Homeward Bound: Alexander Lee’s Second Act at UC Davis for a New Career
Alexander Lee graduated from UC Davis after majoring in psychology, philosophy, and sociology back in 2008. Eleven years later, after a surge of career changes, Alex found himself back at the place where it all started. But this time, he had a new interest in mind: the UC Davis Coding Boot Camp.
Alex jumped into his programming studies while working as a paramedic supervisor at NORCAL Ambulance. He learned a lot from the experience, in and beyond the classroom. Check out our conversation with him below.
After studying psychology and being an EMT (among other jobs) why did you decide to pursue coding?
AL: Coding for me was about coming home to UC Davis. After looking at other industries—everything from public service to event security and management, law enforcement to education—I didn’t have much luck. Then I stumbled into the world of tech and quickly knew that it would be the best fit.
What was intriguing about coding?
AL: Coding is a way to see your progress. I’m a very visual person, so coding isn’t satisfying at first, but I always love seeing the end product. It is really helpful to see each step of my progress and to remember how far I’ve come. I thrive off being the type of person that loves being at the top of the hill but doesn’t really like climbing it. Putting it all together is satisfying to me.
What was daily life like in boot camp?
AL: I knew it would be a way for me to experience the program, gain knowledge, and help make it even better. But even with this confidence, it was definitely a 9-5 process. I work better in the daylight, so I would take assignments with me to work and work on them on my breaks. You only have so much time between lessons and projects. I would spend all of my free time coding, whenever I had the opportunity. I’d walk to boot camp since it was so close to where I live—and code all the way until the first instructor showed up.
Did you have a big learning curve? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
AL: I went in blindly, not knowing what to expect, but I worked really hard on all of the pre-class assignments. I did all of the typing exercises to get my speed up before the first day of class. I went from typing 40-50 words per minute to about 70-80. I made sure to nail the basics and that all my assignments were thorough. Group work was also really hard for me at first, and so was keeping up with projects. Having to work with multiple people at once and dealing with others’ learning processes is a challenge. I adapted really quickly though. It’s all worth it in the end.
How were your instructors and classmates?
AL: The instructors went above and beyond and clearly had so much experience. Following their example was the best thing for my learning style. When working on projects and assignments, I could always go to them with questions about new technologies I hadn’t used before. In one of our projects, we used the Greensock Animation platform to create a color-changing site that could be modulated for people with color blindness and synthesia. That was all new and required lots of extra research. It was a lot of fun.
What are you doing post-boot camp?
AL: I interned for a company in San Francisco as a contract software engineer over a few months. It was a lot of fun. They allowed me to work remotely, which was really awesome, but now I’ve moved on to a full-time job here in Sacramento. I’ve been taking on digital projects and I do product texting, design user experiences for our current learning software, and video editing using Adobe Suite. My current team is responsible for amending our WordPress site for those video projects and will develop a new site within the next couple of years. It’s a really exciting time for us.
How have skills from boot camp translated in a workplace environment?
AL: The parallel between real life and training is hard at first because things are never what you think. You learn to adapt really quickly. By no small measure, it’s really changed my life for what I can do here. A year ago, I was a novice at things like video editing—but now I’m operating at a pretty high level. It’s amazing what you can learn and where it can take you.
And finally, what would you tell someone else considering a boot camp program?
AL: Anyone signing up for a boot camp should know that it is called “boot camp” for a reason. The hardest part of anything in life is showing up. Showing up on time, often, and early—and making sure you keep up with assignments—are the most important things. Keep doing your best, and you’ll be fine.