In today’s episode of the Learn to Code With Me podcast, I talk with Jamal O’Garro, the co-founder of Code Crew – a platform that offers affordable classes, workshops, and meetups. He’s also a self-taught software engineer.
Jamal started his career in finance, but after being let go during the financial crisis and being unemployed for a year, he decided to transition into tech. He started to teach himself how to code and set up some study groups, which turned into teaching workshops. He started to become recognized for teaching, and Code Crew was born!
In this episode, Jamal shares with us the resources he used to learn how to code. He also reminds us of how important it is to create a network of peers.
Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate of some platforms on this page. If you buy a course through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
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Hey, you're currently listening to Season 3 of the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host, Laurence Bradford and this season I chat with a range of individuals who work in tech.
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Hey, listeners! Welcome to the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host Laurence Bradford. In today's episode, I talk with Jamal O'Garro. Jamal is the co-founder of Code Crew, a platform that offers affordable classes, workshops and meetups. He's also a self-taught software engineer. Before starting Code Crew, Jamal lost his job in finance and was unemployed for a year, he saw that there were a lot of opportunities in tech and decide to learn how to code. And our conversation, we talked about how you can teach yourself to code, the benefits of networking and much more. If you want to find some of the best resources for teaching yourself to code and learn how to build a network of peers. This episode is for you. Remember, you can get show notes for this interview plus much more information about Jamal at learntocodewith.me/podcast. Enjoy.
Laurence Bradford 1:46
Hey, Jamal, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Jamal O'Garra 1:48
Hey, thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here.
Laurence Bradford 1:50
Yeah, I'm so excited to have you on because you're such a busy guy. You're doing so much stuff in the code community. But really quick, could you introduce yourself to the audience.?
Jamal O'Garra 1:58
Laurence Bradford 2:18
Nice. Yeah, you definitely do a lot. So before you taught yourself how to code, what were you doing?
Jamal O'Garra 2:24
Yeah, I was working in corporate America. So I was actually working in finance, in fixed income, mostly on the analytic side, the debt for a couple years and moving to sales, and then eventually found myself on the, I guess, the wrong side of the financial crisis. I was one of the many, many people who were let go during that time. So I was unemployed for probably a good year. Going into a year before I actually started to like learn how to code and learn how to program because my main motivation was to get a job. It was actually myself and my wife phone Who runs cocoa with me? We're, you know, both working in finance both got laid off, you know, during the economic downturn and, you know, so that there were many, many, many opportunities to, you know, gain employment by learning how to code learning how to program. So we both sat down and took a couple of months and taught ourselves the basics to get into the workforce.
Laurence Bradford 3:23
Yeah, that's I feel like there's a lot of people who turned to coding or technology when they kind of ran options, at least that was certainly that was certainly my case. When I realized the career I thought I wanted, didn't have the opportunity I thought it had. But when you like, if you were called to how did you first even like find out about coding or realize that it could be an option for you and that you could like switch into tech?
Jamal O'Garra 3:47
Yeah, I think I had read an article I think in the times or some publication. I was like, I like to read in general. So I was reading going through with my Flipboard and article came up about like, there's a shortage Software Engineering and web development jobs and that it was sort of point that, you know, employers would hire you, if you can prove that you had the skills. And at that point, I was actually thinking about going to grad school, like, go get an MBA, and try to get back into the workforce that way, that was the Delta traditional path, I guess most of my colleagues and peers who were in finance who have, you know, gotten a go, they were taking that approach. And once I realize I can, you know, go get a decent paying job without having to, you know, get like $20,000 in debt, and lose two years. It's like, go back to school, and not even like, instead of like, you know, the year that you lose, where you have, like, apply, take your GMAT series, that kind of thing. It was like a no brainer, okay, well, I'm like, are you studying for, you know, like graduate school now, so standardized tests to get in but now I can, like, take my same study plan for the GMAT and apply it to like, you know, at that point was Python I was picking up and potentially go out and build a portfolio and get a job.
