Meet a maker: Matt Vleming, Part 2

Welcome back for part 2 of our interview with Matt Vleming. A graduate of our first Web Development cohort in 2013, he currently works as a back-end web developer at Shopify.

Part 1 covered his education experiences pre-Bitmaker and his decision to join. In this final instalment, Matt discusses his time at Bitmaker more thoroughly and what it’s been like to join Shopify’s team.

Q: You always seemed to be looking for something different out of education before Bitmaker. Going into the bootcamp, what were your initial impressions?

Matt: Since I was a part of the first cohort at Bitmaker, there wasn’t anyone to ask about the course – I wasn’t sure what to expect. Right out of the gate, I was amazed by how different it felt. I picked up the material, and I absorbed it. I didn’t feel like I was working!

Learning content at Bitmaker brought up a feeling of like, ‘Man, that’s cool’. And this creates a momentum. ‘If I can do that...can I do this?’ I would learn something new, and then be teaching it to someone else that same day.

This was a dramatic difference from how I felt during high school and college. The way learning is framed in those contexts is more about mustering the willpower and determination to persevere, trying to get through the boredom.

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What was the learning environment like?

Every day I was surrounded by peers who want to learn just as much as I do. The environment is the biggest reason I succeeded in the course. That includes the curriculum, the peers, the instructors, the immersiveness.

In high school, you compare yourself with others, particularly with grades. Bitmaker is not competitive, it’s co-operative. You’re all working toward the same goal after the program. In high school you have numbers in the back of your mind about admittance numbers for top schools. This is isolating.

Socially, you don’t connect as easily with peers when you are taking multiple classes; taking the course at Bitmaker meant spending eight or nine hours per day with the same people. You get closer quickly, and you find those around you to help you out with topics you’re unsure of.

What were you looking for from your first jobs after the course?

My first job after the course was with Bitmaker, assisting with the build of its first student platform. Afterwards I was interested in looking for experience in a larger company – particularly in knowing what it’s like to work somewhere where the revenues are high.

I had a lot of exposure to Shopify before working there, and much of my preconceived notions were confirmed during the interview process. Working on a team with a good culture is super important to me, and Shopify offers this. At a larger company there are so many more people, and you’re not the only one working on something.

On the bigger team at Shopify, do you find yourself learning on the job? What are the expectations?

My learning experiences at work are very similar to how they were during the course. There are times I stumble across something I don’t know how to do, and it’s important to know how to learn the new material. You discern what you’re not sure of, what is required to know, and what will be needed next.

Because of Shopify’s large and growing size, there’s an opportunity for me to focus on more advanced stuff. I can work with and learn more about operations, as well as the resiliency and infrastructure of servers and how to manage them.

Shopify’s work culture encourages learning. Sometime this takes place in the form of speaking with my manager, and expressing that there’s another area of topic that I’m interested in. Management can also help you concentrate on your own intensive learning in a week-long bootcamp style.

Staying on the topic of learning strategy, you were blogging during the course. We now encourage students to do that. How did this fit into your personal education?

Writing out the day’s learning helped me reflect on and organize what I needed to better understand in the course. Re-explaining what was taught earlier quickly highlighted where the gaps laid in my knowledge. Once you know what you need to improve upon, you have a direction for where to head next.

One of my blog posts centred on the architecture of MVC model controllers. I spent several hours on it before realizing I had it completely wrong and needed to rewrite my explanation. Having not written out my initial understanding of the content, I may not have caught my error. I definitely did not do these types of things in my other educational scenarios.

Acquiring new methodology is something you’ve touched on throughout discussing Bitmaker. How would you sum up your reflections on “learning to learn”?

During the course you learn when the best time is to seek help from TAs and instructors – and what is the best to question to ask. I don’t mean when is the ideal time in the day to approach a TA – if you don’t know how to do something, that’s the best time to accelerate your learning skills while trying to come up with an answer on your own first.

The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know. That feeling of discomfort from not knowing something, you have to learn how to deal with it. There’s a momentum that comes from that feeling, and it creates a drive to grab onto more.


Missed Part 1? Check out our last blog post exploring Matt's reasons for choosing Bitmaker.