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Meet The Team: Brandon Cowley

Team Life
Oct 24, 2022
Meet The Team: Brandon Cowley

Brandon is a Careerist graduate who found his path in tech. Before that, he tried a few careers, but soon felt like he had reached his peak and decided to make a change. In search of something new, he discovered QA. After a few years working in QA, he returned with a strong desire to pay it forward and is now a QA coach at Careerist. 

Brandon, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where are you from?

Currently, I live in Los Angeles, but I’m originally from the East Coast. I'm a Boston guy, born and raised. So I still have a lot of loyalty to my sports teams and everything that's Boston-related. 

At the moment, I’m in the process of getting my wife moved up from Colombia. So that's currently on my to-do list.

What are your hobbies?

I am a big fan of videography and photography. I have several art projects that I've worked on. Recently, I've been getting into drone photography and videography, my personal new frontier. It's hard to do well, but it is really, really fun.

Before jumping into your Careerist story, let’s step back a bit into your past. What did you do before tech? What was your educational background?

I can definitely tell you a lot about that. I've tried many different things over my professional career. If you want to take the time machine way back, I went to college for athletic training. I aspired to work with professional sports teams, since I was a full-time athlete from probably the age of five until 20. 

Besides physical development, I was also involved in treating people's injuries and ensuring they could perform at their best. I think that comes from my mom somehow, who is an occupational therapist. So I was really into anatomy and physiology and how people work. 

After college, I was actually sidetracked into massage therapy. I was doing that in a gym for a while before I eventually got onto my main track: personal training and fitness management. Next, I spent ten years as a personal trainer, nutrition consultant, and gym and fitness manager. At that time, I was helping manage teams, and I organized the sales department and opened a couple of facilities, which was fun. I did that for years until I thought I hit the ceiling. Personally, I thought there really wasn't much more growth there. 

The next step was a switch to the real estate world — heavy focus on sales, consultations with clients, and mixing in some property management as well. Along the way, just for fun, I've also tried out a variety of sales gigs and done some business development. There were some tech startups that I was excited about. So that was, all told, about 15 years right there. 

Looking back, I can tell that the things I gravitated towards were either directly trying to help people improve their lives or trying to help them get set up for something good in their lives long term. I suppose that’s how I approached real estate and property management.

What was so special for you about the job in real estate?

Everybody's home is important to them, right? It’s the place where you feel comfortable, where you spend the most time. It also fit into my enjoyment of architecture — finding unique buildings and neighborhoods and getting into the culture there. It's really fun figuring out how people click with a place. What attracts them to that specific town, city, or neighborhood? That was everything prior to getting into tech. And it was a long and exciting road.

Did that have anything technical about it? And did you do any courses in that before you began working in real estate? 

Yeah, you do have to be licensed to be in the industry; therefore, you have to study pretty extensively for a real estate license. The job involves a lot of customer service too. It's one part sales, one part client management. 

It sounds like you were kind of exploring what you love. So how is it that you found Careerist? Where did you find out about us? 

I think I may have a bit more of a unique path than some people. I was getting to the point where I wasn't super excited about sales. And I wasn't super excited about having to rely on other people to guarantee a paycheck, basically. I felt like I had pushed out against the walls as much as I could. And I just didn't feel like finding another job in that industry.

So I actually did a deeper dive into myself by visiting a research center called the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation (JOCRF). No plug for them; I'm not sponsored. It was a place where you spend an entire day and they test you — not in an academic sense, but more to figure out how your brain works, what interests you, and how you naturally gravitate towards problem-solving and things like that. 

Now, I found out I'm graphically inclined, and I have a good design memory. So the career paths they pointed out to me were videography, photo editing, web design, web developer coding, and this little thing called QA. And I said, ‘What is that?’ And the woman who ran the test pitched it as, ‘You get to tell people when their websites and applications are broken.’

