Last week we had the chance to catch up with Project Shift Alumni and Software Engineer, Wes Jourdan. Wes works for Fugitive Labs out of The American Underground in Downtown Durham. Before entering Project Shift, Wes worked in a variety of jobs in logistics and the restaurant industry. He was dead set on teaching himself to code through online platforms before applying and being accepted to Project Shift's January 2018 fellowship.
The following interview took place on Friday, September 7th, 2018 between Aaron Hayslip (Founder at Project Shift) and Wes Jourdan, with a couple questions interjected by Edward Barton (Community Director at Project Shift).
Aaron: You're just a few months into your first job as a Software Engineer and you play a large part of a small team. So how are things going?
Wes: We just launched the product I've been working on since I got here. There is still a long way to go as it's in BETA, but it feels good.
Aaron: Congrats! I remember that it took me a long time to write any kind of code that I was proud of, so it's impressive that you have something real in the wild.
Aaron: So please answer this honestly, as I know you will (note that Wes is blunt). In what ways did Project Shift prepare you to work as a Software Engineer at Fugitive Labs?
Wes: You made me learn things at a speed that I was uncomfortable learning them at. Which is what I had to do to get up to speed at this job. That was one of the major things. Also, I'm unable to use Google much for my job here because I've been working on a custom in-house framework - so there are no online docs or forums that I can consult. However, Project Shift set me up to learn all the underlying things. So Google is useless, but lucky for me, I know how to search my machine and how to learn from the code itself. Project Shift really set me up to do things without any hand-holding.
Aaron: I'm glad to hear it. Rewind to January (almost 6 months ago) - where are you at now, compared to where you thought you would be at this point?
Wes: I didn't know what I didn't know. I actually feel like I am a developer now, and when I started at Project Shift, I didn't even know what being a developer meant.
Aaron: So you feel confident that you can wear that title now?
Wes: I don't know, I've written code and people have thought it was alright.
Aaron: And they gave you money for it?
Wes: Haha, yes.
Aaron: What kind of advice would you have for anyone who wants to change careers and become a Software Engineer?
Wes: My advice is to check out freeCodeCamp, see how far you get and let me know when it's not fun anymore. I gave a guy this advice recently and after 3 days in he was frustrated. I told him that coding wasn't for him. Because if I didn't love doing this, then I couldn't do it. It's really hard.
Aaron: That's great advice. That's something that we often have a hard time with at Project Shift - ensuring that people actually love to program before they commit to it. Everyone can do it, but not everyone will love it.
Wes: Some people have fun with things that other people think are terrible.
Edward: Can I ask a question? In the past, I was very motivated to learn to code and get a job completely on my own. What kind of advice to do you have for those looking to teach themselves?
Wes: Again, I'd say check out freeCodeCamp. I was trying to make the switch completely on my own, but I ran out of time. I realized that even if I could do this on my own, it would take me years. I didn't have the time for that, so I applied for Project Shift and decided to commit. At that point, I didn't have a choice.
Aaron: Yeah, I tell potential students that you have to have the mindset of an entrepreneur - entrepreneurs are passionate and they're all in with what they're doing. Failure isn't an option.
Wes: Yeah - you need to put skin in the game. Make it a do or die situation.
Aaron: Was there ever a point where you felt burnt out in the process or felt extremely tired from having to constantly learn all the time?
Wes: I felt tired the entire time, but I would be bored otherwise. I was excited to have started at Fugitive Labs immediately after Project Shift.
Aaron: How many in-person interviews did you have after Project Shift before you landed a job?
Wes: I interviewed at Fugitive Labs on the last day of Project Shift and obviously ended up here immediately.
Edward: I have one last question. Would you recommend Project Shift for someone who is self-taught and was considering trying to this on their own? If so, why?
Wes: I couldn't have done this without Project Shift. It would have probably taken me 2.5 years even if I could have. One of the major things was networking. I wouldn't have gotten an interview if it wasn't for Project Shift. That was really the most important part for me.
Note: After this, the conversation turned toward beer. We recommend checking out local Durham breweries Durty Bull, Ponysaurus and Fullsteam. Seriously though are there more breweries than coffee shops in this town?