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Student Spotlight: Harold Torres Marino

By Academy Xi

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From a coding beginner to a hired Software Engineer in just 10 months, Harold’s success story proves that passion and commitment really can trump experience.

When Harold started the Software Engineering: Transform course, his only coding experience was a high school science project. Before graduation, he’d been hired as a Software Engineer. Read about Harold’s Academy Xi journey, which took him from novice to professional specialist in less than a year.

Can you tell us about your studies and career before you joined Academy Xi?

I completed a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering back in Colombia in 2012. After graduating, I worked in quality management systems for about five years and helped companies get their ISO 9001 certifications.

I moved to Australia on a student visa wanting to learn English to a professional level. I finished my English language courses and decided to get a qualification in computer science. Back in Colombia I’d always been interested in studying computer science, but those courses were only available in private universities in my local area and were just too expensive.

In Colombia I’d been working for an international company as a freelance maths tutor. After I moved to Australia, I carried on working for the same company and supplemented my income by picking up some extra private tutoring work. At the same time, I was surfing the internet and discovered Australian coding bootcamps.

I checked out all the different courses and came across Academy Xi. I read some comparison reviews and lots of people commented on how much guidance Academy Xi gave their students. That attracted me to Academy Xi. It was a completely new field and I wanted a course that offered lots of support.

How much experience did you have with coding before the course started?

Honestly, almost none! In real terms, I went into the course as a complete beginner. When I was at the end of high school I completed a final science project and made a calculator using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which involved using some really simple coding skills.

That first interaction with software engineering didn’t give me much experience with coding, but it really caught my attention. That’s the point when I realised I was interested in IT and wanted to learn more about software engineering. It took a few years before I was able to start studying, but when I did the passion was already there.

One of Harold’s ReactJS App projects was a Pokemon matching card game, check it out.

If you picked one highlight of the course, what would it be?

For me, the unlimited one-on-one mentor sessions were one of the stand out features. The advice I received in my conversations with Sha was just as important as the course content. He gave me all kinds of tips based on his professional experience. Sha was really patient, especially at the beginning, because I had a lot of questions. Coding was new and at times I did feel a little bit lost. Those sessions felt like a really safe environment and Sha always explained everything in a very calm, polite and understanding way.

Sha also suggested doing extra research on aspects of software engineering that weren’t covered in the course itself, because he knew I’d need to understand them when I started working. For instance, he recommended understanding how projects are completed by agile teams, which is something I’m now doing regularly. 

Sha didn’t limit the scope of our conversations – we could talk about anything related to a career in software engineering, as well as all the technical details.

I couldn't have found a better mentor. Those one-on-one sessions with Sha were invaluable. Even when it came to applying for jobs and interviews, Sha gave me all the advice I needed. He wasn’t just an instructor, he really was a mentor.

Harold Torres Marino

How did you find learning Software Engineering?

I realised early in the course that if you want to learn how to code, it’s not enough to just read the course material and attend the live classes. Even if you think you’ve understood a skill you’ve been taught in a class, it’s when you actually start programming and building something that you learn.

I completed five projects throughout the course, which is when I really developed my coding skills. I built a platform that had all the latest information for the European soccer leagues, and a web scraping app that took all the ratings on IMDB and generated different ‘greatest ever movies’ lists.

For me, the best project was creating a Pokemon card matching game, which was featured on the Academy Xi website. My final project was a full-stack React and Rails app. It connects different people who want to make new friends based on their common likes. For that final project I applied all the tools and tech stack I learned throughout the course.

After every class we had a live coding lab, which meant I could put what I’d learned into practice straight away. It gave us all the chance to learn by doing, which definitely suited me. The labs, projects and my time with Sha really helped me figure out exactly what it takes to be a software engineer.

How did you find studying online?

My prior experience with online learning was with very short courses, which took about a month to complete. The Academy Xi course was 100% remote and lasted ten months, but the whole process went very smoothly. I felt really comfortable in an online learning environment.

If I had to choose in the future, I’d definitely pick a remote course. There’s a bit of a trade – you lose a little of the interactivity that comes with meeting in a place face-to-face, but you get the convenience of being able to study anywhere without needing to travel.

I was still working as a maths tutor throughout the course, and even took on some extra work as a COVID-19 sanitizer in the city, which kept me pretty busy during the day.

Without the flexibility of learning remotely, I just wouldn’t have been able to complete the certification. For me, studying online was a perfect fit.

Harold Torres Marino

How did you find your new role?

I started applying for positions when we were waiting to start the client project. For two applications, I was narrowed down to the stage of technical interviews.  

When it came to telling the interviewers about my skills, the practical projects were so important. I didn’t have any professional experience before the course, but having a portfolio of work enabled me to say “this is what I can do, and here’s the end product”. 

Sha gave me tips on what was likely to come up in the interviews and told me to talk confidently about things, even if I wasn’t totally sure. There were coding challenges and Sha explained that I didn’t necessarily have to solve them. What’s more important is to actively communicate, tell the interviewers exactly what you’re doing and demonstrate good soft skills. 

I also had ‘take home’ coding challenges, which took me anything from a day to four days to complete. They let me choose my own stack and I picked React for the front-end and Ruby on Rails for the back-end, which I’d specialised in throughout the course.

When the interview processes were completed, before I’d even graduated I had two job offers. Both offers were made in the space of two hours! That really helped when it came to negotiating my salary.

Harold Torres Marino

Honestly, it did feel like I was in the right place at the right time, but I also made my own luck. I turned down an offer from a tech start-up and accepted my role with Lexicon.

What are you doing with Lexicon?

Lexicon is a scale-up with about 150 employees and I’m currently part of their new website cross-functional team. It’s an exciting time to join the company – they earned an award in LinkedIn’s top 25 start-ups 2021. The interview process took about ten days and gave me a good sense of the company culture. I met the founder and engineering manager and they explained the vision and long-term goals and I immediately liked the vibe. Throughout the interviews, it was the role I had my heart set on. 

I feel very lucky to be doing what I am. It’s given me the chance to work in agile teams, and I love the fast pace of the projects. Being a full-time software engineer is really satisfying. I’m the kind of person that loves to solve a problem. When you’re programming, you fix something, and then immediately fix something else. Honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored with my work. 

When I was working in quality management, I met amazing people and had incredible employers but I found myself waiting for the day to end. When I’m coding, time absolutely flies by. Plus, there’s always new tech and software to work with, and plenty of chances to evolve what you’re doing.

I feel like I’ve started a career for life, and I’m really grateful to Academy Xi for helping me break into it. For anyone who wants to become a programmer, I would definitely recommend the Software Engineering: Transform course.

I’m living proof that if you’re dedicated, even a complete beginner can quickly find their place in the industry.

Harold Torres Marino

If you’re ready to redefine your career and make waves in the tech space just like Harold, check out our Software Engineering courses.

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