Student Spotlight: From Pastries to Programming


Student Spotlight: From Pastries to Programming

This interview was conducted by Erica Freedman, Content Specialist at SwitchUp.
SwitchUp sat down with Code Institute alumni Andres Correa to discuss his journey from pastries to programming. When Andres was in Venezuela, he had his own business, but the schedule was grueling. After seeing an advertisement for Code Institute online, Andres attended an in-person class, discussed loan options as well as scholarship options, and dove in head first. His day-to-day is still challenging, but he gets to make some pretty amazing things. See how he went from skeptical to soaring with this Code Institute program:

Your educational background is in hospitality. What ignited the switch to Full Stack?

First a little background would let you know where I’m coming from.
I am a patissier by trade. I learned at my first job, where I was taken in by my mentor and learned as I went, by doing. Never had any kind of real studies beyond a 1 year Fine International Cuisine course I did in 2006(ish?) where I learned basic cooking techniques mostly. Back in Venezuela we had our own little business from 2010 or so. I made pastries in our house (decked out with industrial oven, and baking equipment), pretty much all day long. My wife did deliveries to restaurants, food stalls and cafes around the city, and ran the numbers.

Now as for the question itself.

Being completely honest, money and time schedules. Working in hospitality means working weekends, national holidays/bank holidays, Christmas time, new year’s eve,  etc. Basically my only guaranteed days off were Dec 25th and Jan 1st.

And as for the money factor, you almost always start at minimum wage, specially as an immigrant with no work experience in the country and no contacts to vouch for you. After 2 years time I was making €11/Hr, and that was after busting my back for the company. If you want to see €40k+/Yr you have to be in that industry for 10+ years unless you luck out and nab one of the very scarce high-end positions at a reputable and established place. That or you save money (somehow) and try and start your own thing, which is a massive gamble.

I wasn’t ready to serve others for 10+ years to make what I can make in 2 years time by creating cool stuff. I was ready for a change, but I didn’t really know what to do.

Do you feel Full Stack Development and hospitality are related? If so, how?

Mainly in the matter of social interaction and being comfortable around others. I have no problems with meeting managers, talking to my boss or having a casual conversation with new people at the canteen. I’m very used to being around people.

How did you decide to attend Code Institute? What made it the right program for you?

My idea was to study a full computer science course at any college that would take me, as a part-timer, and just try and juggle a full-time job with a part-time college course. In my head, I just needed to “get my foot in the door” and then I would go from there. I didn’t know of any other options (nor that coding bootcamps existed) and we didn’t have enough money for me to become a full-time student and go to college.

Right around that time, my wife saw an ad for Code Institute on Facebook (or maybe Instagram?), and mentioned it to me. The ad was for one of their open evenings, and so I signed up, not really knowing what it was all about. Was it a part time course? Was it a new college?

I went in, hesitantly. Actually I almost didn’t go to the open evening. Somehow, I decided I wanted to get a coffee, and since I was going out anyway, I figure I might as well see what this thing was all about. Thinking back, perhaps that coffee was the catalyst for my new life. Sounds dramatic, but I distinctly remember I only left my house that day to get a coffee, not really for Code Institute’s open evening.

Soon after, I received a call from Denise Lui. She’s a wonderful person and assuaged many of my fears and doubts. She mentioned she could help me get a loan. She assured me if I saved a spot, I would get a small discount.

She’s a good saleswoman. Answered my millions of questions, she made sure I felt safe taking the course. But I’m very paranoid, so I asked if I could show up to one of the classes. I’m not sure how many non-students show up to the classroom, but I did. I met the teacher who would soon turn to be one of my favorite people (Richard Dalton) but I mainly talked to the Teacher’s Assistant at the time (Niel McEwan). At this point I knew it was a real course, now I was just finding out the quality of it.

Turns out it’s pretty good, and they’re all about helping improve the students.

You currently work as a Full Stack Developer at Impedans Ltd. What does this title mean and what does a normal day at work look like for you?

