Ezequiel Calderon Jr.’s One Rule for Thriving in Coding Boot Camp: Always Find a Way to Make Learning Interesting
After graduating from the McCombs School of Business at UT Austin, Ezequiel Calderon Jr. moved to San Francisco to work as a software management consultant at PwC. After four years, though, he began thinking about what he wanted next. He knew it started with moving back to where he’d grown up: Houston, Texas.
From there, Ezequiel found himself considering what would make him a smarter manager—not just of people, but of the software itself. Developing hard skills in software development seemed like a good bet, so Ezequiel decided to apply to the Houston campus of the Coding Boot Camp at UT Austin. He left PwC in July 2018, moved back home, and started boot camp in August of that same year. Here he talks about his journey.
How was the transition?
ECJ: It was all very quick. Part of my goal was to really focus on this program, so I actually moved back in with my parents and got a server job at a little Mexican restaurant really close to where I grew up. It was really funny because it was this whole coming back home experience. I was going from professional technology services to services in the food industry within a week. I was saving money by living with my parents, so I was able to work under 20 hours a week as a server. I was really being intentional about dedicating time to the boot camp and focusing on the coursework.
How was the course? Tell us about the work, the instructors, and the day-to-day.
ECJ: From the get-go, I was really impressed with how organized everything was. I was impressed with how articulate the instructors were about what we were going to learn, how they motivated the students, and how they instilled a sense of hope even when things got tricky. In addition to the instructors and the TAs, Michele Bury—the student success manager—was instrumental in motivating us and keeping us focused on the big picture in the weeds of learning development.
To go from a place where I was constantly putting out fires into this world where I was being asked not only to pick up this new discipline but to be creative about how I was going to do that was super invigorating and rejuvenating for me. I loved being able to flex that creative muscle. I incorporated additional learning opportunities into every assignment. When we needed to build a simple quiz game, I chose the theme to be about optical art in the 1960s and 70s. I had another project where I incorporated studying a variety of Latina ballads and pop artists in the 80s. It wasn’t about just meeting the basic requirements for me. I knew that I wanted to really make things my own and think about the bigger vision—the creative pursuit, if you will.
How did you apply this passion to your final project?
ECJ: My final project was called Guru Match. It was a matching service for folks looking for personal, life, and fitness coaches. My friend is a personal therapist and coach, and she often talks about how in order to find clients, she really has to seek them out. There’s a lot of misunderstanding and miseducation around these coaches. The idea behind this service was to bridge this gap and bring people together. Both the coaches and the folks looking for coaches would fill out a questionnaire. We’d match people based on location as well as experience level, utilizing each coach’s area of expertise.
The fun part here is that we integrated a free video-chat service. Each user would get matched with three coaches, chat with each of them for 20 minutes, and then decide which coach they’d like to work with. The video service added another level of personalization and made the decision-making process much quicker for the user.
What was your biggest takeaway from the experience?
ECJ: I grew up in Pasadena, in the southeast side of Houston. Out of a graduating class of about 550, fewer than 20 of us went on to a four-year university. I was also a first-generation college student in my family. When I got to school, I was navigating a lot of firsts—I really had to learn how to be in this world. All of my family has done blue-collar work, so I didn’t have a blueprint for me to use in deciding what career I wanted to pursue.
Thankfully, I was able to narrow things down to the world of consulting and the world of software development and technology, but I still had a lot to learn even when I started my first job with PwC. There were definitely moments when I felt lost. My family couldn’t relate to a lot of the things I was going through in terms of the challenges I was facing in acclimating to a new class and working with folks that were accustomed to affluence. I felt like everything in my life had been leading up to getting that job, and then once I got there all I could think was “What now?” and “Why do I feel like I’m still not comfortable?”
When I did the boot camp, I was finally able to put words to this discipline. It was a period for me to pause, and really think about how I fit in the industry and where I wanted to go. I don’t think I had that click until I did the boot camp, and I was able to gain a lot of confidence in directing a way for my own career.
So what did you decide?
ECJ: I moved to Austin right after I finished the boot camp. Austin has a big technology industry, so I knew I would have opportunities there. I was going to networking affairs, meeting new people, and vetting a variety of different options. I knew I really wanted to take my time with this decision.
Now that I have this language and this context, I feel a lot more confident in being able to make decisions and work with teams in a leadership capacity. I accepted a position as a product manager with a consulting firm, Praxent, that builds software products for B2C and B2B companies. I love it so far—I hope to continue on this route. We’ll see where it takes me later, but as of now, I’m excited about the present moment.