How One Student Went From Being a Concrete Technician to Software Engineer

Posted by Flatiron School Students  /  August 22, 2019

Meet Flatiron School grad and Software Engineer at Koddi…Zac Willmington!  While he’s constructed many buildings, he prefers to “deconstruct” things like romance languages, book plots, and a line of code.  Read how this Australian changed countries and careers to follow his intrigue for technology.

Zac Willmington

Firstly, let’s start with the big move changing continents.  What was that transition like?

It's been an exciting experience for sure. Being away from friends and family has been the hardest part for me, but I wouldn't have had the same opportunities in my hometown in Australia. I'm from a small town on the coast and there is zero tech there. The construction industry is huge where I'm from and that's why I naturally gravitated towards a career in this field straight out of school. The U.S. definitely is much more exciting and has much more opportunities. Additionally, I have made amazing connections here that have made it feel like a second home to me.

How does one pivot from construction and the physical demand, to the mental challenge of becoming a developer?

It wasn't easy as they are both energy demanding but just in different ways. During the the time it took to complete the Flatiron School curriculum, I had to really improve my mental endurance. I wasn't use to thinking so intensely for hours at a time. I used to shovel concrete for 12 hours a day in 100+ degree weather and it was extremely taxing. 

Now, I work just as hard but with my mind instead of my body. However, it's different because it's so enjoyable performing the work of building software that I find myself being consumed in the moment. I would describe it as a form of meditation; it's like I'm in my own little world solving problems. I would choose mental fatigue over physical fatigue any day. Mental fatigue will keep your mind sharp while there are limits to how much one's body can take. 

More recently you moved to Austin and you mentioned quite a welcoming tech community.  Tell us about that.

Yes, I love Austin! I've made such a great group of developer friends since moving here. The people of Austin are so friendly. It's a truly social city, people are always keen to catch up for coffee or drinks. I was initially working through my course in San Diego and although it’s an amazing city with lots of tech, the majority of people living in Austin are new transplants and millennials or Gen Z. Everyone here is so open and willing to talk. For such a big city, it really feels like a small world where you are constantly making connections that guide you where you need to be.

How did you approach networking to really leverage your opportunities?

I reached out to coding bootcamp alums in both the San Diego and Austin areas. I used LinkedIn as my platform of choice. I believe LinkedIn is the best networking online tool. Since people like to see a face to the name, I constantly asked people out for drinks (coffee or a beer) and in Austin, many people were excited to meet up and talk tech.  Many of those outreaches ended up becoming my great friends that I socialize with weekly.

You are a Software Engineer at Koddi, Congrats!  Tell us what you are working on and what you like about the company.

Koddi is an ad tech metasearch company that targets the travel industry.  I am working with PHP and JavaScript. I've been working with facebook's API, integrating it with the Koddi application. I absolutely love the company and feel so lucky to be a part of the team. I love that our office is small and I was interviewed by each and everyone on the team.  I get to work with talented developers and solve challenging problems!

What advice would you have for students in your wake who might be a bit reluctant to network both online and in person?

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As uncomfortable as networking can be, it makes a MASSIVE impact on how quickly you get a job in the field.  It was probably the most nerve-racking thing I had to do, but at the same time, it truly was the most beneficial. It's a little bit of what you know but mostly it's who you know. The only interviews I received were through referrals and I think I would still be looking for a job if it were not for networking!  Not to mention, I am grateful for the new friendships I have made. I've done some reflecting on the whole experience and compiled a list of what I think are the eight things that made the most significant impact on my journey from construction worker to software engineer. You can read it here, the 8 code commandments.

Career coach Kasey Kobs reflects on how Zac's job search was so successful:

I think part of Zac's success can be attributed to his systematic approach to the job search.  He had daily and weekly goals for outreach and job applications and was very proactive about networking. Despite considering himself shy, he drove for Lyft to help him gain confidence in starting conversations.  He was fearless and admirable in his efforts!