Words of wisdom from a graduate


Mae Beale graduated from our first Ruby on Rails class in Durham and is now working as a developer at Topsail Technologies. She shares her wisdom, advice, and story for the benefit of prospective and future students.

First, her four messages for future students:

  1. PREPARE: Any amount of prework you do will help you during class.

  2. TAKE CARE: Bootcamps can be grueling (hence the name!). Plan to take extra care of yourself during the program. If you get scared or overwhelmed, work through it because you don’t have time not to be at your best.

  3. DON’T COMPARE: It doesn’t matter how well the other students are doing. All you need is one employer to hire *you*. Stay the course, trust the process and give it all you got!

  4. NETWORK EVERYWHERE: This industry is growing exponentially, yet there are few ways to validate competence. That adds up to the ubiquitous employer hunt for “fit.” People are more interested in what you are able to learn, rather than what you already know. So, order your business cards as soon as possible. Go to meet-ups, talk with friends and acquaintances and participate in discussion groups, blogs and other online formats. But don’t forget to spend time with your classmates! You all are going to be each others’ strongest supporters as you enter the workforce.

Now, for her story…

How did you get interested in programming?

I took a rather circuitous route to programming and though I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done, it sure took me a while to get where I’d been headed! I thought up my first robust business software solution almost 15 years ago and then worked with a developer seasonally for the next 5 years to refine the product. Since then, I’ve designed/architected several business solutions with multi-year rollouts.

Despite software development experience and database courses, without programming experience, I wasn’t qualified to make a career change. As a homeowner and mid-career professional, I wasn’t in a position to spend years completing a master’s program. Even if I had the time and money, I wanted to delve deeply into programming versus complete a degree where it was only one component. (Important note: I am still a staunch supporter of higher education! My dream is for code schools to partner with higher ed for mutual benefit.)

Why The Iron Yard?

I joined the Iron Yard for several reasons: immerse myself in the topic (that’s when I learn best), have a built-in accountability cycle, build a network of fellow learners, be supported in my job hunt(!!!) and save myself some time by learning about the most relevant skills/topics from the best instructor(s) possible. I played pool professionally years ago and purposefully travelled to pool rooms where there had been a national or world champion. Even if that player wasn’t there anymore, the level of play was noticeably higher. I was sure it was similar with programming, and after talking with graduates from other hacker schools, I’m convinced it held true. The Ruby on Rails instructor, Clinton, was well worth a 15-year wait!

Why Ruby on Rails vs Front End Engineering?  

I don’t know that I could have known in advance so clearly which track was right for me. Luckily, my interviewers spent time asking me questions about my interests to help me make the right choice. Programming is a lifelong investment in learning, so you really can’t go wrong. For those of you thinking about jumpstarting your career with a code school, I’d definitely advise maximizing pursuit of interest and avoidance of frustration! If you’re really not sure, spend 3 hours straight doing a front end online course, and then spend 3 hours straight doing a back end course from the same company. There’s no better way than to actually test the waters, and no matter what you’ll learn something.

Ultimately, my interest in and experience with databases seemed to outweigh my appreciation of aesthetics and UI/UX design, so I enrolled in the Rails course thinking I’d start there and hone the other skills later.

Any surprises?

My two biggest surprises were how challenging it would be, and how much impact fear had on my ability to learn.

I did a lot of research about code schools prior to enrolling in Durham’s first cohort. I’d read the blog of the former student who said they didn’t brush their teeth for a week(!), and talked with a student from another program who said they cried every day(!), so knew it’d be a major challenge on all levels. Since I’ve always been a quick learner, with aptitude and interest in math and science, I thought programming would be something I’d take to quite easilyand that I likely could maintain my hygiene and not freak out.

