Inside the Immersive: One Woman’s Experience

September 4, 2017

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It has been two months since I finished the Android Immersive in New York. Sixty days of unemployment. Sixty days of worrying and looking for work. Sixty days to reflect on the experience. Did I waste my money? Was I crazy to quit my job? I want to, with certainty, say it was the best idea. However, I can’t. My feelings regarding the Immersive are complicated, filled with accomplishment, friendship, tears, frustration, and lessons learned.

App maker

During the 12-week Immersive, we built five major apps and numerous smaller demo apps. The first app was Tic Tac Toe and I’m not going to lie it was hard. Those first couple of weeks were nerve racking. Every day I felt more like a failure.  I even considered quitting, but I didn’t. I knew I could learn Java and Android I just needed time.

The second app was a To Do List. The user could create a list, enter items, and a description. The app used a Base Adapter and List Views. For my portfolio, this was the first app to receive upgrades to the material design.

For the third project, we built an e-commerce app that allowed the user to search through a list, view item details, add to a cart, and checkout. For this I used material design concepts, RecyclerView, Picasso, and a SQLite database.

The Fourth app, PokemonYelp, was a team project where we combined Pokémon and Yelp. The objective was to use catching Pokémon as an incentive for users to visit new business. When the user was close to a store, they could “catch” a Pokémon by simply visiting the business page on Yelp. My part of the project involved creating the SQLite database, working on the RecyclerView for the search, Unit and Espresso testing, writing the ReadMe, and product manager. As product manager, I built off my previous project management experience managing the Trello board and prioritizing features.

The final app was our choice, so I built a cookbook app Mom’s CookBook. The user could search an API and manually enter a recipe. For Mom’s Cookbook, I used Fragments, RecyclerView, Retrofit, SQLite database, and Picasso. This app I published to Google Play as a Beta Version.

Problem solving and camaraderie

With every new lab, homework or project there were errors. Sometimes it was simple: syntax or out of bound error. Other times it was figuring out how to incorporate a new feature work without breaking the whole program. It always began with the same sadness.  No matter the difficulty the moment a problem is detected, your heart drops. Followed by increased frustration at failed fixes that involve minutes or hours scouring and trying Stack Overflow and Google documentation until finally it runs.  And when it runs, I imagine it’s like your child’s first steps. Of course, I can’t forget the camaraderie because it was during those minutes and hours that we bonded while sharing frustrations, solutions, jokes, fears, insecurities, likes, and dislikes.  If 12 weeks, 40 hours a week, 10 people one classroom doesn’t form a bond nothing can.

Students helping students

For me labs were the worst. On one hand, they provided a valuable resource during project week. On the other hand, the concepts necessary to excel were left out of the lesson. For those of us without a strong computer science background in C++ or Java, a morning lab could turn into an evening lab, which then left you with two labs and homework due by 9am the next morning. Too many nights resulted in four hours of sleep. I believe the problem lied in the ladder of assistance.

On the first day, it was stressed to us that seeking assistance from the instructors was the last resort. First internet. Second classmates. While step one and two are important in the workplace and outside. It was completely unfair to my experienced classmates. Out of the ten students, five had a strong computer science background but it was only two people that offered assistance to those less skilled.  Graciously, they stayed late, broke down concepts, and helped identify errors at a burden to themselves. The sticking point for me continues to be that other students didn’t pay to teach their classmates.

Lack of diversity

My cohort was ethnically diverse, with only three white guys out of ten and two women out of 10.  Better stats than most companies. At some point every person admitted their shock at the class statistics, but I don’t remember anyone asking the big question, “How did it happen”. Each of us took our own path to the Immersive. General Assembly doesn’t find you, you find General Assembly, but that isn’t how it works in the workplace.

The lack of diversity isn’t a recruitment issues to be laid at the feet of Human Resources it is a team issue. If your team doesn’t think it is weird that they all look like or come from the same background then you have a problem. Networking is an important part of finding a position. And networking doesn’t always happen at career fairs it could be a friend of a friend, a former classmate, a person on your softball team, you get the idea.  If knowing someone on the team is an important part of attaining a position, then some burden for diversity needs to be placed on the team.

Confidence

When I was learning to swim my instructor said “If you do something once successful, it doesn’t mean you know it. You have to do it three times in a row successfully.” After building four major Android apps and numerous smaller Java and apps, I feel confident in my skill to build an app.

I, also, found confidence in product management. Even though, I only had that one time to practice it was fulfilling using my project management skills. And it was the only time I felt that I contributed.

Caveats.

It is difficult for me unconditionally to recommend the Immersive. Going into the program, I wanted to build off my previous administrative or writing experience to find a more challenging position in tech. However, within the first week I was informed that the career coaches would only help us with Android Developer positions. If we wanted anything else we would have to forfeit the career coaching. I know right! But for them a job title of Android Developer is success for me employment in a position using my new skills or a position that was opened by the knowledge was successful. But “What’s wrong with an Android Developer position?”. Nothing! However, I’m not confident in my Computer Science skills, which means I’m terrified of whiteboarding. And whiteboarding is the fire ring that every software developer must jump through. After a few more months of learning I know that I will be confident, but until then I’ve had to go it alone in shifting my job search.

Caveats, confidence, diversity, apps, and friendship aside, an Immersive value can only be determined by you. The program’s goals don’t have to match your own to make it worthwhile. It won’t be easy, even classmates with a computer science background eventually felt the pain, but it will broaden your horizons and make you confident in the subject matter. A nice cherry on top, I gained the ability to identify talented programmers and designers. The job hunt has made me realize how many companies aren’t interested in career changers from a non-computer science background.  I suggest deep consideration of your history, your current situation, your desires for your future, and most importantly will you regret not doing it.

*(As I was writing this piece, my career coach reached out to me about positions other than Android developer. Maybe it takes a little while before they will help you switch your job search.)

 

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