Today I’m joined by Bobby Davis Jr. who recently wrote the book, Breaking the Code: Five Steps to a Life-Changing Software Development Job. In addition to being a serial entrepreneur and leader in software development and design, Bobby is also the founder and president of Coder Foundry, which offers three-month boot camps to build professional programmers, and then place them in dream jobs.
In this book, Bobby breaks down what it takes to become a coder, a career that he calls the economic mobilizer of our time and a field that’s still going strong, even in light of the COVID downturn. He also talks about what breaking into the field really looks like.
Nikki Van Noy: Today, I’m welcoming Bobby Davis Jr. who recently wrote the book Breaking the Code: Five Steps to a Life-Changing Software Development Job. Bobby, thank you so much for joining me today.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Hey, how are you doing? Thanks for letting me come on.
Nikki Van Noy: So happy to have you here. Bobby, let’s start by letting listeners know a little bit about you.
Bobby Davis Jr.: So, at my core, I am an entrepreneur, which means I don’t want a day job. I just want to work hard at the things I want to build. I’ve been building software companies since the early 2000s and Coder Foundry, my latest company, is a coding bootcamp. All the things that, when I learned to code, it gave me such opportunity that I decided to create a company. I really didn’t need another company, but I decided to create a one, so I could teach someone else what I knew–so they can get the same benefits that I had.
Nikki Van Noy: Talk to me a little bit about coding bootcamp, what does that entail?
Bobby Davis Jr.: In coding bootcamps you are learning how to do the art of creating software. You can do that by going to college, you can do that by going to a community college, you can do that by learning on your own. What a bootcamp does is bring in that whole mentorship/teacher/coach to the equation. A lot of times, when you’re trying to learn something, whether that’s cooking or coding or whatever, it would be really cool if an expert could help you when you get stuck. And at a boot camp, we help people stay unstuck so they can have their momentum always in the learning process. What that means, is then we can teach you faster because you can always have that coach, that teacher, that mentor right there by your side when you’re learning how to code.
Nikki Van Noy: That’s very cool. What kind of people do you see in there? I’m asking you to generalize a bit. Are these people who are coding already and looking to up their game? Is it people who are switching over from another profession, bolstering their skills? What do you see for the most part?
Bobby Davis Jr.: What a lot of people think is that you must be like 24 years old and that’s the only people that you see coding. I was talking to one of our students the other day when she said that when she went to her coding job, she said it feels like all my older uncles work there. Coding is actually a really older profession where a lot of people, of all ages, walk into our classroom. We see a lot of what we call career-switchers. Maybe they’re a teacher or they’re a musician and that job doesn’t give them the fulfillment that they’d like, or it doesn’t pay like they want.
They look at coding. That can give you that artistic output but you get paid more than being a starving artist sometimes and so, this allows them to get paid what they want but they still have that creative outlet so we see a lot of career switchers at all ages, all walks of life and across all demographics.
Nikki Van Noy: I am so intrigued by the artistry of this. I think for those of us on the outside, coding can be categorized in the technical category more than the artistic or creative. Talk to me about that element of it?
Bobby Davis Jr.: Imagine you’re Taylor Swift, all right? You walk into your local Starbucks and there’s like eight people listening to your music and you think, “That’s so cool!” That’s a very creative outlook, but let’s say that you’re someone like Jack Darcy who created Twitter and you walk in a Starbucks and everybody’s using your app. You get that same sense of fulfillment when you build something, whether you write a book, you make a painting, or you write code. When other people are using it, that creative outlet is very rewarding when you make things that people use. And coding gives you the outline, except you don’t have to be super famous really, you can just be a regular person that builds an app that a lot of people want to use.
Nikki Van Noy: With that in mind, I have to ask you, is there anything you’ve built that you’re particularly proud of?
