In our Beyond the Bootcamp series, we chat with members of our alumni community about their post-Flatiron career journeys. What new roles have they taken on? What advice do they have for others hoping to follow in their footsteps?
Sam Owens came to Flatiron School after a stint as a product manager in the fitness industry. After graduating from Flatiron School, Sam worked his way up at Bounce Exchange, going from software engineer to Senior Director of Product Development. Read on for more on Sam’s story and his advice for aspiring technologists.
Sam had a few reasons for initially learning to code. As he says, “I wanted to get closer to figuring out how things are actually built and getting to do some of that, and I really wanted to get into tech, a faster moving industry with more opportunities, more motivated people.”
Sam says new coders need to jump in with both feet. “It’s easy to have a kind of trepidation around it: you think about it, you do research, you think about it, you do research – without actually doing any coding. Once you know that it’s the thing you want to do, just jump in and do it.”
After deciding he wanted to learn to code and doing his research on his options, Sam felt Flatiron was a “no-brainer,” citing Flatiron’s focus on people and building a diverse, driven community of students. “Other schools seemed to be more about creating a rapidly scaling business model,” says Sam, “but I never really felt like I was a 1 or a 0 or somebody checking a box towards their machine scaling at Flatiron. I felt like it was a very human experience.”
For Sam, the most important thing he learned at Flatiron wasn’t technical – it was learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. “When you dive into the fully immersive world of learning to code, you constantly encounter impostor syndrome and ask yourself, ‘Can I do this? I don’t know what’s going on.’ I learned that being in that zone is actually where you’re going to learn the most. There should never be a point where you think, ‘I’ve learned all the things. Time to just relax.’ You kind of have to always be putting yourself in that position, no matter where you are, and keep learning.
You constantly encounter impostor syndrome and ask yourself, ‘Can I do this? I don’t know what’s going on.’ I learned that being in that zone is actually where you’re going to learn the most.
For Sam, the biggest surprise he encountered at Bounce Exchange was how fast everything moves in tech – and “how much everybody cares.” When Sam joined the company, there were only 20 people on the team. “Now we’re in the 250-ish range,” he says. “So for me, it’s been a pretty wild ride of seeing a ton of people work really, really hard to build something really, really cool, and I just never expected it to go like that.”
Sam’s transition from engineer to heading the product team was organic: as Sam slowly moved from coding 100% of the time as the company’s first junior engineer to managing a growing team of developers, Bounce Exchange’s CEO asked Sam to take charge of the rollout of a product. “I guess the way that I did that worked really well, and he was happy, so he kept handing me more projects. I got to a point where I was split between trying to do two different jobs, and I kept going further up the product life cycle chain.” Bounce Exchange’s CEO wanted him to move over fully to the product team, but Sam didn’t want to just abandon the team he had built, so he talked to his boss about a transition plan. The result? “Now there’s another Flatiron grad who’s in charge of that team, which is cool.”
While Sam admits there was no “magic bullet” that helped him succeed, he thinks the biggest factor in his success was his willingness to ask questions. “Go to your direct supervisor or your mentor and ask what you need to work on, ask what you need to learn. If you’re a junior engineer and you want to drop the junior, ask whoever’s the head of your engineering department what the difference is, what your gaps are. Don’t work and hope somebody will notice. You should always be trying to figure out what the next steps are and work your way towards those things.”
Sam says, “I’ve been on a pretty wild ride with Bounce Exchange, and I love it.” He aims to keep building and shipping products that drive undeniable value for Bounce Exchange’s customers. “That involves a lot of the same things I’m doing now, but also continuing to align our development and product processes with our growth trajectory.”
Ready to take Sam’s advice and “jump in” to coding? Get started with our free Bootcamp Prep course. Stay tuned for more installments of “Beyond the Bootcamp”!