“The Boot Camp Gave Me the Skills, but the Rest Was up to Me” How Rocky Salerno Landed a Full Stack Engineering Role

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Early in his career, Rocky Salerno landed a role as an admissions counselor at his alma mater, UC Santa Barbara. But after a busy year filled with work-related travel, he started thinking about his long-term professional goals. He wanted to find a way to better apply his undergraduate degree in mathematics, and felt his skills would translate well in the world of technology.

Rocky applied to a property management software company called AppFolio and soon joined their team. Immersed in front-end design work like HTML and CSS, Rocky challenged himself to dig deeper. He read about JavaScript on his own time and started experimenting with new tools at work. 

“At one point, my boss actually told me to tone it down because they didn’t have the resources to maintain the websites I was building,” he explained.

The back-end work was equal parts challenging and exciting — and Rocky knew he wanted to do more of it. He enrolled in the Coding Boot Camp at UC San Diego Extension to continue his self-education in a more structured environment

Remaining ambitious amid difficult challenges

Prior to arriving at boot camp, Rocky spent weeks trying to teach himself to code.

“I can’t tell you how many websites I visited,” he said. “Though I found a lot of useful information, I needed more structure and some affirmation that I was making progress.”

When he finally decided to enroll in the program, he was also dealing with huge transitions in his personal life.

“I had a five-month-old baby, I was living with my mother-in-law, and then the pandemic arrived,” he said. “I signed up for the boot camp in January of 2020, my cohort started in March, and I lost my job the week before I started the program.”

Despite these challenges, Rocky was determined to find a job that could support his family as well as his personal goals. The boot camp was his best chance.

He successfully secured a loan to pay upfront for the six-month course, and though the path ahead was uncertain, he was prepared to fully commit to the opportunity.

Surpassing the wildest expectations 

“The expectation was twenty hours of work a week. I treated this opportunity as a full-time job, so I was doing forty to fifty hours each week,” he said. 

This meant completing weekly assignments and then working on his own side projects. He was working until 10 p.m. some nights, and consistently giving up his Saturdays to finish work and review material.

However, Rocky’s background in HTML and CSS, as well as his basic knowledge of JavaScript, gave him a leg up in the program.

“The first part of the course was really familiar to me because I had extensive experience with HTML and CSS. By the time we started learning about JavaScript, I just needed more practice,” he said. 

Being the ambitious person he is, Rocky jumped right away when an opportunity came along in the middle of the boot camp via a family friend. 

“A friend of a friend put me in touch with a director of engineering from a company in Silicon Valley,” he said. “We were having what I thought was a casual conversation over a beer, and it turned out that he was interviewing me.”

This unexpected networking opportunity led to front-end contract work that Rocky is still doing to this day. 

Going the extra mile 

In order to keep his family afloat during a difficult economic period following the boot camp, Rocky worked various part-time jobs — including that connection from a family friend. And thanks to a recommendation from his TA, he landed a permanent customer support role at PINS Advantage, a cloud software company in San Diego. Although this role had nothing to do with coding, he hoped to eventually make inroads with their engineering team. He soon proved his worth. 

“They were thinking about bringing on another full-time developer to the engineering team who had three years experience, so I decided to show them I was worth three years of experience. The boot camp gave me the skills, but the rest was up to me. So I went for it.”

Rocky is now employed as a full stack engineer at PINS Advantage, and he owes it equally to the boot camp and his relentless perseverance. 

Looking to pursue your passion and switch careers? Explore more opportunities with UC San Diego Extension Boot Camps in coding, data, and cybersecurity. 

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