From Logistics Expert to Software Engineer: How Coding Gave Justin Gerow A Fresh Angle on A Successful Career

For 18 years, Justin Gerow worked his way up the supply-chain management ladder, amassing an impressive knowledge base of logistics and transport operations.

Then one day, thinking about the time he took coding courses in college for fun—he decided he wanted to do more of what made him happy. “I knew that at some point I wanted to pivot back to technology,” he said.

In doing some research for him, Justin’s girlfriend stumbled across Northwestern Coding Boot Camp, powered by Trilogy Education. “One of her friends had gone to Northwestern, so it piqued her interest, and she sent it my way,” he said.

He liked that it was a six-month program he could attend part-time. “Even though it was a longer commitment, it would give me more opportunities to learn,” he said. He signed up.

Fitting the boot camp into a full-time work schedule

Knowing that juggling a full-time job on top of the boot camp would be a challenge, Justin set his mind to the challenge and pushed through. “The biggest challenge was definitely time management,” he said, adding that he spent quite a bit of time coding during lunch breaks at work, after-hours, and on weekends.

“You basically need to tell your friends and family that you’re not going to be able to hang out every night or travel on the weekends,” he said.

Projects with real-world impact

For Justin’s first group project, he teamed up with two other students to build an application called SHFT, which helped friends decide what to do for fun when they were at odds. He shares his struggle of planning get-togethers over the weekends. “You spend all day trying to figure it out, and then end up doing nothing,” he said. The app is simple: each user gets a single vote, and the majority wins.

For Justin’s second group project, his team developed an app that enabled users to view emergency room wait times. Suitably, they named it WaitER.

“You could queue yourself for a specific ER room nearby, so that when you arrive, you’re good to go. We had to simulate a lot of the info, since the scope of our project didn’t include tapping into hospital APIs for real-time data. It was more of a proof-of-concept,” he said, adding that he could definitely see their app functioning in the real world.

A final project—game-changing calorie tracking

CalSnap was Justin’s final, and favorite, project: a calorie tracker.

Justin’s team was aware that calorie tracking applications aren’t new. “The difference with CalSnap is we use three different points of input, including visual recognition, barcode scanning, and voice recognition,” he said.

The name refers to the action. “You can literally ‘snap’ a photo of your food item. IBM Watson’s technology, an open-source artificial intelligence, will identify it and send that info back to the app,” he said, adding that visual recognition created a wow factor for users.

The barcode scanner and voice recognition provide additional inputs, for which the database pulls caloric information—say, for a Clif bar—from the Nutritionix database.

“There were a lot of times we were up till 1 or 2 a.m. trying to get things running. We were just on Slack, throwing ideas back and forth. At the time, it was obviously really stressful. Looking back, that’s what helped me feel the most like a true developer,” he said.

A new vocabulary, new friendships—and a new role

Justin is delighted he is as well versed in coding technology as he is in industry jargon. “Just ‘talking code’ was something that I learned to do. A lot of prospective developers think that you sit in front of a laptop and code all day—but you actually learn how to speak the ‘developer’ language in order to get the most out of your conversation,” he said.

Justin also enjoyed the team collaboration—and resulting friendships. “It was nice walking out of the boot camp with not only a whole new skill set but also a new group of friends,” he said.

While the intensive coding program enabled him to acquire the skills he needed to pivot into technology, Justin decided to stick with his familiar industry, but in a new capacity. Ultimately, he found a new role as a junior software engineer at a logistics and supply chain company, combining his industry knowledge with his new coding skills.

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