I wasn’t really prepared to struggle with basic concepts or with keeping pace, so that was a rather surprisingand unsettling — experience. The staff and my classmates were incredibly supportive, and I just kept at it and worked as hard as I possibly could. But, early on I was getting scared that I wouldn’t be able to learn the material in time. Under the lightning pace of a bootcamp, that fear had significant impact on my ability to learn until I was able to relax and trust the process

Camaraderie is something I seek, foster and enjoy. Our group was really tight-knit and supportive of one another, so that, coupled with being completely immersed in programming made for an amazing experience where I enjoyed most moments. I’d say my most rewarding moment happened as a result of an assignment where we each took on challenges, and many of them hadn’t been covered in class. The task I took on with a classmate required me to teach myself rake and regex in a weekend. Monday morning I got up in front of the class and imported 1,000 book titles from an online markdown file into our database using an importer I’d written that handled every edge case (and there were a lot of those). That was pretty amazing!

That marketing line on the Iron Yard website about ”learning how to learn” is actually true.

The Final Project:

I’ve been part of a community of people who put on the various GrassRoots Festivals of Music & Dance (Shakori Hills, Finger Lakes, Virginia Key) for a long time now. Since most of the work for these nonprofit events is completed by volunteers and limited staff, I partly went to code school because I wanted to build a solution that would save coordinators time and frustration (so they could spend more time on the mission and less time on application and check-in logistics) and improve the experience for festival-goers. I really wanted my coursework to benefit a real organization, and since I already had something in mind, it seemed the perfect time to get started.

So, I pitched the idea to my cohort, and was able to recruit 10+ people to join my team (6 for the demo day push and some to join after the program ended). The plan was to get something ready for demo day that hopefully could help us with getting jobs, then to continue to develop after class as a way to sharpen our skills and stay in community and get closer to a salable product. Right now, I’m hoping we can refine it enough to start shopping it in 2015.

Festiv.it’s core offers a dynamic, online application, organizer dashboard, custom data importers and a mobile-optimized event check-in. So, for event hosts it solved four pain points in the following ways.

  1. Snail mail and/or email applications replaced with an online form

  2. Time-consuming application review & manual follow-up now simplified with a dashboard and automated communications

  3. Disparate data sources that needed to be merged (online sales data, Google docs, spreadsheets, etc) now all in one database

  4. Paper check-in that required a manual post-fest audit now mobile-optimized with live tallying

When we started programming, we couldn’t find any other program that covered the life-cycle of event planningonly segments of each. (Btw, if any of festiv.it sounds like it could be of use to your organization or you have feedback about event management systems, definitely contact me!)

Refining and launching a product is a ridiculous amount of work! Our team shifted some after the program and until our launch at the October festival (An adventure that I’ll have to comment on separately. Overall it went really well, but it sure was a wild ride!), and I expect it will shift some more as not everyone is going to be able to stay as committed as needed. I continue to learn more and more about what it takes to get a product sale-ready.

Check out our final project presentation

Getting hired: 

I was really worried about not only getting hired, but being of use to my future employer, because I didn’t consider myself as competent as some of my fellow classmates. I got hired at Topsail Technologies within a month of demo day, and was able to contribute on the first day on the job! That was not only incredibly relieving, but very validating.

Topsail met my dream dev job requirements and more: strong mentorship and supportive environment for a beginning programmer, collaborative atmosphere, focus on databases/back end, some public health/health work, varied projects, and opportunities to work remotely. It’s a small shop, and my colleagues are just incredible peoplereally kind, patient, supportive of my learning — and they actually care about their clients. I love it.

Not only is Topsail a great place to work, but it’s located right on the American Tobacco Campus (ATC) in Durham, NC (and upstairs from the code school). As you likely know, the ATC is amazing, and is a hotspot for tech entrepreneurship and innovation. And it’s only growing stronger as it attracts more talent to the campus and to the region. Kudos to the Goodmon family and all the others who’ve worked to revitalize this part of Durham. The first time I walked in the Crowe Building for code school I thought “I want to work right here!,” and now I do!

Final words:

I’m just blown away by all that’s happened in just a few months! And incredibly grateful. Some random final comments not addressed above:

  • As a recipient of the program’s Women in Technology scholarship, I’m especially committed to talking with women who are interested in programming, helping to change the demographics of tech, and creating more opportunities for female developers. So, ladies, get ahold of me if you’re thinking about joining tech. If you’re an employer who’d like help figuring out how to increase the number of applications you receive from women or to make your workplace more female-friendly, I’d be happy to make some recommendations.

