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Alumni Spotlight: Matt Fergoda on Job Searching in 2024

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Rithm School

Jun 7, 2024

From data scientist to software engineer, Matt talks with Sophie about what he’s learned about career transitioning and about himself while job searching in 2024.

Matt Fergoda, r34 grad and Software Engineer

Sophie: Tell us a bit about you. 

I’m Matt Fergoda. I live in Seattle, Washington and I graduated from Rithm School Full Stack Software Engineering Bootcamp early this year at the end of January. I came to software engineering from a previous career in tech, where I was actually writing code. I was a data scientist for about four years for some consulting companies and then at a healthcare product startup. In my time working in those roles I got to work with folks with more of a software engineering background. In some cases, especially at the product company, I got to collaborate really closely with them.

I got laid off from my data science job about a year ago, and I had already been thinking through my career options, what kind of path I wanted to go on, whether there were any things I wanted to change or whether I wanted to reorient directions, and I realized from my experience at the startup in particular that what I really loved about my data science work was building things. There are a lot of data science jobs where that’s the focus, but not all of them, and there are some core software engineering skills that I wanted to be able to have in my career, to develop and use these skills to be able to do software engineering on its own. I chose to attend Rithm School for a variety of reasons: the timeline fit what I was looking for, the small class sizes, the quality of the instructors, and the curriculum was really well thought out.  

Sophie: How ready did you feel when you graduated Rithm?

From a technical perspective, I felt really ready. I felt like I gained a ton of confidence in full- stack software engineering, starting with the basics and working from there. Having worked on a large codebase already felt like a huge asset as part of the Rithm curriculum. Being exposed to full-stack software engineering with JavaScript technologies as well as Python backend frameworks, it felt like looking at job postings and seeing what was out there, more often than not, I would see some of the technologies that we had built applications with listed. 

Also, Rithm does a really thoughtful and thorough job on code reviews of our projects, so really thorough feedback on our style and organization of our projects as well as adhering to software engineering best practices. 

Being exposed to testing pretty significantly through Rithm was awesome. It’s a great thing to be able to talk about in interviews because a lot of junior engineers don’t have exposure to testing too much. 

Having two weeks of career outcomes preparation was super helpful. The other thing too that’s really awesome about Rithm is having access to you, Sophie. You make yourself really available to us after graduation because the job search, especially right now, has a lot of ups and downs. There’s a lot of trying something and then reflecting on whether it’s working or not, adjusting, and having a dedicated career support person that we can reach out to and get support from is super helpful, especially not having an end date on that support like some of the other bootcamps do.

Having all of your job search assets ready to go, like the resume, the LinkedIn, elevator pitch, having all the core stuff you need to start going through the interview process, having all that ready ahead of time is super, super helpful. So I feel like I went into the job search with a lot of confidence. I was super ready to start interviewing.

Sophie: You’ve been job searching for five months now. What have you learned about changing careers, job searching in 2024, and about yourself? 

I’ve learned that I am more flexible than I realized I was. 

For the first few years that I was a data scientist, before I started considering reskilling or taking a different direction in my tech career, I viewed the career path I was on as train tracks. I’m on this set path and deviations from it are going to be difficult, costly, and time consuming. You’re introducing stress and uncertainty in terms of, what kinds of jobs might I qualify for now?

Something I’ve realized is that more people than I think change careers and sometimes multiple times over the course of their careers. I think it’s important to reflect on what you want from your career. If you’re at a point in your life where you could make a change, why not consider it? Time is only going to keep moving forward. There’s no time like the present to consider something like that. 

But then in the realities of this job market, where there are a lot of engineers looking for work, there aren’t that many jobs going around at the moment, it requires a lot of flexibility in terms of getting creative, to find different ways to get yourself noticed, to get experience on your resume, even if it’s not paid experience. For example, I’ve started volunteering as a software engineer which has been an awesome way to get hands-on experience with a large code base. We have stand ups once a week, and we’re using a professional workflow for getting projects finished. And then more recently, as the job search has gone on, I’ve realized that I’ve needed a part time job outside of tech to keep myself sane, but also help with the finances.

If you had sat me down a year ago, and explained that this is how my life is going to be, I think it might have stressed me out a bit, given how much has changed, but I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself. Even though it’s been really hard, I think I’ll look back on this period positively as a time where I grew a lot as a person. 

Sophie: If you had known that 2024 would look like 2024 does, would you have taken the leap of faith? Would you have said, okay, I’m gonna enroll in this bootcamp and change careers?

I still would have wanted to change careers and gain new skills. But I might have done something even more crazy. I think I would have maybe traveled for a period or taken a seasonal job doing something that would have brought me to someplace exciting! And then I would have come back and done the bootcamp and timed it so that when I got out of the bootcamp, the job market was better again. But obviously, you never know.  

Sophie: What is one past challenging experience that is impacting the way you are job searching today? 

After I got laid off from my data science job, I took a month to reset because I was feeling a little bit burnt out. Once I started job searching again, I realized that there were some jobs that I was applying for in the pipeline that I just was not excited about at all. That helped me stay in tune with what I wanted out of my next step, and helped me eventually realize that I wanted to gain software engineering skills. That experience of going through a job search where it felt like I was forcing myself to apply to jobs that didn’t actually speak to me helped me realize what I wanted out of my career, what I didn’t want out of my career. 

The other thing is that initially in this job search, I was putting a lot of implicit pressure on myself to find something. I was constantly in the mindset of what are the things that I need to be doing? What have I tried that’s not working? What do I need to change? I was constantly in this mental loop and self-analyzing. And I think I had put so much pressure on myself to find something fast that it just wasn’t a sustainable place to be in mentally or emotionally. I have learned it’s important to find a way to make your job search sustainable. And for me, it means maintaining some kind of balance, realizing that your sense of identity and your sense of self-worth doesn’t totally hinge on your job or your job title or whether you’re employed right now.

