Bootcamp Corner with John Mandarano

John Mandarano is an incoming Hack Reactor software engineering student. He talks about applying to Hack Reactor, how he prepared for the interviews, and how his family is his motivation.

Bootcamp Corner with WeFinance is a regular series that looks at coding bootcamp students, their experience, and the lessons they’ve learned.

John successfully crowdfunded a $11,525 loan at 8% to attend Hack Reactor. You can see his campaign here.

Are you considering a bootcamp but worried about the tuition or living expenses? WeFinance for Bootcampers is the fastest way to crowdfund a personal loan.

What were you doing before applying to Hack Reactor?

I worked at a health food store. My role was public relations. I designed ads and the newsletter. I also did technical support, which basically meant that, if anything broke, I would fix it.

How did you find out about Hack Reactor?

I heard about bootcamps awhile ago — and I thought they were a great idea — but I was dealing with a newborn at the time.

My friend — who’s actually finishing up the program right now — told me about Hack Reactor specifically and when I started looking into it, I was blown away by the curriculum and success of their students.

I started teaching myself JavaScript on the side and that’s how I got here!

What made you decide on Hack Reactor and not another bootcamp?

They have, hands down, the best hiring rate of the bootcamps I looked into. Looking at reviews, everyone was extremely positive but they were also objective about their opinion.

I love the way it’s structured and how they’ve developed it iteratively to make sure it’s always in step with new technology and to meet student’s needs.

What resources did you find useful?

Eloquent JavaScript was number one. I learned more from that than anything else. Just the fifth chapter alone on the functional helpers took me a week to get through. Getting through and understanding this chapter was actually what made me comfortable for the interview.

I also did Codecademy’s JavaScript track which was a helpful starting point.

What was the application and interview process like?

When I applied the first time and took the interview, it was about three months from the time I started studying.

Outside of studying, I read blog posts from people who’ve been through Hack Reactor on what to expect from the interview. I knew it was going to focus heavily on functional programming and callbacks. When I interviewed the first time, I did pretty well but stumbled at multiple points. They told me I did well but I wasn’t ready yet.

Hack Reactor wanted to make sure that I was fully prepared for the program before I started so they actually set me up with a personal coach. We met on Skype six or seven times and he helped me through sample interviews and helped me with concepts I struggled with.

I interviewed for a second time and I nailed it. I knew it the moment I finished the interview.

How long did the whole learning process for you?

I would say I studied for about three months. I wouldn’t say it was every single night, but it was most nights and usually a few hours on the weekends too. I would have done way more except that I had to take care of my newborn daughter, Veda. In total, I would say it was 120 hours.

What gave you the push to apply? A lot of people tend to over-prepare instead of taking a shot and risk getting rejected.

I think 150 hours of preparation is the sweet spot. I think a lot of people are studying things that are really good to know but aren’t important for the interview. They’re studying things like Object Oriented JavaScript which is good to know once you start the program, but not key for the interview.

For the interview, you have to understand JavaScript control flow, loops, and how to use objects and arrays. Beyond the basic syntax issues, they want you to have an understanding of functional programming. You write a lot of functions, and that is the stuff that’s going to prepare you.

What tips would you give to someone else applying to Hack Reactor?

I’m happy with the way I did it but my advice would be that you should apply the moment you think you’re remotely ready. Even if you’re not 100% ready, try it anyway. After the interview, they’ll give you essential feedback. Even if you don’t do well, you’re going to get direct feedback on what you need to focus on. This is immensely helpful to find your weaknesses and to work on them. I interviewed twice and I think the reason I did as well as I did was the personal coaching and the fact that I focused on the key things they wanted me to know.

Talking to a lot of alumni, many are incredibly smart but still interviewed upwards of four times. You’re learning difficult concepts that smart people struggle with. There’s nothing wrong with not passing the interview the first time. The most important lesson for me was learning how to fail gracefully. To do something, do it wrong, and correct that mistake while building emotional resilience. Some days you’ll have to be comfortable with the fact that you don’t get it today and go to sleep and hope you get it tomorrow.

Why did you chose a bootcamp vs. trying to teach yourself?

I wanted the intense study and the environment of working with other people oriented towards the same goal. I learned that I really like programming. If I weren’t able to attend Hack Reactor, I would be dedicating my nights and weekends and learn coding on the side.

By attending Hack Reactor, you’re taking the effort you would spend on nights/weekends and multiplying it exponentially since you’re focusing on one thing for three months, day in and day out, surrounded by people who are excellent at it. I think you could take anything you want to do and if you put yourself in an environment like that, it’s going to be enormously helpful.

That’s the reason why I want to do Hack Reactor, to be surrounded by people who are dedicated to the same goal and good at it.

How are you planning to manage work-life balance?

I already got a taste of it during the application process since I was working full time, caring for my daughter, and doing self-study at night. For the duration of the program, we’ve reached out to family and friends to act as a support network.

There’s going to be very little work-life balance — I know my life will basically be Hack Reactor. I do regret that I’m going to miss moments of my daughter growing up, but I want to improve the situation for my family. If I have to take time from her now but come out on the other end with a better career, allowing me to better take care of my family, it’ll be worth it.

What’s the optimal outcome for you after the program?

I live close to NYC and I want to get employed there since it’s the second biggest tech market in the country.

I want to do something creative. A lot of people think of programmers as left brained, that programming is completely logical. I don’t think that’s completely true. We’re building websites and apps that humans are using, and the user’s experience is key. I want to build something beautiful as well as functional. I want to build products that people will love.

Given this, I think I’ll focus on the user interface (UI) or front-end side of software engineering.

What makes you a good investment?

I think the fact that I’m really passionate about all this. Ever since I got out of college, I’ve been struggling to find the right thing for me. I’ve found this with coding.

1) I’m passionate about this because I love it. I want to keep doing it and I want to get paid to do it.

2) I have enormous motivation from my wife and daughter. I’m tired of always trying to figure out how to get by and I want a career that enables my family to live a better life.

What do you look for when you consider financial products?

I like a low interest rate. I like being able to actually negotiate terms instead of having them dictated to me. With WeFinance in particular, I like how it’s a way for people to cut out the middle man and lend to one another directly. This is the future of our economy. We’re going to move away from top down —big bank — economics and to people exchanging things in a mutually beneficial way.

Why should a borrower consider WeFinance?

To be honest, I was nervous initially. I think you really need to emphasize to people that this is a loan. It’s mutually beneficial to both parties. In the short-term, I’m getting the money I need for the program but in the long-term, these people are benefiting by collecting interest.

Emotionally, I think there’s something wrong with the fact that people can’t talk about their finances openly. I think that being open and honest with people will really help. You might have to work through some emotional blocks to do it but you have to remember that you’re doing the right thing and feel confident about it.