  • If anyone has any more questions about the code school experience in general or The Iron Yard powered by Smashing Boxes in particular, share them! Most of what I have to say will be complementary, but I’d be happy to answer your questions fully and honestly.

  • If you’re thinking about a career in programming. Go for it! Life is too short. Do things that inspire you!

Tech Jobs Under the Big Top

Big Top”, one of the more fun job fairs around, was this past Tuesday, September 30th. Big Top is a reverse job fair and a great example of the buzz in the Durham tech community as local employers and job seekers mixed and mingled in a fun start-up environment at the American Underground. Six local tech companies pitched their work culture to job seekers in a fun atmosphere that created casual interaction between perspectives and employers. 

The Iron Yard powered by Smashing Boxes students and graduates attended and networked with local companies. Check out some of the women of the Code Academy with Big Top Organizer and MapQuest Co-founder, Chris Heivly: 

You can check out the tech jobs listings in Raleigh/Durham on the Big Top website.

Written by Jessica Mitsch, Campus Director at The Iron Yard powered by Smashing Boxes in Durham, NC. 

The journey from student to teacher assistant

We just completed the second week of Cohort 2 in Durham and the students are hacking away. We’ve come along way since we opened our doors in June and we thought we’d take a moment to highlight members of our team. Meet Amy Gori and Chet Corey, they were students of Cohort 1 and decided to give back by joining Cohort 2 as Teachers Assistants.


Amy Gori graduated from our Front-End Engineering course in Cohort 1 and is serving the role of Teachers Assistant in cohort 2. She’s giving her first lecture next week on HTML & CSS! Amy answered some questions about her experience at The Iron Yard powered by Smashing Boxes in Durham:

What piqued your interest in programming?

I’ve tinkered with code for a long time, but I really started to think I might be able to do this professionally when I took an Intro to Javascript class from Girl Develop It last winter. That surprised me by being a lot more fun than I thought it would be.

What did you do before coming to TIY?

Most recently, I had been a full-time parent for five years. Before that, I was working in undergraduate education, and I have a graduate degree in English.

Why did you choose to take the class you took with TIY?

I took the Front End class because I wanted to learn Javascript. I had some experience with HTML and CSS and knew the basics, but I wanted to learn how to use APIs and build dynamic web applications.

What was your experience like as a student?

Intense. Very intense. I became accustomed to a lot of failure, and I eventually learned to use each one of those failures as a stepping stone to greater understanding. Resisting being discouraged by that process was something I had to work at. I think the most important turning point for me was the realization that thinking like a programmer required me to make a paradigm shift. When I let go of wanting things to make sense according to familiar standards, it felt like things got a little easier. The process of building that new frame of reference — basic programming concepts, a new vocabulary, a new approach to problem-solving — that was the biggest leap I made.

Why did you decide to be a TA?

We had two truly awesome women TAs for Cohort 1, and so I’m just doing my part to keep that momentum going for women in tech! And, beyond that, I am by nature someone who wants everyone else to do well, and I like being able to help other people. Being a teaching assistant is a win-win situation for me, because it gives me a chance reinforce what I have recently learned by sharing it with someone else. As a graduation gift, my front-end instructor gave everyone in her class a rubber duck. This is, I have learned, a thing in the world of programming: the rubber duck is a little friend to whom you can explain particularly vexing problems you are trying to solve, or code you are trying to debug, or whatever. In the process of explaining something to the rubber duck, you often achieve clarity for yourself. And most of the time, talking to a human being is even better than talking to a rubber duck.

What are you looking forward to seeing with Cohort 2?

I’m looking forward to seeing what these folks will create with their new skills. Demo Day brought out the best in our cohort, and I’d love to see that happen again.


Chet Corey is a Cohort 1 graduate of the Ruby on Rails course. While in class, Chet learned to shift the way he approached problems in order to gain programming skills. Through the process he learned a great deal and taught us about the student experience. See how he answered questions about his time with us, so far…

What piqued your interest in programming?

