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INTERVIEW

Alchemy Alumni Spotlight: Noah's Journey from CNA to Software Engineer

Monday, February 28, 2022

Interview with tech education authority Course Report

After 10 years as a CNA, Noah Puckett hit a ceiling in their healthcare career and wanted a new career that offered a higher salary, better benefits, and more flexibility. To expedite the career change, Noah enrolled at Alchemy Code Lab and was grateful for the community support, career coaching, and structured learning. Noah became a bootcamp TA and is now a Software Engineer at New Relic, and shares their insights into how to make the most of the Alchemy Code Lab bootcamp experience, tested job search strategies, and how their CNA skills inform their tech career.

What inspired you to pivot from healthcare to software engineering?

I was a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for 10 years, starting in nursing homes and spending the last four years in hospitals and other acute care settings. CNA is an in-person role and a very physical job. I loved direct patient care — being able to save someone's life and then hang out with them later is pretty impactful — but I wasn't getting paid enough for the work I was putting in. When I started the job at age 18, being a CNA was a great career because it was the 2008 Recession and no one was hiring and it was a great entry-level, affordable route. To become a CNA, I paid $1K for a short program that had me hired and working within the field in 30 days. But after a decade of that, I realized I couldn't save for retirement, and I didn’t make enough to have my own apartment without roommates. At my highest earnings, working as a CNA paid just under $30K/year. 

Meanwhile my friends and roommates were getting into tech and making lots of money, and I was envious of their work-life balance. My experience trying to get even one single day off in a place I'd worked for three years was tumultuous. I realized my career as a CNA was not sustainable anymore.

Why did you ultimately choose Alchemy Code Lab?

I enrolled at Alchemy Code Lab entirely because of word-of-mouth. My roommate, her best friend, and at least one other person I knew all graduated from Alchemy Code Lab and made great transitions into full-time, tech work. I know bootcamps make promises about what they offer, but I was so unfamiliar with tech that none of that was translating to me. I was more interested in hearing the real life accounts of people who had gone through a career change and whom I could empathize with, relate to, and help me visualize my own career change. 

Did you teach yourself how to code before enrolling in the bootcamp?

One of my roommates went through Alchemy Code Lab bootcamp and I asked her about how to get started. I grew up on the internet, but hadn't done coding, so she directed me to some self-study and online tutorials. I took a year to get organized and try to self-study, but I learned about as much in that year as I learned in three weeks at Alchemy! This is to say that Alchemy Code Lab is fast-paced, but it is also proof that I could only get so far doing self-study without the deadlines and accountability that a bootcamp would provide. 

I took a year to get organized and try to self-study, but I learned about as much in that year as I learned in three weeks at Alchemy! This is to say that Alchemy Code Lab is fast-paced, but it is also proof that I could only get so far doing self-study without the deadlines and accountability that a bootcamp would provide.

Noah Puckett

Software Engineer at New Relic

What was the Alchemy Code Lab application process like for you?

The online application process was simple and they were quick to respond to questions I had. I had a 30-minute interview scheduled but my interviewer spent over an hour detailing their experience with Alchemy and answering all my questions. Once I was officially enrolled, I completed a little prework but Alchemy’s prework for more recent cohorts is a bit more extensive.

Did you receive any financing or scholarships from Alchemy Code Lab to make the tuition more affordable for you?

I was awarded Alchemy Code Lab’s Diversity in Tech Scholarship, which was a huge help to me! I was also able to take out a loan with my credit union to pay the cost of the program upfront, which granted me a discount for paying tuition in full. It was my life savings at the time, which was nerve-wracking, but enrolling at Alchemy Code Lab ended up being the best financial decision!

Would you suggest that other incoming bootcamp students consider taking out a loan to cover tuition?

Depending on your finances, if you can afford to pay in full upfront, do that. Since I took out a loan to be able to pay tuition in full upfront, I was careful to keep the interest rate down with the understanding that the job search may be difficult, regardless of how eager and ready I was.

Alchemy Code Lab now offers an income share agreement (ISA). If the ISA had been available when I enrolled, I would have seen the ISA as reassuring, knowing that I would have time to pay it off if something went wrong in my job search.

What did you learn in the Alchemy curriculum?

I learned full stack development from start to finish: planning a project, designing the user interface, transporting, massaging and sorting data, and of course best practices and debugging errors. It's hard to sum up everything at large, but every day at my job, I am reminded that I've done this before in bootcamp!

My instructors were seasoned software engineers with a great contrast in teaching styles and knowledge bases. They leveraged real world examples of being a person on earth to teach concepts in an accessible way.

Noah Puckett

Software Engineer at New Relic

What is the teaching style like at Alchemy Code Lab?

I come from a non-traditional educational background. Being homeschooled by folks who didn't put in a lot of effort, my education didn’t include a curriculum, test, homework, or grades. I was upfront going into Alchemy Code Lab that not only did I not know tech, I also didn't know the academic structure of being graded for assignments. To Alchemy's credit, they did not bat an eye at this; they accepted my experience, felt confident they could work with me on it, and never belittled me. Alchemy Code Lab's approach to my academic inexperience was gentle, empowering, and realistic.

