Posts about Meet Our Alumni

Four Years in Tech with Alexis Marien: From Truck Driver to Software Engineer at GE Aviation

August 4, 2020

Like all of our students, Alexis Marien dedicated herself to the coding bootcamp, learning a new skill and preparing for professional success. Often, this journey starts with imposter syndrome and the learning curves nartural to starting something new. Alexis and her fellow alumni grow into their careers by managing feelings of imposter syndrome, applying their new skills and stepping out with courage after bootcamp. Alexis shares about her experience transitioning from a being commercial truck driver into the software developer!

Reflecting on Four Years in Tech: Meet Alexis Marien, a Software Engineer at GE Aviation 

Alexis Marien

When Alexis interviewed for a coding bootcamp, she talked to the Grand Circus admissions team on the phone from her commercial truck.  One of our more interesting bootcamp interviews and one that helped establish Alexis as a lifelong Grand Circus family member. We could immediately see her dedication and problem-solving personality. Technology was always an integral part of her life, and she was looking for an accessible, affordable way to advance her professional opportunities. 

Alexis’ enthusiasm has only grown throughout her time in the industry. She has supported future students through our Intro to Coding workshops, is an advocate for equity and inclusion in tech, and is always willing to answer questions about her experiences in tech. 

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

When I was in college it was the peak of the recession and the funding I had to finish college had dried up. I either needed to take a break from education or take out a loan.

I started as a commercial truck driver. I did that for three years and knew I wanted to be done driving by the time I was 30. I saw a lot of opportunities in tech and quit driving commercially when I was 28. 

Grand Circus really helped me understand the financial side of things, so I took out a loan. 

The bootcamp was really accessible and tech has always been interesting to me. I like automating things. I like things that are efficient. I like eliminating waste in my day-to-day life; there are so many spaces for that in coding. My dad was a software engineer. He built me my first machine when I was seven. I didn’t know what it was like to not have the Internet in a time when everyone was just starting on AOL; I really had an advantage there. 

Alexis Marien
Alexis (right) during her bootcamp with Grand Circus

How would you describe your overall experience with Grand Circus? 

It was super intense. A lot of people ask me this as they consider a bootcamp. It’s important to be honest about what this experience is and that you need to drop everything if you’re going to do this well. 

You’re going to learn a lot about what the tech environment is really like. You’re going to learn programming that will help you establish a career and keep you growing. The soft skills were the most valuable part. 

It’s also going to prove to yourself that you can do this. The reputation for coding bootcamps and Grand Circus continue to grow, and now there’s a huge shortage of STEM and CS graduates; this is such a viable source for entry-level employees. Grand Circus can help you build your reputation as a solid, entry-level developer. Even if you’re doing this part-time, you have to be ready to fully commit to this. It is an intense experience.

I cried twice, but it was worth it. Trial by fire. You have to be self-motivated in the bootcamp and after you graduate. Grand Circus will support you, and it’s up to you to put in the hard work. It’s about creating your own opportunities and seeking them out.

Did you have any misconceptions about the tech industry before joining the bootcamp? 

Funny enough, no. I think my dad was the stereotype of the basement tech nerd. His company was in France so he had three computers set up in the basement, and he would be down there all day. I always had the impression that it was very male-dominated and not a soft industry. I think that’s changing. I’ve tried to make myself a big part of that change in my workplace.

Businesses are starting to recognize the importance of equity. You can hire a million women, but if they’re leaving in three months – it doesn’t matter. We have a lot of work to do in this area, and I’m a big advocate for open discussions about equity and inclusion in tech. 

How has your life changed since attending your Grand Circus bootcamp?

I don’t recognize my life from four years ago. When I think about it, I feel like I’m watching someone else. I’m healthier — mentally and physically. Financially, it’s like night and day. 


Every part of my lifestyle has completely changed for the better, especially my confidence. I’m not afraid to try new things and to fail. I can draw on previous times that were very difficult, and I’m here despite that. I’ve taken a lot of risks and falls; I’m still better than I’ve ever been. A lot of people are strong and they don’t know it yet. Grand Circus really built a path that allowed me to make my own future. 

I’m in a place that I can take care of myself and others better than I could have before. I get to be around other people who are in the same position. I can be a part of that solution for others now. I am completely independent and in charge of where I’m headed. I even have a pet cat now, which was a big step for me because I never knew where I was going to end up next, I didn’t want to put an innocent animal through that much transition if I could help it.

What type of projects are you working on now? 

I am a Software Engineer at General Electric Aviation. I recently transferred to their headquarters in Cincinnati, which is a big move!

There’s more going on in the headquarters, so I work more on their design system to keep their UI consistent across applications. This work covers the user experience, and I work on a framework that they’re implementing to their application.

My father taught me there are two things you need to remember in this industry: never take anything personally and always be flexible. I analyze if I’m happy with what I’m working on and if I’m not, I always have a conversation with my manager or HR. A good company will empower you to grow. 

How did this move to GE Aviation Headquarters come about?

