It's a big digital agency. It's been really good. I mean, I feel like I came into the job equipped with the skill set I needed to get started. I definitely didn't know everything, by any means. I've been learning so much since day one. But I think that's kind of the point of The Iron Yard really: to give you enough to get your foot in the door somewhere, and then you keep learning once you get there.
It just feels like this skill set is in such demand right now. So, I'm definitely hopeful for the future. I really like my job now so I could definitely see myself staying here for several years, building up to a mid-level position and continuing to learn from these brilliant guys I'm working with.
Richard followed the footsteps of hundreds and hundreds of students who have forged their own path by attending The Iron Yard. The graduates below have their own unique stories to tell as well. Whether you're looking to find a more fulfilling career or fulfill your love of technology, there are alumni who have walked your path.