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Alumni Spotlight: Daniel Zych’s Post-Bootcamp Success Story

Britt Lee-Still

Feb 27, 2024

From product manager to touring musician to software engineer, Daniel talks with Sophie about his success story post-bootcamp. 

Daniel Zych, r33 grad and Software Engineer

Sophie: Tell us about your background and why you decided to attend Rithm.

After finishing college at the University of Wisconsin I ended up working as a Product Manager here in Madison for two and a half years. I liked the whole “tech” environment, and I quickly realized I was really interested in engineering work. Whenever I “bumped into it” at work I would start teaching myself after hours, or look for ways to help with more technical tasks as opposed to the marketing related things I was doing. This really clicked for me and I decided I wanted to pursue this more. 

But then I got a unique opportunity to go on tour as a musician in Europe and abroad. I left my job at the time and took the music route for a year and a half. It was fun but I also knew I did not want to be involved in the industry for a long time. It wasn’t challenging and stimulating in the ways I was looking for. Ultimately I stepped away from that. I had been looking at bootcamps since I had spent enough time teaching myself. I had a baseline of skills and experience in my previous job. I saw that there were gaps and I looked for the most rigorous and technical program I could find and that’s how I decided to attend Rithm. 

Sophie: What gaps had you identified when you started looking for jobs?

Mostly around conceptuals. I had done some courses from Codecademy. You can get an app up and running, but you don’t know why you are using the tools you are using. I needed to learn more about the general software engineering underpinnings and why things make sense. 

Here is a list of specific things that I had a hard time learning or was simply unaware of, prior to Rithm, that moved me towards going to a bootcamp:

  • Asynchronicity, working with APIs—working with the Fetch API was grueling and I had a very hard time understanding it on my own. It involved network requests, and most online resources simply go “okay make a request to an API now.” At Rithm, we had our “how the web works” lectures before talking about AJAX. Two lectures made something I was struggling with for a while crystal clear. 
  • Testing
  • The value of OOP
  • Error handling
  • What good code looks like—functional decomposition, pure functions, etc. These things don’t seem to come up in self-teaching resources, youtube tutorials, etc. 
  • DevTools, working with the command line, the broader development environment. Environment variables, working with third party libraries, config things like secret keys, things like security and hashing, etc. 

Sophie: What was your experience at Rithm like?

We were moving at a good clip, and throughout the program you had to stay on your toes. I appreciated that there was a lot of why and broader context added to the work we were doing. It was the right level of stimulating and challenging. 

Sophie: What was your overall experience of the job search?

It was interesting. The first position I applied for, I got a take home for within 12 hours of applying. The ball got rolling on that front quicker than I expected. I was able to leverage a connection at the company which definitely helped. While I had that interview process going I still applied for other positions because I did not want to bank on that working out. Through the months of December and January I applied for about 50 positions with a relatively good conversion rate. My tech background and being able to position that as a strength most likely helped. I had a fair amount of success on Y Combinator and Wellfound. I was emailing founders directly or messaging them on LinkedIn. I got 2 take homes from this type of outreach. 

Overall, I heard back from a number of companies (I think roughly 10/50?). Aside from one, I only heard back from companies in the Madison area. I didn’t even get rejections from any of the larger, remote companies I applied to. I pretty much stopped bothering applying to any of them. I know that not everyone has a tech community around them they can target, but if they can it seems like there is at least moderate success to be had in looking at local-ish jobs, and hybrid or on-site companies.

Sophie: Do you think there was something different with the materials you sent?

The resume I used was the Rithm prescription. I did not make any formatting tweaks. 

One thing I know was crucial was knowing how to describe the work I had done (at Rithm and prior) on the resume. 

Sophie: How did you find the position at Fetch?

Through the whole cohort I made sure to start looking at companies in the area and seeing what they had going on. When applying time came I already had a sense of places I wanted to apply and what these places were looking for. Instead of getting to outcomes week and not knowing where to look, I had already done the groundwork and I knew who I wanted to approach. I was aware of Fetch since they are a really big company, and the person I used to work with went to work there. I’d seen they had the apprenticeship positions in the past. Towards the end of Rithm when I saw they had a position open I decided to jump on it. 

Sophie: What exact steps did you take to reach out to them?

First thing I did was Slack you to know how to best approach it! I tailored my resume ahead of time to be ready to respond immediately. I messaged my reference on LinkedIn, telling him what I had been up to and asking if he could tell me a bit more about the position. He did not respond to me immediately, so I went ahead and applied and they sent me the technical before he got back to me. Then he invited me to come by the office the next morning and I went. 