I do a lot of volunteer work and event coordination at my company and I’ve been able to get to know a lot of people on different teams. Everybody is busy and they’re focused on their projects. Volunteering helps establish those meaningful connections across teams.

In my very corporate, conglomerate environment, as soon as I say I’m bored, they get energized about other opportunities for me throughout the company. I’ve always wanted to live and work in a metropolitan city, and being in Cincinnati will allow me to do that. They had an open position on a growing UI project. It was a little bit of luck, but luck doesn’t work if you aren’t looking for opportunities. 

What are you most excited about with this move? 

There are a ton of opportunities in our headquarters. It’s a younger team, more my age and speed. I’m working right downtown, I can go out and have lunch and drinks very conveniently with my coworkers. Coding is such a combination of logic, UI artistry and collaboration; I’m excited to create new relationships with my coworkers so we can make a positive impact together. 

How has your work style changed during your time in tech? 

I don’t wait around for work to be given to me. It’s important to challenge yourself and be excited about what you’re working on. As you grow, you start to better identify your strengths and what resources to look at when you need guidance. I feel much more comfortable with giving advice on how things should be built and work. I can work more independently and have ownership of my projects because my team recognizes I can do this and I know when to ask for help. I can work faster this way; I know I don’t have to check in with the team. 

What new skills have you learned since graduating from the bootcamp? 

I took the Front-End bootcamp and have stuck with JavaScript since graduating. I’m diving more into Node. I have a better sense of how everything works together and understanding patterns between frameworks and libraries. It’s so important that when you’re learning something, try to understand how it works with JavaScript. 

How do you stay updated on technology?

I really like Front-End Masters. They have different learning pathways. I’m going through the Vue one right now to get myself ready for this next project. They have classes on everything from entry-level to advanced topics.

Reddit has some great conversations about what’s happening in tech, new programming advancements, and projects that you can learn from. Subreddits are very helpful, too. Don’t be afraid to talk about work with your other tech buds and strangers.

If you could go back and give a younger version of yourself a piece of advice, what would you say?

Believe in yourself! I believe in myself now. 

What advice would you give to someone considering a coding bootcamp?

Do free online coding lessons. Get to know your future classmates as soon as you can. You’re going to be depending on each other a lot and spend a ton of time together. Establish those relationships early and continue them after graduation.

During bootcamp, don’t sacrifice sleep or your self-care. Once your sleep schedule is off, everything else dominos from there. 

What advice would you give a recent graduate starting the career search? 

Get a lot of practice marketing yourself. Practice your elevator pitch. Practice bragging about yourself. There’s no shame in this. 

At GE, we do something called Bragging Rights — a safe space for people to tell others about themselves: where they came from, struggles they’ve overcome, and what they’re doing now. It’s a time to give ourselves credit. It’s an invitation-only, in-person gathering with no computers or phones. Attendees can take notes on pen and paper, and they can clap when they hear something good. We pay attention to body language and listen to each others stories. It strengthens relationships, our understanding of each other, and our ability to talk positively about ourselves. 

Anything else you’d like to share? 

You’re going to be far more fulfilled if you see something like programming as more than a job. When you do more with your workplace outside of your job requirements, that investment will help this be more fulfilling and less stress.

A huge shout out to Alexis for chatting with us as she was preparing for her big move to Cincinnati. We are so proud of everything you’ve accomplished and wish you the best at GE Headquarters in Cincinnati.

From Snowboard Instructor to Full-Stack Software Developer, Meet Matthew Rhadigan

May 1, 2020

Technology is constantly changing. Even the most experienced software developers continue learning to stay updated on the latest programming techniques. At Grand Circus, one of the skills our bootcamps teach students is how to learn. Developers aren’t expected to have all the answers. What they do need to know, though, is how to find those answers. Our curriculum will guide you in finding the resources and tools that can help you problem solve throughout your career in tech — allowing graduates to continuously evolve their skill sets. 

For many prospective students, deciding which programming language to learn is often a difficult decision. It’s important to know the difference between the programming tracks we offer in bootcamp, the career possibilities with each and which you enjoy the most. The reality, though, is that once you learn one programming language, it’s easier to learn another. Many of our graduates learn one language and go on to work in another, or they start by learning a language in the bootcamp and continue their education after graduation to become a full-stack developer. That’s exactly what Matthew Rhadigan has done in his career! 

Matthew Rhadigan graduated from the Java bootcamp

From Snowboard Instructor to Full-Stack Software Developer, Meet Matthew Rhadigan

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

I had spent a few years working as a snowboard instructor at a resort out west, and I had recently moved back home, was working at a company in downtown Detroit and taking classes at Oakland Community College in technology. One day at lunch I was walking through the Renaissance Center looking at the cars, going out to the river to eat my lunch, and I walked right past a booth that was set up by Grand Circus that said in big letters ‘LEARN TO CODE,’ which stopped me in my tracks. After getting some information from the person at the booth I attended the official Info Session with Ian. Everybody at Grand Circus is extremely friendly and supportive, which made it a very easy decision to want to attend the bootcamp

How did you prepare for the bootcamp?

