The best gift for a father – a new career

Our students often refer to the relationships they build at The Iron Yard as a family. That sentiment is less of a stretch for Kurt and Spencer Wyckoff. The father and son duo are Iron Grads from our Atlanta campus and are both working in programming – Kurt at SOLTECH and Spencer for OneTrust.

In anticipation of Father’s Day, we spoke with Kurt and Spencer about family, job loss and the gifts of new opportunities.

Spencer, what were you were doing before The Iron Yard?

I was working for a start-up. I had plans to move out to California with that start-up and about two or three days before flying out there–I had all of my stuff packed–I got a call that said, “sorry we no longer need you, here is two or three days severance.”

I didn’t have any back up plan. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do next with my life. I had been exposed to what it was to work in a developer shop, and I sat around for about a month and then had a conversation with my mom.

She’s a fifth grade school teacher and a lot of the kids at that age are starting code early on. They have these little after school program coding classes. She said, “why don’t you learn to make iPhone apps? You’ve always been good at technology.”

So I went online and was looking up the Atlanta Tech Village for potential job opportunities and I saw The Iron Yard’s ad saying “Life’s too short for the wrong career. Learn how to code.”

That was my sign to dig deeper and learn more about it. And about two or three days before the classes started in January 2015, I called. Within two days, I was starting my three-month boot camp with The Iron Yard.

Kurt can you tell me a little bit about your career path? What you were doing before starting at The Iron Yard?

I was wrapping up about two to three years of being in the wilderness to tell you the truth. I had a home remodeling company and I kind of fizzled out on that after the [real estate] downturn in 2008. I hung on to it a little too long. I wanted to do something else and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I’ve been doing several part-time jobs and totally under my skill set. I was just not happy where I was.

After watching Spencer go through his experience at the Iron Yard, we started talking and in October of last year I got more encouraged and started taking some online code classes. I just realized: I could do this. I really could do this. It’s interesting and it’s tangible and I feel good about it after I complete an assignment. So I said you know what, I’m going to do this.

Kurt, this has been a change in career direction for you. Talk a little bit about your experience of jumping into a completely new opportunity.

Yeah, it is definitely a big change for me. Again, as I was self-employed for fifteen, almost sixteen years [as a contractor]. Before that I did have a corporate job, so I had to go in and be accountable every day and kind of be there during the day and all that. I kind of had gotten away from that so now I’m back in that routine of getting up every day and going in early, staying late and having homework assignments. Just trying to be the best I can be in a twenty-four hour period every day.

The Iron Yard basically reconditioned me. I got back into the pulse of Atlanta’s downtown and the everyday work world with corporations and in that environment every day. It was an excellent transition.

What has your family’s response been to both of you guys jumping into the world of programming?

I mean they are just happy I found direction; that I found something that I enjoy and that I can be successful at, and that I can grow into. I think just overall, whether I’m coding or I’m selling smoothies on a beach, it doesn’t really matter. They are happy no matter what. The job and the career isn’t so much the concern. For our family it’s more so, “Do you feel good about what you are doing? Do you have good well being? Are you self confident, are you empowered?”

Do you guys talk shop? Do you ever talk about coding or programming or what you guys are working on?

I can answer that one. About a week or two into my course, I was involved in a project and I told Spencer about it. He got all excited and said we need to whiteboard this thing. So, I went to his apartment and he whiteboarded [the code] for me and demonstrated how it all works. I couldn’t have gotten a tutorial any better. It was just beautiful. He had such passion telling me about it that I got excited about it.

We definitely talk some shop. It’s not all we talk about for sure. I definitely like to know what he’s doing, what he’s excited about ,what he’s doing or building and that he’s keeping his skills sharp. I check in with him once or twice a month at least and we talk shop about what projects he’s on.

I kind of wish he’d reach out a little more to be quite honest.

Well, alright then!

We get a lot of mid-career changers that come to The Iron Yard. This is drastic change for a lot of people. Kurt, what would you say to someone who is in a similar situation as you – they have a family, a career – but are looking for a change, looking to learn to code?

One thing I tell prospective students is it’s pretty grueling if you don’t have self-discipline. If you aren’t willing to put in the work, it can be painful. [But] you’re not going to lose your life or anything.

There are some days you feel you are drowning, that’s all a part of the program. So I tell people it’s going to be uncomfortable. When I got this job, they told me the first day that this will probably be uncomfortable for you. It’s a consulting company and we stop and start and move around a lot. It’s all based on customer needs. You just have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s kind of what I tell people. It’s also, on the flip side, been a remarkable experience and one that I don’t regret whatsoever.

Spencer, how proud are you of your dad?

I am very proud of him. He is in such a small, small micro percentage of adults his age that would be willing and capable of taking on a brand new craft late in their career. Being able to demonstrate the ability to learn something groundbreakingly new. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right?

Hey, I resemble that remark!

I think he’s kind of proved that wrong. I think it’s tremendous what he’s been able to accomplish up to this point. My wish for him is for him to keep his nose down and keep learning. Just keep that mentality of always learning.

From all of us at The Iron Yard, happy Father’s Day to all dads.

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