Learning code and harnessing confidence: Gabriel’s Story

People have many different life experiences that prepare them for the intense educational journey of The Iron Yard, but Gabriel Zarate had some preparation that was far different than most of our other students––on a salmon fishing boat in Alaska. “I needed to make some money before my wedding,” he said. So he went to Alaska and started working for a commercial salmon-fishing company.

While salmon fishing and computer programming might not seem relatable, Gabriel says that both of them require a tremendous work ethic. “It was the experience of a lifetime, but it was also grueling work that really prepared me for life during the course.”

Before Gabriel was an Alaskan salmon fisherman, before he was enrolled in the February 2016 Front-End Engineering course at The Iron Yard’s Greenville campus and well before he was a Front-End Developer at Vert Digitalhe was paying the bills and planning his next move while working at a small warehouse in Greer, South Carolina.

Gabriel graduated from his college’s liberal arts program with a degree in history, and though he was happy with his education and credits a lot of his success to the education he got, a career in coding wasn’t one of his initial considerations. It was only after a number of conversations with friends and family that Gabriel began to consider web development as a career.

“My friend Jasper joined The Iron Yard almost a year before I ended up enrolling,” he said. ‘I also talked to a friend who worked at an advertising agency, and told me about their need for developers. My friend said ‘we really need more people on our dev team right now,’ and then talked about how much fun they seemed to have and how much value they provided to the company. That’s what really got me thinking about development as a career.”

The final contributing voice came from Gabriel’s brother Michael, who’s also a developer. “He told me to go buy a book on JavaScript and to really make sure I liked it before enrolling. I wasn’t working full time at the warehouse at that point, so I would work for 20 hours during the week, then spend the rest of my time studying,” he continued. “I’ve got a pretty serious personality, and I wanted to be prepared and over-prepared, so I spent several months trying to make sense of as much as I could on my own.”

Gabriel’s quite happy with his job at Vert Digital, and had some great advice for future Iron Grads. “You need to cast a large net when you’re searching for a job––research and talk to a lot of different companies. Shoot for the ones you want, but don’t have an ego about just seeing what else is available.” he said.

“Aside from the skills of learning to code, one of the most important things I got from The Iron Yard was the confidence I gained from knowing that I’d done a lot of work and solved tough problems during my time in class,” he said. “I think one of the biggest issues for new developers is that they don’t feel like they’re ready for a job. It’s so important to keep studying and learning, and keep working hard to get better, but have confidence knowing that you can solve the problems you’ll face in your first junior dev position.”

Gabriel is continuing to learn on the job. “On a daily basis , I can come in and really feel confident in stuff I’m working on and then take charge of those more complex things as I go.”


Interested in trying some coding to see if it’s right for you? Check out our new Mini Crash Courses in both JavaScript and Ruby, available for free, right now.



  1. I’m interested in speaking to Gabriel. If he could email me that would be GREAT!

  2. Hey Jesse – thanks for reaching out! Please shoot us an email – greenville@theironyard.com. Thanks!

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