Jackson grew up in Bagley, AL. He graduated from UAB in 2015 with a B.S. in Physics. Recently, he was a graduate from Birmingham’s first software developer bootcamp: Depot/U. We sat down with Clark Kent, er, Jackson to learn more about his experience in this new program.
Jackson: I’ve always been interested in learning various programming languages. To do that, I wanted to create personal projects that I could tackle – each one testing various coding concepts. I started with web development, specifically front-end engineering, because it seemed to be where analytical, algorithmic thinking intersected with the more abstract and aesthetic nature of design. I dove head-first into building a mobile website for Motus Motorcycles (a Birmingham startup that began at the Innovation Depot), learning as I went. I worked for about a solid week on the project before I realized I never once felt tired from the work. I was working for hours on end, and I was loving every minute of it. I couldn’t get enough. That’s when it dawned on me that I’d discovered something that could really be great. Coincidentally, around the same time, I ran across a Birmingham Business Journal article about Depot/U that caught my attention.
I was about to start my PhD in Physics at UAB when Depot/U began. I had to make a decision between a graduate degree and this software development bootcamp, and it wasn’t an easy decision. Both, for various reasons, had their own merits that helped continue my education and advance my career, but I had something telling me to pursue this bootcamp despite having no idea how it was going to pan out. After all, it was the first course they’d ever done, I had no previous association with Platypi (or the Innovation Depot, for that matter), and there were no metrics or results they could show that would convince me they had any merit. It was the road less traveled.
I went through all the scenarios and analyzed it (and over-analyzed it) until my head was spinning. Despite the risks and the uncertainties, my gut was telling me it was the right decision for me. Something was telling me to jump, so I did. I discussed it with Motus, and they were very supportive – especially if it was something I really wanted to do. As an Innovation Depot graduate themselves, they understand what it means to take risks and follow your gut to pursue your dreams. I couldn’t be more thankful for their support. So I attended the bootcamp, and I gave it 110 percent. It was the right decision for me at the time, and the end-result was everything I could have hoped for and more.
Jackson: Hmm, that’s a tough one. Personally, I really enjoyed the program as a whole, and it’s very difficult to pinpoint one thing that stood out as my favorite. With that being said, I think the one thing that edges out everything else as my favorite part of Depot/U was the fact that it’s at the Innovation Depot.
It’s truly an amazing place, and I believe it’s at the heart of Birmingham’s current renaissance. I walked through the front doors every day eager to make the most of myself and my work, and part of that was certainly due to the environment and atmosphere the Depot provides. It’s infectious, and I want to be a part of it as long as I possibly can.
Kathleen: It certainly is a magical place. We definitely are drinking our own kool-aid here. So now we know what you love about it all…but tell us more: what was most challenging?
Jackson: The most challenging thing about Depot/U was definitely the time commitment necessary to really succeed (and excel) in the program. Most of my cohort spent 50 hours a week working through the projects in an attempt to learn as much as we possibly could. Some of us spent even more time than that. It was necessary in order to understand and retain all of the information that was being thrown at you in this accelerated environment. It’s funny – the night before the bootcamp started, our instructor sent out a final to-do list with a comic strip attached. The comic was of a student approaching a professor asking for help, and it resulted with the student being washed away by a fire hydrant by the amount of information he was given. That summarizes Depot/U pretty well.
Kathleen: What are you doing now?
Jackson: I’m a Front-End Engineer and ‘in-house entrepreneur’ with BBVA Compass. I’m building apps within the bank with some pretty cool, cutting-edge technologies, and I’m also prototyping new concepts for the bank that could eventually move into pilot programs. Meanwhile, in my spare time, I’m using my newfound front-end engineering skills to continue work on freelance projects that interest me and satiate my entrepreneurial inclinations. I’m really looking forward to being a part of (and contributing to) the tech scene in Birmingham.