I had the pleasure to ask Cornelius Range about his decision to pursue software over law after graduation, and his experience at the coding bootcamp, Epicodus. This interview (to be integrated) is among the interviews from my book Quit Law and Code about making the career transition to software development. www.corneezius.com / @corneezius
How and when did you decide to start learning how to code?
It happened gradually. Like many of my peers, my motivation for going to law school was to help people. During my second semester of law school though, I became frustrated with how slow the law moves. So I kind of took matters into my own hands. I organized a team of law students and developers to build a legal app, that would help inform people of their rights in various situations. We hit a wall, mostly because me and my friends barely knew how to do legal research. But I loved the process of creating, it felt so right. So during my 2L year, when my classmates were joining journals, I put together another team for another web app. This time, the team was comprised of inexperienced but passionate developers at Penn. Every Saturday morning, I would travel on a bus from New York to Philadelphia to work with the team on designs, mockups, and to be there for coding sprints. All together, as amateurs, we were kind of reaching in the dark. But the process of discovery was awesome and so much fun. When we hit another wall in development, my team started to unravel. I was devastated. But then I started to learn to code myself. I’ve been coding ever since.
You went to law school at Columbia, which isn’t only in the first tier, but is often ranked near the top in the nation. Was it difficult to not pursue law after graduation with this credential?
Hell yeah, extremely difficult. Getting into Columbia was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. So when I found myself daydreaming about walking away to code, I would ask myself questions like:
If I walk away, was it all for nothing?
If I don’t take a law job, did I waste three years of my life?
And what about my loans?
Scary questions. But I found ways to make them less scary. For one, I spent a lot of time looking for stories of people who left law to code. In the process, I also found this blog, which I would read a lot in the back of various lecture classes. One of your articles that compared the earnings of attorneys and developers was especially helpful. Thanks for that. I also took some cool classes at Columbia –one on Leadership, one on Secondary Liability, and a clinic on Law and Technology — that helped show me, that there were worlds outside of law where I could thrive. To the professors who brought those courses to life, thanks for that. What I think helped most though, was just getting the best offer I could and then imagining the next few years of my life. I knew that if I took the offer it would only be for a year or two. I also knew that during that time, every night I would want to come home and code. So I thought, “why not do it right now?”. So, I did.
What did your law school peers, friends, and family think about your decision?
Didn’t tell many law school classmates. I don’t think they would’ve understood. Too risk averse. Of the people I did tell, many thought that I should’ve at least taken the bar, to be safe. I disagreed. My closest friends though are artists and entrepreneurs. They understood. My family thought it was funny, but they’ve been awesome.
How was your experience at coding bootcamp, and which one did you attend?
I attended a bootcamp called Epicodus in Philadelphia. Epicodus is rooted on the West Coast, but recently ventured East. It was awesome. During the second half of my law school career, I spent many late nights up trying to code and study law at the same time. It was awesome being able to wake up and just code all day. I found that I had more in common with my bootcamp classmates than my peers in law school. I made lots of good friends at the bootcamp.
What were the pros and cons of doing a bootcamp over a traditional four-year program, or teaching yourself?
My bootcamp’s curriculum, like many others, is free and available for anyone to take up if they have the time, patience, drive. I learned much more at the bootcamp though, in a much shorter time, than I would have by studying alone. There is great value in learning with others and learning how to tackle problems in different ways. It is also helpful to have an instructor help explain and debug the more complicated parts in the beginning.
It’s important to find a program with a good price point though. Epicodus lasted more than three months and was significantly less expensive than programs, in NYC for example, that cost more than 10 or 15k but only last a few weeks. Ultimately, you want to pay to learn how to learn to code. Once you have that skill, you’ll surprise yourself with how easily you can pick up new technologies.
Do you have any advice for lawyers now, or law students who are interested in making the transition?
I can’t really offer much advice. I just finished the coding bootcamp a few weeks ago. I’m only now beginning to look for jobs. However, I can’t imagine being happier in any other situation. I’m excited to make lots of cool stuff. I’m excited to move forward as a developer.