Building a Career in Just 12 Weeks

Ehler Orngard shares his experience in his just-completed Berkeley Coding Boot Camp and takes a deep breath before plunging into the job search

Ehler Orngard’s career history is less of an arc and more of a squiggly line. For his undergraduate studies, he majored in economics, Spanish and music. “I didn't have an idea of where I would go with any of that,” Ehler quips. After college, he worked in residential construction, then jet-setted to Northwest Spain where he taught at an elementary school.

Upon his return to the U.S., Ehler began substitute teaching at Vincent Academy, an elementary school in Oakland, which turned into a position as an office manager and then as a student data manager.

Now Elher is pivoting to  full-stack web development with the help of our Berkeley Coding Boot Camp.

Why coding?

First, the obvious reasons are that it's up-and-coming, financially lucrative and has many job openings.

For me, I've always loved linguistics and natural human languages. The concepts of artificial languages and code are not so different in my mind. The semantic process of taking an idea and re-encapsulating it in code, which is then unpacked and visualized on the screen—that's magical.

Second, I have that construction background and it's natural for me to build and create, which is what you're doing as a developer.

Third, I like to use my brain.

What was your biggest challenge during the 12-week boot camp?

I worked about 10 hours a week part-time during the whole thing, which I would not recommend. It wasn't the hours, it was jumping from one thing to another, in both demanding and difficult ways.

On another level, there’s managing your own frustrations and emotions as you go through the bootcamp. There were a few people just out of high school or college, but most of us were coming from careers. When you work for a while, you're used to feeling competent, but the boot camp was like trying to read for the first time. It's not easy.

Also, managing the inevitable points where you just hit a wall, when nothing you can possibly think of to try will work.

What kind of strategies did you try to get beyond those trouble points?

Trying to eat and sleep and rest made a huge difference. It's important to exercise just to get blood moving through your body.

Stepping away for a second gives you a new perspective sometimes.

At certain points in the process, collaboration is helpful. As far as the great majority of the work and progress for me, it was being in a calm, quiet space by myself. One of the most successful tools for me is to achieve a state of flow, where I've risen above my own ego. That state lets me code for hours.

What are some of the advantages to learning it in a concentrated three-month timespan?

I really considered the six-month program, but after talking it through a bit, I did a 180 and I'm really glad I did. The highly concentrated format means that you don't forget any of it, even the stuff you learned early on. It's so fresh.

The other side is that you learn a concept and you immediately implement it. You basically have a new concept and you work until you understand it. You arrive at the finish line where you can execute the concept that you learned.

One of the struggles in learning to code is that you learn something in class and then you think you understand it. But when you go home and try to implement it, you realize you have no idea how to do it. The highly condensed format combats that as much as possible.

You've barely stopped for a meal and you're back to working on the problem. It doesn't go smoothly, by any means! But the knowledge is right on the surface.

Were there any big surprises that you learned about coding?

I didn't know what I was getting into. But at the same time, conceptually, I thought I knew. I was surprised that it was like I imagined.

Because I studied linguistics so much, I think it prepared me for coding. That, and studying philosophy and conditional statements. I was prepared.

I found CSS to be more frustrating than I had imagined, particularly with respect to positioning. It's deceptive in that it's very logical in a number of ways, and then in others it seems quite illogical. A lot of it is that you're stacking things that overlap. You tell it to do something that you think is completely different but they affect each other.

What was your favorite moment from the boot camp?

I'm not sure if I could identify just one specific occurrence.

On a personal level, finishing each app—especially the most challenging ones and the ones where I felt that I did the best job—the amount of satisfaction that came from that achievement was immense and awesome. It was "fueling." It takes that much satisfaction to make up for all that frustration!

Every day was great. The banter between heckling students and our comedic teacher David Hallinan was awesome. The teacher was great at teaching the material and making it really fun and entertaining. It helped academically because it alleviated the pressure.

If you really think about it, we're all putting our lives on hold and on the line to make a new career. It's stressful. Especially when you're struggling with the frustrations, and thinking, "I am not cut out for this. I made the wrong call." You can easily think that every day.

Our teacher made it an upbeat experience, and the class was made up of fun, positive people. Everyone was so in it to win it, and there to learn. There was a general camaraderie struggling through something like this every day. That level of camaraderie was something I haven’t felt in a long time.

How's the job hunt going?

In the next week or two, I'm hoping to finish my projects and résumé.

A week ago we went to  a big networking event that was organized just for us. We had a push before that to touch up our apps and present them there. It was a good to have another reason to meet up with everybody again, and to get my feet wet and talk to people representing tech companies about my work and projects.

After that, it's prepping for interviews and then I'll start going to Meetups. Friends in my cohort post the ones they’ve found in the Slack channel. I love that collaborative attitude toward the job hunt. I thought before the program that it could be cutthroat, but it wasn't at all. Everyone is willing to help out.

If you're interested in an intense learning experience that prepares you for a lucrative coding career, follow Ehler and dive into the Berkeley Coding Boot Camp. Learn more.