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Academy Xi Blog

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.

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Rati Marwah

By Academy Xi

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Seeking more creativity and inspiration, Rati retrained with Academy Xi and landed the perfect Digital Marketing role.

After a diverse career focused on customer service, Rati decided to specialise in Digital Marketing. Find out how the Digital Marketing: Transform course helped Rati launch a new career in a field that ignites her passions.

What led you to retrain in Digital Marketing?

I will give it to the pandemic! I was working from home and had lots of time on my hands. It gave me the perfect conditions to pivot in my career. I studied travel and tourism management at university about 15 years ago, but have worked in unrelated industries since. My roles have mostly been focused on customer service, with Telstra and Energy Australia.

I also ran my own business for two years – a cafe called Jamaica Blue. I had a four year old kid and was running a cafe that was open over the weekends, so I decided to sell it. I was fortunate enough to land a job with World Vision Australia just two weeks after the business sold.

After three years of continuing my journey with World Vision, my work became a bit repetitive. I loved World Vision’s cause and wanted to stay with the organisation. There were lots of secondments coming up, but you needed to have the right skills to get into a different department.

I wanted to become a specialist in a particular area and, luckily, had the time to develop a new skill-set. I saw the World Vision marketing department creating these amazing campaigns, which really inspired me. Plus, some of my friends have a marketing background and they really love their work. That’s when I decided to get ready for the opportunities at World Vision and retrain as a Digital Marketer.

Why did you choose to study with Academy Xi?

I wanted a flexible course because my son was learning from home and I was working full-time remotely. The Academy Xi Digital Marketing: Transform course seemed a good fit, but I only had three weeks to decide before the enrolment closed. Olivia Bowden from Academy Xi was really generous with her time and guided me through the modules and content. Olivia encouraged me to look at other courses and weigh-up my options.

Ultimately, I felt like none of the other courses were offering what Olivia described. I wanted the exposure of working on live client projects and the chance to develop hands-on skills. That really pushed me to choose Academy Xi. I’m so glad I did, because the course helped me get to where I am today.

What were your initial experiences of the course?

Before the Transform course started I completed the Digital Marketing: Foundations course, which helped me grasp the basic principles of marketing. I began with an understanding of what goes into delivering a marketing campaign, how you deal with stakeholders and some of the tools marketers use. I’m the kind of person that likes to prepare, so having that foundational knowledge was really important.

The cafe was a franchise and the marketing materials were provided, but as an owner I picked what we used based on the business’s demographic. I’d had a bit of marketing exposure, but the early phases of the course were my first deep dive into Digital Marketing theory. 

I really related to marketing from the outset. For me, marketing is an intersection of different passions. It allows me to be resourceful, strategic and creative, and saves me from the repetitive work that goes into a lot of 9-5 jobs.

What projects did you work on?

Academy Xi has a great strategy of easing you into the live client projects by having you complete a personal project while you’re learning the theory. You’re given four months to choose a brand, perform competitor analysis and present a complete strategy to the cohort. It means you go into the live client projects well and truly prepared.

The cohort then worked on two live client projects. The first was for a small family business, and we had to create their whole social media campaign. The second was for a business travel platform called Nutrip, and we had to devise their end-to-end marketing strategy.

The beauty of working in teams is that everyone contributes their expertise, so you learn from one another. That prepared me for the marketing industry, where you have to be able to work with people with different ideas and approaches.

Rati Marwah

What aspects of the course did you enjoy the most?

Presenting the projects was a test, but really satisfying. I presented the first client project as part of a team and was asked to pick a section of the presentation that suited my expertise. For the second client project, I was asked to present a section that I found challenging, but had the guidance of my mentor.

I’m not a completely extroverted person, so if I had realised in advance the course entailed so much presenting, I might not have enrolled! It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was very nervous before my first presentation, but apparently it didn’t show. Everyone was really impressed by my contribution.

Discussing aspects of marketing that you’re less comfortable with really builds your confidence. People develop when they’re thrown in the deep end, so I’m really glad the course pushed me out of my comfort zone.

How did you find the online learning experience?

Even though the course was completed remotely, the cohort worked really efficiently in online teams, and we developed some strong friendships. A coursemate visited Melbourne in December and we met up for lunch, which was a lovely experience.

The flexibility of learning online meant I could juggle my existing role with my studies. We had our classes every Monday evening and there were fixed deadlines for coursework submissions and presentations. I’m definitely somebody who likes a deadline to stay on track.

Rati Marwah

It places you under pressure for a while, but then the work is done and you can move on. I wanted to complete the course and transition into a new career as quickly as possible.