My instructors were seasoned software engineers with a great contrast in teaching styles and knowledge bases. They leveraged real world examples of being a person on earth to teach concepts in an accessible way. I noticed that if someone approached them with a deeper question about algorithms and their optimization, the instructors were absolutely ready to answer those questions. They masterfully catered to the needs on both ends of the learning readiness spectrum.

What kinds of projects did you work on at Alchemy Code Lab?

There was a nice balance of personal projects and bigger week-long sprints that capped off the end of each piece of the program. The program format has changed since I attended, but at the time we did Bootcamp 1, Bootcamp 2, and Career Track. At the end of each section we did a final project, with two final projects in the Career Track section. The very final project was presented in front of our whole tech community!

I got to work on different pieces of projects, such as:

  • A website to upload, browse and curate lists of recipes.
  • Create an algorithm for minifying URLs and getting statistics on their usage.
  • Create an interactive story. I did a user-focused interactive story that was more designed-focused than my other projects.

I love working with the back end, and I didn't think I would want to work on the front end, but having the exposure in this bootcamp offered invaluable insight that I wouldn't have known otherwise.

You attended Alchemy Code Lab in-person in 2019, and then you were a teaching assistant (TA) for online cohorts in 2020. What’s the difference between in-person and online cohorts?

The online community is bustling! I went to the in-person bootcamp, but I do envy some of the excellent advantages the online cohorts are getting now. In my in-person experience, people tended to connect with the same people they sat next to. The online cohorts are way more integrated with each other. I see folks interacting, participating with whoever they feel a connection to, regardless of which cohort they're in, and folks are always posting in the channels, asking questions, and sharing memes.

I still feel really connected to the school, which was something I was worried I might miss out on once I was removed from the physical space. Even when people move, we're still connected and can reach out to each other in the online community. Every day I'm getting notifications of people posting links to events and asking alumni advice with their experience with different technology. It's just nice to be a part of a discussion with people who have gone through a similarly challenging training.

As a bootcamp grad and TA, what are your tips for incoming students on how to make the most of their experience at Alchemy Code Lab?

The sooner you can open up, the better. The more you think that you are the only one with the "dumb" question, the more others think it's just them, and everyone stays isolated. Ask questions! When someone has the courage to speak up when they don't understand something, that offers everyone else the clarity as well. Your bootcamp instructors are not tired of you, they're not frustrated with you — they want to ensure you understand what they’re teaching. The less you try to pretend like you know what you're doing and the more you try to solve problems together, the more you're likely to get out of the bootcamp.

Bond with your cohort. Remember that the people that you're there with are going to be your future referrals, co-workers, and bosses. Since I joined New Relic as a software engineer, we’ve hired four more Alchemy Code Lab alumni from my cohort because we love working with people who are great software engineers and who we personally know are awesome!

How did Alchemy Code Lab prepare you for the job hunt?

The Career Services Director was a huge help in interview prep and even learning about what goes into an office job. As a CNA, I was used to CPR and blood so it was helpful to learn what to expect in my new tech workspace.! As an introvert who would happily communicate only through email, she also made sure I attended networking events and physically talked to people outside of bootcamp to build my network.

We practiced whiteboarding in class, and they also taught us how to write legibly on a whiteboard and pace ourselves so it's readable to others. This was also a great opportunity to practice technical aspects, like vocalizing your problem, stepping through your solutions, and being able to draw a diagram and test cases, which was really helpful. All of this practice helped build my confidence. I learned how to remind myself to breathe and not let anxiety take over.

The less you try to pretend like you know what you're doing and the more you try to solve problems together, the more you're likely to get out of the bootcamp.

Noah Puckett

Software Engineer at New Relic

Which tech roles did you feel prepared to apply for after graduating from Alchemy Code Lab?

Dani Cairns, one of the instructors at Alchemy Code Lab, very kindly sat down with me and looked over the jobs I was applying for. As someone who isn't a man in tech, I was doubting my abilities and only applying to jobs that sounded like I knew everything perfectly already. I would look at tech jobs that wanted three years experience and I'd think I needed to wait until I had four years experience to apply. Dani helped me to understand the culture around the job search in the tech industry, which then led me to apply to anything that I had relevant experience with, regardless of title.

Now as a software engineer, I know that tech companies want to know what experience you have with a language, that you can communicate with it, spot errors, and refactor. You don't need to know every aspect of an exact tech stack. Once I grasped this concept, my job opportunities opened up. I knew I didn't want to do much design work or front end, but I thought I'd apply for some if they felt like the right fit. Luckily, I was able to find lots of job postings that had more of a focus on APIs and a variety of data that were more fitting for me.

After graduating from the bootcamp, you went on to be a TA at Alchemy Code Lab. What were the benefits of teaching right after bootcamp graduation?

I wish everyone could do it! I knew I wanted to be a TA from the first couple of days in the bootcamp because I loved our TAs tremendously! They gave so much individualized support and attention that really helped on the days when everything just felt hard.

