Our guest for episode 38 is Gregorio Rojas and he is an instructor and founder of the Sabio Learn to Code boot camp. Gregorio began his career in the sports management industry but soon decided that a change was needed. Now, he is here to give us all the juicy details of his story and how you can quickly become a software developer and achieve success in the tech industry. Are you ready to turn your dreams of coding into reality—no computer science degree needed? Listen in to episode 38 for more details.
Gregorio Rojas’ Bio:
Gregorio Rojas has been in the software development field across a variety of industries since 1999. Previously, he was the CTO and co-founder of an online real estate listings site, MySocalListings. He was also a Director of Development at SFW, a SAAS enterprise software startup and most recently, lead developer for the Monetization team at MySpace.
Episode Highlights and Show Notes:
Arsalan: Hi everyone. Today we have a very special guest, Gregorio Rojas. He is an instructor and a founder at a code camp. So, he is someone that we haven’t had before. We haven’t had a code camp instructor or founder before. So I’m really excited to have him here. How are you, Gregorio?
Gregorio: I am doing great. How are you?
Arsalan: I am doing fantastic and so excited to have you on. I want you to tell us your story and walk us down your path of becoming a software developer from being a computer illiterate, as you described yourself, and going from your first job within a year and a half to becoming a senior developer with a healthy salary. There were some bumps and hurdles that you encountered. So I want you to tell us how it was when you got your first job. How are you feeling? I don’t want you to go into any details, but describe your emotional state throughout this process.
Gregorio: Before I get into it, thank you for having me on. I really look forward to it. So thank you for that. Through Boston University for sports medicine and I was an athletic trainer so that was a very personal job. I wasn’t just working with people, I was also touching people. For me to transition into a world where I was mostly typing was a little weird. But, I knew there was a lot of opportunity in tech. I happen to find myself surrounded by a bunch of people who were getting into tech and it sounded like that was something that I should be doing. Through a series of different events and talking to people, I got the confidence to try it.
Gregorio: What I thought was going to be a software developer job turned out to be a junior job. To give you some context, I think I was making around $27,000 for my first job. But, it ended up being more of a QA job, but not the exciting QA job, software engineer, tester job, or automation QA. It was not that exciting. I knew that’s not what I wanted to do. I knew that’s not why I had really don’t my career and five years of education to come and do QA at that level. That was frustrating, but I was able to continue doing my own home study to ensure that I equipped myself with employable skills.
Gregorio: I built something that actually had the domain bostonapartments.com. I built a little apartment listing application because apartments in Boston were huge. I will not mention the fact that I let that domain name expire. It’s heartbreaking that I let that happen, but I did. It allowed me to get into a company that was a dev shop, where all they did was build product for other folks. I got into another company where I was managing the IKEA North American and Canadian sites in which the code and the content that powered those sites was essentially through a content management system.
Gregorio: At that time, content management systems were the thing. We didn’t have WordPress we didn’t have websites like that. So, it was very strange for me because I had no idea what a content management system was. That was my second job and three or four months into my career.
Gregorio: Fast-Forward and I went from working for that company in Boston and took a hop over to El Segundo in California right before the Dot Com bubble burst. When it did, I ended up having to leave that company and walked into a fantastic job that a new colleague of mine set me up with an El Segundo where we were doing online e-commerce.
Gregorio: That was the job that was at the 18th month mark were all of a sudden I was getting paid $82,000, which was more than the top level athletic trainers were getting paid at the time. So that was really rewarding and kind of shocking. I was explaining this to someone the other day and looking back at it, it really was disorienting during that first year and a half. I totally had the case of imposter syndrome where I was head down in the Cove and was really earning whatever these folks were giving me and I really considered it an opportunity. Yet, I was waiting for someone to come in and tell me that I wasn’t cutting it, and for the real work to start, the hard part.
Gregorio: I was waiting for someone to out me and tell me that I really didn’t belong, but that time never came. I was left wondering even back then why there weren’t more people doing this because it wasn’t that hard. It’s different, but it isn’t that hard. I continued along and it wasn’t until about 3 ½ years ago that my wife and I decided to start Sabio.
Arsalan: Fantastic story. You went from one success to another and you were expecting really difficult times because you didn’t have computer science degree and you kind of didn’t know what you are doing. You started QA $27,000 a year. Very quickly you rose to over $82,000 per year. So, were going to talk some more about some of the details later in the show, but first I want to talk about your introduction to software development. Why did you choose to into that? You said that you were interested in it, but you had a degree and you had a plan and you went to college for something else. What was the trigger for you to want give all that up?
Gregorio: It was really necessity. It’s really embarrassing, but I was in my fifth year of athletic training and in athletic training the way they bring you up and educate you is hands on. From your freshman year on your in the clinic and in the training room and you are working with athletes. It’s very hands-on and kind of like an apprenticeship. It was fun and awesome. I got to go see some great games. I was and still am a big fan of sports. I just don’t have the time right now to spend as much time on sports as I would like. I was a typical young man growing up in New England. I was doing really well and having a lot of fun, but I realized while I was at Boston College that this was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The quality of life in the amount of time that I would have to spend away from family, this would not have cut it.
Gregorio: I was really bummed out about it, but a couple of things happen. A couple of my athletes were getting ready to graduate and were talking about making $70,000 right out of college. At the time I was getting paid $11,000. I don’t know if they call that a salary or stipend, but that’s what I was making and it was one of the best positions in the country at the time for someone right out of college in athletic training. For an athletic trainer to get up into the $70,000 range, you would have to be working at really high level athletics like the NFL or the NBA and those types of jobs. People don’t leave. They worked there until they die.
Gregorio: Instead of waiting for that I had my athletes talking to me about software. I asked myself whether that was something that I should consider. That alone wasn’t enough. I was taking a Master’s program geared toward my sports medicine career. One of the professors was talking to us about one of her projects and gave us a choice between three types of projects and one of them had to do with HTML. I remembered that the athletes were talking to me about coding and HTML is about coding so that’s what I chose.
Gregorio: I struggled with probably the ugliest HTML page that you have seen for two weeks. At the end of my project, I presented the HTML page. The highlight of the page was this little Tweety bird that I put at the bottom of the page that you had to scroll down to. So at the end of my presentation I scroll down to show the Tweety Bird that was flapping. Now, I had no idea how this thing was flapping because it wouldn’t flap when I was looking at it outside of the browser. Yet, it would flap while it was in the browser. Everyone gave me credit for making it flat, but honestly I just took it and told them that it took me a really long time to get it to do that. But it felt good. Scrolling down and seeing that Tweety Bird flap and how amazed everyone was at it. So I thought that maybe I could do this.
Gregorio: So those two things combined gave me the confidence to let it go and make it happen. Within a month or two, I quit and started busing tables, parking cars, or whatever I needed to do so that I could take some night classes. The night classes at that time did not include any nighttime learning to code classes. There is an adult Ed program at Northwestern University. I don’t remember the name of the program, but it had the most technical courses on it. Those courses alone were not enough. I had to do a whole lot of work beyond that, because it was not a CS program by any means. It was more like learning about technology. But those courses gave me what I needed in order to get into my first job.
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