A Chat with Lighting Electrician Turned Software Engineer Byron Miller

A lighting electrician turned software engineer, Byron Miller rebooted his career by attending the Coding Boot Camp at UNC Charlotte. Get a sneak peek at what drew him in—and the true value he got from the three-month program. 

How did you get interested in coding?

I did a little bit of coding BASIC in seventh grade—I didn’t like it at all. But I found that over time…I was starting to program my life. My calendars became more complex—then I turned to digital calendars. I looked at different types of to-do apps, trying to automate things to make life easier.

My job at the time involved programming in a fun way with lighting consoles, so I was already programming. As I was considering a career change, I took another look at HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and realized I think I like this. So I explored some courses.

What was your instructor like?

Jeff Hoffman taught me to think in terms of programming—and how to problem solve using code. He’s an excellent teacher. I was studying programming on my own for about three years before I took the plunge. 

He would teach me something in 15 minutes that I used to bang my head against the wall about for hours. 

Tell me more about the projects you did at the boot camp.

There were three.

The first project was Recipeciprocity—reciprocity and recipe—an online community around cooking. Users come to Recipeciprocity and put their recipes in the community forum. In addition, just press a button and have the selected recipe read out loud to you while cooking. 

The second project was called COL-Edge: a play on the word college and an acronym for “cost of living.” If you’re an 18-year-old going to college, you’re not truly considering the kind of debt you’re going to accrue during such a great time of life. School costs anywhere between $40,000 to $60,000 per year. The website asks questions to help you determine if the tuition is realistic. What major do you want to study? Where do you want to live afterwards? 

We present salary estimates for what the user might make at the beginning of their career, based on what they studied—and project a likely mid-career salary. We used the compensation for a typical New York teacher as the reference for a mid-range income. 

Our third project was a beast. It was called L.I.S.A. Business Intelligence. We used algorithms to produce engagement statistics for business use to make recommendations concerning what should be paid for social media marketing campaigns.

We used technologies that were not taught in class. We utilized a GraphQL integrated stack including Apollo server, Prisma ORM and Prisma’s cloud database. On the front end, we used Ant-Design’s framework on top of ReactJS and NextJS to help tie it all together. 

What are some soft skills you learned?

It may be cliché to say, but communication is paramount. Concise information is golden. There are many nooks and crannies that you can fall into if you spend time speaking in unnecessary detail. We used Slack extensively to keep things succinct

How did career services help you?

Alisha was very helpful. I appreciated that she helped me as opposed to try to control what I did. She took my specific questions about cover letters and interviews and integrated them with the path I had already begun.

Most of our communication was around the interview process: how to discern the nuances involved in certain interactions, how to engage about specifics relating to salary, how to weather less-than-helpful recruiters—including one who disappeared during a crucial moment in the interviewing process. 

Alisha helped me calm down and think. I appreciated our conversations. She was even kind enough to call me back about the disappearing recruiter. That was not a scheduled call, and I was very grateful to speak with her to formulate a game plan for the unexpected trouble.

What have you been doing since graduation?

I was hired to be a software engineer at a Fortune 40 company to become the subject matter expert for Twilio and LivePerson integrations on the bot team.

I will also, in time, own our team’s DevOp-related tasks to manage continuous integration/continuous delivery. In the future, I may be looking at DevOps/DevSecOps as a career path. 

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