In 2012, something happened that would eventually push Jordan Collier from working at Chick-fil-A to a computer programming job that paid him $US90,000 a year — he and his wife had a baby.
At the time Collier, now 22 years old, was making a half-hearted attempt at community college and just trying to pay the bills. He was studying nursing while working full time, but eventually dropped out of school without earning his associate degree. He had simply lost interest.
Collier had started working at Chick-fil-A because it provided a steady paycheck, but he knew he hated the food business. When people are hungry, they can get angry, he says. And though he needed to work to support his child, he wanted to provide for his family financially in a way Chick-fil-A just wouldn’t allow. Collier was looking for a way out.
That’s when he was approached by Alex Williams, a friend he’d met through martial arts in high school. Williams is a self-taught coder who has risen to the level of senior programmer at just 20 years old. Williams invited to pay for Collier’s $US250 ticket to Rocky Mountain Ruby, an annual Colorado conference for Ruby programmers.
“He knew it would change my life,” Collier says. “He wanted to see my family happy and he knew it would impact us in a powerful way.” Collier was blown away by what he saw at the conference. The programmers were so humble, and seemed willing to teach you anything if you wanted to learn. As Collier was driving away from the conference, he knew he would do whatever it took to be part of that community.
At first Collier considered a self-taught route, similar to Williams. Williams and his dad invited Collier to stay with their family in Arkansas, where he could wake up every day, coding from dusk till dawn, without the distractions of his family.
Collier discussed it with his wife, and though it would be tough, she agreed to support his coding journey for a year. Collier’s wife is a ballerina and ballet teacher. “She took on a ton of extra hours,” Collier says. And with his wife’s blessing, Collier headed to Arkansas.
But he only lasted a month.
“It was very hard on me,” he says. “I missed my family.” So he decided to go back home and try another way. Collier had received an email about Galvanize Full Stack, a coding bootcamp that promises to turn students from novices into “full stack” developers in just six months. Galvanize reports 98% job placement rates and $US73,000 exit salaries for its students.
10 of Collier’s friends had applied for the program and not gotten in. It’s a rigorous process and only one in eight applicants even gets an interview. “It’s tough,” Collier says.
But the truly tough part came after Collier was accepted, and faced the realities of a one and a half hour commute from his home in Colorado Springs to Denver, and a schedule that saw him starting class at 9 a.m. and going to bed at 2 a.m. Collier would drive down from Colorado Springs every Monday and stay with a teacher during the week, only returning to his home on weekends.
“Talk about breaking yourself,” he chuckles. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” But the hard work paid off, and before Collier had even left the program, he’d gotten a job offer from Allstate to make $US90,000 a year helping build one of their projects with three other programmers.
Allstate was particularly impressed with Collier’s experience in “partner programming,” pairing a junior and senior developer, something Galvanize stresses. Knowing how to interact and communicate with other developers is increasingly necessary when coding in a business setting — contrary to the image of a programmer alone in a dark room tapping away at unending lines of code, Collier explains.
There’s no doubt that Collier’s story is inspiring, but how do you know if his path is right for you?
Collier thinks it’s mostly tied to passion. It’s probably not for you if “you don’t love coding, and don’t get excited about learning difficult things,” he says. He thinks the ones who succeed are the ones that become obsessed when they begin to learn what code can actually do. “They will cut out video games and everything just to get their hands on more code,” he says. He counts himself among this group.
As for worrying about payment, though programs like Galvanize don’t come cheap, there are financing options available. Collier says he paid $US20,000 to $US21,000 for the program, $US18,000 to $US19,000 of which was paid for with a loan from a company called Earnest. He says if he pays back his loan over the course of three years, it comes at around 8% per year, but that if he pays it back in one, it’s only around 5%. Those terms are certainly not predatory, especially when you compare them to standard student loan interest rates.
And if you do decide to try to replicate a version of Collier’s journey, he has one big piece of advice: Find a mentor. Alex Williams not only (literally) bought Collier his first ticket into the coding world, but also supported him any time he hit a speed bump and didn’t have anyone else to turn to. “Having a human person instead of Google” is a huge help, Collier says. “And you need someone to cheer you on.”
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