Naval Mechanic to Bus Driver to Coder: How Daniel Smith Found His Calling

Navy veteran Daniel Smith was stuck. Working as a school bus driver, he felt like his career was at a red light.

“I wanted to find a career that I enjoyed while giving me a good paycheck, not just a job that I didn’t care that much about,” Daniel said.

When he enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin Coding Boot Camp, at its Houston campus, that’s just what he found.

Uncovering a plan

Daniel has always loved building things. As a kid, he was infatuated with cars, which led to a job as a mechanic.

What Daniel really wanted to do was create a monstrous muscle car from scratch, not tinker with engines. So when he ended up in the Navy as a steam turbine mechanic, fixing issues and following orders, he found himself feeling unfulfilled.

After his service, Daniel landed a job driving a school bus, and dabbled in sound work at bars in his off-time. He felt stuck, and ready to do something bigger.

He started toying with web development, taking free classes online. But he wanted something more. When a friend found the UT Austin Coding Boot Camp based in Houston, Daniel was fascinated.

“The boot camp looked perfect for me, but I didn’t think I could afford it,” Daniel remembered. “I was in line to join the police academy. Then I got a loan from the bank, and there was no turning back.”

Building toward a new future

With only a baseline knowledge of coding, walking into the boot camp September of 2017 was pretty daunting. But Daniel found the course to be filled with supportive and positive people, and he credits his TAs and tutor with helping him get through the six-month course.

While he learned a lot in the confines of the classroom, Daniel found that his education really took off outside of the boot camp. Between his school bus shifts, he spent four hours every day studying and learning whatever he could about code.

Daniel also leaned on a few classmates and his tutor, working through assignments together and seeing problems from fresh perspectives.

“It was a lot like my experience in the Navy. The camaraderie, the support, it was something that was very familiar,” Daniel said.

But Daniel noticed a key difference in the two experiences.

“In the Navy, you do things because you have to. At the boot camp, you work hard because you want to.”

Putting together the pieces

When it came time to figure out his next steps, the pieces started to fall into place.

Working closely with his dedicated career coach, Daniel got his LinkedIn up-to-date, built a resume, and even created a digital portfolio, which he filled with projects that he did on his own time. One of them included an app that would help parents and students find their school bus on time.

With his LinkedIn and portfolio up and running, Daniel received an inquiry for a junior web development job. He was delighted to see that all of the qualifications were completely in line with what he learned at the boot camp. It was a perfect fit. After a successful interview, Daniel was hired—going from a job as a school bus driver earning $18K, to a career as a developer earning $50K.

When Daniel started his job at Shell at the end of July, he was thrilled to see four other boot camp graduates, including Rebecca Geimenhardt. Their team at the new Shell Agile Hub works like a start-up, collaborating and adapting on the spot—something Daniel learned in the Navy and mastered at the boot camp.

Thinking about his job in development, Daniel draws a comparison to his experience in the mechanic shop.

“I think of it like this: when you’re working on a car, and you finally get it to run, you’re so proud. Why? Because you didn’t buy it, you built it,” Daniel said. “That’s just like coding.”

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