Chain Reaction: How Jhanisus Melendez Went From Chemistry to Coding

To start a chemical reaction, you first need a reactant. That’s exactly what ex-chemist Jhanisus Melendez got one day while he was working as an ophthalmic image grading specialist at the Doheny Eye Institute.  

“I was given the opportunity to work on a program that would automatically calculate data about our patient’s retinas. I thought Hey, this is kind of cool. I can’t believe that people get paid to do this,” Jhanisus said.

Jhanisus had already been starting to think that chemistry wouldn’t be a long-term professional prospect. But with both a B.S and M.S. in the field, the last thing he wanted to do was go back to school and start over. After doing independent study on C++, a friend encouraged him to sign up for a boot camp. That’s when Jhanisus found The Coding Boot Camp at UCLA Extension.

Jhanisus was given a vote of confidence by his wife and enrolled.

A new discovery

Jhanisus came into the boot camp with some definitive knowledge and strong management skills. Those soft skills came in handy: Jhanisus found himself—almost by default—as team leader, organizer, and even cheerleader for his fellow students.

“The class itself may be only 20 hours a week, but there is so much work that you have to do,” he said. “You just have to put the time in. There is always a learning curve for everything.”

Jhanisus really liked his instructor, who encouraged students to ask questions and to make plenty of mistakes, which can serve as a pathway to learning. (Later, the experience also helped prepare him for working with his new boss, who happens to have a similar personality.)

An unexpected project—and surprising takeaways

For one of his projects, Jhanisus and his team created a database that tracked racehorse names, information, and race statistics. The project prompted Jhanisus to flex his research muscles to learn about the horse race industry, which he knew nothing about. As with so many other industries, a lot of the infrastructure around horse racing is stuck in the past.

Looking at his experience overall, Jhanisus feels like it was transformative. “I really had to learn how to learn. It was humbling to have to admit that there were things I just didn’t know,” he said, contrasting this with his undergrad education.

Jhanisus particularly enjoyed attending the boot camp as an adult. With added years of maturity, he said, he had both the means to pay and the deliberate choice to pursue this path, in contrast with pursuing a path that seemed almost chosen for him.

“There is something about the boot camp that takes learning to the next level and makes it a little bit different,” he said. “It’s not always easy, but it’s well worth it.”

Pursuing new frontiers

It wasn’t easy for Jhanisus to find a jobespecially in Southern California, near the heart of Silicon Beach, where so many have engineering degrees. But with the support of the career services team, he applied to move into a role of software developer at the Doheny Eye Institute, his current employer.

“I found that the team was very beneficial for me,” said Jhanisus. “It kept me going. It was really having someone give you constructive feedback and encourage you to try new roles. They provided a lot of guidance. I can’t picture myself not having them.”

In his new position, Jhanisus has learned about new languages that weren’t covered in boot camp. But because of his experience working with unfamiliar projects and programs, he feels equipped to handle these.

“I was able to discover self-discipline, the importance of a strong work ethic, management skills, and the ability to compromise,” said Jhanisus. “I could say that as a whole, the entire boot camp experience was more than just learning how to code or understand a specific technology. I think it was a prelude to the field of tech, and how awesome it truly is.”

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