From an Accounting Firm to PromptWorks Fellowship to Associate Web Developer.

Our friend Erik Aylward has successfully finished his fellowship here at PromptWorks and is moving on to his first developer job, a position at Penn Medicine. Erik came to us through the Flatiron Fellowship, a program that follows 12 weeks of intensive developer training at the Flatiron School in New York City with working alongside other software engineers while preparing to enter the workforce.

Before Flatiron, Erik worked at a consulting firm specializing in accounting and regulatory compliance services for government contractors. With the tools gained from his fellowship at PromptWorks and his training at the Flatiron School, Erik successfully made a career switch to software development. We wanted to know more about Erik’s experience, what he learned, and what he considered valuable.

PromptWorks Flatiron Fellowship Interview with Erik Aylward

Erik Aylward, PromptWorks Flatiron Fellow
Erik Aylward, PromptWorks Flatiron Fellow

Congratulations on your new job! Can you tell us about the position?

Thank you! I’ll be joining Penn Medicine as an Associate Web Developer. Specifically, I’ll be working on the Penn Medicine Academic Computing Services (PMACS) team. They develop and maintain web applications that support the education, research, and administrative goals of the Perelman School of Medicine. It’s a junior full-stack role; I’ll be writing code in Ruby, JavaScript, and PHP.

What did you learn during your fellowship that you did not know before?

A bunch of things—I’ll mention a few. I observed an agile estimating session and learned how story points are assigned to user stories to come up with an overall estimate of effort. During some pairing sessions I learned how to use the Nokogiri gem to perform web scraping tasks. Through the mock interview process, I got a much better picture of the kinds of questions that might be asked in interviews, how my responses stacked up, and Ruby/JavaScript topics I needed to review. And I learned a ton about Philly’s tight-knit tech community—people, companies, meetups, and resources like Philly and Philly Dev Slack that helped me out in my job search.

What was the most valuable part of your experience at PromptWorks?

In terms of helping me land a job, the mock interviews were the most valuable part of the fellowship. The last real interviews I had were in college, six years ago, for a completely different industry. I was rusty to say the least. Since I’m a career changer, one thing everyone asks is, “Why the switch? Why programming?” The mock interviews allowed me to hone my story: connecting the dots between my past career and software development in a way that was logical and concise. I was asked both behavioral and technical questions and received constructive feedback on my responses. Many questions, or similar versions of them, were asked in interviews I had throughout the summer. Lastly, I did a live coding exercise with one of PromptWorks’ engineers, which forced me to articulate my thoughts and provided that “hot seat” environment that is difficult to replicate outside of real interviews.

Do you feel that gaining experience in mock interviews, code reviews, and interacting with other software developers helped to achieve your goal at securing a job? Why or why not?

Yes, without a doubt. As I mentioned in the previous question, the mock interview process was incredibly beneficial. The code reviews were great as well. A few of them were for projects I was building during different interview processes, so getting a second pair of eyes on my work was huge. They helped me debug problems, better organize my code, and made me explain and justify what I’d written. In general, what helped the most in landing a job was simply getting accustomed to speaking with other developers—answering their questions, articulating my thought process, explaining how I solved certain problems, etc. Sometimes it’s easy to think you have the answer to a question in your head, but when you have to explain it you find it’s not as simple as you thought. Getting that communication practice was key.

Do you feel that your time here will help with your software development career? How so?

Yes. On top of the mock interviews, code reviews, etc., I benefited from just spending time in the office and “learning through osmosis,” for lack of a better term. Observing how people worked and how meetings were conducted, listening to conversations and the kinds of questions people asked each other, seeing how ideas were presented at lunchtime tech talks—the mentality and attitude of PromptWorks’ software engineers made a big impact on me. I can best sum this up as professional dedication: a commitment to writing quality code, continuously learning, staying curious, and sharing knowledge.

How was the experience overall?

Invaluable. The fellowship made me a better developer and helped me land a job. Plus, I got to know a great group of people in the process.

Do you have any advice for recent code bootcamp grads?

Flatiron School Logo
Erik learned software development at The Flatiron School in NYC.

To get a job, you have to earn it. Nothing will be given to you, and no one cares what bootcamp you went to—some may even see it as a negative.

Here’s my advice for job hunting in Philly, in no particular order:

Network. Go to meetups. Ask for business cards. Find local bootcamp grads on LinkedIn. Search for local devs from your alma mater. Send cold emails, but try to find common ground. Ask to meet for coffee, lunch, drinks. Get on Philly Dev Slack. Give a tech talk. Keep coding. Keep learning. Know your projects inside & out. Know why you want to be a developer. Have an elevator pitch. Talk to people with more experience than you. Be curious. Ask questions. Read Philly. Follow blogs and Twitter accounts of companies you’d like to work for. Start your own blog. Hustle. Learn from failure. Keep your head up. Volunteer. Put your resume on Dice, Indeed. (Yes, you’ll get spammed. You’ll get legitimate calls, too.) Open as many doors as possible. Talk to recruiters. Talk to your friends. Talk to their friends. Talk to your mom (just because). Don’t get offended. Be humble. Say thank you. Follow up, but don’t be annoying. Set the bar high but keep expectations low. Offer your help. Be confident, even if you don’t feel like it. Be nice.

Finding a job might take a little while, but if you do most of the above things, someone is going to give you a shot.

What could the Philly Tech community do to help new grads?

The tech community here already has a lot to offer. For people looking for their first dev job, whether they went the bootcamp route or not, it’s a matter of taking advantage of those resources. Meetups, Philly Dev Slack, Philly, local company blogs, etc. The community is there, it’s up to you to introduce yourself. That being said, companies with the bandwidth to bring on an intern or apprentice for 3 to 6 months should seriously consider bootcamp grads. They might be “green” in terms of coding skills but usually have several years of professional experience in other areas, making them more well-rounded than your average college grad. I’m talking about communication skills, the ability to work in teams, and general maturity level. For companies, it’s a low-cost, low-risk way to find new talent. For bootcampers, it’s an opportunity to gain real-world experience, which is exactly what they need.

Would you recommend the Flatiron Fellowship at PromptWorks to other Flatiron graduates? Why or why not?

Yes, 10/10, would recommend! It’s a great opportunity to interact with professional developers and see firsthand how a top-notch software consultancy operates. Getting the chance to mock interview, pair program, participate in code reviews, and give a lunchtime tech talk helped keep me sharp while on the job hunt. On top of all that, everyone at PromptWorks is extremely welcoming and well-connected in the local tech community, which was huge for me because I had just moved to Philly and could count the devs I knew here on one hand. To future PromptWorks/Flatiron fellows I have only one word of caution: step into the foosball arena at your own risk—they are GOOD.