Tyson Mills: Firefighter to Software Engineer
“Working as a software engineer has been a dream come true. I love constantly learning and growing, and I find the work incredibly rewarding.”
Tyson Mills, a September 2022 Software Engineering graduate from Flatiron School, spent more than a decade chasing adrenaline as a firefighter. Now, he puts his quick-thinking and problem-solving skills to work as a Software Engineer.
He shares his journey from fighting fires to writing code below.
As a child, Tyson Mills remembers being drawn to exciting, high-speed activities like sports and motorcycle racing. This adrenaline-seeking tendency, paired with a strong desire to work on a team and help others, initially drew him to a career in firefighting.
“I served with the City of Forest Park, GA Fire Department for almost ten years, where I rose to the rank of Sergeant. During that time I met my wife, and we moved several times before finally settling in Athens, GA. I spent three years with the Athens-Clarke County Fire Department and rose to Corporal.”
But, when his wife’s career offered them an opportunity they couldn’t refuse, Tyson left firefighting behind to “spearhead” the family’s move in a different direction.
“While looking back on my time as a firefighter brings back fond memories of the incredible people I worked with, I knew it was time for a new challenge,” he recalled. “I left firefighting behind to support my family, pursue new opportunities, and make a positive impact in a new way.”
Pivoting Into Tech
While strategizing his next career move, Tyson doubled down on something he’d dabbled in on the side for years – Software Engineering.
“I’ve always been fascinated by science and technology. Even as a firefighter, I took online coding courses on sites like freecodecamp, Codecademy, and Udemy and did web development on my days off to earn some extra ‘walking around money,’ as my mom used to say.”
Tyson said that what he’d enjoyed most about working as a firefighter was the inherent unpredictability of arriving at an ongoing event and having to problem-solve quickly. Software engineering, he said, requires the same quick-thinking ability.
“[With software engineering] you get immediate feedback. You write some code, and you can instantly see whether it works. The component either renders or doesn’t. You can make minor tweaks and adjustments, and suddenly, everything falls into place. That feeling of success, that ‘boom,’ is what I’m always chasing. Solving problems and seeing the results of my work makes software engineering rewarding for me.”
Deciding On Flatiron School
Having settled on pursuing a tech career, Tyson started researching avenues to acquire the skills he’d need to enter the field.
“I recognized that I needed formal training to hone my skills and build a solid foundation,” he explained. “After looking into numerous schools and programs, I decided to apply to Flatiron School’s Software Engineering program in July 2021.”
As for why he selected Flatiron School, Tyson reported having two main reasons. The first was the program’s flexibility for students to attend part-time and online.
“[Flatiron School] recorded lectures, which was critical for me as I was still working as a firefighter,” he said. “Unlike other schools that required in-person attendance, Flatiron’s recorded lectures allowed me to watch them independently and fit my studies around my work schedule.”
Tyson’s second reason for applying was the school’s reputation.
“Flatiron’s great reviews […] were a major selling point. I was eager to learn as much as possible and gain the skills and knowledge necessary to successfully transition into a new software engineering career. Flatiron School provided the perfect platform for me to do so.”
Tyson enrolled in Flatiron School’s online, part-time Software Engineering Flex program. The program combined the flexibility he needed to continue working with a structured curriculum to teach material efficiently and keep him moving forward in his learning.
“The course was broken down into clear phases and modules. This streamlined approach was a refreshing change from the scattered and disorganized process I was employing while trying to learn independently,” he said. “With Flatiron’s well-planned curriculum and access to valuable materials, I quickly absorbed the information and built my skills as a software engineer. It was a great feeling to see my progress and know that I was learning and growing every day.”
Despite the structure provided by the course, Tyson admitted it still took him time to adapt to online learning.
“My biggest challenge was [not having] the traditional classroom experience. While I had access to various resources, such as office hours and the supportive Slack community, it was different from being in a physical classroom with the opportunity to raise your hand and ask a question in real-time.”
But, by pulling on his problem-solving skills, he persevered and learned to take advantage of the resources available to him.
“The program helped me become incredibly resourceful and self-sufficient, which are essential skills in software engineering. I learned to seek out answers and find solutions independently, which has proven invaluable. Overall, Flatiron’s program pushed me to become a more independent learner, which has helped me to succeed in my career.”
Working In Tech
Tyson graduated from Flatiron School in September 2022, first working as a Freelance Web Developer and later accepting a full-time role as an Enterprise Software Developer at Mississippi State University. The reality of working in the field, he said, has been a positive experience.
“Working as a software engineer has been a dream come true. I love constantly learning and growing, and I find the work incredibly rewarding. Every day, I apply my problem-solving skills and creativity to real-world challenges. I’m constantly discovering new and exciting ways to push the boundaries of what’s possible. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work in such a dynamic and fast-paced industry, and I’m excited to see where this career will take me.”
To see some of Tyson’s work, check out his portfolio site at TMillsDev.
Reflecting On His Journey
Looking back on where he began, Tyson’s main takeaway is the importance of hard work and persistence when it comes to pursuing additional education – especially if it’s online and self-paced.
“If you have the drive and determination, you can learn anything. The program was intensive, but I learned that it’s okay not to know everything immediately and that it’s essential to keep pushing yourself to learn more daily.”
As for Tyson’s advice for current and future Flatiron School Software Engineering students, it’s to stay the course, even when things get hard.
“When the material seems daunting or overwhelming, break it into small, manageable chunks, and keep working at it daily. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, whether from instructors or your peers in the program. And remember that there’s no such thing as a stupid question – if you’re struggling with something, chances are someone else is too.”
He also advises them to expect to fail, and to lean into the experience.
“Failing is part of the process. The only way to learn is to keep making mistakes and fail upwards. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing or learning from your mistakes. Don’t be afraid to fail. That’s the easy part.”
Ready For A Change, Just Like Tyson Mills?
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Read more stories about successful career changes on the Flatiron School blog.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of June 28, 2023. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.
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