That's a very oversimplified picture of what the industry is. But you know that feeling when something just works? You log into a new app and you realize that this thing just makes sense. I really like that. I heard nothing about this then, but figured it might be an interesting path to explore. And that's what led me to start Googling around and trying to figure out how people get into QA, and that's when I learned a lot about it. That was also the time when Careerist came up on my radar for the first time. 

So everything started with a research test, and then doing your own research. So when you were looking into what QA is, did you find us on a web search, or through an ad? What was the following process like?

Yeah, that's a very accurate way of saying it, and I think we can blame Instagram for this one. So there's an ad that showed up saying, ‘Do you want to get into tech with no coding and make at least $70,000 a year?’ And that really hit the bullet points of what I was looking for. Frankly, I don't come from any technical background, I don't have a computer science degree, and I didn't know how to code a website. And I didn't want to spend years transitioning into a tech job. I wanted to spend weeks or months. And this was a concise explanation of precisely what I was looking for. 

I think I responded to the ad and spoke with someone who presented the program well, straightforwardly, and said that it might be a good opportunity if I wanted to do this. I didn't feel pressured into it, which I think was nice. And then also the description of the program itself was intriguing: hands-on experience with people that have been in the industry for a long time, and the fact that the program included an internship, which I thought was very important because there's a big difference between reading about pottery and actually getting your hands on the clay, because you might realize it's a lot different. So I enjoyed the two-pronged approach there. Also, the salary sounded pretty good, and it seemed like the right fit. And there we went.

That's awesome. You mentioned you spoke to someone and didn't feel pressured about it. What did you mean by that?

Yeah, because, coming from a sales background, I wanted to gravitate away from that. Maybe you have experienced this, when somebody gives a high-pressure sales pitch to get you into something, and the only thing you wanna do is to leave immediately., The “I promise you, it'll work out, just sign right here.” That doesn't feel good. And I think if the program had been presented in a way that felt desperate, or it felt like, ‘You're wrong if you don't choose this,’ I think I may have been steered away from it. But it felt very friendly. It was just a conversation that I had with this person. And they said, ‘It sounds like you're interested; if you want to do this, here's a way to get in.’

That's really cool. I'm glad you had a great person who presented the training well. Did you ever feel skeptical about it? Did this feel like a big investment or a big pressure for you, or was it like you had nothing to lose? 

No. And so that's exactly what I was saying: It didn't feel pressured. From an investment point of view, the price seemed very reasonable. From a time standpoint, it was very digestible. It was a fully remote program; I just had to put a couple of months into it and I could do it from anywhere in the world. By comparison, there are programs out there that are tens of thousands of dollars to get into the tech industry. This was way below that. Also, the timeframe felt better. So yeah, between the two of those, it just seemed like, ‘Hey, if I want to try it, this is an excellent entry point.’ 

Nice. So you lined us up with other competitors and saw the best option in us. Around what time was this? Like, how long ago did you find us?

It was a couple of years ago, and I found the program over a Christmas holiday break. I ended up enrolling in a program that started in January. And at that point, I was actually traveling in between here and South America. So one of the greatest things about the program is that it’s fully remote and only requires a couple of hours a day. I was able to travel and continue the program, and I finished it around February, and then got through the internship as well.

That's cool. So how was the process? Do you remember anything about the lessons that you really enjoyed? And then, how did you like the internship?

The classes were very digestible. They didn't use a lot of overly complicated technical jargon. It just felt like the instructors all came in with a good attitude and a sense of humor, and they were able to present the material in a way that didn't feel like it was gatekeeping. It just felt like, ‘Hey, everyone can do this, you can do this. Let me show you how.’ I think the whole training  is like 19 lessons. And then, at the end of it, I felt a little overwhelmed, as it was time to start the actual internship. I was wondering whether I had what it takes. And, of course, the answer was yes. 

