Coding Your Passions | Graduate Spotlight

Zoe LeBlanc loves history. Nathan Baker loves board games. While these two graduates have very different backgrounds and interests, they’re both combining their passion with a new love for coding. Zoe created apps that help academic researchers. Nathan created an app that shows you the most popular board games and was featured on a well-known board game podcast. Here are their stories.

Zoe LeBlanc

Don’t think you have time to learn to code? Zoe LeBlanc is a doctoral candidate with the Department of History at Vanderbilt University. She is currently working on her dissertation which explores Cairo, Egypt in the 1950s and 60s as a hub for anti-colonial networks and media. Over the course of her dissertation, she has become interested in digital and quantitative methods for her research. Zoe tried to teach herself programming through online resources, but found herself struggling. She decided a bootcamp would allow her to focus her efforts and have access to experts to learn from.

After a friend recommended NSS, Zoe attended an info session and appreciated NSS’s community focus and emphasis on learning how to learn. She started out in the evening program which allowed her to continue as a full-time graduate student. After the front-end, she switched to the day class for back-end. Zoe’s biggest roadblock was time management. She shared, “Often times, I had to be pretty ruthless about my time at NSS so I could absorb everything I could while at the school, since outside NSS I had to complete my dissertation research.”

Zoe’s front-end capstone is called Archivio and is an app for researchers who work in archives. Most archives are not yet digital so researchers spend a lot of time finding the right archive to visit and more time searching through what’s actually there. Archivio lets them manage their archival research leads, find information about archives, and share their findings with other scholars. The app was built with Angular and Firebase and uses a web scraper to pull in XML data about archives.

For her back-end capstone, Zoe built an app called Image Lucida which turns images into data for research. The app manages the tens of thousands of images she has collected in her archival research. Once an image is uploaded, the app automatically segments out the images and lets you OCR any remaining text in the image. The segmented images then can be run through various image clustering options and can be tagged. It was built with Django, Angular, and a mix of OpenCv, Scikit-Image, Scikit-Learn for image processing and Google Vision and Tesseract APIs for the OCR.

Zoe’s favorite part of NSS was the people and solving increasingly complex problems.

I really loved getting to delve into a problem and iterate over potential solutions, brainstorming with my team and seeing the results of hard work in weeks instead of years (the usual time frame for academics).

She encourages new students to remember that they’re at the beginning of their journey as a developer and anything can be learned with enough time and effort. The quick pace of learning can be stressful, but don’t forget to have fun and get creative with the projects and exercises.

Her advice for fellow graduate students? “I think you’ll find NSS useful and especially refreshing if you’ve been out of courses for a while and are tired of being in your own little silo. Overall, I highly recommend the program if you’re looking to gain a solid foundation in best practices of web development and an introduction to theoretical concepts of programming.”

Listen to Zoe’s interview with Clark Buckner about her journey and check out Zoe’s profile.

Nathan Baker

Before NSS, Nathan worked at two software companies doing everything from customer support, to social media and content marketing. While he enjoyed marketing, he thought it would be more fun to build the cool thing rather than talk about how cool that thing is. He had been eyeing software development for about a year when his marketing position was eliminated. This presented him with the perfect opportunity to attend a bootcamp.

Going through NSS is like being told you’re a wizard, and then eventually believing it. Things that seemed like magic before are now within my grasp. With hard work, I can craft software and apps that were only ideas before. It was a great feeling to learn new things at such a rapid pace.

Nathan’s biggest struggle was actually maintaining his relationships with his family and friends during the program. He shared, “You always feel behind as a beginner in a new field so it’s hard to know when to close that laptop. Talking through expectations up front and communicating throughout the program with my wife helped a lot but it was still rough to balance everything.”

He encourages other students to set some boundaries and know when the computer goes off so you can keep your relationships healthy. “Practice letting MVP (minimum viable product) be enough.” Nathan also recommends taking walks between coding sessions to help you focus.

For his front-end capstone, Nathan built a Billboard Top 40 for board games. We spoke with Nathan back in March about TabletopTracker.com which was featured on The Secret Cabal podcast. A cron job triggers a daily crawl of BoardGameGeek. Then the app makes API calls, manipulates data, and pushes up data to Firebase.

Nathan’s back-end capstone is a native iOS app built in Swift called BrewJudge. Users select a beer and rate its aroma, appearance, and flavor. Your ratings are then matched up to certified beer judges. The app is run on an API built using the Django REST Framework. To learn Swift in a short amount of time, Nathan watched online videos and connected with developers in NashDev Slack that helped him with code reviews. He looks forward to helping other developers in the future.

Nathan quickly found a job at a mobile app development shop. He had met the founders prior to applying for the position. Building his final capstone project in Swift helped show them that he was willing to learn their technology stack.

Listen to Nathan’s interview with Clark Buckner about his capstones and check out Nathan’s profile.

You can learn to code your passions too! Check out our Full-Time Web Developer Bootcamp and our Part-Time Web Developer Bootcamp.

Be sure to listen to all of the graduates talk to our friend, Clark Buckner, about their journey into development and about their experience at NSS.

Check out all of the recent grads on the Cohort 16 class website.

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