Medical Engineer Turned Software Engineer: How Jake O’Toole Changed Careers in 8 Months

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Jake O’Toole has been a fan of computers since he was in middle school, creating buddy icons for AOL Instant Messenger and then uploading them to his personal website. 

But, when it came time for college, he took a different route. He decided to obtain a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, and then work in various roles within the medical device engineering field. Through these jobs, Jake learned valuable skills surrounding design verification, risk management, and documentation. The only problem? He wasn’t happy. 

“I finally hit a point where I thought I needed to do something else,” he said. That’s when he decided to enroll in The University of Minnesota Coding Boot Camp — a decision that would help him change career paths in just eight months. 

Embracing the opportunity for collaboration

For Jake, enrolling in the boot camp was a chance to collaborate with classmates and gain invaluable teamwork experience that he wouldn’t have received elsewhere. 

“If I didn’t do the boot camp, I would have self-taught, which didn’t seem as useful,” he said. “I wouldn’t be able to say, ‘Hey, I collaborated on a code with someone’ or ‘This is how I handled this coding problem.’ It’s a whole different experience when you have to collaborate on code compared to having full individual control.” 

From the beginning, Jake’s background in biomedical engineering allowed him to help other students in the boot camp. He found himself finishing assignments early, then using his extra time to help classmates put their code together — and gaining valuable leadership experience along the way. 

Stepping out of his comfort zone

As the course progressed, Jake’s instructors consistently pushed him to try more challenging work. He enjoyed working on assignments and showcasing new technical skills to classmates and instructors. 

Looking back, Jake is extremely grateful for the boot camp’s focus on practical, real-world knowledge. “The instructors taught us about algorithms and which websites would help us practice our live coding skills,” he said. “They would also ask us questions we might hear in an interview, so we could articulate thoughtful responses.” 

Leaning on Career Services

Beyond gaining experience coding and collaborating, Jake was also able to enhance his resume and portfolio with the help of Career Services. “There were a lot of things I hadn’t thought about when it came to building a resume and portfolio,” he recalled. ”I had almost seven years of prior experience, so some needed to be cut out.” 

Jake’s career advisor helped him narrow down this past work experience — and even helped him land a role at Spok, a messaging platform for healthcare workers, just months after the boot camp ended. Today, Jake works on a team that focuses on front and back end web development, creating components for a reusable library using React, TypeScript, CSS Modules, and more. In this role, Jake uses the skills he learned in the boot camp in his day-to-day tasks. 

Eager to give back to the coding community, Jake also holds a TA position at University of Minnesota Coding Boot Camp, where he assists students with their projects and other class assignments. 

Looking to the future

Before enrolling in the boot camp, Jake felt lost in his professional life. Now, he’s found his future and couldn’t be happier. 

Looking ahead, Jake hopes to work on projects where he can make leadership decisions on which technologies are used and how codes are organized. “I also want to teach at some point, and would love to be an instructor, at least part-time,” he said. In fact, Jake even gave a tech talk for MongoDB in July of 2021. 

Every day, he is driven by the same core goals. “I strive to make the user’s experience accessible, intuitive, fun, and aesthetically pleasing,” he explained. “I hope to make the world a little easier and enjoyable for others through web development by combining my new and old skills.” 

Jake is proof that you can always switch career paths or learn something new. Explore University of Minnesota Boot Camps in coding, data analytics, cybersecurity, fintech, UX/UI, and digital marketing today.

Disclaimer: Since Jake was interviewed for this article, he has transitioned into a new role as an associate software engineer at The New York Times. He works on the Audience Product team, and is responsible for front-end aspects including SEO, comments, and sharing to social media.

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