Like Son, Like Father: Two Generations Take on Challenge of Coding Bootcamp

Tom & Seth Keel, father and son participants in Rutgers Coding Bootcamp in 2016

By Padraig Ryan

At 61, after a decade away from computer programming, Tom Keel thought his computer coding days were well behind him.

That was until Tom decided to jump back in and follow his son, Seth, to Bootcamp. After reading about the exciting new coding opportunities of the bootcamp-style class his son would be taking, Tom felt a renewed sense of interest in the field and decided to join him. It’s not often that two generations get to experience the same educational opportunity, and it proved to be an exciting challenge for the father and son duo. 

Now both father and son are newly minted graduates of the Rutgers Coding Bootcamp after working side-by-side for 24 highly intensive weeks to develop skills as “full stack” software coders.

The Keels' story is unusual. They are the only father and son duo out of 375 bootcampers who have gone through the program since it began last fall. 

“This was a very intense technical training adventure,” said Tom, after finishing the program in October. “It was great that we could share this one together.” 

Tom and Seth followed markedly different routes to class. Tom began his career in 1978, when programmers typed code into punch cards. After three decades, he left the field and his computer science degree behind to pursue his other life-long desire, clock and watch making and repair.  

He was still dabbling with those time pieces when his son, Seth, heard about the Rutgers bootcamp from a friend. Seth graduated with an associate’s degree in computer science in 2013. His coursework was based a lot on theory and Seth wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.  

“I looked into the course and it really interested me,” said Seth, 28, who was working as a store assistant manager. “That’s when I decided to show my dad. He knew right away this was the program for us.”

In April, the father and son began the comprehensive six-month coding bootcamp program offered by the Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies. It teaches adult learners and part-time students the instructions they need to know to write the code that powers computers.

Over the next decade, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that technology jobs will be among some of the best career opportunities, with a 20 percent growth rate in web development through 2022. This has encouraged recent graduates like Seth, and more seasoned professionals like Tom, to go back to school for more training. Both groups understand that learning these skills can improve chances of a higher-salary web development job.

The Keels said the Rutgers bootcamp taught them the programming language they need to know in order to create computer software, apps and websites.

The program helped Tom devise a blood-glucose tracking application for people with diabetes. Seth worked on a team that created a recipe-sharing app. The bootcamp also provided them with career-planning services, portfolio review and recruiting help. 

Tom and Seth went to class two evenings a week and spent four hours in classes on Saturday. They took the hour-long drive together to class each day and were able to talk about what they were learning. The rest of the work they did online at home. 

Their shared passion for computers and the support they gave each other, they said, made the intensive class schedule seem less grueling. Neither father nor son ever thought they would be sitting next to each other in class but enjoyed every bit of it.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t think I would ever be going to school with my father,” said Seth. “But it was an exciting challenge I was fortunate enough to share with my dad.”

The boot camp was an experience the two men said they won’t forget and are glad that they were able to do together.

“It was similar to a father traveling in a canoe down a great river or climbing a great mountain with his son,” said Tom. “This father is very proud.” 

Both Tom and Seth believe that the coding skills they learned during the six-month bootcamp will help them advance in their careers. The intensity of the program, they said, makes them believe that they learned everything they need to go out into the field and succeed.

Tom wants to use the coding skills he learned in boot camp to track planets and stars in space. He would also like to help veterans looking to get back into the workforce learn how to code.

Seth would like to work as a front-end web developer. Improving the user experience at Google would be his dream job.

“If the program was a movie I’d go and see it again and again,” said Tom. “I think we both would.”

To find out more about Rutgers Coding Bootcamp, or to enroll in the program, call 732-430-2144.

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