Posts about Meet Our Alumni

Meet Jeannette Washington, Speech Pathologist Turned Education Technology Advocate

February 25, 2020

When students apply to coding bootcamps, we look for persistent, hard workers with a passion for problem-solving. It’s important for students to come with some understanding of programming and be well researched in what it means to work in tech. 

Many student backgrounds are quite surprising; with the skills they learn in a bootcamp, graduates have the ability to create their own path. While many of our students go on to work at various tech companies, some of them elevate their existing professions with this new knowledge. We love watching graduates combine their previous experience, passion and new tech skills to transform their professions. 

Meet Jeannette Washington, Speech Pathologist Turned Education Technology Advocate 

Jeannette Washington, M.Ed is a graduate of our 2017 Java bootcamp. Since graduation, she’s been busy advocating for tech inclusivity, publishing a book, and speaking internationally to demystify digital accessibility and disability inclusion. Jeannette’s dedication to finding a better way led her to combine her background in dyslexia therapy with the tech skills she learned at Grand Circus, and she has some impressive projects to show for it. 

What did you do before the bootcamp, and why did you decide to take the bootcamp? 

Before the Grand Circus bootcamp, I worked as a speech pathologist in Mississippi and spearheaded a private practice specializing in dyslexia therapy. I have always been intrigued with assistive technology for those with dyslexia and other language-based disorders, like voice recognition programs and screen readers. So when the opportunity arose for me to understand the inner workings of these adaptive devices, I was eager to pivot more towards technology. 

How did you prepare for the bootcamp? 

I prepared for the bootcamp by researching roles and responsibilities for a software developer. The title was common but my understanding wasn’t, so I endeavored to learn more about what I’d potentially be referred to. In hindsight, I should’ve spent more time using free online resources like freeCodeCamp or Codecademy to prepare because I found it difficult to catch my footing early on. I was so focused on the outcome (the title, the salary, the lifestyle) that coding would afford that I neglected to consider the work it would take to earn such a title.

What was your hardest moment during the bootcamp? 

The hardest moment in my bootcamp was the midterm assignment when we had to coordinate schedules and assignment priorities. I learned that I will likely be on a team when I ascend to a professional role. I also learned that with clear expectations each team member can flaunt their strengths and improve the perception of their challenges. I overcame the challenges by listening to each member, understanding their point of view and remembering that we are all learning. I also acknowledged that our individual insecurities may have shaped our project perceptions and priorities. 

During the bootcamp, what was your support system outside of class? 

My mother and older brother are the real MVPs. They extended help in every way — financially and emotionally. Being out of the classroom for nearly two years prior, this was more of a transition than I had expected. I can’t sing their praises enough. 

Can you tell us about your final project experience? 

My final project was called Social Que. I created an app that would distinguish your personality type based on your birthday, which, in turn, matched you to events in the local area. I thought of this idea because it was something I wish existed. I’ve always struggled with being an extroverted introvert. I have plenty of friends and I thoroughly enjoy socializing but I have a remarkable longing for alone time. This app would be the perfect way to navigate the two personality types. Think, the best of both social worlds. 

How would you describe your overall experience with Grand Circus? 

Grand Circus is an exuberant place. It’s filled with dreamers, doers, and helpers. There is this apparatus of support that encompasses you, even when you become doubtful and self-conscious. My program manager Charlene Donelson was my biggest advocate. Her honesty and empathy is much to be adored. There were instances that she saw more in me than I saw in myself. This made me work harder to grasp concepts so that I could make myself proud and live up to baseline Charlene set for me. 

What are you working on now? 


Audiobook recording session

Currently, I have several educational technology talks lined up — mostly conferences where I will be trekking to international stages in an attempt to demystify digital accessibility. I will be speaking at Wordcamp D.C., J on the Beach in Spain, and Women Techmakers Montreal,  just to name a few. Additionally, I will be visiting Budapest to work with a tech company aspiring to diversify its workforce and I’m hoping (fingers crossed) to confirm a diversity training with a company in Saudi Arabia.

What’s next for your career in tech? 

After the recent release of my book Technical Difficulties, I’m working closely with the Color of Autism to launch a coding course. 

What was your best Detroit discovery (business, lunch spot, hidden gem) during your bootcamp? 

I didn’t know the alleyway near Madison was called “The Belt.” The Belt has some of the best murals in the city. 

What piece of advice would you give to someone about to embark on a bootcamp? 

Be open to learning and doing things that may have been inconceivable. It’s a wild ride, but it’s absolutely worth the trip! 

Thank you Jeannette for sharing your story with us! We’re excited to continue following your journey as you explore the world and share your knowledge!