As a TA, I got to see problems I've never encountered and debug issues that I never would have seen, with way less context than if I'd written the code. It's one thing to proofread a paper you've written, but it's really different to trace someone else's work. In my current job as a software engineer, I didn't write the code that I'm working on now because it was created 10 years ago — I’m using those same TA skills of being able to decipher what the programmer was thinking. I was able to see that no matter how smart or hard-working someone is, regardless of the level of effort they put in, every student doubts themselves equally! We all go through similar struggles, frustrations, and breakthroughs.

Learning at Alchemy Code Lab felt like such a whirlwind, so being a TA also gave me the chance to solidify and reinforce the knowledge I'd gotten in bootcamp. It gave me the ability to ask more questions, get more experience, and work on helping other people as well.

Congrats on landing your first Software Engineer role at New Relic! How did you find this job?

New Relic is an observability platform where development and operations teams come together to solve problems with data. I got this job through cold applying to New Relic’s Ignite Program, which is a bridge program built for folks who have either had minimal self-study, their first tech job, or have graduated from a bootcamp or a traditional computer science program. It's an awesome program! I wrote a good cover letter and answered their essay questions well enough that they were willing to interview me. I also asked around about New Relic, and word of mouth was positive, similar to the responses I got when I was looking into Alchemy Code Lab.

What was the interview process like at New Relic?

I had done one other technical interview with eBay, but my imposter syndrome kicked in as I prepared for New Relic because I felt inexperienced. But during my interview, I was able to identify similarities between things I knew and speak to my experience. I asked clarifying questions that showed my willingness to apply my knowledge to what they were asking of me.

Was New Relic interested in the portfolio you built at Alchemy Code Lab?

They were excited to see the scope of what I learned at bootcamp, noticing my range with full stack, React, JavaScript, test-driven development, and SQL databases. I didn't end up going too far into the specifics of my projects, but I was able to talk about the projects and skills I developed and how they were applicable to the job.

It looks like you quickly moved from Associate Software Engineer to Software Engineer. Is that because of the Ignite Program?

New Relic has multiple tiers of software engineer: I, II, Senior, etc. I joined as an Associate, went through the Ignite Program, and then I was able to join on as a Software Engineer.

What team and what kinds of projects are you working on now?

Some of the problems we solve at New Relic are performance monitoring of applications, error tracing, and alerting. For example, I'm able to use our products to assess why something might have a high error rate. I work on the API evolution team, which has some of my favorite people on it. Our current project is working on breaking down a giant monolith of code into more modern micro-services.

I use so much of Alchemy's teaching at my job. I ended up joining a team that works in a language I didn't know when I started with technology, and I'm doing great! Alchemy Code Lab taught me that above all, I am capable of learning new things all the time, and I know how to navigate uncertainty with grace and curiosity.

Noah Puckett

Software Engineer at New Relic

Are you using everything that you learned at Alchemy Code Lab?

I use so much of Alchemy's teaching at my job. I ended up joining a team that works in a language I didn't know when I started with technology, and I'm doing great! Alchemy Code Lab taught me that above all, I am capable of learning new things all the time, and I know how to navigate uncertainty with grace and curiosity. I'm grateful I get to continue learning with this job.

When I first got into the program, when I didn't know something I figured I was failing! Alchemy assured me that software engineering is about not knowing stuff all of the time. It's about handling the stress response to the panic and grounding myself in the knowledge that I am equipped with tools I've practiced at Alchemy. I know that while I don't know it now, I know I can learn it quickly. I'm not worried about making a mistake because I know how to test my work. I learn hard things every day and I know I can overcome them!

Is this the career that you expected? Are you happy that you became a software engineer?

I applied to New Relic specifically because I wanted to be in-person in a nice office, but because of the pandemic lockdown, I haven't even touched a desk there! Now I love remote work and I would never go back to a full in-person job.

I am so happy to be a software engineer. I really enjoy my job, I adore the people I work with, and I'm just so much more secure financially than I've ever been before. With the surplus money I make, I'm able to give friends money if they need it. I had a friend who wanted to take a bootcamp and I was able to give them an interest-free loan. I can now put money in my community, which feels good. I can support people's GoFundMe when they need help. It's great to have a fun job that I like, but the impact of that job economically is immense.

At this point in your career, was enrolling at Alchemy Code Lab worth it for you?

I cannot even begin to express how valuable the education, culture, and support I received at Alchemy Code Lab have been for me. It is such a good time — I would pay to go back again to just bother them.

Are you using any skills from your former healthcare career in your new software engineering career?

I use skills from my healthcare career daily. Prioritizing critical tasks, responding calmly to emergencies, and having a patient bedside manner when someone is frustrated with their code; I use these skills all the time. My previous career experience was actually one of the reasons that New Relic was excited about bringing me on the team because they value the diversity in career backgrounds, which I personally think is a huge strength of our company culture.

There's less CPR, less Code Blues, but I got called in the middle of the night with an emergency, and it was easy for me to stay calm. Not to downplay the emergencies in the tech field, but it isn't life or death. Having worked in a field where that risk was real, I'm able to take on the challenges of the tech field with grace, accountability, and ease, knowing we can bounce back from mistakes.

Find out more and read Alchemy Code Lab reviews on Course Report. View the original article, produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Alchemy Code Lab.