The internship was really well structured. Like, ‘Can you follow an instruction list? If yes, then you'll be able to handle this.’ I felt the same way in the internship — I didn't feel like I was talked down to. And there are some programs that are like, ‘Tech is a very reputable place to be and we want you to understand the value of what we do, so we're going to make it sound overly complicated.’ This wasn't like that at all. I understood the tutors wanted us to learn and showed us great ways to do this job. 

Some really hesitate to try a training like this because it’s just learning remotely at your own pace. Is there a certain rule or maybe a key to success for staying on track? What can you say about that — any advice?

Yeah, that's a fair point. Some people have other aspects of their lives that might complicate things or create a distraction. I don't know if I can speak to their experience specifically. For me, it just felt like there's a timeline — this is something that I signed up for and I'm expecting myself to do. I don't feel like there was much pressure because it didn't interfere with my outside life. It's only a couple of hours a day. And these were evening classes, so I could still keep a full-time job at the same time. If you weren't working, I would say that you probably would want to set up a structured schedule for yourself. 

I think that having something predetermined for you helps with discipline, and it often seems like if you have more time to float, it becomes harder to stay focused. So just create a schedule for yourself and say, ‘These are the two or three hours that I'm committing to this program today.’ Then you have the rest of the time to do whatever you please. 

Was there ever a time when you felt like you were falling behind and afraid that you wouldn't be able to catch up? 

No, I never felt overwhelmed. I've done other boot camps where there was just such a volume of knowledge to digest. You're thinking like, ‘How do I actually process this and hold on to it?’ But I think the timing of the Careerist QA program was really well laid out. I never felt like I was lagging, and I never felt like we covered a concept that I didn't understand.

Well, we’re delighted you had that experience. What can you say about your experience with the career coach? How did they prepare you for interview questions? And the job search — how did that go for you?

That was a crucial part of my success; and I was very happy with it. My coach was Anna. She was very involved, and I felt that she cared. Probably the most important thing was that she would actively check in. ‘Hey, how's it going? Do you have any questions about this? Let's set up a mock interview. Let's take time to look over your resume or your LinkedIn.’ So I never felt like I had to chase to get attention for that. And even though the internship was relatively quick, I always felt like she had my best interests in mind and would make good suggestions about how to present myself to an interviewer or how to set up my resume correctly. And within the internship itself, I felt like she was always checking in and making sure that I felt comfortable, which was really reassuring.

That's really good. So how long was your job search? How long did it take for you to get an offer?

I was relatively fortunate in my job search and my interview processes; all that went pretty fast. There is no guarantee, but if it can happen to me with no special advantage, I feel like it could happen to someone else. From a numbers perspective, I put out about 300 applications in under a month. I was able to hear back from four different companies that I had interviews with. And from those four, I got two offers and chose the better offer for my situation. One was 100% remote, and the other wanted people to be on site. And at the time of graduation, I was looking for a remote lifestyle. It was actually 24 days from when I started applying to when I actually accepted a job offer. So I feel like it was pretty easy.

Very fortunate! 300 applications, wow. Would you say that our JAS program helped you out with that a little bit?

I would love to say that it did. However, the program wasn't available to me when I took the training! It's a huge advantage to people that are in the program now. For anybody who signs up in the future — man, what an opportunity to do that. If I had the assistance of the JAS program, that could easily have become 500 or 600 applications within the same timeframe. And at the end of the day, it is a numbers game. So you're already setting yourself up for success faster with something like the JAS.

Yeah, that's incredible. That shows how many applications you need to put out there just to get just four offers. 

It's a numbers game. And I think that's not just the QA world; that's anytime you're on the hunt for a job. You need to present yourself to as many people as possible.

What can you say about your first job? What was that like coming in? Did you have imposter syndrome?

