My “fake” but relentless journey to becoming a Data Engineer (My Truth)

My goal in writing this is to help someone that is yet to start, started but frustrated, or close to achieving their goal in their data analytics journey, gain inspiration and hope from my story. I hope they get encouraged by my countless failures then eventual moments of success.

I graduated from City College of New York with a bachelor’s in electrical engineering class of 2014. In my major, I took only 2 programming classes, but they were my favorite classes in my undergraduate degree. The first was Intro to programming in C/C++, the other was an advanced class in C++. Honestly, I don’t recall what I really learned from the second course, apart from some concepts like objects, class, and inheritance.

As an international student, I found it hard to get an Electrical Engineering job right after graduating. I interviewed for a couple of months with no success, because most of the jobs I applied to screened me out with this question, “Do you now or in the future require sponsorship?”.

Then I began evaluating my options, the first option was to find a company that could willingly sponsor my visa and hires me, another was to go for my graduate degree (Masters or Ph.D.). Then, I recalled stumbling upon an IT consulting firm during a career fair in my school. They promised to hire F1 Visa students (International students) or people on OPT (Occupational practical training- work permit or additional time period to stay in the US to work and practice your degree). I decided to give them a call and see if they will hire me. I could have also explored going for my master’s degree. However, I did not have the funds for that and did not want to take out loans or bother family members.

When I called this IT consulting firm, they were so happy, and they told me that they will hire me as soon as I am ready. They will also train me, provide me with accommodation and feeding allowance throughout the duration of my training and job placement. I was happy but was suspicious of their offer (sounded too good to be true). When I traveled to their training location, I was introduced to other students that also came for the same training. I was the only non-Indian. I am normally very open-minded so that was not an issue. The HR lady told me that I would need to sign a 2-year contract to work for them for $30 per hour with no benefits. That was when I realized the “catch” but I decided to go ahead because I didn’t have many options.

The training was in SQL Server Database concepts like TSQL query language, database programming, and Business Intelligence tools like SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), SQL server reporting services (SSRS), and SQL Server Analysis Service (SSAS). It was a 3-month training program that was run only on Saturdays and Sundays.

I and other students were put in a guest house that was quite “basic”. I didn’t complain except for the bed bug bites while sleeping on the carpet. I was happy that we ate for free at a Sikh Temple, keeping our weekly expenses minimal because we had only a $75 stipend each week.

Few weeks into the training and after talking with my new friends/trainees, I realized the business model of this consulting company that hired me. Their plan was to train us, “market” and place us as Mid/Senior level Business Intelligence developers after 3 months. They would teach us a crash course on core topics, then create resumes for us with fake experience, then help us apply to jobs and in some cases interview on our behalf so that we can be placed on the jobs. These jobs are contract jobs willing to pay $80–60 per hour. However, as part of our contract agreement in exchange for the free training and accommodation, we would only be paid $30 per hour.

At this point, I was very skeptical of the whole thing. I was not comfortable that I would be taught 8 years’ worth of work experience in 3 months and marketed with a resume of 8 years of experience. I heard stories of people that got fired within a week or two. I was not happy that I will be paid only $30 for a job worth $60. It seemed like it was a lot of risks.

However, I realized that I enjoyed the course material. It felt like something I would be quite good at. Coming from an engineering background, solving problems with in-depth analysis, and using logic was very applicable to the course. I picked up the material faster than my peers. I saw that the job prospect in this field was tremendous, it was continuously evolving and growing. Many companies were willing to sponsor me, they didn’t seem to care if I had an F-1 visa or OPT. After evaluating the pros and cons I decided to move forward with the training program.

We first focused on learning a crash course in T-SQL Query writing, we leveraged this course in learnitfirst.com. I still think it is one of the best courses out there in T-SQL and SQL Server database programming. After that, we started learning some basics in Database programming. We spent a total of 6 weeks on those topics.

We spent the first 6 weekends on a crash course in T-SQL writing and SQL Server Database programming. Then we spent 4, 2, and 2 weekends on learning SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS), Reporting and Analysis Services (SSRS and SSAS) respectively.

We were also given an in-depth video course as a reference to help us get a deeper and broader knowledge, supplementing the crash course. Even though the courses were made for 2008 versions of SQL Server, they cover 90 percent of what is needed to work as a BI Developer today. It is one of the few courses out there where the teacher has over 8 years of experience not just in working in the field but in teaching the course as well. He was able to relate theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios. After completing the course, I felt like I had 8 to 10 years of experience working as a Database Developer.

Below are the links to the courses

Course on T-SQL Query writing

Writing Queries for SQL Server (2008/R2 Edition) here

Course on SQL Server Programming

Transact-SQL Programming: SQL Server 2008/R2 here

Course on SQL Server Integration

SQL Server 2008/R2 Integration Services here

Course on SQL Server Reporting Services

SQL Server 2008/R2 Reporting Services here

Course on SQL Server Analysis Services

SQL Server 2008/R2 Analysis Services here

After completing the 3 months Bootcamp, I was quite overwhelmed with the amount of material but at the same time, I was glad to know some basics.

The head of this company told us that the next phase will be to start “marketing” us as contractors for various positions anywhere in the US. They gave us sample resumes with over 7 years of work experience, all we had to do was to customize it to our taste to differentiate it from other students.

They told us that we could use the instructors as references during job background checks. The reason why the IT consulting company could do this is that they were our employer and they market us as “contractors”. This means the “end-client” companies focus on the services the IT consulting company provides not on the employee they use. Additionally, due to the difficulty for the end client’s to source and hire IT talent, they leave it to the recruiting agencies and IT consultancy companies that create an interesting dynamic with prime vendors, vendors, employers, and contractors.

We were instructed to create google voice phone numbers and to delete all our LinkedIn profiles if we had one (this was to hide our identity). The IT company HR started sending our resumes to various job search websites like Dice, Techfetch, Monster, etc. They specifically look for “Corp to Corp” contract jobs, this means that the job will have to work with my employer (IT company) for me to be placed on that job.

We would get about 30 to 50 calls a day from various recruiting agencies. Some would lead to interviews with various levels of screenings or rounds. Since we still had limited knowledge based on the crash course, we found it very hard to get through most interviews. I decided to continue my self-paced learning using the video courses provided to train myself to the desired level needed to land a job. The jobs we were applying for were mid-level Business Intelligence developers, SQL Developers, ETL developers, and Report Developers. These jobs required a minimum of 7 years of experience.

I recall taking and failing in over 100 interviews in the space of 6 months. I thought about quitting many times. I had countless times of self-reflection and feelings of discouragement. One of the instructors really helped guide me by reminding me to focus on the progress I was making as I went through the video course. The farther I got in learning the videos the better I got in the interview process.

Eventually, in my 6th month after the Bootcamp, I landed 3 jobs in the space of 3 weeks. I chose to stay local in NY and accepted the contract job offer to start my career at a Health system as an ETL developer.

I would be writing another part to this story. This is just the beginning of my break out phase into the IT Data Analytics industry as a fresh graduate. Please stay tuned

I am passionate about empowering and encouraging people of color in the data analytics career path