Jamal O'Garra 4:58
It was like, you know, It was a no brainer. At that point, I can either spend two and a half to three years and, you know, get into a quarter million dollars of debt, or spend a couple of months and potentially get back to working especially when New York was where I'm based out of a startup scene was like really, really big. And really, I guess it was really vibrant. At that point. I think New York was was a second fastest growing tech market at that point in time there, there are plenty of jobs. Everything was right here in my backyard. So like, you didn't really have to, like, tell me what to do was like, it's a matter of like, it's right there in your face. Go for it, do it jobs. It's just me. It just made so much more sense from an economic standpoint.
Laurence Bradford 5:39
Yeah, hundred percent that is again, I was in a very similar situation. I was thinking and going to grad school and I was studying for the GRP and then it just kind of clicked one day I get there multiple forces at play, but I saw the light and I was like, Wait a second. Why am I studying for standardized tests, right could be learning like actual skills I could get paid for within a pretty short time, a few months, I don't have to go back to school don't have to be back in debt. So yeah, hundred percent. Totally, totally with you on that. So when you first started learning, and you said you were with your wife, what were some ways that you learned or like, what were some resources that you turn to?
Jamal O'Garra 6:14
Yeah, there were there were many, many resources. So for anyone who's looking to learn how to code, learn how to program, there's, there's no shortage of resources out there. The issue that we ran into, was that there were too many resources that we had no idea where to start. When I first started, I guess actually the first place I looked, I think I like actually went and bought like a book on C++ or something like that. Okay, Amazon, because I just noticed that coding is a thing I knew, like C++ was a language that was popular, the C++ or Java, I got a C++ book, that didn't really go too well. And I kind of just started looking online to see what options are out there. And I came across Code Academy. So Code Academy was like my first like, real deal. You know, like, I'm going to sit down and learn how to code learn how to program so they had this Python trick That was pretty, pretty straightforward. And I think I went through that entire track in like a week. Like I sat down and I wasn't working, I wasn't working my full time job was like, you know, trying to get a new full time jobs like learning pickup skills. codeacademy had this Python course, like across the course, like, in my mind, I cross the course from doing a week, if I was going to go out and get a job. You know, I listed all my Code Academy badges on my resume and went out, you know, I think I went to like, I think uncute I think was like, in the city. At that point, I was on my resume.
Jamal O'Garra 7:29
And my Code Academy badges have moved on to HTML, CSS, and you know, pretty much got shut down by everybody. But people are like, Oh, how long have you been coding for a goal a whole entire week I finished this whole Code Academy track. I have all these badges. I know, some HTML and CSS and you know, most people weren't really, you know, you know, really jumping to give me a job, right? It is a good thing. And I've definitely was, you know, very, I guess, like overly ambitious to kind of go out after like a week or two of like learning is trying to get a job but that's kind of just me, right. I'm just like, I'm more of a go getter. So I figured, you know, it's a numbers game, someone's gonna give me a shot. Unfortunately, that day, no one did give me a shot. But what I did do was actually makes contact. So I was able to meet folks and keep in touch with people. So that kind of like built my portfolio, learn more and more things, you know, went through more codeacademy lessons, got more badges, but Code Academy was was like I would say, like the, like my entryway into learning. And then as I kind of learned more about the different jobs that were available, the different technologies that were out there, I came across Ruby on Rails, and when the rails was like, the hot technology, it was like the hot thing. So I actually found micro hurdles, Ruby on Rails tutorials, I went through that. There's a guy by the name of Chris Pine had a pretty good book, I think it was called, how to program it was all in Ruby. So I went through the how to program book first because most people were saying you should know Ruby before going into rails. At that point didn't really, I didn't get it. But it makes sense to me now, but I just know. We're going Do Stack Overflow and I guess Quora posts. You know, I just took the advice that the community had and took it took my time, learn Ruby, learn the basics of programming.