At the time of my interview with Grand Circus, I thought I had done enough work ahead of time and was prepared for the bootcamp. I had done a free Codecademy course online for Java, taken a couple of classes in community college, which was primarily HTML, and that was about the extent of my preparation. When I got into class I felt like I could have prepared a little more for the bootcamp ahead of time, and many of my classmates seemed to have more experience than I did from day one. 

What was your hardest moment during the bootcamp? 

At the end of your bootcamp, you will be placed in a group with other members of your class and will work on a Final Project. In the last couple of days before graduation day, I had a ‘technical assessment’ where I went into a room with an instructor and TA from Grand Circus and answered questions about the final project to make it to graduation. That was the highest level of stress I faced during the bootcamp. 

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

My family has always been my biggest support system. I have an older brother who worked downtown at the same time I was attending the bootcamp so we had lunch together most days. And whenever I hit those rough days, I could always call my mom and dad and they were incredibly supportive. Going to a bootcamp for 10 weeks, you’re taking a gamble on yourself trying to do something new and amazing. It helps a lot if you have people who understand why you are there and committed to seeing you succeed. 

Can you tell us about your final project experience? What did you build and how was it working with a new team? 

My final project was a website where you would sign up if you were going to a specific event in your local area as a driver or a passenger. Then other users in the area would sign up as a driver or a passenger and the app would pair rides together based on the location of the passenger and driver, and what event they were going to. Then all the passengers in the car would chip in to the driver for gas and driving. I was fortunate to have team members I could rely on and work well with. So we were able to tackle the project and get it done before graduation. 

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

Absolutely! Imposter syndrome is very common in this field. You will feel imposter syndrome before, during, and after your bootcamp. Also, you will feel it for at least the first year of your first coding job in technology. I have spoken to many of my friends who all work in different professional fields and imposter syndrome is very common among most fields you enter.   

How would you describe your overall experience with Grand Circus? 

My overall experience at Grand Circus was very positive and life changing. Grand Circus helped me grow in many ways beyond just teaching me how to code. They have an amazing soft skills training that is nothing like I have ever seen anywhere else. Grand Circus has a large list of companies they have worked with in the past and continue to hire graduates out of the bootcamp. They not only make sure you have the technical skills to work for any company in the field, but they also focus on all the other skills that companies look at to make sure you are going into interviews prepared.

Did you have any misconceptions about the tech industry before joining the bootcamp? 

Yes, I had many misconceptions about the tech industry. Before I joined the bootcamp I was very interested in technology and building things from scratch.  I thought coding would be something I would enjoy. But to be honest, when I applied to the bootcamp, I didn’t know a single person that worked in software, so I didn’t have any resources to reach out to with questions. The biggest misconception for me was that when I graduated from the bootcamp, I would know everything I would need to know and I would be a master. In reality, it takes years to become that experienced in the field, but that is expected. 

What are you working on now? 

Matthew at a United Shore staff outing

I am currently a full-stack Software Developer at United Shore Mortgage in Pontiac, MI. I am on the Sales software team so my projects will help upgrade and maintain the software that the Account Executives and Brokers with United Shore will use. 

I am also in the process of reading three books in my spare time. I went to the Java bootcamp at Grand Circus, but at work, I code in C# for the backend, which is one of the books I’m reading. For my job I also need to know a lot of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS, which are the other two books. Plus in my spare time, I am also working on a website that will be a movie library. In technology, there are a lot of things to practice to grow your knowledge and skills.

What’s next for your career in tech? 

Next for my career in technology is to continue growing to become the best developer I can be. I enjoy the company I am at and want to continue to use the resources they have provided to grow and deliver high-quality technology. So far, since I have started this long journey, I have met some incredibly nice and supportive people. I want to continue to build relationships through technology, and maybe even help young developers learn what Grand Circus and senior developers have helped me learn. 

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

The best Detroit discovery I made during my bootcamp is a popular place where my brother and I would have lunch. It a pizza place called Mootz Pizzeria, right off Library St. right next to the library, Citizen Yoga, and NOJO Kicks. They have really good food and you can buy pizza by the slice, which is perfect for lunch at a bootcamp. 

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

One piece of advice I would give to anybody about to embark on this journey is that your level of technical understanding is not important before you start. You will gain the technical knowledge from Grand Circus and throughout your career.  The most important things to keep in mind are:

  • to control the things you have control of
  • keep a positive attitude because code can be frustrating at times 
  • make sure you show up every day on time, ready to work hard and learn as much as possible

Software is a very exciting and challenging field to get into, and it can open a lot of doors to anybody who has the drive to learn it. 

Great advice, Matthew! We appreciate him taking the time to share his insights.

From the Medical Industry to Tech, Meet Lauren Mooney

April 21, 2020

When you’re here, you’re family; it’s one of our core values here at Grand Circus. While it might be borrowed from a certain pasta place, it really is at the core of what we do. Each program that we offer is designed to create an amazing experience while connecting students with our community. Our family is made up of more than 1,600 alumni, 350 employers and dozens of community partners across Michigan. With each graduating class, this supportive family grows. Many alumni love the family vibes so much, they continue coming back to ensure the next generation of technologists has the support they need to make this transition as smooth as possible. 

