Coding without College: Chandler Keyes Shares Her Experience

When Chandler Keyes came to Grand Circus bootcamp in 2017, she was fresh out of high school. Since then, she’s built a career in tech, helped other beginners get their start through the free Intro to Coding course, and created a YouTube channel where she shares her knowledge. That’s an amazing resume for just a few years of adulting!

Tell us about your coding bootcamp. What sticks with you about the experience?

I went to the Grand Circus Java bootcamp back in 2017. (That was definitely when everything was in-person!) My bootcamp experience was very intense, lots of fun, constant learning throughout the entire time. And thankfully, because I went to Grand Circus, I’m now a full-stack software developer.

One thing that I think about was the overall support that I got from Grand Circus. Whenever I needed help, the instructors were always available. I ended up relying a lot on my classmates, too. You’re all stressed out; you’re all going through it together. With that, I built a lot of lifetime connections and relationships with people.

Do you ever do any coding projects with people that you went to Grand Circus with?

Because I went to Grand Circus, I know a lot of people who were in the other bootcamps [like alumni from past cohorts and other recent grads]. A good friend of mine, Jason, allowed me to work on a project with him where I used React and TypeScript. I did a lot of the front-end work. One of the things that I really like is that I got connected with so many people at Grand Circus. With that, there’s more opportunities.

What was the biggest challenge during your coding bootcamp?

The biggest challenge was the final project. You’re essentially taking everything that you learned for the past ten weeks and implementing that into a final project that you present in front of employers. [The presentation part] was nerve-racking for me. 

[It was also a challenge] working on a team to actually build the project. You have to deal with people’s different skill sets, figure out who fits best. I considered myself the project manager, so I was keeping tabs on things and also doing front-end work. Some [team members] were more worried about the front end, some about database stuff. A lot of [my work] was getting everyone on the same page.

I wasn’t someone who was used to working on a team. My experience before that was minimal, so having to work on a team and learning to code in general was very new.

You went to a bootcamp that focused on back-end coding, but you’ve done front-end development as well. Tell us about that.

It’s really cool: if you learn how to code in general, you might not end up working in the field that you thought you would. I went to a back-end bootcamp, but a lot of the work that I was doing was front-end. Now I’m doing full-stack features where I switch between the two.

All Grand Circus bootcamps now cover full-stack development.

What was your first coding job like after bootcamp?

My first job out of bootcamp was an unpaid, three-month internship. That first job was a front-end position. I was working with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. What’s cool is that I was given the opportunity to build out the front-end of a real site. During my time there, I was still applying to jobs. I ended up landing my first paid position as an associate software engineer three months after bootcamp. In that role, I was working with Perl, which is a completely different language.

How many interviews did you do before landing your first job in tech?

It was in the double digits, and that doesn’t include the basic phone interviews I did with recruiters. I did at least 12 in-person interviews. I got shot down a few times because the experience on my resume was minimal and I didn’t have a degree. When I got my internship, even though it was unpaid, it was a way to get my real job. It actually helped a lot.

Your first position might not be one that you really like, but that first position is what helps you eventually find something that you like. You realize all the things that you don’t want out of a company. When you apply to your second job, you know what would be a good culture fit.

We hear a lot that once you’ve learned one coding language, it’s easier to learn more. Was that true for you?

That’s very, very true. You find yourself learning new technologies throughout your career path.

It’s really not hard to pick up another technology or learn another framework. As someone who works with JavaScript frameworks, I’m used to new things coming all the time. For example, I built an Angular full-stack project recently, and I’ve never worked with Angular before in my entire life. It was really easy to transition because I work with React. 

Since graduating, you’ve worked with our Alumni Ambassador Board. What does the board do?

On the Alumni Ambassador Board, our purpose is to simply help other alumni grow with career development. Our way of doing that is with events and workshops geared toward alumni interests. [At the start of COVID lockdown], we did a workshop on working from home where we gave best practices and [talked about] tools to use. We’ve also done Alumni Show & Tell, which is fun. We get to see the projects that other alumni have worked on since bootcamp. 

You’ve also been involved at Grand Circus as an instructor. What was that like?

I loved the experience of teaching Intro to Coding. It helped me get out of my comfort zone. I used to have really bad public speaking anxiety. It helped with my public speaking skills. 

Another thing that makes that experience nice is the fact that you’re at the entry point for a lot of people’s careers into coding. Some people who attend those Intro to Coding classes have never touched a line of code before. It’s nice [for them] to have someone who has been through the bootcamp to answer questions. 

Grand Circus workshops aren’t the only way you share your tech know-how. Tell us about your YouTube channel.

I make coding tutorials and talk about tech-related topics. I started off making very beginner-level Java tutorials. Then I worked on tutorials that could help people with job interviewing. A couple of months ago, I wrapped up a React Crash Course [on my YouTube channel] that covers the basics of React. 

I want to explain [tech] in a way that beginners can understand.

Do you have any parting words of wisdom?

Grand Circus is definitely a great place. It has changed my life. It helped kickstart my career. I highly recommend it if coding is something you’re looking into.