Sophie: What do you think was the most important behavior in your job search?

Timeliness and getting on with things. Don’t wait until you feel things are perfect. Don’t review or overthink cover letters too much. Be decisive, confident in what you are going to say and fire it off. Being confident in everything you learned and your own qualifications. 

Knowing how and what to prepare. Before my interviews, I scoured Glassdoor, Reddit, and other resources for potential interview questions, specific to each company. There were about 5 or so I found online that came up directly in the interview. I was prepared to answer those, some of which I actually would not have had a good answer for otherwise. I’ve helped some people in our cohort do practice interviews, and have done the same thing.

​​I’m not a fan of ‘fake it until you make it’, but maybe something like ‘fake it and it’ll start to feel natural’. I decided that I was a software engineer, and there was no question, or no other option. When I interviewed, I wasn’t ‘a former musician and tech worker hoping to break into software engineering’, I was a software engineer. I looked at things through that lens, and conducted myself accordingly. I know that this is easier said than done for some.

For example, I made a mistake during my technical interview, and the interviewer pointed it out. Instead of saying, Ah yes I’m sorry I always make that mistake, I make that mistake all the time because I’m still learning Typescript, I’m panicking now, etc…, I said, “Ah, good catch, thanks for pointing that out! That slipped by me while typing and talking at the same time. I like to think that would have been a quick bug fix later when we run our code, but I’m glad you pointed it out now. As I was saying, I’m deciding to implement X this way because…”

I hope that this doesn’t sound unreasonably harsh, but I see some people who are making LinkedIn posts that lean into being a new dev in a way that I personally think projects insecurity and incompetence, which is different from humility and an eagerness to continue learning and growing.

Sophie: Can you walk us through the interview process?

I had a take home which they left open ended. It wasn’t a timed challenge through a portal. It was basically a bunch of requirements for an app. It said: “Build it and take as much time as you need and send it back to us. We built this so it should only take a few hours.” It took me a weekend to do. I made sure to put a lot of effort into making it look good and hitting on some of the things they suggested doing. For example, write some tests. I wrote a test for every feature of every component. 

Then I had a 90 minute Zoom technical interview with one of their technical leads. I did a demo of the application itself and gave a high level overview of the code. Questions were pretty simple. They had a few standard questions to follow up on the assessment. It turned into a long discussion on caching and front end design and application design and best practices. They closed for the holidays so I had a few weeks until the onsite interview. I kept applying but also studied like mad to make sure I could answer front end questions or how the web works. I did not spend a ton of time on coding practice. My approach was, if I’m going to forget 40% of what I review, I’m going to practice 150% of what I think they might ask me for a given technology. 

I had the onsite interview at the beginning of January. The first hour was with an engineering manager asking me generic non targeted questions. What have you built recently? Why do you want to work here? Then I had a technical interview with two engineers about test driven development. They gave me a whole file of tests that tested a bowling game application that wasn’t built. I had to build a class and Object Oriented Programming structure for making a game of bowling and do the tests. Even though I didn’t finish it I got through most of it. They gave me good feedback, Then I had an hour of technical questions about different concepts. Then I had a 30 minute UX interview, where I had some questions that I hadn’t prepared for in the way I had for more technical questions. What do you think about design? How would you translate a Figma into an actual application if a designer gave you one? That was simultaneously the easiest part from a technical perspective, but slightly more uncomfortable because it wasn’t anything we had explicitly practiced at Rithm.

Sophie: Did you feel prepared?

Yes! At multiple points through it I thought, “Elie said, make sure you can answer this”—and it was true. There was only one question I did not feel I answered to completion. For the rest I feel like I knocked it out of the park. And I got feedback to that effect. 

Per your advice at the end of each interview I asked, “Do you have any objections about myself or my background that I can clear up?” and one person said something to the effect of, “Usually when we have interviews for positions like this, it’s either someone who just finished a CS degree who can tell us about algorithms but can’t explain the box model, or people from a bootcamp who can build an application but don’t know how the languages work or how to design programs, and you seem like a unique combination of the two.” 

Sophie: Any other feedback they shared with you that stood out?

I can’t think of any specifics, but several people told me that my technical take home was one of the best they had ever received. Another person called me a standout candidate. A fair amount was because I relied on everything we learned at Rithm.

Sophie: Any words of wisdom?

First, don’t feel like you need to do more. Don’t do the extra 90 hour Udemy course before you start applying. Put the pedal to the metal. 

Secondly, take advantage of the time to build an extra application or two outside of the coursework. Have 1:1s with your advisor when they are available during the program and after when you have questions or you want to dig deeper.

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