Lauren Mooney Holding Graduation Certificate

This community is part of what makes Grand Circus great. The support and feedback we receive from alumni and employers empowers us to constantly improve our programs and adjust to the market’s needs. This means that prospective students learn what they need to prepare for a bootcamp even before applying, and students graduate with real-world experience that is immediately relevant in their new careers. For some prospective students, a complete career transition is possible in less than a year. 

From the Medical Industry to Tech, Meet Lauren Mooney 

With the support of Grand Circus’ introductory coding workshops and coding bootcamp, Lauren was able to make a full career transition in less than a year. She’s now growing an amazing career in the industry and has dedicated herself to supporting future generations of programmers. 

We’re proud to work alongside Lauren to offer Free Intro to Coding workshops, a first-step class for coding newbies. As we’ve all moved to working remotely, Lauren has guided our curriculum updates to ensure these free workshops are accessible to anyone interested in exploring what it’s like to be a developer. These workshops are now offered remotely and can be taken from anywhere in the world! 

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

I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and worked as a bartender at a banquet hall while I was in school. Then I was a surgical scheduler at a neurosurgery practice for almost three years.  I really enjoyed it and I was planning to go to Physician Assistant (PA) school. I just couldn’t pull the trigger on it, and couldn’t figure out why I was so hesitant. I finally realized I didn’t really want to do that for the rest of my life. I already had so much debt from my bachelor’s degree I couldn’t justify going back to school for something I wasn’t 100% invested in.

Before being introduced to Grand Circus, did you have any coding experience?

Very little. When I was younger, I used to code in Myspace. I used to work on my friends’ pages, taking templates and customizing them. I had no idea that I was working in HTML. I called all the tags the wrong things. I had so much fun doing it. I didn’t want our pages looking the same as everyone else’s, so I taught myself how to modify everything in the code. 

How did you prepare for the bootcamp?

I took several Grand Circus workshops. That really helped me understand that I enjoyed coding; this is something I could really be passionate about. When the workshops each ended, I always wanted to go home and do more. I was excited to keep learning and it helped me understand which programming language was a right fit for me. I didn’t enjoy that Java workshop as much and it didn’t come as easy to me. 

I also did some Codecademy courses. After I did those, I knew I needed the discipline of being in an instructor-led bootcamp. The classroom structure helps me stay on top of my homework and really learn the material. 

Grand Circus Final Project Front End Group
Lauren’s Final Project group won the Front-End Employer Award at GC’s Demo Day

What was your hardest moment during the bootcamp? 

The week I struggled the most was the week of mock interviews. They make the interviews feel very real. The technical interview gave me a lot of imposter syndrome. I knew that I knew the material, but there was a lot of stress that week. Final project kickoff was that week, too. We had to commit to a final project idea that day. I felt like I was going to break down and cry. It wasn’t the material or something not clicking with me. It was really a feeling of maybe I don’t actually know what I’m doing. I had to keep reassuring myself. I gave myself a lot of pep talks. 

I was more nervous for my mock interviews than the real interviews. The Grand Circus team really helped us prepare for real-life scenarios; the preparation helped alleviate the stress of what the real situation was going to look like. 

Can you tell us about your final project experience? What did you build and how was it working with a new team? 

My group had four failed ideas. Other people had the same idea, the idea didn’t meet the expectations of the GC team, or it was too similar to something that already existed. After we got over that hurdle, we had a lot of fun building the project. 

Pokemon buttons on backpack
Lauren’s love of Pokémon helped inspire their final project idea. She totes these buttons on her backpack.

We settled on a vocabulary game for third to fifth graders based on Pokémon. Users would answer vocabulary questions. When you got it right, you got to catch a Pokémon. There was an animated ball and a lot of interaction. We won the Front-End employer award on Demo Day. Our team dynamic was great; we worked really well together. We split up the work in different areas. We all learned a lot from it. It was probably the least stressed I was the entire bootcamp. Once we had the vision, we built the functioning MVP and then we found areas to improve it. We got to get really creative and experimental. It was a great way to broadcast what you’ve learned and then learn new things to build off your idea.

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

I still have some imposter syndrome every day. You have to recognize you do deserve a tech career and you are capable of what it takes to be successful. Even if the person next to me knows more than me, it doesn’t mean you can’t learn it. 

Before joining the bootcamp, I felt it to some extent about the medical field. I always had a thing for science. When I started college, I always wanted to do veterinary school. Then I went to medical school to become a PA. I never felt qualified or smart enough to do it. I always liked the field, but I felt like I couldn’t settle on something. So I ended up seeking out a different career all together. 

How would you describe your overall experience with Grand Circus? 

Amazing. I loved it. The atmosphere and culture that GC cultivates is very welcoming and encouraging. They create a family-like environment. The GC building is very homey and you meet a lot of friends being in the bootcamp together. I get together with my cohort quite a bit. We’re very active in keeping up in each other’s lives. 