Bobby Davis Jr.: I’ve done a lot of things in my career. But I think the one moment that I have was when we built a piece of fraud software for banks. I can remember walking into a bank and I was doing a transaction there and I looked across the screen and I saw them using the software that I wrote.
I wanted to say, like a little kid, go hey, “I wrote that, you know?” I walked out with a smile on my face, that’s kind of cool. I think a lot of people get that same sense of fulfillment.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, absolutely. I wouldn’t have been able to resist saying that.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah, it’s hard sometimes but you know, they’d probably look at you weird, you know? Like really? Sure you did.
Nikki Van Noy: True. What made you want to write this book now?
Bobby Davis Jr.: What made me want to write the book is very simple. As we tried to get people jobs, and then I started a YouTube channel, and we had people from all over the world actually asking us, “How do I get a software job, how do I break in?”
Then we saw the push back from a lot of people telling us really bad things about the job search or very negative or false information. We realized that there’s a lot of misconceptions about how you find a software job. I thought that well since so many people want to learn how to code and there’s a lot of learning to code information out there. But there’s not much information about–how do you actually monetize it. How do I get a job doing this? This book helps you cover that gap where, now that you know how to code, now you can find a job. I’m going to show you how to get a coding job.
Nikki Van Noy: Let’s take this opportunity to smash some of the myths that you hear, that people bring to you about getting into coding?
Bobby Davis Jr.: Number one, a lot of people think coding is some kind of mystic or black art or that you have to be an absolute genius to do this. I think there are a lot of gatekeepers in the world that want to keep that myth alive because they feel like it protects their industry and they will say “No, you can’t do this, you’re not smart enough,” or, “You started too late.” We have a lot of people come to us and ask us, “Is 28 too old to learn to code?” We just laugh. Exactly, “I’m 28, is my life over?” We hear that from 28 to 38 to 48. In fact, we had a lady that graduated just recently from our bootcamp and she was 59 years old. Her first offer was $80,000 a year.
Nikki Van Noy: Wow, that’s so cool.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah, what we want to do is say that yes, learning to code is hard but more people can do it than you think. We developed a test to be able to see if you’re the type of thinker that would allow you to learn code at a quick pace. To learn how to code quickly. We test everyone that comes to the bootcamp to see if they can learn how to code.
Nikki Van Noy: That’s so cool. What exactly are you looking for to determine that?
Bobby Davis Jr.: We think there are two types of thinkers in the world–and this is very broad and general so don’t get mad at me if you’re on the other side. But we feel like there are two types of thinkers. There are the people that can take a concept, an abstract concept, and then they can apply it to a different problem. I have this thing I point out that if you taught a coder how to change a tire on a car, a good programmer, they would look at a propeller on a plane and think, I think I can put that on there. It has four bolts like the other thing, they both spin, I’m sure there’s some stuff I don’t understand but I think I could attack that problem and eventually solve it.
Then there’s the other half of the population that would say, that’s a car, that’s a plane, there are two separate problems, I don’t have enough information to even attack that other problem. It’s taking the abstract concept of the things that you learned in your life, your experience, your knowledge, and applying that to a separate concrete problem over and over again. Those types of thinkers, we see that from teachers, musicians, writers, they do this a lot where they’re using the same skill over and over again, but the output is always different.
And coders are the exact same thinkers. We just want to identify those thinkers and then teach them to code so they can enjoy the benefits of being in this great profession.
Nikki Van Noy: You talk in this book about how coding is the economic mobilizer of our time. Talk to me a little bit about that.
Bobby Davis Jr.: It truly is, there are three aspects of it being the economic mobilizer. The first one is the average salary for what we call a .net developer, someone that builds web applications, is about 94,000 dollars a year. That in itself is amazing.
The second thing that people don’t realize is, you know how you get in a job and you feel like you’re stuck because you have a bad boss or you just kind of feel stuck because you know that finding that other job in your profession may be hard? Well, coding, because it’s so in demand, if you get into a place that you don’t like, maybe the lifestyle, the work-life balance doesn’t match with you. Now, you can actually move and just quit and find another job because there is that much demand for this industry.