Jamal O'Garra 9:09
Laurence Bradford 10:23
Yeah. I was I had myself muted, but I was laughing when you're talking about how you did the one Python track and then you just started looking for a job, but after -
Jamal O'Garra 10:34
Oh man, look at Cody's genius.
Laurence Bradford 10:36
I feel like that's something so many people have to go through like in one way or another where they they make it through like a tutorial or a book or a project and they feel super confident, but then like they hit some other obstacle and they're like, wait, I literally know nothing like you don't even know what you don't know right when you're first starting out because there's just so much to know. But again, I feel like this confidence that you had is very admirable and very unique at the same time, because I Don't know I usually hear the opposite of people that have been learning for like two years and still don't feel like they're ready for a job. So I think in exactly as you said, like the numbers game like I even even though maybe you were a little too early, like that's definitely true though it is. It is a numbers game. If you know what you're doing. You're good at networking on stuff eventually someone's going to like, you know, take a chance on you.
Jamal O'Garra 11:21
Laurence Bradford 11:22
Jamal O'Garra 11:22
You just one shot.
Laurence Bradford 11:24
Yes. Precisely. So, okay, awesome. And so Okay, so looking at I've been looking at your LinkedIn and seeing how you know, of course you got you ended up getting a job as a web developer. And then I see that you worked at General Assembly. So you were in a structure a general assembly, it looks like how did that end up? Like, how'd you get into teaching people?
Jamal O'Garra 11:46
Yes, I guess how I got into teaching was through, I guess a through the code or meetup that uh, my wife Felicia and I run together. So it started out as a study group. So we're kinda like meet at the library, many coffee shops and like try to find we're trying The goal was to find like minded people to like, study with us and learn. But it really turned out to the point where I guess like, we were learning for about like six months at that point, we had people who were like ground zero. So we actually started randomly teaching classes and workshops were like more like informal. Okay, everyone's kind of stuff gone. I don't know how to write a for loop, or what does an object what is an instance versus like a static method or something like that. So we'll kind of like, grab a room. At this point. We're like, actually, we don't need a space at a co working space to work out of kind of like tasty little review sessions and those kinds of studies he was mentioning, there's two classes. So from there, I guess I kind of was I kind of got somewhat known in the New York scene as far as a teaching just through like through the meetup. And then I got connected with like, folks at General Assembly I did some teaching astroturf Institute. I did some teaching for the city of Newark, so I guess they just from running the workshops. Through the coke remita which eventually turn into like little classes. The word kind of got out to those that I taught. And people came. I just came after me.
Laurence Bradford 13:09
Yeah, yeah, no, got it. Okay. I guess I was under the impression for some reason that you were doing the General Assembly teaching before the code crew meet up. And yeah, so for the listeners, I mean, you could explain it better than I can. But you started this group and you guys do workshops, and you still do workshops to this day, correct?
Jamal O'Garra 13:28
That's correct. Yes.
Laurence Bradford 13:30
Yeah. So okay, that's, that's really awesome. You start it with your wife, as you mentioned, which is also really cool. And you guys are still running it together. And it's just a New York, right?
Jamal O'Garra 13:40
Yeah. Just in New York, just in New York.
Laurence Bradford 13:42
Jamal O'Garra 14:12
Jamal O'Garra 14:51
Laurence Bradford 15:52
Yeah, got it. So today in like mid 2017, what do you tell beginners to learn when they ask you?
Jamal O'Garra 16:00
Jamal O'Garra 16:37
Laurence Bradford 17:30
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Laurence Bradford 19:44
Jamal O'Garra 20:14
Jamal O'Garra 22:18
Laurence Bradford 23:27
Jamal O'Garra 24:34
Very important role, because I attend meetups tech events, conferences, you name it as frequently as I can, because it's good for networking. It's good to meet other developers is good to be hiring managers just it's always good to have when you have a career in the field. It's always good to be on the scene and just network to meet as many people as you can, and go into hackathons. Going to meetups, going to tech conferences. has really helped me but it helped me get jobs, it helped me, uh, you know, just have a network of really strong developers that I can reach out to for, like advice and guidance. So I would say that the in person aspect of like technology and a community is like, has been probably the number one key to my success, right.
