Tom Wark's Personal Site

New Year, New Life – My HackerYou experience

Now that the holidays have come and gone, I’ve decided I finally need to take the time to share my experience in learning to code. There are so many people doing it, and I know when I first picked it up I was looking everywhere for success stories or just to read about others experiences.
A few days ago I caught myself being a little frustrated while learning some new things. I wasn’t frustrated with the topic, or that I couldn’t figure it out, I was more just jealous of how knowledgable some people are, and that I want to be at that point. Although when I took a minute to stop and think about it, it was almost exactly a year ago from now that I new absolutely nothing about programming and had never written a line of code before. Sometimes it can be difficult to take a moment to put things in perspective and be proud of what you’ve achieved.

How did I get here? I can say for sure it took a lot of hard work and dedication, the willingness to take calculated risks, and the help from some absolutely fantastic people. I wrote about my journey a little bit in a previous blog post so I won’t start right from the beginning. The key turning point in the path that led me to where I am now is without a doubt the HackerYou Summer Academy Rails bootcamp. I went from having a basic level of knowledge of programming and the web, to being able to write full working applications that I felt confident displaying to other people. Not only did I gain knowledge with the specific technologies we used, but I feel like I also greatly improved my ability to teach myself and gain knowledge on my own.

HackerYou was such an amazing experience, the atmosphere was like none I’ve ever experienced. Every single person was there to work hard and learn as much as possible. We would all help each other, learn from each other and in turn push one another to work harder and get better. I’ve never worked with such a motivated, fun, and tight-knit group before in my life. I made some friendships I know will last forever.
Nick Small and Edward Ocampo-Gooding (the instructors) are two very incredible and intelligent people. I was truly amazed with how much they know and how glad they are to share that knowledge. Their dedication and selflessness throughout this experience was something I’ll never forget. They were always willing to help, putting in 16+ hour days (plus coming in on weekends) just to help us learn as much as possible. They are amazing people and I can’t thank them enough for all of their hard work, patience and dedication.

Two other people that I have so much respect for and who were absolutely crucial to this whole experience were our mentors – Mike Williamson, and Mike Prendergast. These two fantastic people were with us everyday being bombarded by questions and taking time to patiently work through problems with us not just by showing us a solution but by ensuring we understood why and how everything worked the way it did. These two gave up so much of their time to make sure we always had someone around to help us when we were having difficulty – sometimes even coming in at a moments notice when they were needed. These two truly love what they do and it was obvious how much they enjoyed sharing their knowledge. This experience couldn’t have been the success that it was without these two great people.

This brings me to the people who made this whole thing happen. Heather Payne and Nicole Belanger. I don’t think I’ve met two people who work harder than these two incredible women. Always on the go, having a million things going at once and yet being calm and collected and willing to take the time to do things right. Not only did Nicole help plan activities outside of the course (many people weren’t actually from Ottawa) but she was always around to make sure things were running smoothly and to help prepare us for life after the course was over. She was always so approachable and easy to talk to, and really made it her mission to make sure we all got the most possible out of this entire summer experience.

I can’t even find the words to express how thankful I am for Heather. She made this whole thing happen and would accept no compromise in ensuring that we all had the absolute best experience possible. She literally picked up her life and moved to Ottawa for nine weeks to make this happen and was always available to help or talk at any time. There were no off hours for her. I feel like I’m a better person just from having met her and witnessing her dedication, motivation and her charismatic personality. She hand-picked a fantastic group of students for the course, provided us with amazing instructors and mentors and was always present to help us with any aspect of our lives. After the course was over, Heather did not stop. She was constantly helping me set up interviews, helping me prepare for those interviews, even helping me find a place to live when I decided to relocate Toronto for a job offer. She always responded to my emails (even though she gets thousands per day), and was so willing to help in any way that she could.

Through the tireless efforts and help of all of these people, I landed a job as a Junior Web Developer at Dashboard in downtown Toronto and could not be happier. I’m actually getting paid to do something I truly enjoy and feel as though all of my hard work has paid off. I can’t thank these people enough for the sacrifices they made and time they put in to helping me learn something I would’ve had great difficulty learning on my own. I hope anyone hoping to continue on this same path can take something away from my experience and I’d be more than happy to answer any questions that people have (by email, twitter, etc).