How did your mentor prepare you for the industry?

Jillian Bowen was my mentor, and she really helped me with every little thing that I was struggling with. In the end, I cruised through! 

As well as helping me grasp the theory, Jillian gave me the direction I needed as an aspiring marketer. I had a one-on-one with Jillian and told her that I saw myself working in the marketing department for World Vision. Even though it was only the start of the course, Jillian set me the challenge of meeting at least five World Vision people involved in marketing by the end of that month. 

I made lots of connections, including Graham, who was happy for me to shadow him for two hours a week while I completed the course. Graham became another mentor – he identified my passion for marketing, could tell that I wanted a lifelong career, and was very generous with his time.  

Shadowing Graham gave me the chance to work on a World Vision campaign for a corporate partner. I didn’t get involved with the overall strategy, but had lots of experience working with stakeholders. It helped me understand exactly how campaigns are planned and executed from start to finish. As everyone says, you learn 80% by putting theory into practice. I’m so grateful that Jillian encouraged me to start networking early, because I made the connections that helped me move into the industry.

How did you land your new role with World Vision Australia?

A few roles became available within the organisation while I was completing the course and I immediately started applying. I had my first interview as we were preparing to present to the first client. I had nothing to lose and knew the interviews were only going to give me exposure. They familiarised me with the kinds of questions that are asked and left me better prepared for the interviews that followed.

I didn’t get a new role straight away, but I stayed patient. By the end of the course, I had my certificate, all my projects to showcase and the experience of presentations and interviews. I had everything I needed and was finally able to land the World Vision marketing role I was after.

Rati Marwah

What does your new role entail?

I’m coordinating all of my lead’s work. She’s responsible for planning campaign strategies and works on about five projects at any given time, which involves a tremendous amount of work. A big part of my role is linking-up the contributions of lots of different teams. I create timelines and make sure all the deadlines are met so the campaigns go live on schedule. It’s a lot of work, but I’m really enjoying it.

There’s lots to learn in my new role and I’m really excited about what the future holds. In the short term, I want to gather as much understanding as possible and perform at a really high level in my role. In a few years time, I’d like to be running my own campaigns from start to finish. For now, it’s all about learning and putting 100% effort in.

Finally, would you recommend Academy Xi?

Yes, I’ve already recommended Academy Xi to a lot of my friends! A good friend of mine recently finished the Graphic Design course, which she found searching online before I had the chance to suggest Academy Xi. You must be doing a great job with SEO. When I searched for Digital Marketing courses, Academy Xi was at the top of the rankings.

For anyone keen to change careers and grow as a person, I would definitely recommend taking an Academy Xi course. Academy Xi helped me develop a passion for Digital Marketing and has given me the head start I needed to break into the industry. I came into the course seeking a new sense of direction in my career and by the time I graduated, I had it. I really owe that to Academy Xi.

Webinar - November - Product Management is Growing. Fast.

Academy Xi Webinars

Product management is growing. Fast.

By Academy Xi

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The average salary of a Product Manager is $117,849 – one of the highest paid tech roles in Australia (Source: Indeed, 2021)

As companies need to reinvent themselves digitally, Product Management continues to move towards the centre of business strategy. Join our panel of leading product managers where we will discuss why Product Management is having a moment right now and what lies ahead.

Join our speakers: 

  • La’i Dowsett – Senior Consultant – Product Development (previously Tesla & Apple)
  • Jo Pforr – Product Lead, Sustainable Innovation, PwC
  • Luke Hymers – Chief of Staff to CEO, Baraja

In this video, you’ll learn:

  • Tips for leading digital product and strategy.
  • Why product has become ‘business critical’ for many organisations.
  • What the common pathways are to working in product.
 
Want to keep up to date with the latest webinars from Academy Xi? Follow us here on LinkedIn.

Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Brad Cluff

By Academy Xi

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Brad chats to us about the move back to his hometown and how studying Digital Marketing transformed the bottom line of his family’s hospitality business – with numbers up by 70%.

In 1995, Brad’s parents purchased an old school house at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Wallerawang NSW and transformed it into a now thriving hospitality business, Black Gold Motel. Over the years the venture has grown considerably to include a restaurant and conference centre and in 2020, Brad and his partner decided to make the move with their young children from their home in Sydney to help support the family enterprise.

Can you tell us a bit about the family business?

It was originally the Old Wallerawang school, built back in 1881, it has been here forever. My dad and grandfather and I were all students here over the years and I was school captain in year 6, but by then the school had moved into a new building. 

