We're kicking off our series of alumni interviews with a student who was there at the very beginning, Matt Vleming. He attended Bitmaker's very first full-time Web Development cohort in early 2013. After, he joined our team for a bit and worked on the initial version of our student platform.
Matt currently works as a back-end web developer at Shopify in its rapidly growing Toronto office.
Q: Let's start from the beginning. What were you doing before Bitmaker?
Matt: Before Bitmaker I was learning computer programming at Sheridan College. I finished one semester, from September to January, where I learned the fundamentals of Java and nothing about web development. This was a two-year diploma, but I was in a 16-month fast-track program that went through the summer.
Class was only a few hours per week and my peers seemed like they weren't too interested in programming – they were just there because they didn't know what they wanted to do yet. It wasn't the type of environment I wanted.
My time in college was mostly spent looking for alternatives to college because I was unhappy there. I wanted a no-bullshit environment, where I was going to be able to get what I wanted.
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Why had you picked learning computer programming at college in the first place?
Before Sheridan, I dabbled a bit with Codecademy in my last year of high school. I saw a lot of people make cool things with programming, while making good money.
If making money was important to you, why study programming and not medicine or other professions like that?
My impression of medicine is that it requires a formal academic route with something like 8 years of study. Really though, I didn't have an interest in becoming a doctor or the like. I had an app idea at the time, but I didn't know what it would take to make that app.
I picked college over university because I was stubborn. In high school even, I was enamored with the idea of making things – and making money – not the idea of completing assignments. I wanted to be in the real world, not some social setting I knew I wouldn't enjoy.
I was being asked to pay $10,000 a year for four years, to not even get to a job I liked. This seemed like a really stupid way to get to what I wanted.
It sounds like you weren't even that interested in the education mentality of high school then, right?
In high school I would read about whatever I found really interesting. I remember reading a book I thought was really cool called The Code Book, which was about cryptography. At the same time, I was in a math class learning algebra, and I would think how much more I'd like to learn how to do this cool cryptography stuff than these more impractical exercises we were doing.
School has a strict structure. You spend time reverse engineering how to get an "A" – by guessing the questions on a test or memorizing a textbook. Whereas, on the side, I was finding my passion for learning and getting this strong curiosity for things I was reading about.
Jumping back to the future, you're in college at Sheridan trying to get a more practical education, but you weren't happy and were looking for alternatives. What did you see in Bitmaker?
The curriculum of the program I was in seemed to be aligned for enterprise programming – the Java stuff I mentioned earlier. It wasn't about how to make the apps I wanted to make.
When I was looking for alternatives to Sheridan, I read an issue of Wired that mentioned Y Combinator and Hacker News. I followed that website for a while and heard about all the bootcamps in San Francisco.
It wasn't really feasible for me to go to San Francisco, so it was exciting to find Bitmaker in Toronto. While the bootcamp is still expensive, I looked at it as an investment. I read about the potential of working in the tech field and knew that the tuition would pay for itself once I got a job and started working.
I applied with two goals – to learn how to build a web application and to be able to make money with those skills. I feel Bitmaker helped me achieve those goals.
Check out Part 2 of the interview with Matt covering his time in the course and his career since.