How One FinTech Boot Camp Student Defied Expectations — and Build the Foundation for a New Career

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After studying sports management in college and briefly climbing the ranks working at a local brewery, Collin Pixley had amassed great experience but had no clear path. He became increasingly fascinated with public blockchain and cryptocurrency, but needed technical skills to fashion this into a career. One day, he came across an advertisement for Vanderbilt FinTech Boot Camp — which seemed like the perfect place to acquire those skills.  

Upon starting the boot camp, Collin quickly learned to roll with the punches. A tornado struck Tennessee when their boot camp was scheduled to start, delaying their first meeting. Then, after a few in-person classes, the COVID-19 pandemic hit — forcing the boot camp’s instructors and students to transition to a remote learning environment. Understandably, Collin was uncertain about how successful he would be in an online setting. 

“I was pretty nervous about it at first, but I actually enjoyed it,” said Collin. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to get the same kind of learning experience. But honestly, my instructor, Simon, and TA, Miguel, have been awesome through the whole process of it all.” 

The boot camp’s instructors held class and office hours over Zoom and used Slack to communicate throughout the week, allowing Collin and his classmates to study and socialize remotely. At the end of the day, this new environment didn’t stop Collin from acquiring those technical skills he set out to master. 

“I wasn’t a technical person at all before this, but now I have a pretty decent understanding of Python, some of the financial libraries that go with it, and foundational machine learning. I know how to build a chatbot with AWS, how to write a little bit of Solidity, create an Ethereum blockchain from scratch, and things like that,” said Collin. “Overall, the class is awesome. I’d recommend it for anyone, even with it being all virtual.” 

Here are the projects that helped Collin hone those new skills — and make the most of the new, remote environment: 

Projecting profit and risk

For Collin’s first project, he and his classmates created an application to predict the best industries for investing. Using a Monte Carlo simulation and historical analysis, they were able to project profit and risk for certain stocks — and generate advice for where to invest. 

Because the boot camp only had five students enrolled, Collin collaborated with all of his classmates on the project. At times, it was difficult to communicate with everyone without having a physical classroom to convene in, especially because everyone worked full-time. But this small class size allowed everyone to receive a lot of one-on-one time with professors, which was incredibly helpful for ramping up and tackling their first major project. 

Building a chatbot 

For the second project, Collin and his classmates built an Amazon Lex chatbot using Lambda for the back end. “Say someone was tasked with building a portfolio and they needed just a few tickers,” said Collin. “They would use our bot and put in a couple different parameters — technical indicators, fundamental indicators — then the Lex bot would shoot out a preferred portfolio due to those parameters.” 

After building the bot, Collin and classmates tried to create a machine learning (ML) model to calculate how the portfolio would perform — but this proved trickier than they initially imagined. Their comma-separated value (CSV) file pulled in the wrong data, and the team would’ve had to pay for the correct data to complete the model. Ultimately, they couldn’t gather all the necessary information on their limited budget. 

“Since we only had two weeks to work on it with limited resources and full-time jobs, we couldn’t see the project totally through,” said Collin. “I think the biggest thing that I learned from this is that in a real-life scenario, you need to make sure every piece of the puzzle fits together before you start building.” 

Conducting a crowdsale 

The final project involved a crowdsale, which the team had computer-generated users invest in. Using Solidity, Ethereum, and DeFi Legos, Collin and his classmates made smart contracts and a user interface for participating in the crowdsale. 

“We’re mimicking a real-life sale with simulated people,” said Collin. “They get a token, they put up Ether as collateral for this token, and then that Ether gets used as collateral in a protocol called compound.finance.” 

In theory, the business conducting the crowdsale could borrow against the collateral. They could then use those funds to start their business, and the people who invest in the crowdsale would profit as their Ether accrues value. 

Diving into crowdfunding, chatbots, and stock projections has helped Collin rapidly acquire the technical skills and financial understanding needed to launch his career in blockchain. “All this stuff was a little over my head,” he said. “But now I have so much better of a grasp on what these people are talking about when I’m reading.” 

As Collin wraps up the boot camp and continues his job search, he’s been helping out with Decentralized Finance (DeFi) projects at a blockchain consulting firm. In the future, he looks forward to further exploring the field — a field which Collin believes is tremendously promising. 

“It’s still at its infancy a little bit,” said Collin. “But my hypothesis is that people are going to be using these DeFi tools in one way or another, and they’re going to need people to help them learn how to use them. That’s where I’ll come in.” 

Want to turn your passion for technology into a career, too? Check out Vanderbilt’s Boot Camps offered in data analytics, coding, cybersecurity, and digital marketing. 

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