The third one is geographic. We go into great detail in the book about in the Industrial Revolution, people moved to the cities and all the cities that we’ve seen in the last 50 to 80 years were built up around factories. So, people would move to the cities so they could get a job at the factory. And now, with coding, the factory is in every city in America. Whether you want to work in New York City or Topeka, Kansas, or where I am in North Carolina, there are coding jobs in those cities. So, if you need to move locations, now you can. You don’t feel like you have to stick around the factory. Now you can live where you want to live, work where you want to work, and then make the type of money that you would like to make. That’s the three aspects of economic mobility.
Nikki Van Noy: I’m feeling a lot of people’s ears perk up right now.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah.
Nikki Van Noy: Because obviously, we are in a time where a lot of people have lost jobs and entire industries are coming down. What I’m hearing you say is that now, particularly, this could be an option for some people who are forced into a switch.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Exactly. What I think you should do in any kind of shift in the economy, whether that’s a down or an up–but let’s talk about the downshift. Maybe you have been downsized or your restaurant closed, or something happened to you where you find yourself unemployed. A lot of people will go and kind of huddle up and say, “I just want to survive this.” There are those that will say, “I’m going to take this opportunity to improve myself. I’m going to learn a new skill so that when this picks back up, I can participate in the economy again.”
What I want to encourage people is, if you’re sitting at home right now, there’s never a better chance, right now, than learn to code. The other thing that should keep you motivated in going forward is just to think about this. Just because we close a lot of things, of all the systems that are already out there, are they going to still exist a year from now? The answer is yes. This means, as society gets more and more connected and more and more automated, we’re going to need more and more software developers and there’s almost an infinite demand for software development.
There’s never a better time to learn to code than this year. What I’m telling people right now is that if you look at say, Mark Zuckerberg, you realize that Facebook was invented in 2008. It’s not like he’s been around for 50 years or even that the company’s been around for 50 years. From the year 2020 what we’re in today, to 2030 in the future, there will probably be three to four new billion-dollar companies created. They will make something that you didn’t know that you needed but you absolutely have to have, and it will be built on software.
Because of that, that’s why you should learn to code. Imagine if you were trying to learn Spanish and you are not a natural Spanish speaker. English is your first language, but you had a Spanish friend who said, “I will teach you Spanish, and here’s what we’re going to do. We are going to go to Mexico for three months and you can’t speak English, but every time you get stuck, I will help you with the translation part of it, but you are only going to speak Spanish from this day forward.”
You would learn Spanish in three months easily, and that is the same thing that happens at a boot camp. We immerse you so that you can learn the language and you have a guide, a teacher, or a mentor right there with you.
Nikki Van Noy: Are you seeing in your own experience an uptick in people’s interest right now?
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yes. So, we are getting people from all over the world that are now applying to our boot camp and there are a lot of reasons for that. We have a big YouTube following, we have a big channel and we work really hard to let people know about Coder Foundry. But I think it is also people realizing that when you have this great economic mobilizer with coding, it really doesn’t matter where you live. You don’t have to move to Flint, Michigan to work at Ford anymore. Ford will hire you regardless of where you sit. If you go into a big bank, you’ will see that there are a lot of people working there from other countries. And in the remote opportunities, people are working from all over the world to fulfill the demand for software and so I think that demand is what’s driving this.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, I mean it really is crazy. I feel like this type of mobility really quickly you can almost take for granted, but even 10 years ago it wasn’t like this. In certain professions that just meant you were going to live somewhere whether you liked it or not or else you turned your attention to a different profession.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah and you see it with the big ones now, with Microsoft and Amazon and Facebook, they are really making sure that you can work remotely because of COVID. Because of things that are going on in the world right now, working remotely is very beneficial. You can do everything remotely that you can do in person in the office. And that means that there are a lot of opportunities whether you live in the Midwest or somewhere in the deep south and you are not around one of these big centers. Now you have an opportunity to actually work there because they will hire you remotely, and that gives you flexibility in life too. So, you can live where you want and then you don’t have to be chained to the desk, as they say. You can work from your house.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah and I would imagine on top of that, there is going to be demand for new software in the very near future too as more and more people begin to turn remote.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah, so what you are seeing is an uptick–if everyone is going to be remote that is going to mean that we’re going to have to build new systems to make sure that these companies can run when you have a remote workforce. Just imagine if you are a Facebook and you have 40,000 employees with most of them being in Silicon Valley. That translates to, now I am going to spread that across the world, and that is going to take new software and new systems, new everything. That is going to increase the demand for software. Then when you see other companies doing the same thing, as you have seen, streaming platforms are big this year with Microsoft teams and Zoom and all of those types of companies. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Those are the ones that you see. There are a thousand of these smaller software companies that are building things because the economy and the workforce has shifted.
