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Meet James: From Elementary School Teacher to UI Developer

Meet James Billard! He realized he needed a change after seven years as an elementary school instructor. He studied in our nights & weekends track, and now works as a UI Developer at Indigo Slate. Read his advice, struggles, and ultimate triumph as he made a massive career change to pursue his goals.

Hi James! Thanks for chatting with us today. You used Code Fellows to make a career pivot — what you were doing before the program, and what prompted your desire to change careers?

Hey Sarah, the pleasure is all mine! I was an elementary school teacher for seven years before studying at Code Fellows. While mentoring students to become their best academic and emotional selves is very rewarding, it is also very emotionally challenging. Most of the schools I taught in were in economically depressed areas. I had students who were homeless, who were being abused, who lost family members due to many different types of violence, who were suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, etc. I grew tired of the way governments were handling these sorts of cases and felt I needed a change for a while.

How did you first hear about Code Fellows?

I heard about Code Fellows back when it was in the “old” building and I hadn’t immigrated from Canada yet. While on a visit to my in-laws here in Seattle, my wife and I were having dinner with friends. I was discussing my desire to switch careers, but I was unsure of what I wanted to do. My friend, Andrew, started asking me questions about what I was interested in and “something in technology” came up a bunch.

What made you choose our program over other options?

Honestly, during my decision period, Code Fellows had a lot of hype going on. I had talked to several people in the tech community and what I normally got was something like “If you’re going to study at a code school, go to Code Fellows. They’re legit!” Given the fact that I went from being an elementary school teacher to a UI Developer at Indigo Slate, this was sound advice!

Since you’d been a teacher for so long, how was it being a student again?

After being a teacher for so long, being a student again was a breath of fresh air. I had a certain set of skills that I had acquired over my career that allowed me to be a much better student than what I had been in the past. I know my style of learning, strategies that allow me to attain more information over a short period of time, and how to be a successful part of a community of learners. These were a part of my keys to success.

How did you decide which programming language you wanted to study?

Initially, I wanted to study Python, but the Python classes were running during the daytime. Being that I was teaching during the day, this wasn’t going to work. Honestly, JavaScript was my plan B, but I am glad it worked out that way!

Tell us about learning to code in the Nights & Weekends track while working during the day. That sounds like a tough schedule!

Honestly, it was emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting, but very worth it! The emotional exhaustion came from being away from my friends and family. I missed vacations, some birthdays, a lot of my wife’s pregnancy, and many other important events.

What was your favorite part of your time on campus?

The people! My instructors were awesome. I had Scott Schmidt for Code 201, Tyler Morgan for Code 301, and Brian Nations for Code 401. Each one of these awesome instructors taught very differently, but I gained so much from all of them. My TAs were some of the most supportive people I have ever worked with. I am still in contact with a few of them when I need support in my career. Also, my fellow students were amazing. I met some of my very first friends in Seattle (outside of my wife’s friends) during the program. I still go out for drinks/dinner/family get-togethers with a few of them. Code Fellows made Seattle finally feel like home!

That’s awesome to hear! What did your job search look like?

In the beginning, I was very fortunate. I had made friends with another student who was working as an SDET for a company named Pavia Systems. Randomly, I messaged her on Slack and jokingly asked if there were any internships available. That conversation turned into an internship that lasted around five months.

That is quite the roller coaster as you started a new career. What motivated you throughout that process?

Lots of things motivated me throughout this process. I was writing posts on LinkedIn about my job search and interviews. I always tried to keep the tone positive, honest, and not get down on myself. I received a lot of support from the people who were reading my posts. I also received a few private messages about how my positivity was inspiring others to keep going. To keep myself moving forward, I would reread these messages in times when I was not so positive.

All that hard work paid off! Can you tell us about your role at Indigo Slate?

The UI team at Indigo Slate is a part of the design department. Although my job title is “User Interface Developer,” I am involved in more than just app development. From early wireframes to app development, I am a part of almost everything to do with the actualization process. What is really fantastic is that all the projects I work on are “green field” marketing sites for companies like Microsoft, Boeing, Sony, and others. This normally involves awe-inspiring animations. Needless to say, “Creating awesome is in our blood!”

Your new job sounds like the perfect fit. What does a typical day look like?

This really depends if I am on a project and what stage the project is in. In the early stages of a project, I am in wireframe design meetings.

What’s been the most surprising thing about your new career?

The most surprising part is definitely how much I am involved with the design decisions. To be honest, in the beginning, this was almost overwhelming, as this was not expected of me in the previous dev positions I’ve held! Now that I am comfortable, I love having this responsibility as it invests me more into the application or website I am working on.

You obviously learned a lot, both technically and how to stay positive during the hard parts of switching to a new career. Any advice for someone who is starting out in software development?

Don’t get discouraged when looking for your first “real” position, as this can take time. You’re probably going to see your peers receive job offers and you might not right away. This is totally fine and there is nothing wrong with you. You could — and probably will — hear the words “We are currently looking for someone with more experience.” I honestly feel like companies use this phrase to avoid talking about the real reason why they didn’t offer you the job.

If someone was considering attending Code Fellows, what would you tell them?

Learning to program is challenging. Stacked learning is challenging. Put them together and things can be, well, very challenging! Don’t get discouraged. Instead, first realize that all learning takes time. Then, create a support system amongst your classmates, TAs, instructors, and generally anyone around Code Fellows. From what I’ve seen so far in my new career, you are never truly alone on a project. When you need it, use the people around you for help. When you don’t need it, offer someone your help!

Anything else you’d like to share?

Code Fellows is a great safe place to learn, but in the end, it comes down to what you do. This does not mean you’re alone, but there are some things you should make sure you’re doing.

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