From Contractor to Full-Timer: How Elaine Lagon Advanced Her Career with the SMU Coding Boot Camp

Elaine Lagon loved working as a contractor at First Command Financial Planning. There was only one problem: she wanted to do it full-time.

Though she was passionate about coding, she didn’t have formal training in advanced programming languages. When a full-time web developer role opened at the company, she eagerly applied, but a more experienced candidate was ultimately chosen. 

At this point, Elaine began to reconsider her career trajectory. Then, she discovered SMU Coding Boot Camp. Here’s what happened next. 

Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired your passion for programming? 

During my senior year of high school, I checked out a class that had to do with web design and thought, “Wow, this is really cool. I want to do this full-time.” My passion grew as I experimented with web design. I wanted to code and create web pages. I was a multimedia design and development major in college, but I was always reading coding books and watching videos in my spare time. I was always looking to expand my knowledge of technology. 

How was the transition to boot camp? Did you experience a learning curve? 

There was definitely a bit of a learning curve. During the first week we learned HTML and CSS, which I breezed through. Then we got into JavaScript, which has always been a big weakness of mine. 

How did the hands-on education model help you tackle challenges like learning JavaScript? 

Having in-person mentors meant that I could ask questions right then and there. I knew I wanted to learn on-site to talk through concepts and better understand information.

Talking to TAs really helped, since they’d set aside time to help me understand different topics. My TA made the material a lot more digestible. It’s a really fast-paced class—17 years’ worth of programming languages are taught in a 6-month boot camp, so it seems impossible to absorb everything at once. You have to work on one thing at a time.

After graduating from boot camp, you landed a full-time role at First Command. How did boot camp help you get there? 

Someone at First Command must have been keeping tabs on me! After I graduated from boot camp, my former boss asked if I could come in and interview for the role of associate front-end developer. It was an hour-long interview, and they went over everything I’d learned at SMU. After the interview, they sent over an application—it felt like it was tailored to me.

When I accepted my job offer, everybody at First Command was thrilled to hear I was coming back as a full-time employee. Everything really came full circle.

How are you enjoying your new role?

I loved the company from the start, and I love my new position. Now that I’m a full-time employee, I’m able to go to more events too. For instance, we had a team-building event a couple months ago that was only for full-timers—and this time I could attend. I really feel like I’m included in the company.

How did the program prepare you for your new role at First Command? 

I’m grateful to have this experience as part of my educational background—it’s made me push even further in my career. I still struggle at work sometimes, since I’m always multitasking with so many projects. But when that happens, I know that I can go back, rewatch programming videos, and learn all over again. 

What advice would you give future boot camp students?

Boot camp isn’t easy. In fact, the instructors told us that from day one. I put those words in the back of my mind, but I still went through with it. I still did it, even though it was a struggle. Some nights I’d tell my mom, “I can’t do this. I’m going to fall behind.” But in the end, I prevailed. I’m really happy with where I came out. 

My advice to future boot camp students is this: Don’t give up. It’s going to be a challenge—but get help from TAs, work in groups, and you’ll be able to stay current with the materials. You won’t fall behind if you’re doing your best. 

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