From GIS Technician to Software Developer, Meet Jessa

Joining a coding bootcamp is often a life-changing experience for students. Bootcamps go beyond teaching the technical knowledge necessary to work as developers. Our programs help students learn about Imposter Syndrome, how to learn difficult concepts, the power of networking and so much more. Getting to know those who already work in tech can create a powerful support system for bootcamp students, and Grand Circus is thankful for the alumni who continue to support Michigan’s next generation of programmers. 

Meet Jessa, from GIS Technician to Software Developer 

Jessa graduated from our Front-End After-Hours bootcamp in June 2019, and has been busy supporting incoming students ever since. Always looking for new ways to empower future developers, Jessa is heavily involved in our workshops, the Grand Circus alumni ambassador board, and the community to encourage others to explore tech career opportunities. 

Jessa headshot

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

Before bootcamp, I had obtained a BA in Geography and worked as a GIS Technician at a government agency. GIS stands for Geographic Information Systems, and although it sounds technical, I did not have any background in Computer Science. In my position, I basically collected data and made maps on the computer. After 3 years of working with GIS data, I wanted to move forward from collecting data and start making GIS data more accessible for my community. The answer was software development. I became curious about ideas such as using front-end development to visualize GIS data and how GIS data could power web applications. I realized my career would benefit from integrating software development with my GIS skills. 

How did you prepare for the bootcamp?

Before a bootcamp begins, students are given Unit 1 Pre-Work, and included in the pre-work were slides with helpful resources. I utilized that information and found more resources on my own. I also reached out to a friend for help and went to one of the tech hours that was hosted by Grand Circus. The pre-work helped me get oriented to what was expected of me, and I felt very accomplished by completing the project without any prior class time.

What was your hardest moment during the bootcamp? 

The quarterly assessments/tests were tough for me. I first viewed the tests like a test I wanted to get an A on. But I came to realize it wasn’t about the grade, it was about what I had learned. Bootcamp is a course with obstacles (literally and figuratively). If an obstacle trips you up, you don’t fail, you’re still on the course, and you keep moving forward. And in a Grand Circus bootcamp, you move forward because you know you learned something you knew nothing about a week two prior. 

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

I was fortunate enough to take the bootcamp along with my partner Mike. We rode to work together, went to class together, and studied together. Mike and I were able to hold study sessions at our house to work with our classmates on group projects. He was a great source of support for me. I am so proud of what we accomplished. And now we both work as developers!

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 team was great. There were 4 of us (all the other groups were teams of 3) so the main struggle we faced was dividing up the work. I was so proud of everything we accomplished in the end. Our app was called Hello World and it used 4 different APIs (APIs are big collections of data). Hello World’s purpose was to be a translation buddy for a traveler on a vacation or business trip. The user could look up the country they were traveling to, and the app would give them quick access to common phrases such as “Thank You,” “Where is the front desk?” and “I need help.” Hello World also had a listen button next to each translation in case the user couldn’t pronounce it. 

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

The feeling of imposter syndrome has always haunted me. I was so impressed that imposter syndrome was a topic we covered in bootcamp, and what I learned greatly helped with my confidence. For me, combatting Imposter Syndrome is first, having a growth mindset, and second, about rooting myself in the reality of my hard work and accomplishments. Then when I start second-guessing myself, I take a moment to remind myself that YES I have the skills to be successful as a developer and YES I deserve to be respected as one. This was so important for me to learn as a POC and woman in tech.

How would you describe your overall experience with Grand Circus? 

I had an incredible experience. It was tough, but I would do it all over again. The sense of accomplishment was overwhelming on Demo Day. Also, I still am friends with my teachers and some of my classmates. The community GC provides outside of class is incredible too. GC keeps all the alum in the loop when there are events and jobs. I really appreciate all the work they do to keep us connected.

Jessa with friends

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

The tech industry had always seemed uninviting to me. The stereotypes of ‘programmer’ that are played out in TV shows and in movies never resonated with me. I had never thought  “that’s what I want to be,” or “that’s where I belong,” when I saw those characters. When I started going to tech events in Grand Rapids, especially those hosted by Grand Circus, I met other women and POC who were in love with what they did. The idea of ‘programmer’ came into a new light for me: it was about being a problem solver, being able to see patterns and connections, and about building something while learning along the way.  

What are you working on now? 

Right now I’m working on an incredible project that will help people in Kent County during the pandemic affecting us right now. My team at Mallowfields and I wanted to answer the question, “Where can I get food?” We started reaching out to local non-profits and ended up making a connection with the Kent County Emergency Task Force. With their help and the help of other organizations, we collected a ton of data and built the site within about a week. At this website, a user can view an interactive web map of food sites, see the details about the location, and find out where they can get food if they are in need.  The site went live earlier this week and we are moving in the direction to get it translated into Spanish and also have more resourceful information beyond food access sites.

What’s next for your career in tech?

For me, the next step is continuing to learn. I have set a goal for myself to become a full-stack developer within the next 4 years. My team at Mallowfields is very supportive of my goal, and I am learning through working, by being mentored by my team, and through online resources.

Many roles in the tech industry recently transitioned to working remotely as we work to flatten-the-curve for COVID-19. How has the transition to working remotely been for you?

While the transition to working remotely was technically and physically easy, emotionally it was not. The stress of the pandemic has definitely been a challenge when trying to stay focused and feel productive.

At first, thinking it was a temporary transition, I had my work station set up on an ironing board and cardboard boxes (not the best work environment). But I was prepared for virtual meetings and communicating with my team in new ways because my company already used resources like Teams and Zoom.

Once I realized it was going to be a more permanent situation, I got a better set up with a desk and a chair that was better on my back. This new space feels like I’m ‘at work.’

The most important thing is learning to be patient with myself, and understanding that it is OKAY to not be my most productive during a pandemic.

Are there any skills that you learned in the bootcamp that have helped you adapt to working remotely?

By preparing me to be strategic and creative while problem-solving, Grand Circus helped establish the skill of facing new challenges with confidence. Instead of being stunted by the fear of failing, I face this new way of working with more composure because I know myself: I know that I am still learning and that I will make mistakes along the way, and that that is okay.

Can you tell us a little about your involvement with Grand Circus workshops?  

I have been involved in GC workshops both as a host and guest. About a year or so I signed up for a bootcamp, I went to an Intro to Coding workshop. It was my first introduction to coding. The class was full of others who were just as curious as I was, so I felt very comfortable. Now, after graduating from the Front-End Bootcamp, I have been the teacher assistant and teacher for several Intro to Coding Workshops. Each one has been different in place and size, but all have harbored the same inclusive environment that is needed for those who are curious and learning something for the first time. 

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

First, get connected with a Grand Circus grad and pick their brain. Ask them about their experience. Also, ask them about their favorite free online resource. Then, try out that online resource. 

The next step I would suggest would be to go to a GC event. Grand Circus hosts a lot of free events around the city (and remotely!) including an Intro to Coding workshop. I know that I also went to a Women in Tech happy hour they hosted. I met others, learned their stories, expressed my curiosity in learning and changing my career. I found a skill I wanted to learn more about and I found a community that I wanted to be part of. That’s how it all came together for me.

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

I would highly advise these two things: one, create an environment for yourself that is conducive to learning, and two, set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Having the right space and committing to a routine will be your key to success.

Before the bootcamp starts, I suggest taking the Learning to Learn course on (it’s free). You will learn so much about your learning style and get great tips on how to tackle learning something new.

Thank you Jessa for taking the time to share your bootcamp experience with us!