Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.

How I Learned to Code in 6 Months

14 min read

Welcome to the Learn to Code podcast here at One Month. This week on the show, I’ll be chatting with Meaghan Jones, Lead Support Engineer at Hotjar.

Meaghan’s dream was to work remotely in Brazil. 

Meaghan Jones (@meaghanwonder) graduated from UC Berkeley with a Masters in Latin America Studies. Having grown up in California, Meaghan always dreamed of working and living abroad. She loved Latin America, and so “Latin American Politics” seemed like her golden ticket to working abroad!

She arrived in Brazil, and hit a wall. At first, Meaghan had a difficult time getting work. She ended up teaching English for a few months, but always had the feeling that she could be doing something more, she wanted to work somewhere that she could continue actively learning on the job, and she wanted a job that matched her creative potential. Meaghan returned to the States, and that’s when she joined Epicodus, a coding bootcamp in Portland, OR. Meaghan worked hard, and learned to code in just 6 months.

Since graduating from Epicodus’s coding bootcamp Meaghan has landed a job at Hotjar, working remotely from San Paolo, Brazil.

Highlights from Meaghan’s journey

  1. Meaghan joined Epicodus (a coding bootcamp in Portland, OR) where she learned to code in 6 months. The course was full-time 40 hours a week, and was followed by a 5-week internship. She loved it.
  2. Meaghan used to find remote work in Brazil.
  3. Meaghan currently works at Hotjar. Hotjar’s technical stack uses Python, and that’s when Meaghan joined One Month’s Learn Python to improve her Python skills.

In this episode you’ll learn

  • Meaghan’s story of learning to code in 6 months
  • The best coding language for beginners to learn
  • Tips and tricks for finding remote work 

PS. 🐶 Please subscribe and rate the Learn to Code Podcast on iTunes!  ❤️

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Meaghan Jones is a support engineer at Hotjar, and alumni from One Month. 

What is Hotjar?

Hotjar is a tool (used by developers and marketers on a website) to collect real-time user feedback through watching heatmaps, recording user actions, and deploying surveys.

Meaghan: Hotjar a basic technical tool. We have seven tools that help people find issues on their website or people can give them feedback, for example, surveys, heat maps, recordings. So our support team gets pretty technical, so that’s why I can also help them with that. Maybe someone’s having a problem with the way the JavaScript is working on their site, and I can help our team help our customers, basically.

Yeah, that’s it. And then we have a lot of issues that pop up during the day. For example, just recently, we had an issue with Twitter. We get tweets, and some of the tweets were not ignored, but maybe missed for a day or something; so, we set up a way to send all tweets to Slack, and then that’s all automated, so that we’re a little more aware of what’s going on all over the internet.

What’s your role at Hotjar?

Meaghan: My role is Customer Experience Operations. I help our customer experience team improve their processes, and cut down on most of the manual work that they have to do. So [for example] automating lots of things, and I support them in more technical aspects of their work: all the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and all the landing pages that we have across the team.

I’m supporting the support team. Assuming they have a problem, GTM, and that’s a little more technical. They don’t have experience with that part of our software, I can help them help the customer, so they kind of push up tickets to me delve deeper into, get the solution, and work with the customer.

Chris: So day to day working on this, Hotjar is a technical company, right?

Meaghan: It is, yeah.

Chris: So, day to day, do you feel like you need to know how to code? Do you need to know these skills to be on your team, or are you kind of like the maverick coder?

Meaghan: No. I’m the support. We have a kind of tiering that we’ve done, so we have three tiers. When the support team wants people to have an interest in coding, they want people who have taken online courses, or maybe, messed around with MySpace and the delight of that when they were younger. Then they want people to be interested in learning. So you will have to be interested in learning CSS and HTML. And people get pretty into it at this tier one level. A lot of people know JavaScript already or some Python.

Then the Tier two would be where I sit, it’s more like, the team that knows how to code. They’ve done it in the past. Maybe some people have taken these computer science courses. And then tier three are the software engineers that also work on internal tooling and creating things like that. So, that’s how our support team is broken out into the different tiers.

What was the coding interview like at Hotjar?

Meaghan: When I applied, it was for the support engineer role. The assessment was divided into two parts, the first part required us to answer some customer questions. It was like a timed test. While the second part was to create a tool. So we have an internal debugging tool that helps us, like they have our scripts on, these sort of things. I had to take that tool and build on it, and create an extra functionality for it.

