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Student Success Story: Ironhack Graduate Juan Grajales

From working at the Apple Store’s Genius Bar while finishing his engineering degree at Florida International University (FIU) to working as a TA at Ironhack while he completes his computer science degree, Juan’s plans took a shift he didn’t expect. We got the chance to speak with him about his journey, what he’s learned along the way, and how his experience at Ironhack has helped change his life for the better.

It was one class at FIU that changed the trajectory of Juan’s life.

“About two years ago I was an engineering major. I had already completed almost three years in my degree, and then I took my first programming class — it was in C++, and it was amazing. I had that ‘aha’ moment you hear about, where people are like ‘this is what i’m meant to do,’ and that’s how I felt. So I switched over to computer science.”

He now had some catching up to do, the motivation to put in the work, and an introduction to Ironhack.

“I had to restart and take a lot of classes, a lot of prereqs, but it felt like the right move. And I met a lot of amazing people who had been programming since they were nine or ten, really early, so I noticed right away there was a significant knowledge gap. That’s when I started looking at ways to close the gap, and that’s how I came across bootcamps. Eventually my brother-in-law told me that he had attended Ironhack. He graduated I think in December of 2017, and then by January or February of 2018 he had gotten a job — he had no prior experience, he hadn’t taken other classes, so that was really motivating, and that’s how I found Ironhack.”

Initially, though, he hit some obstacles — which Climb was able to help with.

“Originally I looked into Ironhack around August of last year, and I thought, I can’t afford it. I didn’t want to get a loan. Eventually I was like, ‘you know, I’ve got to take the risk,’ so in October I applied to Ironhack a week before the bootcamp started. Then I applied to Climb the Monday before the bootcamp started, and the process was so fast; I honestly didn’t think I was going to get the loan in time, and I was like, ‘I’m probably gonna end up doing the next cohort.’ So the process was really fast. I applied on Sunday, which is eight days before the cohort started on Monday. I had a call with the admissions manager from Ironhack, I told him that I wanted to get a loan, he told me about Climb, I applied that Monday, and then I think by Wednesday or Thursday everything was pretty much done. So that was great, and very relieving.”

He was then able to forget about tuition and focus on what mattered: the program itself.

“It was not memorable, which is what you want when you’re dealing with loans or anything like that. You don’t want it to be complicated, you want it to be easy. It was so, so simple.”

Now, he was finally able to attend Ironhack. Once he got there, though, he learned more than just coding skills.

“When I was a student, I think the most important lesson was not trying to remember everything, being okay and comfortable and vulnerable enough to admit that you’re not gonna absorb it all right away. Just keep asking questions and being comfortable with that.”

But these lessons didn’t stop once he completed his program.

“As a TA I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how quick you get the material, what matters is how persistent and consistent you are with it. It doesn’t matter if you went through the whole bootcamp, and you felt like they gave you more and you only took up like a certain percentage of that. That doesn’t matter because it’s all about practice. When I finished the bootcamp, I definitely was very confident in the new skills I got, but I also realized that I hadn’t absorbed everything, and then it was just a matter of practice — every day just repeating the process over and over and over again, until you get to a point where you’re very comfortable everything. But it’s not gonna happen right away.

“As a TA now, one of the first times I speak to the students I tell them to just think about anytime you’ve seen a baby that’s starting to walk … they crawl, they get up, they fall, they crawl, they get up … it takes them maybe like a couple months, maybe a year, maybe more to comfortably walk without looking like they’re gonna fall at any moment, right? Don’t be so hard on yourself, don’t expect that in these nine weeks you’re gonna become a master in this field that is ever-changing. It’s different from what it was a year ago. So that’s what I tell my students. It’s always consistency and persistence, that’s it.”

For Juan, education is about more than just sitting in class and taking down notes.

“It’s kind of broad, but I would say the standout experience was the structure of the program and the people. It’s crazy how there were so many like-minded individuals, and like-minded in the sense that everybody seemed to be very focused on getting better and leveling up. I feel like at the university, you’re in a classroom with other students, but some of them don’t feel as motivated. I think Ironhack attracts students who are self-motivated, and that energy spreads. You see a student who’s trying to better themselves, and you want to do just as good, and everybody’s helping each other. So I think that was a standout experience.”

And so, through Ironhack he was able to rekindle the love of learning he’d lost in traditional education.

“I’ve never taken a class where I’m not graded, where you’re only going to get as much as you put into it. I’ve always been in traditional education, so it’s really refreshing. To be honest, it may sound a little cliché, but I tell everybody that I’ve always loved learning, but I think that when I came to Ironhack I had lost a little bit of that through traditional education. Then with Ironhack, it was so hands-on and so learn as you go, learn by doing, learn by failing. Like, ‘learn by failing? If I failed my quiz I’m not going to pass my class!’ No, that’s not how it works, or how it had worked for me.”

Because of this, he wanted to pay forward the experience he’d had by working at Ironhack while finishing his degree.

“Towards the end of the bootcamp, I realized: it’s been a great experience, and I wanna continue in any way, shape, or form. So I told that to the PM at the time, and I was like ‘hey, if you ever need any help in anything, TA or something else, I’d love to apply. I’d love to give back.’ At the end, when the bootcamp finished, it just so happened that the current the TA at the time got a web developer position, so he was leaving. She reached out and said, ‘hey, do you want to apply?’”

Now, he gets to work at his dream job.

“I loved Apple, but you know, anything retail and customer service, those can be very tiring. Now as a TA I’m teaching, and I just love programming. I love programming all the time — my girlfriend gets mad because sometimes I’m up at three in the morning, I never went to sleep, and she’s like, ‘go to bed, what are you doing?’

“I really love doing it, so I’m getting to do what I love every day, 40 hours a week and more outside of the class. I love solidifying my skills and passing on the knowledge that I know. I think the fact that I went through the bootcamp and now am a TA really helps out. I tell people all the time, ‘this is how I felt, so if you’re feeling this way that’s fine. If you’re feeling at some point it’s just so overwhelming, it’s okay take a step back take a break.’ It’s amazing.”

With all of the advice he’s able to give his students, there’s one piece of advice he’d go back before the program and give to himself if he could.

“Don’t be scared of failure. That would be the best advice for myself, I think. I’ve recognized that about myself through the program, that I had some hesitation towards failing, which is why I said earlier that it was so mind-blowing to me, the ‘learn by failing.’ You know, anything worth doing is worth doing badly until you learn how to do it well, right? So just be okay with failing. That’s the only way you’re gonna learn and the only way you’re gonna get better.”

Update: since this interview, Juan has been hired at MDLIVE as a QA test automation engineer.

Juan is a client of Climb’s. However, he was not paid or otherwise compensated for this testimonial. This testimonial reflects the real-life experiences and opinions of Juan; however, it should not be assumed that all users will have the same experiences. Individual results may vary.

The quoted statements appear verbatim as given by the user, except for the correction of grammar and typing errors. Some testimonials may have been shortened or rearranged for the sake of clarity.

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