How I Learned to Drink from the Firehose at the Nashville Software School

By Casey Reed

Editor’s note: Over a year ago, we published a story about the Nashville Software School (NSS). After reading the piece, Forward Beat writer Casey Reed was inspired to apply and enroll into NSS as a path toward transitioning careers. Now working at a Nashville tech startup after graduating from the program, we asked Casey to write about his NSS experience as a way of proving that anyone can make the switch.

In one of the greatest moments in the modern age of cinema, a young boy is given the chance to do the unthinkable, to conquer the unconquerable and to live out his dreams in front of a live studio audience.

After finding the lone marble in a sea of oatmeal, Joel Miller is wheeled to the front of the stage by Stanley Spadowski, opens wide and drinks from the firehose. The force of the stream blasts Joel off his rocking horse, into the crowd and the audience never sees or hears from him again. Joel went out on top– a man among boys. Of course, I don’t need to explain the rest of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s masterpiece, UHF (1989), but stay with me here.

I didn’t need to find the marble in the oatmeal to drink from the proverbial firehose. The only thing I needed to do was apply to the Nashville Software School, put my nose to the grindstone for six months and soak up as much new knowledge as possible.

According to a study done by Microsoft in 2012, more than one million jobs in the technology field will be left unfilled by traditional computer science graduates. Recently, short-term, fast-paced “bootcamps” have sprung up across the country to fill that void.

Nashville Software School is a nonprofit software development bootcamp designed to feed the Nashville tech scene with fresh, enthusiastic junior developers. John Wark, the school’s president and founder, didn’t believe that bringing in outside talent or waiting for colleges to graduate new classes was the solution to the shortage of qualified employees in the city. By partnering with local technology companies, NSS’s curriculum is an evolving community effort to suit the specific needs of real-life businesses and the students who will one day vie for those positions.


Casey on his first day of the NSS program last summer (Courtesy of Casey Reed)

This mindset creates a fast-moving program that often feels overwhelming. As a student, I often felt comfortable with a concept one morning and knocked off my feet by late afternoon. New information came so quickly that only my classmates were able to help me hold onto that knowledge for dear life. You know, like trying to cling to a firehose.

Although I make it sound incredibly daunting—and believe me, it is—applying to Nashville Software School was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I dropped out of college and moved to Nashville from Arizona in 2013 to play guitar with a touring band. Of course, the band broke up and I was stuck waiting tables and playing the occasional show around town. While contributing freelance writing to Forward Beat, I came across an article about the Nashville Software School featuring stories and anecdotes from a handful of the program’s graduates.

Software development never even occurred to me as something I could do professionally, but I loved computers, so with plenty of encouragement from my friends and family, I sent in my application.

Before applying to NSS, I’d been kicking around the idea of going back to school, but it would have taken years to finish out my degree, get back on track and find a job. NSS was a chance for me to quickly gain in-demand skills and completely change my life. At that point, I would have settled for not working every single weekend.

This, I think, is how a lot of NSS students wind up in the program. Most of my fellow classmates and I had made decisions that, for some reason or another, didn’t pan out the way we’d hoped. Some received their college degrees and realized that they hated their field. Some had programmed in older languages and were hoping to reignite their skills for modern development jobs. Some had taken a single programming class online or in school and had the revelation that programming was what they were born to do.

Because of these trends, one of the first and most important things that Nashville Software School teaches you is that you are terrible at developing software. It’s a level playing field from day one.

The message is clear: You could have been the greatest line cook or children’s shoe salesperson or guitar player before coming into class, but now you’re about to struggle for every scrap of progress. If you were used to being the best at something, forget it.

What I believe sets the Nashville Software School apart from other coding bootcamps or online courses is how the program prepares you for the job hunt. Coding was our main focus, obviously, but a large chunk of time was spent familiarizing students with the hiring process for developer positions.

During the second half of the course, I had one-on-one meetings with an advisor who helped me shape my resume, personal website and project portfolio before my class’s “Demo Day”: a reverse career fair where employers come to meet students and see their work.

NSS rightfully brags that their placement rates are some of the highest among bootcamps, with almost 90 percent of graduates finding full-time work after finishing the course. It took me about two months after graduating to land a job at a local startup and begin my new career.

In eight months, I went from waiting tables to getting a job in a booming technology market. All I had to do was drink from the firehose.

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