Nikki Van Noy: It’s been such a fascinating experience for me in the last couple of months, talking to different authors and as I am having these conversations, realizing all of the different ways that this COVID experience has touched us. I mean it really applies to almost everything in some way and it is great to hear of a field where the impact is positive.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah, it is positive. You will see in the news, those guys laid off 100 software developers and that must mean a downturn. What they are not reporting is probably two days later those 100 software developers already had jobs. So, an individual company may suffer from COVID, but the industry as a whole is on the uptick. A lot more people are working than you think, and it is not as hard to find a remote job as it once was because there is so much demand for it.
Nikki Van Noy: Yeah, so good to hear good news. So, in your book, you outline these five steps to a coding career, which obviously you go into detail with, but I’d love to just go over them at a high level to give listeners an idea of what this might entail.
Bobby Davis Jr.: So, the first thing that we always talk about is you need to figure out what you’re going to learn. A lot of times when we are talking to students, whether they come to our boot camp or not, they are really confused about, “What do I learn? Where do I start?”
There are 10,000 different languages out there, which one is the best one to learn? The first thing we do is say, “Forget about the language, pick what you want to build first.” And if you do that, then you can figure out what language to learn after that because once you say, “I want to build a website.” There are two or three choices of software that you need to build a website. If you want to do data science, that is a different stack. If you want to build mobile applications, that is a different stack. We call that a stack and a stack is a collection of tools and languages that allow you to build a certain thing. By far, right now as we see here in 2020, web application development is the most in-demand job in America.
When we are talking to people that are career-switching, we say, “Don’t focus on the coolest thing, focus on the most in-demand thing.” When we say most in-demand, we mean web application development. From there, you have basically a couple of choices of what you want to build. We say to use .NET, which is from Microsoft, which is one of the largest companies on the planet. We think it is very safe to put your trust in Microsoft and building on their tools, their infrastructure, their stack. Then build full-stack web application development because that is the most in-demand job right now, today. So that is step one.
The second step is, now you have to figure out how you are going to learn. Am I going to go to college, am I going to go to a community college? Am I going to learn totally online or am I going to go somewhere like a boot camp? What we think is that immersive learning, which is a boot camp, is the best way to do it. Because you can get to market faster and you don’t have to spend four years or two years doing that. Online is great. It is the most cost-effective, but you don’t have that teacher, that coach or that mentor right alongside you and boot camp gives you the best of all worlds. We have a teacher, a coach, and a mentor that can help you keep going, and keep you motivated.
Then after that, what you need to do is build a portfolio of projects. Those projects are things that you can then show an employer and if you show the employer that you know how to code and the things that you have built, they’ll be more likely to hire you. So, in the book, we go through in detail the types of projects you build and how and what you should put in your portfolio.
