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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!