Sophie: How do you manage to not let the job search affect your sanity? 

I feel fortunate that I have a handful of hobbies outside of work that bring me a lot of joy that have nothing to do with technology that I can continue to do in my life, even though I’m unemployed, and I’m job searching. Playing music with people is one of them. That gives me some perspective on my value in those social situations.

I love spending time in the mountains and running. And that’s something that’s totally, you know, I’m not sitting at a computer, I’m outside, moving. So that’s another way that I’m able to do something I love that takes me out of the day-to-day grind of job searching.

Both of those are super valuable to me. Just having some things that you love to do, and people that you love to spend time with. People who love you for who you are, not just because of your job title.

Sophie: Do you talk to your people about the job search you’re going through?

Yeah, I definitely do.

My partner has been here for all the ups and downs of my job search, and has been super supportive and wonderful. But something that I’ve realized is, you need to have a community of people in your life that can help support you. I have to be able to reflect with family and other loved ones, my friends, about how things are going, or even just complain about certain things that come up as part of the job search. 

A huge source of support for me has been other Rithm grads who are also job searching. Because we’re all in the same boat, and going through the same ups and downs. And so having that camaraderie is really important for me to not feel alone, not feel what I’m going through is weird, or some reflection on some way that I’m deficient in the job search. We’re all struggling right now. But we can all be there to support each other too.

Sophie: What advice do you have for someone who’s starting their job search now for similar positions after going through Rithm?

I would say there are some key things that are helpful to do up front that you coached us on at Rithm. But also, I think it takes some time to figure out for yourself.

One big thing is creating some sort of routine. For the first week of your job search, I think it’s easy to get hung up on exactly how many days a week should I practice DSA? And for how many hours? You could start with setting aside some time on your calendar for all those activities, really structuring your day and then adjust because you’re gonna change things as you go along.

Create some routine that allows you to make sure that you’re doing all the things that you need to and that support your job search. The goal behind making it a routine is that you don’t have to show up at your computer every morning and be like, what am I going to do today? You already know what you’re going to do. It helps relieve some of the mental overhead, all the second guessing that comes in with sitting down at your computer with a blank calendar, like, what do I do today? It can be really hard to know where to start. 

The flip side of that is, you need to be willing to make changes to your routine or your schedule as you realize what’s working, what’s not working, what’s sustainable, what’s not sustainable. For example, for the first few months, I was trying to do an hour of DSA practice every morning. And for a bit that was feeling sustainable, but I started to burn out just from doing that. Some days I didn’t want to wake up and do DSA. 

You also need to realize, especially in this job market, there are so many variables – things within your control to make yourself an outstanding candidate, but also many things that are outside of your control.  

There are a lot of experienced developers out there who are job hunting. Anecdotally from my experience and from other people who are job searching right now, a common reason to get rejected is companies are holding out for candidates with a bit more experience. There’s not a whole lot you can do about that, right?  

Understand and remind yourself that it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so figure out a way to keep it sustainable. Take advantage of the fact that when you’re job searching, your schedule is pretty flexible. Do some things during the day that you wouldn’t normally be able to do when you have a full-time job. 

It’s easy to view being unemployed and job hunting as something you need to fix about yourself. Obviously we all want to find a job, but there are some positives to being unemployed. It gives you a certain flexibility in your day-to-day life that you won’t have once you do find a full-time job. So, you know, go to the park when it’s nice out for an hour or two, or wrap up early on a Friday afternoon and go do something fun. It’s okay to treat yourself a little bit. In fact, it’s important to keep it sustainable.

Sophie: What tips can you share to avoid the burnout or to not let your job search affect other areas of your life?

I think for me, the biggest source of burnout was the pressure that I was putting on myself to find something.

Some pressure is good to keep yourself motivated. But again, in this job market, there are some obstacles to getting a job that are outside of our control to some extent. And so no matter how much pressure you put on yourself, you’re going to start seeing diminishing returns really quickly.

I think that having a sense of self-worth divorced from the job search is really helpful, but also from a financial perspective, I think some of the pressure that people might be feeling might be based on their financial situation and needing to find a source of income quickly. And everybody’s going to be different in that, everybody’s financial situation is different.

But from my experience, something that was really helpful, you know, the first few months I was so focused on just finding something, with the logic that if I just spend as much energy as I have job searching, I’ll find something quickly and I won’t need to worry about my finances because I’ll have a source of income again. But as things dragged on, I realized that I should take a close look at my finances and really plan for what it will look like if this is a long-term job search that might take some time. I ended up deciding that both for my mental health and my financial health, it made sense to find some part-time work that took me out of the house, got me meeting new people.

I ended up taking this part-time job at a brewery that a friend of mine manages. I only started that recently, but already looking at the finances, I realized that I would be able to sustain my job search a whole lot longer with even some part-time income. Working physically on something, working with other people, getting to interact with new people all the time outside of the house has really helped me feel less existential dread about the job search. And back to the financial side of things, it will allow me to sustain the job search for longer, which relieves some of that pressure I was putting on myself. 

Ultimately, I think if you’re going into the job search with a ton of anxiety and you’re putting a lot of pressure on yourself, you’re not necessarily going to show up the way that you want to in an interview. If you’re really desperate to land something, that doesn’t always come across as super professional. People can kind of see that. So for me, finding a part-time job made some sense. But everybody’s situation is going to be different.

I think being willing to be flexible, you know, at some point the job market will come back, nobody knows when. Realizing that we might need to be a little bit flexible, also even more focused. It’s even more important in this situation to make sure that the job search is sustainable.

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