Meet Leslie, from Cafe Cashier to Front-End Developer

August 29, 2019


Leslie Borst joined Grand Circus after years of working in the food service industry. Encouraged by guidance from mentors at GC and beyond, along with the support of the DEVELOP(her) scholarship, Leslie completed the Front-End After-Hours bootcamp in December of 2018. Now in her role as a Software Developer at Grid LLC, she pursues her passions for fixing bugs and writing coding. Leslie took the time to share more about her experience, read more about her story below.

Meet Leslie, from Cafe Cashier to Front-End Developer

What were you doing before the Grand Circus bootcamp?

Before Grand Circus I worked in mostly the food service industry for 16 years, moved around the country a little bit and when I landed back home in Michigan it was time for a more stable career. I started college, and a year and a half after that I attended the Front-End After-Hours bootcamp at Grand Circus while still studying at college and working two part-time jobs. (more…)

From Customer Service Agent to Developer, Meet Roger

July 10, 2019

Roger is a true creative. After graduating from a Grand Circus bootcamp in Grand Rapids, he continued to learn, network and work on side projects until he was hired as a full-stack web and mobile app developer at Kyros Digital.  He’s also a talented musician who loves rock and roll and playing the guitar. So in other words, Roger understands the power of coding and his power chords! 

From Customer Service Agent to Developer, Meet Roger

What attracted you to Grand Circus and working in technology?

I wanted to get back into the tech field. Since I was young, I was always curious about technology. My dad was a mechanical engineer and was always working on something he or someone else could use. I always enjoyed the idea of being a creator in some form or another but decided that software would be the best place for me.

How would you describe your bootcamp experience?

Overall, it was a great experience! I learned a lot, got my first taste of applying myself in a professional field, and made lifelong friends as a result!

What advice would you give new bootcamp students?

Find out what you’re learning before you join the bootcamp! Ask what’s on the curriculum, then maybe take a few tutorials on how to do some of those things or at least acquaint yourself with what each topic is. You’ll have a considerably better time and understand the material much more.

How do you feel you combatted Imposter Syndrome? Did you have doubts before or during bootcamp?

I did have my doubts that I would never understand some of the material that was given to me, then I found out that the more I just DID the things, the more I understood it.

You should never expect to know everything as well as people who have been working in the field for a long time. You’ll only gain experience and knowledge by committing yourself to do the work. Never let Imposter Syndrome keep you from trying!

How has your transition into your career been? How did GC help you?

It was quite comfortable! I landed my job with the help of another fellow bootcamper! Grand Circus gave me the advice: “just talk to everyone you can in your space” and it really stuck.

What was the most unexpected part of bootcamp?

Finding out how much I didn’t know! I mostly joined because I wanted to apply my knowledge to things I had been studying for almost a year prior to joining the bootcamp.

Given a more formal education, I learned so much more than what I would have on my own.

What resources are the most helpful / were the most helpful in your coding journey?

Udemy, by far Udemy was the most important and helpful resource that I’ve used.

Medium.com has great articles on how to solve particular problems all the way up to new tech trends and where frameworks are heading toward.

Github.com – Aside from being the dedicated repository for your projects – it’s also a treasure trove of open source technology that you can use, chop apart, and read! Sometimes there’s nothing better than reading source code to figure out complex problems.

Is there anything you wish you could go back and tell yourself to do either before or during bootcamp?

Get more sleep.

Can you share advice for students approaching their final projects?

Be sure to be well rested, come prepared for your presentation, don’t get too far into the technical side of the app, just what it does and if it solves a problem: explain the problem it solves.

Also, be ready to talk to a whole bunch of people who will ask for the greater details on how the app works on the tech side of things. 

Meet Samantha, Digital Marketer Turned Developer

January 22, 2019

 Currently at United Shore as a Software Developer I, Samantha Mazzola enrolled in Grand Circus after working in the marketing field. Samantha has a bright and infectious warm personality, which made her stand out at Grand Circus, even earning her the DEVELOP(her) scholarship. Samantha encountered and overcame many obstacles during bootcamp, through her perseverance and willingness to learn. Samantha is passionate, focused, warm and a pleasure to have in the GC community. We’re excited to share her story with you! 

Meet Samantha, Digital Marketer Turned Developer

What were you doing before your Grand Circus Bootcamp?