Dad is building 30 more units at the moment for the motel. I now work in a room which was my kindergarten classroom back in the day, which is weird but great.

What was happening in your life before studying at Xi?

I had finished my previous career in I.T in January 2020 and joined hospitality at an interesting time for the whole world – just as we had made the move to Lithgow, COVID hit.

In addition to the hotel, we have a restaurant with five chefs and nine apprentices, a busy little restaurant, so we went from bustling to shut down within three weeks of having moved up here.

I had been studying social media through a few influencers and I had a couple of my own businesses on the side but it wasn’t until I helped out a mate’s charity called ‘Walk ‘n Talk for Life’ with an event that I realised the power of digital marketing. There are issues with suicide in Lithgow and this charity does a lot to support people – I put together an event for them using social media. I created it out of nothing and 650 people showed up, in the snow. I wasn’t a marketer and this was possible. It blew my mind.

When I moved up here I was feeling that digital marketing was what I needed to do for the family business. I wasn’t particularly good at it, but decided to start building it up. 

With COVID we needed to keep people employed. To give them a purpose. We did food deliveries and I had to work out how to market that. We had a monopoly in the area and started from there – just organic, nothing paid and I started learning how to word things, focusing on supporting local and buying local, took lots of photos of our staff and told a story with that. 

How did you come to study Digital Marketing at Xi?

I felt like I was getting a grasp on social media and digital marketing on my own, but I was also very aware that I was making it up as I went along. I felt some actual training was the right way to go, to get some solid structure and direction.

I started looking into training options and knew that I really needed flexibility as I’ve got two young kids and I work 80 hours a week. There were a few options I was considering for training, but they didn’t seem to feel right and fit my learning style. 

I got chatting with the course advisors at Academy Xi, spoke with Olivia, she was great and talked me through it – she’d just completed the training herself, so that was a huge help to be able to discuss the course with someone who had experienced it first hand.

Have there been any training highlights for you so far?

A highlight was definitely my mentor, Jillian. I’ve done a lot of different training and knowing this was for my family business I was really engaged. Jillian was great to take specific business challenges too, not just discussing course content. I could contact her directly to bounce ideas off in the digital marketing space – she was very helpful. 

The content has been great too. It has been challenging, but totally worth it. Because of my search engine optimisation (SEO) awareness that I gained through the course I’m also able to talk to SEO specialists and I know if they’re doing their job properly and who to hire. Gillian helped advise on this too. It has empowered me with an understanding that I didn’t have before. 

“I chose to study Digital Marketing with Academy Xi to help my family business to thrive. The training has paid for itself already.”

Are you implementing your learning for your business marketing as you study?

I have used our business as my case study within the training, so I could implement it all as I have been learning, which is great. The training has been super practical, just what I needed.

Having a strategy has been the biggest thing. I didn’t have one before. We’ve got a conference and training set up here with a range of rooms we can use. I’m trying to build up a strategy around that so we can get a return on investment quickly. 

Before the course I wouldn’t have known how to set up a strategy. To know who to target, how and why, the buyer persona and how to write for that audience. Previously I was kind of doing it all intuitively, but didn’t have the bigger picture and framework to guide me.

“While doing the course, I’ve been implementing website changes and putting my digital marketing strategy into action. Our motel is up on average 70% growth in only one year. The restaurant revenue has also increased by 70%. 

Weekend motel bookings are up by at least 50% compared to the previous year. We are getting 60-70% occupancy on the weekends now, whereas before we were getting around 10%. The impacts from the digital marketing changes on the bottom line of the business have been huge.”

We haven’t heard the phone ring since we made the changes to the website because it has taken the pressure off the front reception desk, it’s all automated now. We have a restaurant booking system set up too, so bookings just turn up, they flow through to our point of sale system. 

Being able to measure that, it’s awesome. My parents didn’t have much faith in the tech side of things before, but now that they’ve seen the huge impact this has all had on the bottom line of the business, they’re happy for me to go ahead and do it – they can see the amazing outcomes it is continuing to make. We can see it’s working.

Would you recommend others who run their own businesses to do this course with Academy Xi?

Absolutely – I’ve already sent three business owners I know to check out Digital Marketing training at Academy Xi and I recommend it to anyone who needs digital marketing in their business, which let’s face it, is nearly every business. 

For small business owners to get their head into it and to understand digital marketing, whether they want to actually do it themselves or not, I totally recommend this training. It has been so helpful.

Planning a visit to Wallerawang? 

Want to ramp up your digital marketing efforts quickly, like Brad did? Check out Academy Xi’s Digital Marketing: Elevate and Digital Marketing: Transform courses.

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