Jamal O'Garra 25:19
So even things like going to the career fair that I first went to, when I got shut down for a job doing that same fear came back around, you know, a couple of months later, you know, I was able to kind of go there, like, see the same people will show my progress and really show when I was serious, and those folks have become, you know, friends and mentors and maybe potential clients of mine or employer later on down the line. So I would say if you're trying to get into tech, you have to get out of your apartment, your house, your dorm room, if you're in college, or wherever and like really go out there. You want to scene, meet people talk to them, because that's the only way you're going to really get a job or even just like stay up to date on the latest technologies just being out being a living Breathing, person interacting with other people, right? You write code for machines, but you have to get out there and mingle and mix around.
Laurence Bradford 26:08
Yeah, yeah. And I'm curious. I know today you're doing consulting, but you did have some full time jobs in the past. And of course, today you you have, you know, clients and whatnot. I'm Hazara ever been a job that you actually applied to? Or are these all every kind of job and client that you've gotten? Has it been through your network?
Jamal O'Garra 26:28
I would say it's definitely been to my network. Um, I would say the last couple of jobs and full time like a full time roles and consultant roles have come through word of mouth. Or there's someone introduced me to like a co founder who was starting a startup and we needed a lead developer to help get their product off the ground. Or, you know, even like, like some of the clients that I have now were actually from people that I work with in finance, they found that I was doing coding and programming. And, you know, they knew someone who worked at a bank or some financial institution, and Did a developer that knew, you know, particular technology and I was able to, you know, to get interviewed, based off of a very warm introduction. Um, so I would say like, for me personally, most of the opportunities that I get come from, excuse me, come from, you know, my personal network.
Laurence Bradford 27:21
Yeah. 1000 person. I mean, I feel like most, I mean, yeah, yeah, totally. Like, I feel like most opportunities I've have come across in one way or another have somehow tied back into someone, I, someone I know, maybe someone I met a few years ago and it You never know, like, you could lead to an introduction to someone else. The next thing you know, you're working for that company or that company or client and whatnot. One thing that I think is really cool, though, a little bit of a side note is, you mentioned like, of course, used to work in finance. And now a lot of your consulting clients are in FinTech or are in finance in some way. And I think that's really awesome how you kind of like combined like both backgrounds. So it's like you have like A strong understanding of the financial industry and of course technology to and then you kind of like mesh it together to work with those clients.
Jamal O'Garra 28:07
Yeah, definitely. That's definitely the way I look at it is that the world that we live in now, every industry relies on technology. So like, Okay, I'm a developer. You know, my goal is right, my job is to write software. But that software has to be written in some industry. So and I learned this when I first got into into tech those in the startup world is that you have like you said, You have FinTech, you have like fashion tech, you have ad tech. Like is technology being applied to the different industries and the same thing was true for for finance for FinTech, with the startups or for enterprise. For enterprise, enterprise companies. They all need technology. So if you have a particular I guess, like a particular skill set or or expertise in some industry, and you have the technology so you know both the business and you understand the technology behind it, it puts you in a unique position and for me, that's what we're finding so much. Finance was for me, like I worked in finance for almost like, six, seven years I was away for a year, picked up coding and programming and the fact that I really had that rich business knowledge and experience, like a couple of with the programming really made me Excel within the financial services room when it came when it comes to being a software engineer.
Laurence Bradford 29:21
Yeah, yeah, no, it definitely totally makes sense. Um, and just like real quick, how are the clients that you work with? Today? Are they, how long are the projects? Usually? Is that usually pretty pretty long term?