I think that right after getting into my first position, that feeling did creep in. But in the first job, a learning curve is certainly to be expected. You're starting in a new industry and have some experience, but not years of experience to lean on. So I do remember thinking, ‘Oh, I have to learn a lot of terminologies, new systems, and new technologies they're using.’ So that does take some time. But I think that it’s sort of a mass influx of knowledge, so you don't have the opportunity to feel worried or to feel that imposter syndrome because you’re so busy.

It was a good experience. I think that in tech, people are typically excited about what they're doing. They're working on new technologies, seeing things before they hit the market, and getting to test things out that nobody's seen yet. And I think there’s some excitement that goes along with that. I was very fortunate to have outstanding team leads in my first position. I had a good QA manager, a good project manager, and even my peers were all very excited to be there on a day-to-day basis as well.

That's super cool. That was actually one of the next questions. How was your team? 

Yeah, it's not a field where gatekeeping flourishes. I didn't feel any internal conflict either. Everybody felt like they were focused on the same mission, looking for the same end goal. We have people from all over the world, too. So not only do you get exposure to new technology, but you get different people's perspectives too because other people's cultures are playing into it. So the workplace vibe is really well-rounded — a lot of outstanding personalities and perspectives on things.

So it sounds like the people aspect for you is still there. You still get to work with people anyway, even just within the team. You are working remotely, right? 

It's all remote. Every QA position has been remote for me. And I do think building culture can be harder if you're working fully remote, but it's certainly not impossible. People just need to be aware of the 21st century, the prevalence of video calls. It's just a slightly different modality, I suppose. But the people were hugely important to that. That was also probably why I got out of the property management and real estate field. In this field, when you have a dedicated team working on a project, you get to hear personal stories, maybe meet their families, things like that. It feels much more inclusive.

So how do you feel now about the growth opportunities in this field? Have you now moved up in your career, or have you stuck with the same position in the same company?

Yeah, very good questions. I'm still with the company that I started with. In my time there, I've had significant pay raises and growth. So now I’m being tasked with larger projects and taking the lead on assignments. I think it's nice that they’ve come to have that much faith in me in a relatively short amount of time. 

The company I work for is pretty heavily focused on video products. I've learned not just how to do front-end manual QA, but I also had the opportunity to sit with the engineers and the developers and get a look at the back-end processes. That's not to say that I'm coding — I don't have to manage code or push the repo work. But I do get to see, ‘Okay, what is the infrastructure here? How do we encode a video? How do we host it? How do we get it to a client?’ And it's cool to learn those new things. I think you always have the opportunity to pick up stuff that's within the QA bucket, but then you also get to see things that are outside of that as well which is really cool.

So you still love what you're doing? Do you plan to keep pursuing this for a while?

I don't think anything is slowing down for manual QA as an industry. More and more of the world is moving online, everybody needs a website, and everybody will probably be selling a product or hosting something online. And there's always going to be a need to check that before it goes to market. Nobody wants to launch a product without testing it, justsaying, ‘Well, I hope this works.’ That's not how this goes. So as more and more people hear about QA, I'm sure there will be more people in the industry, but that's equally balanced by the increasing need for it. I think that as that grows as well, companies get bigger and they might diversify. Maybe they’ll have some more automation as opposed to manual QA, but you're never going to get rid of the need for manual QA entirely. So I feel like I'll not only always have an opportunity, but more specifically, I think my company is very supportive of me and what I'm doing, so I don't see any reason to leave them.

We’re happy to hear that from you. We love when people find something that they like to do. 

What kind of people might fit into QA, would you say? What personality types could be doing QA?

That’s a good question too. Can anybody do it? I would say almost anybody. Again, you don’t need to have any particular technical background, and you don’t need to know how to code. You don’t need a diverse portfolio of work or a specific degree for it. So from that perspective, it’s accessible for many people. For some basics, you typically might have to speak English well, at least here in the US. You need to be able to work at a computer. If you have any issues with that, it might be problematic.