Chris: How much time did you have to do that?

Meaghan: I think it’s a two-week process, because they assume that you have other responsibilities. A lot of people have full time jobs. I wasn’t working at the time. I had just graduated from code school, so I think I took two days, and some research, and then built the extra functionality for the tool.

Chris: So you did all right?

Meaghan: Yeah, I got the job.

How did you learn to code?

Meaghan: When people said, “What do you want to do [when you grow up]?” I thought I’d like to help people. I thought international aide, I don’t know. But I really wanted to live in Latin America, so when I got into school, I went to UC Berkeley. They had this program and it was called Latin American Studies, and I was like, “Okay, I’ll do that.” 

I graduated, and then I got my master’s in the same thing out of a school in Switzerland. I thought, “okay, this is it”, but when I graduated, I moved to Latin America, and I just couldn’t find something that I liked, that suited me, everything was very vague. I like bullet points and rules, and knowing what it is that I could do, but I just never really found it then.

So I taught English and I loved it. It was amazing, but at one point, I felt plateaued. My sister told me that I should work in tech, and I was like, great. So I went around to tech companies in Portland. They were like, you’ve never shown interest in tech. I didn’t wanna be a secretary at that point in my life, ’cause I had some market experience.

I had gone to this Conference for Women in Tech, even though I wasn’t in tech yet. It was just women getting together, talking about tech. Basically, a lot of it was how to get into it, and things like that. And I heard talk about a code school, and I was like, “okay, that’s it, I’m doing it. I’m gonna redirect my life.” Maybe I’m not gonna be a developer, but even so, I wanna prove to these companies that I actually do want to move my entire career in this direction.

Chris: That’s amazing. Had you found up to that point that not knowing how to code was a detriment to applying to certain jobs? Why was technical a thing all of a sudden? Or, was it just because like on a resume it sticks out? You know, it looks good on your resume, like that kinda thing?

Meaghan: Yeah, I didn’t have experience. There were ways that I could’ve gone about it, maybe like sales and things like that, CSMs – Customer Success Manager. But I had never done anything like that, and when I was talking to these people, they were just like, well, why? Wait, what are you doing? You have experience in teaching, maybe go be a teacher. And I was like, I don’t wanna be. So I couldn’t really see any other way of understanding like maybe tech speak, or showing this interest, and that just seemed like the right way to do it, at the time for me.

Chris: Got it. So you’re in Portland, and you’re at this women’s coding conference. I’m curious, what was inspiring about this conference? It sounds like there was something happening there that opened your eyes.

Meaghan: There was actually, I went to one, and there was this speaker, she worked at the code school that I went to. They were kinda telling how it worked, and then success stories. And I was like, wait a minute, the people that they were describing who go here are too non-traditional people to get into tech. They were recruiting a lot of women, people who didn’t have computer science degrees, and they would say, okay, and then this person did this. They went on and did DevOps. And I was like, “okay, well, I like to learn, I can do it.”

How did you choose a coding school?

Meaghan: My sister had had a friend that had gone through the programs [at Epicodus], and all the stories I heard were just like, “My life changed,” and [now] I tell the same story. 

The [course] was at Epicodus, and it’s about five, six months full time, so 40 hours a week of in-person coding, and then at the end, they place you in a five-week internship, where you work on different types of development teams.

What was the first day at Epicodus’ coding bootcamp like?

Meaghan: Well, it was very scary, because I was like, what am I doing? I didn’t ever have any interest in this sort of stuff. I think I would’ve loved it as a kid, for example, but I was introduced to programming through my dad, who tried to do it through games, and I hate games. And so I never liked it, and I thought it was something that just wasn’t for me.

And so the first day, a lot of people have learned in school, for example. My school didn’t offer that kind of stuff. I’ve never been introduced in any way. I didn’t know what HTML was or what CSS was. I did not know what JavaScript was. So, the first day I didn’t cry, but I was like, I don’t know what I’m doing, this is awful. This is horrible. It’s like learning a new language that I can’t even read, I don’t understand. So it was pretty terrible.

Chris: Do you think, there were other people in the room that felt that way too or did it seem like everybody else was just super like, intimidating.

Meaghan: I now know when talking to people that people felt like that. But it seemed at the time that either you knew it or you didn’t, and I felt like I was the one person that just never had experience with coding before. And that’s absolutely not true. I ended up not struggling. I mean, of course, you struggle a little bit, but I didn’t, I could always find a solution. So in the end, it all turned out okay.