Jamal O'Garra 29:33
It depends. I would say mostly, I'll say about a year to 18 months roughly. Depends on how they run, they run longer. But it really depends on the nature of the project. But the problems I've had have mostly been about a year to about a year and a half on average.
Laurence Bradford 29:46
Okay, cool. Yeah, that Yeah, that makes sense as well. Because they're, it's like more established companies or more established startups generally, right? Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Nice. Nice. So where do you see Going with yourself in the future like, are you going to continue consulting? Are you going to be teaching any more workshops or growing code crew in any way?
Jamal O'Garra 30:07
Yeah, the future really depends. I mean, I definitely will continue to see like, it's like a passion of mine. So I love to do it. I think it helps me stay up to date with the latest technologies helps me practice my public speaking. That's something I definitely will be doing workshops. We have a couple of workshops that we've had over the last couple of weeks. There's definitely some more coming down the pipeline over those couple of months or so as far as a co crew Yeah, I think we I think we were see coconut just just from like, working like being a developer this very little time that you have, especially like if you're in like a like finance No, you tend to work a little less I guess slightly longer hours. So I'm co crew is more like a way for I guess like for myself and my wife Felicia to get Back to the community, we we've been in most people's shoes like most folks, we're learning to code and program now we know how it is and how overwhelming it is to find good resources to go out and find a job. So we just try to make ourselves as available as possible to people in the community who are like trying to learn trying to make this a career.
Jamal O'Garra 31:19
So we do that by giving our classes, our workshops, and some of the army firms that we have. So cofra will continue to definitely be something that's very important to the two of us, and we will continue to like, you know, continue to give workshops, and I guess as far as growing it, you know, we just let it grow organically, right. kofu started as a meetup. When we first launched, we had like, 10 people and we're meeting at a coffee shop. And then now we're like, over 10,000 people, you know, so as it continues to grow, we just let it grow organically, but it's really a vehicle for us to give back to the community that helped us change our lives has given us so much so we want to, you know, help reciprocate that and give back and, you know, just try to help others. People who are going down the same path that we went on a couple years ago.
Laurence Bradford 32:03
Yeah, definitely. That's really that's really awesome. And I love how you kind of like view it as as that and yeah, as a way to give back and I think it Yeah, no, that's like that's super awesome. So yeah, thank you so much, Jamal, for coming on the show and where can people find you online?
Jamal O'Garra 32:19
Thanks for having me. Um, you can find me online pretty much anywhere on any social media platform. Under my handle, jsogarro. That's first initials, middle initial, last name. So, J-S-O-G-A-R-R-O. Follow me on Twitter, follow me on Instagram, Medium, GitHub, LinkedIn. That's my handle for every social media platform you can think of in the world. So that's how you can get in touch with me.
Laurence Bradford 32:45
Awesome. I'm super jealous that you have it for every. Alright, well have a good one. Thank you again for coming on.
Jamal O'Garra 32:52
Yeah. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
Laurence Bradford 33:00
I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Again, the Show Notes for this episode can be found at learntocode with.me/podcast. If you're listening to this episode in the future, simply click the search icon in the upper navigation and type in Jamal's name. It's spelled like J-A-M-A-L. Also, head on over to my website, learntocodewith.me. Regardless, where you can find even more awesome code related content, like my 10 Free Tips for Teaching Yourself How to Code. Thank you so much for listening. I'll see you next week.
- Make sure you go to meetups, hackathons, and tech conferences. It’s important to build a network of peers for advice and help on your journey.
- Loads of opportunities can come from your personal network, including jobs.
- Follow the Twitter accounts of the language you’re interested in; these are great places to find learning materials.
Links and mentions from the episode:
- Code Crew
- The Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl
- Learn to Program by Chris Pine
- General Assembly
- Learn Programming subreddit
- Team Treehouse
- Jamal on Twitter – @jsogarro
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