Today I’m concluding the series of interviews with Epicodus students! I got the chance to talk to Mac Eisenberg who is a native to Brooklyn, NYC. He came out to Portland from New York and is loving it.
Did you miss Part 1 with Braden O’Guinn or Part 2 with Hunter Meyer?
Corinne@Planet Argon: Do you want to talk a little about your life before coming to Portland? What was your career like? What sparked your interest in code?
Mac: I grew up as one of eight children in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn. All of my schooling was done in a yeshiva, which is a Jewish school with an intense focus on Biblical and Talmudic studies and little in the way of English or Math. Most of the guys in my high school class did not go to college; many of them went on to rabbinical school, some started their own businesses or joined family businesses.
My first job after high-school was working for a price comparison website, which eventually led to a job as project manager for a boutique firm specializing in e-commerce websites. There, I dealt with technical decisions like deciding which frameworks and technologies to use for projects, and managing the overall development process for our clients.
Over time, I got interested in learning to code. I read some tutorials here and there but never anything too serious until I took the plunge and moved across the country to enroll in Epicodus. As a student in yeshiva, I spent a good part of the day learning in pairs, so it was interesting to see how that same learning style could work with a completely different subject matter.
How did you find Epicodus? What was the deciding factor to take the big step to drop everything and join the Epicodus crew?
I found Epicodus while looking at different code schools online. I kept hearing about ‘bootcamps’ and ‘coding schools’ and was curious what the fuss was about. Initially, what stood out most about Epicodus is that it’s a 4 month program, compared to the standard 8-12 week programs, and the tuition is very reasonable. After realizing that the next class was fast-approaching and space was limited, I immediately got in touch and scheduled a call with Michael, the teacher.
Michael explained how we’d spend close to 100% of our classroom time actually coding, no lectures or small study-groups. I think that was what really sold it; I knew from experience that there’s only one way to really learn something new, and that is by doing it, and sweating through the problems, and then doing it again. He answered all my questions and seemed very genuine and knowledgeable about teaching. I applied the next day and haven’t looked back.
How are you liking Portland thus far? Intentions to stay here in the future? Favorite thing about Portland?
Coming from New York, Portland has been a breath of fresh air (literally!). After adjusting to the reality that nobody seems to know what a ‘regular’ slice of pizza is, I quickly started feeling at home.
The easy access to great hikes and trails is fantastic and I’ve definitely taken advantage of it. I go on a different hike every Saturday with some of the other students. A few weeks ago we went for a hike on Mount Hood in shorts (total noobs!) and had to stop when the snow got too high!
Also the many great food options within walking distance, such as Russell St BBQ, Toro Bravo and Bunk Bar, the friendly and interesting people, and most importantly that I can bike almost anywhere have all contributed to the decision to continue living here after the class ends.
How do you feel about Epicodus so far? How long have you been there? What are your days like there?
I’m currently in month 3 of what has been an exciting journey. During the first week or two, my brain was adjusting to all the exertion which gave me a headache (the good kind!) by the end of every day. I just wasn’t used to learning so much! The headaches stopped, but the learning stayed at the same high pace.
At Epicodus we learn by doing. Our day starts with a 10 minute stand-up where we share what we’ve learned the day before and talk about any coding issues we came across or interesting solutions we came up with. We then spend the rest of the day pair-programming with another classmate. Every day we have a new project to work on, building on whatever we did the previous day, and on weekends we do homework to prepare for the upcoming week.
During the last month of the program, we divided into small teams of 4-6 people to build open source web apps for local non-profits. Our team is working on building a new membership network for CodeScouts, a local non-profit with the mission to empower women to become software developers. The platform will serve to connect CodeScouts’ members with mentors to build customized learning plans, schedule meetings and collaborate on development projects. You can see the progress we made so far and contribute to the Github project here.
What is one of the most ‘mind blowing’ things that you’ve learned there thus far? How did it affect the way you thought about development?
One thing that was immediately apparent when I started is how much code is necessary to accomplish even simple things, if you want them done right. We take for granted a lot of the features and ‘intelligence’ of many of the websites we use on a daily basis. That was all built by someone and told to do that!
To make something work really well and completely dummy-proof takes a lot of thought. This changed my approach to writing code dramatically. I spend more time at the beginning mapping things out, so that I can cover all the bases and have a clear roadmap before writing any code. To be sure, the flip side is “analysis paralysis” which is a different trap. There’s a delicate balance between planning and getting caught up in the planning, not to mention that you will always end up coming across something you haven’t thought of in advance.
Another thing that was was interesting to me was the different approach students took to solve the same problem. We work in pairs on similar projects, and it’s always intriguing to see the different paths students take to get it done.
Oh and lastly, I never thought I’d hear the words ‘elegant’ or ‘clean’ so much, in relation to code.
Are you attracted to any of the languages/technologies you’ve been learning about specifically? What do you like about them?
Ruby is definitely my favorite so far. I like the simplicity of the syntax and the dedicated community (both online and locally) around it. Ruby does away with a lot of the extra characters and symbols which makes for very well-organized and readable code. I’m looking forward to participating in more of the Ruby meet-ups here in Portland.
We started using Rails a few weeks ago and that has been fun too. It’s a great framework for making web apps since it takes care of a lot of the grunt work and repetitive stuff for you. It’s definitely a complex beast and I’m just beginning to understand certain parts of it.
I also like the Test Driven Development approach, which we practice on all our projects at Epidocus. It keeps me focused on the tasks at hand and ensures the code does what it needs to without having to test it manually. When writing code, it can be tempting to get distracted with bugs or problems that aren’t specifically related to what you’re trying to accomplish. By writing your tests first, it helps ensure you wind up with the correct result, even while you’re lost down in the details. I’ve been using RSpec and Capybara to handle the testing with Ruby.
What kind of work do you want to do with the things you are learning at Epicodus? Do you think you’ll seek jobs after graduation from Epicodus?
My main focus is to continue practicing what I’ve learned so far and challenge myself every day with something new. I’ll probably take a few weeks to revisit and improve some of my older projects before looking for a job here in Portland.
I’m interested in working for a company where I can really contribute while also learning a lot from the more experienced people around me. I’d prefer to work somewhere where I’ll be involved, in some capacity, with both the front-end and back-end.
To hold myself accountable, I’m going to say here that I’m officially starting my goal of a 365-day commit streak on Github. As a fellow student put it “A few commits a day keeps the doctor away”. If there’s one thing I learned throughout this process, it’s how easy it is to forget what you’ve spent so much time learning if you don’t practice it.
Would you recommend Epicodus (or code schools) in general to people who are interested in becoming developers?
I absolutely recommend Epicodus with one caveat to potential students: spend some time first seeing what coding is about and making sure that it’s actually something you want to do. After that, I can’t think of a better way to learn than by actually coding day in and day out with other aspiring developers and a knowledgeable instructor to guide you.
Check out Mac’s Website, follow his commit streak on Github, or look him up on Linkedin.
That concludes this series of interviews. Thanks again to these guys who gave such great interviews during such a busy program! We wish you the best of success in your careers!