I liked it so much that I wanted to give back to it and have become very active in the workshops. I’m now a content owner for the Intro to Coding workshop slides—taking feedback and improving the workshops for incoming students. It gives me a chance to give back to a place that helped me so much. You get out of it what you put into it. 

Did you have any misconceptions about the tech industry before joining the bootcamp? 

Graduate of Grand Circus coding bootcamp

With my boyfriend being in the industry, I had a lot of familiarity with expectations and culture about the industry. I’d heard it was a very male-dominated industry, but I’ve never been in that situation. Where I work, there are a lot of men, but they’ve never treated the women differently. They never discount our opinions. My leader is a woman; it’s always great to see women in leadership, especially in the tech field. I think I have a different opinion on problems with the tech field not being inclusive, but I think it all depends on where you go.

I already understood that some tech company’s culture is pretty loosey goosey. You can pretty much wear what you want, as long as it’s appropriate and most companies don’t care about piercings. They care more about your skills and ability to fulfill the job’s responsibilities. 

Before going into the medical field, you worked as a bartender. What skills from your time in hospitality do you draw on today? 

My multitasking skills are superior, and working as a bartender really helped me develop that skill set. I can do multiple things at once and not lose my head. I can be writing code, answer someone’s question then quickly get back to my work without missing a beat. 

My soft skills have also benefited from my experience in hospitality.  I can approach people comfortably and handle difficult situations.

What are you working on now? 

I work at Nexsys Technologies; they’re a part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies. The project I currently work on is called ClearSign – a closing signing platform for refinancing and closing on a mortgage. We’re working to revolutionize the mortgage industry. 

Our products create an experience using a virtual communication tool where people can sign official documentation without needing to be next to each other. There’s still a notary present and everyone involved in the mortgage, but it gives you the flexibility to do the business anywhere. It saves on travel time. You save on paper. You no longer have to ship paperwork overnight, so you save on shipping. I had no interest in the mortgage industry, but this is amazing to be a part of something and improve. 

What’s next for your career in tech? 

I’ve been working in C# now even though I was in a Front-End coding bootcamp. I want to get more comfortable in my role and grow my skills to feel more confident in my abilities. I’m now a full-time salaried member of the team. I proactively talked to my team about extending my contract and it turned into a full-time offer. 

It’s crazy to look back. I started the bootcamp in July, and quit my job in June. And now here I am. I totally changed my career. I am making almost double what I was making a year ago. You can make so many changes happen. You just have to do it. A year ago, I had zero coding experience and now here I am. 

Many roles in the tech industry recently transitioned to working remotely as we work to flatten-the-curve for COVID-19. Are there any skills that you learned in the bootcamp that have helped you adapt to working remotely?

The importance of getting up, walking away, and taking a break from your work. It’s easy to get lost in your work and forget to step away to get a fresh set of eyes on what you may be working on, especially if you’re frustrated. 

The home office setup of Grand Circus graduate Lauren Mooney
Lauren’s home desk setup

Luckily, being home helps you to use these breaks more effectively and in positive, mood-boosting ways. I’ve gone for walks or just sat outside for some nice fresh air (two things I never think to do while at the office) or cuddle with my cats. I’ve even taken care of the dishes, which is for some reason my go-to task for relaxing myself when I’m frustrated, haha. Do something that you enjoy to refresh and get yourself back into a positive, motivated mindset.

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

Don’t let the Imposter Syndrome get to you. You’re all beginners. Just because it’s clicking more quickly for someone else, that doesn’t mean you won’t get it. 

You have to put yourself out there. Reach out to alumni for advice. Go to meetups. You can do this. It doesn’t matter what you did before the bootcamp, as long as you put in the work. 

Don’t be afraid to hit that quick apply button! You have to work hard, but you really get what you put into it. The Grand Circus team is all here to support you; reach out when you’re struggling — whether it’s to your classmates or teachers or Program Managers. You gotta speak out before it becomes a problem. 

Grand Circus was the best decision I ever made for myself. It helped me grow as a person. It helped me find a new path when I felt so lost at the time. I’m happier. I enjoy going to work. I enjoy what I do. I’m finally self-sufficient. There are so many opportunities out there for me. 

Do you have any advice for prospective students that are nervous about learning remotely? 

Create a routine and stick to it. It’s easy to lose motivation and focus when you’re learning (or working) remotely, or you might feel like your environment isn’t facilitating your ability to learn. Get up at the same time, make some coffee, sign on and off at the same time. Sometimes I feel more motivated when I actually wake up and get ready as if I was actually heading to class or work. Coffee is my little “placebo” that tells me “hey it’s time to get stuff done,” which worked for me in college when sitting down to study or complete assignments. 

Additionally, make sure you’re comfortable in your learning space and it’s somewhere you can learn effectively without distraction. Something important as well: stay connected with your classmates! Something I always hated about online classes in college is the inability to converse with your peers, and sometimes the lack of human interaction can really affect one’s mental health. However, Grand Circus’s focus has always been on the sense of community and family it creates. Students should take advantage of this and the tools they have (Slack, Zoom, etc) to get to know one another during their bootcamps. And knowing GC, I’m sure there are plenty of ways in which they are encouraging it!