Chris: Nice. How many people were in the class with you?

Meaghan: Honestly, I can’t remember. I wanna say 50 but I don’t remember now.

Chris: Oh wow, that’s pretty big.

Meaghan: Yeah, oh, it’s a huge classroom, and open space, and they have two – so your level, and then the level above you. So they’ve already gone through the class that you’ve been before. We all just do pair coding the whole time.

Chris: So people at one computer, that’s what that is, yeah. Then, is there one teacher, or is it online resources? How were you learning?

Meaghan: It’s mixed. They have an online course that you kinda go through. So they say, today you do, maybe it’s like five modules, and you go through with your partner, and you work together. And then there’s the teacher there that’s in charge of your class and your group, and they walk around, and they have a system of asking questions. So you’re supported 100% in that way.

What was the best thing about joining Epicodus’ coding bootcamp?

Meaghan: Just getting through, I think. It’s set up into five-week kind of courses, I guess you could call it. So the first five weeks was HTML and JavaScript. And I struggled a lot, because you learn the basics. So you learn a lot of the logic, and being introduced to it for the first time can be almost overwhelming.

So I hired tutors, and I don’t think anyone else did that, but I was like, I’m getting through this. And so at the end of that, we finished. There is always like a final test sort of thing at the end of every week and every module. And then the next week starting, all of a sudden I realized that we started a new module, and oh, it’s all the same thing.

Once you learn the basics, you’re just building on those basics. It’s all these statements that’s just basic logic that I understand.

Chris: You could speak the language at that point, right? So, maybe it’s like, you know the ABCs, and now you’re like “I can just read books”.

Meaghan: Yeah, it was an ah-ha moment, and it was amazing! And from the four weeks left that I had, sorry, it was four months after that that I had, it was like, yeah, I can learn, I can find anything on the internet now. There’s no stress in learning. It’s just fun. I can build things now.

What percentage of coding is Googling?

Meaghan: All of it. Not true. Yeah, that’s a good question. Percentage, I’m not sure, but there’s very little that I actually memorize, and so maybe, yeah, if I’m struggling with something, I feel like I google all day. I mean the basics, HTML I got now, and things that I repeat everyday, we have some code that I just do everyday. But there’s a lot that I’m constantly getting errors in the console or something, and I have no idea what they mean.

Chris: Yeah, that’s something that I see students at One Month will struggle with, where you get your first error, and it’s really intimidating. Sometimes you feel like, this isn’t for me. So I think, I love to hear that, I agree with you. I usually say 70% of coding is googling. It’s just a random percentage that I made up. But yeah, I think it’s good to hear. I think that’s such a normal part of this process.

I heard you say in there that you hired a mentor, or a tutor. What was that? How did you hire a mentor?

Meaghan: I did not. There was a JavaScript, so we had these tests at the end, and we had to make like a pizza ordering JavaScript webpage, and you could add ingredients, and then it would tell you the price of it, I think was it. And I did not get it. I did not understand what a function did. I didn’t know what that meant. And so, there were some online tutoring services that I found, and you just basically come to that tutor and say “I don’t know what they’re there for. I don’t think it’s for my specific use in this case, but I just took this JavaScript function that I had made, and I was like, why doesn’t that work?” And they sat there with me, and they gave the extra help through this problem.

Meaghan: No. It was like tutoring just helped me in the past.

How did you find a coding tutor?

Meaghan: The company I used is called Wyzant, and they have just all kinds of tutors. I think it’s anything you want, basically, math, languages, JavaScript, Python.

Chris: Okay, cool. I’ll check that out. All right. So you graduate from Epicodus, and then you get placed in this internship. Is that with Hotjar, or how do you go from this internship to getting this job at Hotjar right now?

How did you find remote work?

Meaghan: Yeah, so I worked at a local Web Development company that they put me in. And then I finished, and I enjoyed it. It was good. We worked on a Ruby on Rails project, I think, learned how, the backend of Ruby, and then the front end was the Ionic, I think. And so, we worked on it, I loved it. That ended, then I decided to start applying for jobs.

I knew I wanted to come back to Sao Paolo, so I thought, well, remote [work] could work. So I was only applying for remote jobs, because I couldn’t decide where in the US that I wanted to live yet.

Chris: Were there a lot of remote jobs? Where did you look for jobs?