I was moving from career to career and searching for something to scratch my creativity and curiosity itch. Every job that I was at I found myself thinking about ways to make it run more efficiently. This would usually lead me to doing something on the computer to simplify everyone’s work. In my free time I was tinkering with small electronics the Arduino specifically. I remember being so satisfied when I programmed a stoplight with a pedestrian crossing button. When I found out about the Iron Yard I was taking online classes though UNC and was about to sign up for a semester of online classes through NCSU. That learning style was not working for me. I am a tinker and I learn by taking things apart. This leads me into a field of errors and without an instructor to guild me out I would be a very frustrated student.

Also I was a Math major in college and I missed the comradery of geeking out about something that others just don’t care about. Other than asking my fence out on our first date taking this class was the best decision of my life.

What did you do before coming to TIY?

I was a model for around four years after graduating college. That was not something that I would have ever guessed I would have done but it was an interesting few years. I naturally fell into the retail industry. I was the first Brand Ambassador for Tommy Bahama. From there I decided to try my hand at running my own store. I moved back down to NC to learn how to run a Fleet Feet Franchise. I was planning on opening a new Fleet Feet location when I realized that owning a store was not going to fill my need to learn tinker and geek out. In every stage of everyone of my careers I was playing on computers and I never thought that I could do that for a job I thought that I was too old I would have to go back to school for 4 years and then graduate school for another 2. This program has very literately changed my life.

Why did you choose to take the class you took with TIY?

The Iron Yard was the answer to everything I was looking for. It was face to face. It allowed me to meet and work with people that were already in the industry. It gave me a group that I could learn along with. The time and financial commitment was at a fourth of what most graduate programs and unlike many graduate programs they are they are motivated in helping you get placed in a job in the field after I graduate. You get to work on a final project that is a reflection of what it is like to work on a real project for a client.

In all it was a great reason.

What was your experience like as a student?

The program is not easy it was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. But the harder you work the more satisfying it is when you finally understand. I would say that my major breakthrough moment was when we went to the Ruby for Good conference and I had others to reference how much I had learned. It is difficult to see you own growth when you are in a group growing with you but at the conference we meet professionals and we were contributing. That was a great moment.

Why did you decide to be a TA?

I was a TA for a few years in college and I loved explaining things to others. I really like helping and I was just in their place so I understand exactly what they are going through. Also being a TA allows me another view of the material and it feels like last time I was throwing tiles of understanding on the wall and now in am going over it with grout and filling in all of the cracks. Everyday there are ‘oh ya’ moments.

What are you looking forward to seeing with Cohort 2?

It is exciting seeing everyone hit his or her little victories here and there. I just look forward to seeing everyone succeed and I look forward to possibly working with some of them on their final projects. It is fun every day.

Post by Jessica Mitsch, Campus Director 

The Final Countdown to Cohort 1 – Welcome our TAs!

The countdown to our first pair of classes in Durham is now in the single digits! We are busy at work prepping our coursework, setting up the rooms and making the final touches on everything.  It’s really exciting to see everything finally come together!

We are also thrilled to announce that we officially have a full team at the Durham location. We would like to introduce you to our Teacher Assistants for the summer 2014 classes: Ruthan Freese and Emily Perciballi!

Ruthan Freese


Ruthan will be joining us at TA for the Ruby on Rails, course. Ruthan has been interning for Open Software Integrators and has experience working for TechShop, Inc. She just completed a program to learn Ruby on Rails.

Emily Perciballi


Emily comes to us with a wealth of experience. She has skills in Java, C, Python, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, UNIX, Linux and Mac OS. She has performed software verification and validation on early warning systems for the US Air Force, has designed and coded real-time software for the Patriot Missile Defense System among many other exciting career accomplishments. She is also bi-lingual and has taught ESL students in the Wake County Public School System.