A huge shout out to Lauren for everything she does to support the Grand Circus community and for taking the time to share her story! 

From Pizza Delivery Guy to Team Lead, Tyler Chats Tech Life 4 Years After Graduation

April 15, 2020

The journey into tech is different for everyone; that’s part of the reason coding bootcamps have become such an effective path into the industry. Hard-working, passionate individuals from all walks of life can dedicate themselves to the learning process and create amazing, sustainable careers. 

At Grand Circus, our coding bootcamps are designed to provide students with insights and resources to both start and grow a career in tech. These lessons go beyond the technical expertise and help graduates adapt to the ever-changing tech industry. This empowers our graduates to earn new careers and then create a unique path for themselves in the industry, filled with their own career advancement aspirations. 

“The learning never stops,” explained Tyler Hensley, a 2016 graduate. 

From Pizza Delivery Guy to Team Lead, Meet Tyler Hensley 

Even before joining a Grand Circus bootcamp, Tyler dedicated himself to the learning process and researched tech opportunities. For the year leading up to his coding bootcamp, Tyler self-taught himself programming skills through online tutorials while saving tips from his day job to cover the cost of tuition. This helped him adapt to the fast-paced environment of a bootcamp. Four years after graduation, he’s now leading a team of technologists while advancing his leadership skills and finding new ways to make a positive impact on his team.

Headshot for Tyler Hensley

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

Before the bootcamp, I was a local neighborhood hero: the pizza delivery guy. I was finishing up my four-year associate’s degree back in 2015, and my friend Nick told me that he was starting Grand Circus. I just got my associate’s degree in science, I didn’t really know what career I was going to start with a science degree. Scientist? 

The Grand Circus pitch sounded great! It was a place to jumpstart a career in a high-demand, well-paying industry. Tuition was a four-digit number at the time. The reported job placement rates were high. No experience or degree required (although the experience DEFINITELY helped). I ultimately made the decision because I wanted to have a resilient career so that I’ll be able to care for my parents one day like they did for me.

Before the bootcamp, did you have any coding experience? 

It started back in like, 2007? Myspace was the hot thing at the time, and as a middle/high schooler that was my first exposure. It was mostly copying/pasting HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, but I had to do a bit of “debugging” to get my themes to show up right. 

Other than that, I knew I wanted to join Grand Circus a year ahead of time, so I spent that year self-teaching. I made and hosted my first website online. I created a simple Android app on my phone. . I took plenty of free to cheap courses on what seemed practical at the time.

How would you describe your overall experience with Grand Circus?

Grand Circus is plenty of things to me. It was a springboard into an actual career. It was a place where I’ve made friends. As far as the experience, it was awesome! 

Before starting bootcamp, I hadn’t made it to downtown Detroit that often, so being at the heart of the city was great. There’s always plenty of coffee and tea. I did yoga for the first time. I was exposed to so many awesome restaurants. The Instructors were passionate and great people. To this day, I still see them around and we always take some time to say “hi.” The experience gets a solid 10/10 rating from me. 

Did you have any misconceptions about the tech industry before joining the bootcamp? 

It seemed VERY intimidating at first. Before I started down with the self-teaching path, it seemed like a career only reserved for the most tech-savvy folks. Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years, I can say that it does take effort, but modern languages are designed to be understood. There’s usually some type of documentation that can be referenced to if something doesn’t seem to work.

How has your life changed since GC?

Pretty dramatically. Pre-GC, I lived in the small town of Monroe, MI. I was delivering pizzas, and had recently finished up my four-year associates degree (these things take time). I had a roommate in a triplex. I didn’t venture outside of Monroe often, so my entertainment and food choices were limited. 

Fast-forward to life post-GC, I’ve got a top-floor apartment right across from Eastern Market. I’ve gone to so many cool shows and events that I wouldn’t have known about since they’re in Detroit. Saint Andrews Hall has cheap tickets, and now that I live here, I don’t have to account for travel costs or parking. I’ve got real insurance and actually go to the dentist and eye doctors almost as much as I should. I’ve had the luxury of being able to travel internationally to places like Costa Rica and Iceland. I go out for lunch and dinners more often, which could be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it. My quality of life has definitely improved.

At the launch of Grand Circus partnership with Facebook. Alumni got the opportunity to share their stories with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO. Left to right: Carols Shows, Tyler Hensley, Sheryl Sandberg, Chandra Mihalik, and Ellen Zimmer

What type of projects are you working on now? What’s your official job title?

I’m officially the Team Lead of Software Quality Assurance at Rocket Loans, which is part of the Quicken Loans Family of Companies. Our goal as an automation-focused company is to provide a service (in this case personal loans) that is easy to use and quickly accomplishes a goal. You can complete a Rocket Loan in less than 10 minutes one morning and have the money in your account the same day. 