My job at Impedans Ltd. is very challenging. I am designing a new system from the ground up, a lot of which is custom made. I use a few libraries here and there, but it’s mostly done by me now. When I started there was one other guy working on it, but he moved on. I’m now the only web developer of any sort at the company, the only one who reliably works with Python and the only one with back-end development experience. I got designs for the front-end, but I am the one to make them a reality and find out which libraries fit our use case. I also helped design the schema a little, but that was mostly done by our project manager who has more experience with databases. I program the entire back end. A full REST API through Django, reddis cache and celery queuing for tasks, views and request handling, etc.

Mostly my day is trying to tackle small things, piece by piece. I try to take it one thing at a time and break down problems into their smallest possible steps. If I need “C”, first I try to get “A”, see if that works how it should, then move on to “B”, seeing if it works, then I can try to get to “C”. I find that doing programming that way helps me understand the code I’m writing better, and to learn along the process.

There’s also a lot of googling. A lot.

I’m lucky that this particular job covers every single thing we studied at Code Institute. Front end design and good UX practices, JavaScript and jQuery, Bootstrap and external library use, relational databases and querying, Python and Django, and though we only studied a little on RESTful APIs, we did get the basics of them. I now designed one, along with mostly every other system.

In due time, I will have to learn how to deploy a website on my own, set up scalability, etc. I have no idea how any of that works, but that’s been my most used phrase since April 2017 when I started all this.

Have you faced any challenges trying to become a Full Stack Developer?

Trying to cram as much information as possible into my stubborn head is very difficult. Trying to understand documentation, when most of it assumes you know what you are doing. Finding dummy-proof documentation is about as rare as finding an albino unicorn. Learning, basically is my everyday challenge, but one I tackle head-on eagerly. Learning how to learn is one of the most important takeaways from the course. You learn techniques, sure, but if you only learn how to “parrot” the code, you achieved nothing. Learning how to parse documentation or online examples and how those would have to be changed and fit into your projects is massively difficult, but equally as important.

Has Code Institute helped you to get a job in your field? If so, how?

They helped me massively. There is actually a section of the course devoted specifically to this. “Careers Week” brought recruiters to us, they talked about the industry and we got to meet them first hand. We had mock interviews with real recruiters from a reputable agency. We had a CV workshop. We of course had our project portfolio polished. We also had a project presentation that helped me sharpen up on how to talk code to people that didn’t work on that project, helpful for interviews and technical interviews. Tiffany Snell, the student liaison put me in touch with people from Accenture and Actavo (where I got my first job, I’m on my second job now). I got calls back from both and thanks to Tiffany I got my first job 17 days out of the course.

Where do you see your career heading in the next 5-10 years?

Project lead on something exciting. I want to still be making cool stuff. I’m liking data analysis, APIs and IoT, perhaps cloud computing. Perhaps some sort of big data analyst for IoT-connected scientific measurement companies. Turns out that there are sensors that spit out massive amounts of data, but a bunch of numbers on a CSV spreadsheet don’t make a lot of sense, until you turn them into graphs. I really liked that part of the course. I really like Python too so perhaps sprinkle some machine learning in there.

Develop a system that can interpret your data for you and feed you only the most relevant stuff aftera teaching it what it is that you’re after, and serve that over an API for other people to use? All I know is I still want to be coding and making new things, it scratches a particular itch I didn’t know I had.

The project I’m working on is (apparently) massively important to the plasma (microchip and space) industry, so maybe I can be doing some good for the advancement of technology. Who knows. That is me being hopeful and a dreamer.

What makes you most passionate about the world of Full Stack Development and coding?

The fact that I can make things that do cool stuff. It sounds silly, but when I make a little Python script and it works after a few tries, that little “AHA!” moment is addicting. I think of the challenges I have to solve as puzzles, except I design the pieces myself with logic, and then I have to figure out how to put them together. Perhaps most pieces fit, but one piece in my puzzle looks bad, so then I change it. Or one piece doesn’t fit, so I scrap it and make a new one that fits. When all is done and I just created a cool data analysis graph from clicking a couple boxes on screen, that moment is extremely rewarding.

If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice before pursuing this track, what would it be?

Go back how far? 1996? Pay attention in maths class! 2001? Don’t quit college. 4 years ago? Forget hospitality, start computer science! 1.5 years ago? Don’t doubt Code Institute, sign up right now! It’ll change your life and you’ll be as happy as you’ve ever been, plus you’ll make great friends along the way.

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