Prior to my GC bootcamp, I was working as a Senior Digital Marketer focusing on paid social campaigns for automotive OEMs. I graduated from MSU with a Advertising degree, and explored different facets of my degree in employment. But regardless of company, client or role, I was unfulfilled and so unhappy. I regretted my major, feeling stuck with no other options and could never leave my line of work. (more…)

From Retail Associate to Software Developer, Meet Adam

November 7, 2018

Now a Software Developer at Magic Wrighter, Adam Tasma came to Grand Circus after working in retail.  Adam is now an engaged alum with Grand Circus, but stuck out to us even before he was a bootcamper! Adam made a point to prepare himself for the challenges of a bootcamp, through learning as much as he could before starting the class; one of the many reasons we want to share his story and best advice for future bootcamp students.  Adam is very persistent and purposeful and the epitome of being calm, cool and collected. To connect with Adam, visit him here.  We were recently able to catch up with Adam and talk more about his experience!

From Retail Associate to Software Developer, Meet Adam

What brought you to Grand Circus?

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From Aviation Security Officer to Software Developer, Meet Jasmine

September 27, 2018

At Grand Circus, we’re committed to ensuring the diversity of the tech industry is reflective of our communities. We’re proud to work with organizations like TekSystems and Michigan Council of Women in Technology to empower more women to earn careers in tech through our DEVELOP(her) scholarship.

This year, we had the honor of awarding 10 coding bootcamp students with the DEVELOP(her) scholarship. These women come from a range of backgrounds and experience levels, but all shared in their ambition to earn a career in tech.

From Aviation Security Officer to Software Developer, Meet Jasmine Coming to us with a background in graphic design and aviation security, Jasmine’s love of technology drove her to pursue a new career. Not only has this scholarship helped her earn a new career at United Shore, it’s also empowering her to think of creatively on how she can pass this new knowledge on to the community. We’re so proud of everything she’s already accomplished since graduating the bootcamp, and continue watching her inspiring journey in her new career. (more…)

Alumni Wisdom Series: What to do After a Coding Bootcamp

September 19, 2018

Coding bootcamps are designed to train you in the skills necessary to become a software developer. But, what happens after the program is over, graduation is done and you’re on the search for your new career?

Bootcamp: it’s a marathon, it’s a long-haul flight, it’s an intellectual feat. And once you’re done, it’s easy to become dizzy with the amount of free time and flexibility your schedule now has. While rest is certainly well-needed, it’s important not to let your new skills slide. This is, after all, the beginning of your journey.

We sought advice from alumni on how to best use your time post-bootcamp time: How to keep learning and keep growing as developer.

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From Customer Service Specialist to Developer, Meet Tori

June 2, 2018

Meet Tori, a graduate of our C# .NET BootcampA single mom looking for ways to make life for her family better, Tori was drawn to tech by notoriously flexible schedules and the lack of need for formal computer science training.

Tori graduated from the C# .NET Bootcamp in June of 2017, and has since landed an internship that lead to a full-time position at BrainGu. In this position, she has helped the company accomplish two “firsts:” the hire of a junior-level developer and a woman. Tori has also supported the Grand Circus Grand Rapids campus as the Teaching Assistant for the previous C# .NET bootcamp, and we love that she’s now coworking so close to our classroom. Keep reading for more tidbits on her bootcamp and employment experiences, and how Grand Circus can help you make a career change, too! (more…)

From Acquisition Manager to Java Developer, Meet Michael

May 14, 2018

Update: Michael’s career in tech continues to grow. He’s now a Sr Scrum Master/Agile Coach at GE Aviation

Working as an acquisition manager, Michael Riley saw firsthand the rapid growth the tech industry has to offer. Michael worked closely with technical teams to recruit developers, and got a behind-the-scenes view at what companies look for when hiring new tech talent. After nearly a decade on the recruitment side of the industry, Michael was ready to transition his career and become a developer himself.

Michael knew there were great opportunities for software developers, but at first – he wasn’t confident that he had it what it takes to be a programmer. “I took the Intro to Coding workshop to break my fear of learning to code.  I found that it was vital to convince myself that I could be successful in coding and overcoming something I thought I couldn’t understand,” Michael explained.  Nowadays, you can find Michael volunteering at our Intro to Coding Workshops, offering support to coding newbies and sharing stories about the development projects he’s working on.

Meet Michael, A Java Bootcamp Graduate

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Meet Lanna, Technical Support Specialist turned Software Engineer

April 2, 2018

Finding a path into tech that is right for YOU is so important to your long-term success in the industry. One of the most popular questions we get asked is “Is a college degree necessary to become a software developer?” In short – no, a college degree is not necessary. For Lanna, a graduate of our C# .NET coding bootcamp,  she knew that earning a college degree was important to her but to earn a career in tech – she wanted the hands-on experience a coding bootcamp could provide.

Lanna’s joined our C# .NET coding bootcamp in June 2017. Since then, she’s become an empowering member of the GC community – providing support to new students as they begin exploring code, offering guidance as grads start the job hunt and volunteering her time at various tech events. Let’s hear her story! (more…)