I work on the internal platform for our operational team members that review loan applications that couldn’t be automated. We also have the public-facing site for clients to actually take out a personal loan that I’m a part of. Most of my involvement with these projects is building out automated tests so that we are able to more quickly and confidently deploy enhancements to both of these projects.

You graduated about four years ago. How have your responsibilities changed since starting in the tech industry?

Moving from Engineer to Team Leader was the most dramatic shift in responsibilities. As an Engineer I was more focused on “doing the thing.” We had features that needed to be deployed, so I was responsible for testing, deploying, and monitoring these features. 

Now I’m able to contribute more to architectural decisions. I participate in interviews. I’m scheduling 1:1 time with my team members. I’m going to leadership meetings. I still stay very involved in the engineering side of things, but I now also have the leadership responsibilities. 

There has been a lot of change throughout the company. I’ve been there for more than three years and have a lot of tribal knowledge about how things are done. Being a Team Leader gives me more access to insights throughout the business and pushes me to document everything that’s in my brain so we can share that with the growing team. 

GC alums joined our annual team summit to talk about their bootcamp journeys and share tech industry insights with staffers. Left to right: Kassie Jones, Mariah Hall, Jennifer Cline (staff), Tyler Hensley, and Jason Scott.

What new skills have you learned since graduating from the bootcamp?

Oh wow, where do I start? As the Team Lead of Software Quality Assurance, leadership skills are the latest skill-set I’m focused on. I took the Java bootcamp and my company uses JavaScript. Since then, I’ve learned about unit-testing, integration-testing, acceptance-testing, Node, AngularJS, React, Redux, NOSQL, SQL, Jenkins, Docker, Dependency Management, many AWS Specific technologies… the list goes on. The learning never stops. 

Many roles in the tech industry recently transitioned to working remotely as we work to flatten-the-curve for COVID-19. How has this move to remote work impacted your team? 

We’ve always had flexibility in working from home at Rocket Loans. There has never been an explicit policy around it, but our company has been very open with it. It’s a big company, more than 100 people, and we’re firm believers in empowerment. We’re all responsible adults and can do our work anywhere. 

Being completely remote has definitely increased our need for meetings. When you’re in the office, it’s really easy to get that quick communication. Communication happening at the same time allows you to get clarification quickly and ensure you’re all walking away with the right information. Emails aren’t always the most effective. Instant messaging is great, but requires you to wait for responses. Out of necessity, we’ve definitely had more meetings and they’ve been beneficial. 

One thing that I do like about these meetings is you get a little sneak peak into people’s home life. Sometimes I’ll bring my baby niece into the video call. It feels like the personal connections have changed and gotten better in some ways. While in person, we always have stand ups three days a week so we’ve continued that. Now they include reminders about taking breaks, moving around, going outside and personal wellness. Our team has done some virtual happy hours, too. 

There are day-to-day things that have been affected, but it’s extremely nice to know that I have job security. As the country goes through its highest unemployment rate, I know I’m fortunate to have a career that can be done virtually. 

Jennifer Cline (GC Staff) & Tyler Hensley (Awesome alum) doing this blog interview via Zoom

Were there aspects of the coding bootcamp that helped prepare you for remote life? 

Our final project was a great way to learn how to best communicate with others when you’re not in the same space. The work required more than the in-person hours. We’d go home to do work simultaneously. 

Learning GitHub is huge, too. Every developer needs to understand version control whether you’re in person or remote. Having a process in place for version control is so important when you’re remote so you don’t need to keep checking in with everyone. 

What advice would you give to someone considering a coding bootcamp?

Do research on job placement, you’ll find it’s really great. 

Do research on salary prospects, those are also great. 

Do your research on the actual bootcamp. Look at the data that the bootcamp has already gathered and evaluate how they can help your career. 

Make sure you have the time and monetary stuff figured out so you don’t have that stress.  

I also had a lot of success with trying to teach myself first. Even if it’s a language different from the bootcamp you’re taking, many of the fundamentals transfer over and it’s important to be able to learn. 

What advice would you give a recent graduate starting the career search?

Meetups are a great place to network and meet people that are currently in the industry (and many are hosting virtual options!). 

Stay sharp on your skills and make a couple of cool projects to show off. Having a real project to show off is an easy way to quickly show your capabilities.  

The job search is a job itself. Spend at least 40 hours a week after graduation applying for jobs, dusting off your resume, and upskilling. 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Grand Circus has been the best investment I made in my life. It was an investment in myself that led to great career opportunities, which will allow me to travel and do things I wouldn’t have been able to before.

Thank you so much Tyler for taking the time to chat with us. It’s always great to catch up and hear what you’ve been working on! We’ve loved being a part of your journey and are so proud of everything you’ve accomplished. 

From Ecologist to Web Developer, Meet Andre Otte

March 12, 2020

If you’re looking to jumpstart your career in tech, there are many paths possible; self-learning, a computer science degree or a coding bootcamp can all teach the technical programming skills employers are looking for. 

Here at Grand Circus, we provide a supportive path that allows students to elevate their existing technical knowledge while ensuring they learn everything necessary to start a new career in the tech industry. While many students start learning to code independently, many come to Grand Circus to expand their knowledge about the industry, employers and what it takes to be successful on a tech team. 

