After teaching in Cambodia and Thailand for several years, Richard Seward returned to the United States and instantly found himself at a loss for where to go with his professional life. “The obvious choice would have been to continue with education,” he said. “But I just didn’t have the drive to do that.”
His previous vocations had all been chosen due to either location or the amount of experience he had in a given field — and this was the case for his first position in the United States upon returning from overseas. He worked as a recruiter in Colorado, but discovered that this position was yet another career dead end for him. It was at this point that Richard realized he had to make a change.
Richard started researching the different options that were available to him, and stumbled across the idea of getting into computer science. While he didn’t have any coding experience, Richard was intrigued by the idea of programming.
“I didn’t grow up with computers in my life,” he said. “I don’t think I had a computer until I was 15 years old, but I love learning how things fit together, so I started looking at coding and realized that maybe computers weren’t this mystical thing that everybody thinks they are.”
Committing to coding
With whatever spare time he could muster when he wasn’t working his full-time job, Richard participated in a free online coding camp, where he learned the web programming languages HTML and CSS. This was a valuable experience for him, as it laid the foundations for what would later become an exciting coding career.
From there, Richard enrolled in University of Denver Coding Boot Camp to start transitioning to an exciting new career. He decided that his best course of action was to dive headfirst into the course material. Each morning, he woke up early to fit in a run, then carved out some time to code before heading to work. After getting home at around 5:30 p.m., he would eat dinner and then dive straight back into his boot camp material — either a lecture or homework and projects.
“You don’t get involved with a boot camp unless you’re really passionate about it,” explained Richard. “For me, coding was the only way I wanted to spend my time. Everything else was second to that.”
Developing a project worth doing
Richard worked with a group he called “the dream team” on three projects throughout the boot camp’s six-month period. Immersing himself in the technical world by collaborating on open-ended projects, Richard came to understand the minutiae of what it’s like working in a professional programming setting.
For one particularly memorable project, his team developed a loan tracker which enabled the user to log in, input their currently open loans, then manage their payments and track how much of their debt that had been paid. Richard’s desire to develop this project stemmed from a need to track his own debts to understand how much money he still had left to pay off.
Looking back, Richard sees this project as a valuable lesson in just how much work goes into successfully developing something from scratch. “I realized, ‘We need an API, React authentication, a highly polished front end, and so on,’” recalled Richard. “So much happens behind the scenes.”
The team worked on the project until the last minute — literally. At one point, they noticed that an animated circular progress bar wasn’t displaying the correct data queried from a database using MongoDB. Worse yet, the query was incredibly slow. With just one day remaining until the project needed to be presented in class, the team came to a critical decision: either get rid of the graph functionality to rid their project of errors, or press on with their precious few hours left to try and find a solution. Richard chose the latter.
It turned out that a simple logic error was all it took to throw off the team. The way Richard describes it, it’s easy to see why the program had slowed down exponentially.
“Let’s say we have 200 profiles, each with five loans, and each one of those loans has five payments attached. That’s 5,000 payments in the database in total, and we were pulling for all of them — which is really slow!” said Richard. “What I really needed to do on the back end side of things was just query the database, and only bring in payments that matched that user’s ID.”
Building a career
This experience of immersing himself in technical material through group projects taught Richard the power of teamwork. He likens it to his background in team sports — but even more challenging. As he put it, “It’s intimidating, but also motivating, when other people are looking at your code, so I was really glad that the boot camp’s team projects gave me that experience.”
Richard made sure to take advantage of all the career services offered by the boot camp, which were particularly beneficial in helping him better understand how to develop a programming resume. “I had to build a brand statement to present myself to companies, which wasn’t intuitive until I got help from the career service modules,” he said.
Today, Richard points to his Career Advisor, Heather, as someone who helped him change his life for the better. Following his boot camp experience, she suggested that he apply to a coaching job at the tech startup ClickUp, which he then landed in August 2021.
“Heather helped me apply to ClickUp and connected me with another person who had gone through the same interview process, which helped me know what to expect,” recalled Richard. “She even encouraged me to ask for a higher salary after they made an offer, which is an intimidating process when you don’t have much leverage in the job market.”
In Richard’s new role, he helped companies get up to speed with ClickUp’s project management software, supported them in problem resolutions, and recommended workflows to improve their experience.
While he was glad to be able to take a step in the right direction, Richard felt he could progress even more.
“It was a great position for me to start with because it helped familiarize me with the platform, but I decided I wanted to leverage that customer support experience toward the more technical side of things,” Richard said. In January 2022, he successfully transitioned over to his current role at ClickUp as a technical support specialist, where he works with development tools, communicates directly with developers, and troubleshoots developer issues with the platform. In other words, Richard is a liaison between customer support and the company’s engineering team — and he intends to keep heading in the programming direction.
“I met with the tech support managers during the interview process, and they were asking me questions they asked to engineers because they wanted to see if I had the potential to move further in the coding direction,” Richard recalled. “I’ll be looking at possibly around six months in this role, then there’s potential for me to transition over to a tech support engineering role, so fingers crossed.”
Richard believes that anyone can dive into the boot camp’s curriculum and career services to completely alter their professional trajectory for the better — he’s proof that it’s possible.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, but there’s so much potential to succeed if you really apply yourself,” he said. “I can’t believe where my family is now thanks to the boot camp.”
If you’re keen to take the next step toward an exciting career in tech, check out University of Denver Boot Camps in coding, data analytics, digital marketing, and much more.