Kevin SmithWeb Software Engineer

Starting the Journey

On March 30th I found out my life would officially be changing course from my previous path. That was the day I heard from Hack Reactor about my acceptance into their very intense program for creating software engineers over the span of only 12 weeks.

Let’s back up to the end of November 2012. I had decided that I no longer wanted to pursue a sales or purchasing career at the company I had worked at for the last 4 years, My time there had been amazing, and I was given the opportunity to lean a lot of new skills by advancing through different departments. However, I was spending more and more of my free time building websites and adding new features to sites I had built over the last few years, and I had decided to become a web devloper/engineer.

After leaving SoftwareMedia, I focused 100% of my energy towards learning web development technologies, best practices, and basic design techniques. I bought books as entry-level primers, then moved on to video learning through sites like Team Treehouse. The curriculum at Treehouse is perfect for anyone looking to start building their first website right away. The guided projects hold your hand through the steps required to get your first site launched. You can then move onto building more complicated sites using responsive CSS, interactivity with JavaScript, and even using frameworks like Ruby on Rails.

My main learning environment for techniques outside of the books and online videos was trial and error with a site my wife and I had started in 2008 called Ski Town Restaurants. Using techniques I was learning for writing HTML, CSS, and PHP, I would decide to build a feature, spend a few hours on Google trying to figure out how to begin, then hacking away at the code until it worked.

I had also begun building websites for friends to put my newly learned skills into practice, and to force myself to problem-solve on the fly. This worked great to expand my knowledge further and to put into practice everything I was reading about online. You can check out Northwest Represents and the wedding website of Janine Reinhart to see what I’ve been working on the last couple of months. Both are fairly simple website based on a WordPress back end, but it was good to get experience with working with clients that have their own expectations and design requirements. It was also eye-opening to see what the feedback/revision cycle is like.

Learning online by yourself can definitely have its challenges. The shear size of all the information online about learning web development is especially daunting. It is hard to figure out what to focus on and what a good path through all of the material looks like. I started doing research around going back to a traditional university or maybe a web-specific four year program, but neither option was appealing because of the time commitment required.

I was listening to a podcast on the 5by5 network one day and they were interviewing a student from Dev Bootcamp, who was talking about their 10-week program for Ruby on Rails. I did some research, and realized that there were many other schools offering similar bootcamp-style learning experiences for learning how to program, in a variety of languages. I spent the next week filling out applications and doing Skype interviews for a few different schools, including: Dev Bootcamp, Hack Reactor, Launch Academy, and App Academy. The entrance process for Hack Reactor was especially tough, with an online application, a first Skype interview, followed by an online class, a technical interview, and finally a take-home JavaScript project.

The Hack Reactor entrance project was the first time I had written any real application in JavaScript, and it was a very tough undertaking. I spent about 30 hours on it over 3 days, which included tons of online research. The goal of the project was to re-create a basic Twitter feed using tweets generated by Parse, and accessed through their API. It was also my first  introduction to writing jQuery from scratch. I completed the project and submitted it to Hack Reactor, feeling good about what I had learned and about my chances of being accepted.

After hearing back from all of these schools, I ended up deciding to attend Hack Reactor. Their program of having class 6 days a week, 11 hours per day, for 12 weeks included way more classroom time than any of it’s competitors. My goal is to become as much of a full-stack developer as I can, and that means being to exposed to more than just Ruby and Rails like most of the other schools. Hack Reactor focuses on JavaScript to teach the basics of programming and computer science, and then branches out into Git, Backbone.js, Node.js, Ruby and Rails, jQuery, TDD with Jasmine, and much more. One of the founders of Hack Reactor, Shawn Drost, had a great post about the future of JavaScript and the goals of Hack Reactor, if you are interested in learning more:

I am heading to SF next week to check out some housing options, and then I’ll be going back on the 24th to get moved in before class starts on the 26th. This blog will chronicle my time at Hack Reactor, and all of the concepts I’ll be learning along the way.


  1. Andre
    May 15, 2013

    Kev, right on man!

  2. John
    November 26, 2013

    Hi Kevin:
    Really appreciate your blog and experience at Hack Reactor. Tell, how have things worked out for you? Was it worth it? Do you feel adequately equipped for your current job?

    I”m a complete programming newb, starting my search for a good school around the same time you started looking in 2012. I’m taking an evening js course at a local city college to get my feet wet [I work fulltime during the day and am 40 years old.] I also started the online video courses at

    Everything is a bit overwhelming right now, but I’m amazed I’m pulling off very small project at my evening class.Takes me all week to get it, but oh well. My only HTML/CSS training was my self-training by reading the HeadFirst HTML/CSS book.

    Besides, what I’m doing, any helpful suggestions you may have? It’s time for a career change for me. I would love to go to Hack Reactor one day, but I know for a fact that it’s over my head right now; I’ll need some serious prep work to get myself in contention. But I”m motivated.

    Please keep up your blog posts! There’s a common thread of humility that runs through them — which is commendable for someone who has all the right to brag about their experience at HR. I find them inspiring and informative!

    • Kevin Smith
      November 30, 2013

      Glad you enjoyed my writing. I stopped updating it once Hack Reactor was over because things got so busy with job interviews and then my new job. I ended up taking a front end engineering position at, which is pretty much my dream job. HR did a great job at preparing me for my day to day responsibilities, and my managers have been pleased with the code I’ve been writing.

      As far as preparation goes, keep studying via online courses. I would recommend Treehouse for a good place to learn the basics of javascript, once you have the basic html and CSS down. I would then start trying some of the basic algorithm problems on CoderByte. That will help in preparing you for some of the algorithm fundamentals.

      I would like to update this blog when I get a chance.

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