The Grand Circus team works closely with tech employers to understand what skills they’re looking for in new hires, and we guide students with this knowledge as they’re exploring tech positions. Additionally, our bootcamps give students real-world experience of building functional applications that can then be shared with employers. These aspects of our programs are often unmatched in a self-taught environment or through a computer science degree. 

From Ecologist to Web Developer, Meet Andre Otte

Andre knew he wanted to learn programming and worked to identify the best path for himself as he explored online tutorials and the job market. He’s super curious and passionate about coding, but he knew his independent study needed the support of a strong network and soft skills that online tutorials couldn’t provide. That led him to Grand Circus. Combining our technical training with a strong network of more than 350 employers, our coding bootcamps provide a structured, well-connected environment for students to learn in. 

As a part of our April 2019 C# .NET bootcamp in Grand Rapids, Andre was able to network with the Grand Rapids tech community while advancing his technical skills. He’s now growing his career in tech at BizStream, a Grand Rapids-based software development company.

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

After graduating with a degree in biology, I worked for three years as an ecologist at a local non-profit. There were lots of factors that played into my decision to go to bootcamp. I discovered that I really like to code and that it provided me with intellectual and creative challenges I was craving professionally. I was also very attracted to the career and life opportunities that being a software developer provides.

How did you prepare for the bootcamp?

I learned on my own for about eight months before starting bootcamp. I used resources like Team Treehouse, Udemy, and a few books to structure my learning. I spent about 300 hours learning on my own prior to bootcamp. Being prepared set me up really well to hit the ground running when bootcamp started.

I also did a lot of research on the local job market, companies, and the tech industry in general. I really wanted to be certain that I was making a good decision and find the best ways to jumpstart my career transition. 

What was your hardest moment during the bootcamp? 

I got shingles, which kind of sucked. I’ve been told that I have an old soul, so this really confirmed that for me. In all seriousness, bootcamp is very challenging and can be quite stressful at times. It is important to take care of your physical and mental health throughout the process.

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

My support team consisted of my wife, my dog, and my bike. Usually, one of those things helped me recharge or decompress before or after long days of learning, networking, and applying for jobs. 

I also see a therapist once a month, which helps me calm my hyperactive, monkey mind. Being able to sit and talk with someone who is a professional listener makes a huge difference in my ability to see the world more rationally and manage my worries. I think therapy should be mandatory for being human.

Can you tell us about your final project experience? What did you build and how was it working with a new team? 

My team built an app that provides walkers, runners, and bikers routes through Grand Rapids that avoid areas with poor air quality. We used data from air quality sensors that Seamless IoT has set up throughout the city. We used a bunch of different technologies: C#, .NET, JavaScript, SQL Server, Azure, and the Google Maps API. 

It was both challenging and fun working on a team to build the app. It forced us into using some of the practices, like daily standups and using GIT, that most developers use on a daily basis when working in team environments. Building a functional app from start to finish with a team is great practice for what real-world development is like.

[Bonus reads: Rapid Growth Media articles on this bootcamp

UIX: This is the ‘engine of talent’ building Grand Rapids’ high tech/high growth future

UIX: In two weeks, this group built an air quality app that could save lives]

Coding Bootcamp Graduate Andre Otte

How would you describe your overall experience with Grand Circus? 

My experience at Grand Circus was excellent. It was exactly what I was looking for and needed as I moved into the tech industry. I definitely could have taught myself to code independently, but I would have lacked soft skills, a professional network, and my final project showcase, all of which I gained through Grand Circus and were crucial to me landing a job.

Did you have any misconceptions about the tech industry before joining the bootcamp? 

I had misconceptions before starting to look into coding as a viable career option. Mostly, I thought of the stereotypical, math nerd coder, who furiously pounds the keyboard with carpal-tunnel inflicted hands and hides in the corner during meetings. I still haven’t met this person.

What are you working on now? 

I am working as a Web Developer at BizStream. The vast majority of my working time is spent in the code, which is what I was hoping for when searching for a job. The team I am on works on custom software products that have been around for over 20 years, so I do a lot of legacy code maintenance. I also do quite a bit of support and work on new features or migrating the legacy codebase to newer tech.

What’s next for your career in tech? 

Keep learning! My main goal right now is to keep improving as a developer. In my free time, I am reading the Pragmatic Programmer and working on a .NET CORE side project. I should really learn Angular because that is popular in Grand Rapids right now.

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

Biking is way faster than driving downtown because you don’t have to scour a five-block area for parking and you can blow by backed up traffic in the bike lane (This is a great ego booster as well…). 

Get on your bikes and ride!

-Freddie Mercury, 1978

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

Be confident. If you put thought into the decision to go to a bootcamp and have decided it is a good move, you probably have the tools and skills you need to succeed as a developer. As long as you work really hard and follow the process Grand Circus has established, you will be successful. 

A big thank you to Andre for taking the time to chat with us about his journey into tech and continued learning!

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