As far as personality traits or characteristics that make this a good job for people… probably you need to communicate well —not only verbally but also visually, because it’s an important component of the job to liaise with customer service. It’s about finding out what you as a QA determine is a problem, and then relaying that to developers or product designers. And you also need to have some empathy, because a huge part of QA is really thinking about the end user — the person who downloads the app, logs into the website, or uses the digital portal you are working on. You have to put yourself into their shoes. The last thing would probably be attention to detail. So it might be a good fit if you are artistic or technical or just particularly appreciate all the cogs in a machine.

That’s very well-put. What can you say about the financial part? How does it differ from working in real estate, personal training, and the other things you’ve experienced? Has it given you some financial freedom?

From an earnings perspective, I think technology is one of the most lucrative industries to be in. I made decent money before this, but I certainly stepped up In my first promotion at this job, they bumped up my base salary by $30,000. From a “buying-things” perspective, it allowed me to have opportunities for more experiences. One of the things I didn’t know I liked doing was travel, for example. I think just in the last year, I’ve taken six different trips. I didn’t have this opportunity when I was in fitness or real estate because you are really tied to work. Your income depends on your clients, you need to log hours. Whereas with technology, you’re not tied to one geographical location; you can bring your desk with you, so to speak. So I can travel to places I’ve never been to, and I’m still doing a job.

That’s awesome to hear. It’s definitely an excellent opportunity for those who want to branch out and explore. 

Indeed; it’s a great opportunity. For example, I was able to get married relatively recently and leave the country. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I had to be in front of clients all the time.

So you’ve now come back to a career in teaching, haven’t you? 

That’s true.

How is that? How did this opportunity come up?

I solicited some feedback from some of the company owners. I reached out to Max on LinkedIn and I kept in touch with my coach on LinkedIn as well. I think it started with a couple of casual check-ins. I think I asked Max directly, and maybe one of the other instructors. I really like what I’m doing now, and I remember the feeling of being done with the program and being a new graduate, the unknown in front of you. ‘Do I have what it takes? What’s the job really like once you are in the driver’s seat?’ That was the next feeling. And they promised to find an opportunity for me, so here I am.

I didn’t know it would turn into a full teaching opportunity. I thought it would be more just giving my testimonial, but it rapidly turned into something bigger than that. I found the real-world perspective gratifying, like having people reaching out to me after the program saying thanks for boosting their confidence.

Thank you so much for coming back to pay it forward to people, and thank you for being a part of Careerist! Yeah, as I said in the beginning, I didn’t even know QA existed. That was a completely foreign thing for me. It wasn’t taught to me in my high school career path. If I talked to friends or family about it, plenty of people still had no idea what it was. So I think it’s another opportunity for me to go out there and spread the word about it. I’m proof of the product working, so you definitely can do the same. I am excited about going back and just proving the idea.

That’s very cool. You have this ability to inspire—it’s definitely in your energy. We should have more people like you come back and share their experiences! 

Is there anything else you would like to share with people? Advice? Suggestions? Motivation?

I would say first of all, thanks for having me. The short answer: If anybody is thinking of getting into this field, the answer is yes —do it! I hope that doesn’t sound super cliche. I just encourage people to take the opportunity and try, because it has changed my life and is 100 percent worth it. I have found a lot of enjoyment in the work I do now,with the people I work with, and in being able to reach out to future students and graduates.

 As far as motivation, I can say that if you’re thinking of doing this, you can do it. You don’t need to have a college degree for this. If you have analytical and problem-solving skills, you can translate those into a really exciting career.

Loved your story of trying different careers. Those are experiences that might have prepared you for the place where you are now. It’s a journey! If you’re interested in trying a Careerist training, now is the time! Try it and see if it fits and is actually for you. We have career coaches who will stick with you until you find a job and will help you with interviewing, applying, and making sure you come across great along the way. Our teachers are always happy to assist you, even once you’ve landed a great new job. It’s truly a full-package experience, and it’s waiting for you!

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