“Girl Rising” Documentary Screening

Local group Girl Develop It RDU is showing a special free screening of “Girl Rising” this Friday, May 16th at 6:30pm! After the movie, join a discussion about the film and share your stories and thoughts on the topic. You can also learn more about Girl Rising and the film on their site at www.girlrising.com.

Learn more and RSVP for the event here: http://www.meetup.com/Girl-Develop-It-RDU/events/177814632/

PS – In support of women’s tech education we’re offering $250 off tuition to our Front-End class starting on June 2nd. We are still accepting applications! Apply today: http://academy.smashingboxes.com/

Welcome our New Instructors: Clinton Dreisbach and Julia Elman

The Iron Yard powered by Smashing Boxes is well underway planning for our first semester of classes (and we’re still accepting applications!). It’s been a busy time of growth, learning and lots of fun planning all of the amazing things our students will encounter in their time here!

To help kick things off we’d like to introduce you to our two amazing instructors, Clinton and Julia!

Clinton Dreisbach

Hi! I’m Clinton Dreisbach and I am excited to be an instructor with The Iron Yard in Durham. I’ve been a programmer since I was 10 and got my hands on an IBM PCJr, and I’ve been writing software professionally for over 15 years, working in everything from Perl to Java to Ruby to Clojure. Of all the languages I’ve used, Ruby has consistently been one of my favorites, so I’m thrilled to be teaching our inaugural Ruby on Rails class in Durham.

I have always loved teaching people and have done plenty of one-on-one mentoring and conference speaking. For the past two years, I’ve been teaching outside of work in programs such as Citizen Schools and ClojureBridge. I’m looking forward to applying the skills I’ve learned to The Iron Yard Academy.

When I am not at a keyboard, I am busy being a dad to an amazing toddler and partner to an amazing spouse. In the sliver of time left after all that, I play and design tabletop games and bang out tunes on my ukulele.

Julia Elman

Hello! My name is Julia Elman and I am a designer, developer and tech education advocate based in North Carolina. I’ve been working my brand of web skills since 2002 and honing my skill set as a front end developer. My creative nature drove me to find work at Hallmark Cards, Inc. in Kansas City in 2007 where I worked on projects such as the Product (RED) campaign and Hallmark’s site re-design. From there, I took a dive into Django as a Junior Designer/Developer at World Online in Lawrence, KS. Currently, I am working on a book for O’Reilly Media on called “Light weight Django” which focuses on advanced and light weight techniques when using Django with Javascript (TBR 2014).

In my spare time, I am one of the local Chapter Leaders for Girl Develop It RDU, a non-profit organization focused on empowering women to learn software programming. In early 2013, I helped teach the initial HTML/CSS class and have since helped grow the chapter to over 600 members, four instructors and multiple teaching assistants. Also in 2013, I helped organize and teach the Teen Tech Camp, a one day for teaching kids 12-18 how to program with Python on a Raspberry Pi.

Joining The Iron Yard in Durham is something I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do and I am excited to show the world the talent the Triangle area has to offer!

Our New Campus Director: Jessica Mitsch

Hello, my name is Jessica Mitsch and I’m thrilled to be joining The Iron Yard team in Durham, NC as Campus Director!

I unexpectedly stumbled into a career in tech at Red Hat, Inc. after graduating from the College of Charleston with a Religious Studies degree (yes, I was one of those liberal arts majors who thought I’d graduate and venture off to find a solution to world peace).

I wore several hats (pun intended) as a member of the People Team at Red Hat and my experience there led me to love the innovative and ever changing world of tech while gaining an understanding of the the extraordinary gap and need for tech talent.

I have always been extremely passionate about education and believe education must be reformed to meet the challenges of the 21st century. When the incredibly talented folks at The Iron Yard approached me about joining their team to launch a code school in Durham, it just made sense to me.

I’m thrilled for the opportunity to pair my passion for education with my experience and excitement for technology. I believe I have found that job I would volunteer for and am excited to start this journey with The Iron Yard team.

In my spare time I can be found moving in a studio somewhere – I enjoy dance, yoga and fitness classes. I love to travel, just about anywhere I can go and consider myself somewhat of a health nut.

To infinity and beyond!