Meaghan: So many. is one of them. There’s a couple that are very similar to that one, but I find that one to be the most comprehensive that I’ve seen.

Chris: Cool, good tip.

Meaghan: Yeah, and I just started applying to anything that I felt confident. So it was a lot of junior development in Ruby and Ruby on Rails, JavaScript. And then there was one job opening for women’s coding camp, to teach Ruby and Ruby on Rails. I tried that, I tried to get that one. And then, a couple of customer experience roles, so like CSMs, and support, just ’cause I thought, well, I have this base knowledge. I think that may look good for those kinds of roles.

And then at Hotjar, I applied for, I think it was a customer support role, and they were like, well, with your background in coding, we’d like you to be more technical and help a little more with the technical support. And it was so easy. It was like two months, I mean, people say you need to do 100 CVs and resumes, and send in. I sent in like 10, and I got a response from a lot of them. And so, it’s just crazy, that I didn’t expect that to happen. I thought I’d be six months looking for a job.

WeWork is in Brazil?!?

Meaghan: Yeah, I’ve worked at WeWorks. Right now I’m in something called Google Campus, which is a free space to work, basically for anyone. You just have to sign up. So I go to different co-workings. I like to move around the city. So, I’m remote, but I have to leave my house, so that’s weird. So I still commute. Some people try to avoid that, but I’m commuting to random spots around the city.

Chris: Cool. Is it easy for an American, ’cause you said that you are from California originally, is it easy for an American to work in Brazil? Do you need a visa, can you just show up, or how does that work?

Meaghan: Yeah, so I’m here on a tourist visa, so I can’t really stay here, and it’s not anything permanent in that way. You can be here six months. We have two meetups a year in Europe, so they bring us all together. And then, I also go home to the US a lot. I would say I’m based just in a lot of different places at the moment.

So now you’re learning Python?

Meaghan: Yeah, with One Month, actually.

Chris: How is it going? First, how did you end up deciding that you should learn some Python? How did that happen?

Meaghan: Yeah, I have been doing some automation work at our company, and I do a lot of playing around with it. But my lead, we were talking, and he had taken a course with another team. They had taken a one month Python course because they are going to be building some internal tools with Python, and a lot of our code base is in Python as well.

And so, they loved it. They did the four weeks, they did it together as a group, and then they especially liked the way it worked, and everything. And so I was like, okay, I’ll do it too. I wanna be able to automate things using Python. And so, here I am.

What do you like about learning Python?

Meaghan: Yeah, other than reading our code base, I have never written any Python. And so, I was surprised, again, like how all of these languages that I’ve learned, like JavaScript, and Ruby, and all these things, are very similar. So I got the logic down, and I was just, yeah, using that logic to kind of work through these problems, and translating it into Python. So I’m like, how do you do a “for statement” in Python, and that comes up, and I’m like, okay, that’s good.

What coding language do you recommend beginners learn first?

Meaghan: I think the way that I started ended up working really well for me, so just getting into the HTML, CSS, just kinda ’cause you’re learning how those words end up doing something on the page. And then, JavaScript, you can do a lot of cool things just with simple websites. Once you learn not a lot of JavaScript, not a lot of HTML, not a lot of CSS, you can start doing pretty cool things. But I think that’s where I would start. If I had started again, I think I would do it all the same, just like that.

Are you happy you learned to code?

Meaghan: Honestly, like, it’s weird, but coding totally changed my life. It did. I would never be in Sao Paolo right now. There’s no way that I could’ve been doing this stuff. And so, I just, as much as I can tell people they should learn how to code, and as much as I struggled and still did it, I feel like everyone, everyone should learn the basics of coding. So I really appreciate this opportunity. Like in tech, I’m the only woman on our team ever or the only woman, and so sometimes it’s like, ah, but everyone can do it.

Chris: Yeah, you’d be a really good role model for how persistent it seems like you were with continuing to try so many things. But it’s amazing. It seems so effortless. Now it’s like you’re just owning it.

Meaghan: Yeah, so I just learn these tiny things, and I become such an expert. Like, it’s insane, through certain tiny, tiny things, you can do great things!

Closing Notes

That was another episode of the Learn to Code podcast here at One Month. If you enjoyed the show, let us know. You can leave a rating or something nice on iTunes. We are on Spotify and YouTube as well. You can subscribe, it’s free. We’ll have a new episode every week, so check that out.

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Chris Castiglione Co-founder of Adjunct Prof at Columbia University Business School.