How a C-Suite Harvard MBA Learned to “Talk Tech” at Boot Camp

Taking the road less traveled can mean many different things. For some, it could mean dropping everything and traveling the world at age 60. For others, it might be going to culinary school after working a desk job for years. For Israel Niezen, Chief Revenue Officer of Telescope, a television audience engagement company, it meant coding.

So he went back to school—or rather, went to The Coding Boot Camp at UCLA Extension. And earlier this year, he was awarded with Trilogy Education’s Robert Frost Award, for taking his own road less traveled.

After being presented with his accolade, Israel joined a panel of students and TAs to talk coding, the boot camp, and the job market. Here’s his fascinating—and unique—story.

Starting on his path

Israel made it a life policy to always go above and beyond. He studied finance at the University of Central Florida, graduating with honors. He took the GMAT, earning a very high score. And he went to get his MBA at Harvard, the best business school in the country.

It was after graduating that he started veering from the traditional path: he moved to Silicon Beach and joined a startup.

These days, working for start-ups—or creating your own—is a respectable, even normal, decision. But back when Israel made this move, it was unheard of for Harvard Business School graduates who typically favored finance or consulting careers.

And he had a rude awakening.

Even working on the business side, Israel still found that he needed a deeper knowledge of the product and the technology behind it—something he didn’t get at business school. He needed to learn to “talk the talk.”

Exploring unfamiliar depths

Many people explore coding boot camps for a career switch or a pay bump. But for Israel, that wasn’t the case.

“I wanted to be able to better lead my team. And I needed to demystify tech to do that,” he said.

When he told his techies that he was going to try to learn coding, they laughed. “They looked at me and saw this business guy trying to do what they do. They definitely doubted me,” he said.

Israel discovered the UCLA Boot Camp, its instructors, technology, and curriculum, and was intrigued. A university partner praised the program. “The program, the curriculum must have a high standard if a university is going to attach their name to it,” Israel thought to himself.

On day one, the program’s diversity knocked Israel off his feet. There were people from different backgrounds, educational levels, and experiences. Who would have thought there would be five different professional musicians looking to learn coding in the same class? Seeing so many other successful people with a similar impulse fed Israel’s resolve.

Merging two roads

When it came to the coding program, Israel defined his success in two ways: transferring skills to his startup career, and impressing the tech team. He achieved both.

A year ago, Israel’s group developed and presented a software tool that he still uses. The team built their own version of Tableau software that linked to Salesforce APIs, allowing users to track what salespeople are doing at any given point and easily understand sales numbers.

“I log in at least five times each day,” Israel said. “It was incredibly gratifying to work with my team to build the platform. Even better that I still use the software every day.”

And his techies? “I’m definitely part of the club now,” he laughed. “It’s thrilling to be able to earn the respect of people who are doing this stuff for a living.”

Israel even found himself becoming more knowledgeable about certain areas of technology than his techies, and is now developing expertise in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Bringing it all full circle

One of the biggest realizations was the amount of passion and drive it takes to be a coder.

“In business and sales, you get a huge rush of adrenaline when you close a sale,” Israel said. “In coding, you get that same rush when you crack a code or work through a bug. You have to really want it. Determination is the biggest factor by far.”

And this transfers handily to the job market. Israel noted that the people who were the most passionate in his class landed opportunities right away.

The best advice, he says, is to keep trying. “Keep building things, build a portfolio of skills, projects, successes. That’s what will set you apart,” he said.

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