5 min read

Alumni: I spoke my employer's language, but I couldn't write it – yet.

Hear from Covalence alumni, Justin Head, about his experience in Covalence's Catalyst program, and how it taught him way more than he anticipated.

It had been almost two weeks since I had graduated from Covalence's Full Stack Bootcamp.

The bootcamp itself was difficult, but I felt very confident in finding my first developer job. It was a Thursday night, and I was out with my wife at the premiere of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom when I received a message on social media from a guy I went to school with. I had nearly hired this guy to develop software for me prior to enrolling at Covalence, so we had been in touch and he knew that I had finished the bootcamp. He said he knew some guys coming into town (he was in Houston, TX at the time), and that If I wanted to come down and spend a week with them learning PHP and MySQL that it would be a good learning opportunity. They may even be able to offer me a remote Junior Development position. So, on the following Saturday, I drove from Nashville to my grandparents house in Houston.

On Sunday, I met the guys and we spent about an hour looking over some of the work I had done during the bootcamp. They were really impressed with everything I had learned and then spent about an hour showing me some of their PHP work. I had worked with MySQL while attending Covalence, but never PHP. The syntax was different, but surprisingly, I could read most of it with the exception of language specific functions that I had to ask about.

I understood the project they showed me, so they took me out to an expensive restaurant and offered me a job. I accepted the job and the rest of the week was pretty laid back. We played a few escape games, met with a client, and honestly spent very little time dealing with any code. They decided the best way for me to learn was to give me a project. I was asked to rebuild an existing project and that mine would replace it. They estimated it would take me a month to complete.

A week later, I set up my an office at my house in Nashville and started digging into the project. About 5 minutes later, I realized that I didn't even know the opening and closing tags for PHP, and that I had a real challenge ahead of me.

There were a few things about PHP that were throwing me off from the beginning. The first was the general structure of the project seemed ridiculously chaotic. This was due to PHP being a server-side language, but HTML, CSS, and JavaScript could and often was included in the PHP file. Aside from trying to wrap my head around how to structure the project without any solid division from front-end and back-end, PHP would commonly be used to render HTML to a page. The same PHP function that returns data from the database may also be placing it on the page or have jQuery append the data to a specific element on the page. It took me some time to get used to manipulating data this way and the first few days I seemed to stumble through every task. I tried to set daily goals on what I would complete, and I always seemed behind. I was pretty pessimistic about my progress, but I wasn’t taking into account the amount of time it was taking me to teach myself PHP.

It eventually occurred to me that the hardest thing about learning a new programing language was the syntax, some fundamental behavior, and the specific libraries/tools for that language. The actual logic didn't change with PHP. This was why when I first met the team and went through some of their PHP code, I understood it. Certain concepts such as loops, logical operators, arrays, objects, variable scope, password authentication, CRUD operations, CRON jobs, synchronous vs. asynchronous programing (just to name a few) had very little to no change other than syntax when switching programing languages.

So in roughly a month, I have become fairly proficient in PHP and have learned some very advanced concepts involving automating external websites to include login, making transactions, and how to scrape and store data from other websites.

I have never really considered myself someone who was good at teaching themselves things, but the education I gained from Covalence made the difference. For 10 weeks as a Covalence student, I thought I was learning a very specific tech stack that would be desired by employers, but I also learned how to think a specific way and the foundational concepts used in programming.

Interested in how Covalence can help you learn a new skill or change your career? Get started today by browsing our Course Catalog or scheduling a consult with us!


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