Then, and a lot of people don’t know this, but recruiters pretty much own the market in the tech industry. If you go to a job board and you see 100 openings for web application developer, there are probably a good 300 behind that that aren’t even listed, that are only done through recruiting agencies. So, you need to work with a recruiter because they will help you and get you closer to the job decision-maker instead of you just filling out a blind application.
You have a recruiter that works for you much like if you are a professional athlete in the NFL. You have an agent and that agent is going to hook you into all the other teams. This recruiter will get you into all of the companies that you want so that you can get a job.
Then finally, you use your portfolio as a sales tool, and we show you how to do that in the book. You leverage the portfolio that you build during your learning process to sell yourself into the job.
Nikki Van Noy: Out of curiosity, why is this such a recruiter-driven industry?
Bobby Davis Jr.: Everyone is employed and so when everyone is employed, you need to convince someone to leave their current job to go to the job you want them for. When you are running a company and you are looking for, say, six dev roles, you could call 100 developers and get 90 nos and then try to figure out the five guys that want to move. Or you could let a recruiter do that. That is what they do. They go out and they find the person that is looking, and they find a person that is passively looking. They tell them about the opportunity, they sell them on the company, and they get them into interviews. Ultimately, it is because the demand is so high, they are just not going to apply for a job because they already have one.
Nikki Van Noy: That makes a lot of sense. I am curious, with all of this, is there any singular thing where you see people kind of falter as they are trying to make their way into coding.
Bobby Davis Jr.: The main thing they do is they don’t pick their stack first. We talk to people all the time and they say, “I am learning nine different languages,” and they have never worked professionally. They are just in this tutorial purgatory where they’re just constantly looking at different tutorials, different tutorials, and they are on this language this week, the next language that week and they are not focused. So, you can get them to focus their learning and build something concrete like a project. That is the mistake most of them make. They don’t ever get to the project phase because they are still learning. They are chasing after too many languages and so I want them to focus on, and then just build a project and then show that project to an employer.
Nikki Van Noy: Beautiful that makes a lot of sense. Basically, they just get stuck in a tailspin that doesn’t lead anywhere ultimately.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Right, exactly. It’s like a painter that never finishes the painting. The other thing is, when we give the advice to build the portfolio we get a lot of pushback from that. They’ll say, “Well, that’s a lot of work. If I could do all of that then I would just hire myself.” I say, “Whoa, imagine if you’re a graphic designer and you didn’t have any kind of project work to show, you would never get hired as a graphic designer.” It is the same thing in coding.
You’ve got to show an employer that you know what you are doing. So, especially when you are just trying to break in and get that first software job, you need something to prove that you can do it, even if you came out of MIT. They would like to know if you can actually do the job and the portfolio kind of answers all of these questions for you.
Nikki Van Noy: What I really love about that is in a lot of professions, if you have a portfolio that doesn’t include something that’s been published or launched by a company or an organization, it’s not really taken seriously. It’s very cool to me that this sounds like it is based more on the merit of people’s work and what they can do as opposed to where they have done it up to this point.
Bobby Davis Jr.: That is what I like about it. So when you think of things like women in tech and minorities in tech, truly, if you’re really in the industry like I am you see that we’re hiring people from all over the world to do these jobs, it is very merit-based and I like that. That makes it a level playing field for all people. The difference is you do have to have these skills. You have to acquire the skills and learn how to code, but they are going to hire you if you have the skills regardless of your race, creed, or color. I think that is what’s really motivating to me is that it is merit-based, and it is a level playing field for all if you can get the education.
Nikki Van Noy: You make a compelling argument Bobby, I got to give it to you.
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah, thank you.
Nikki Van Noy: The book again is Breaking the Code. Bobby Davis Jr., outside of the book where else can listeners find you?
Bobby Davis Jr.: Yeah, you can look at us on YouTube on Coder Foundry, and then you can also hit us up at coderfoundry.com and that is our site for the book camp.
Nikki Van Noy: Excellent. Thank you so much for talking to me today and best of luck with the book.