Merchant Marine to Software Developer: Dalton Ricker’s Journey from Sea to Shore

Dalton Ricker was originally set to enroll at Georgia Tech for college. In a last-minute pivot, he decided to attend the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. Little did he know that after earning a degree in marine engineering systems and spending six years as a marine engineer, he would end up back at Georgia Tech.

Dalton had been looking for a career change. With such a specialized career, he was having a hard time finding work outside the maritime industry. He had always been interested in programming and coding, but he wasn’t sure how to bridge the gap.

After talking with friends who had attended Georgia Tech, Dalton learned about the Georgia Tech Coding Boot Camp. He signed up.

Acquiring new languages

Dalton dove in head first. Before day one, he read through countless books on programming to try and get a leg up. Once the program began, he spent time outside the class to study and drill. There was certainly a learning curve, but it wasn’t terrible.

“With JavaScript, I felt like I was learning an entirely foreign language,” said Dalton. “But at some point, it just kind of clicked. Afterwards, everything seemed a lot simpler than what I was making it out to be.”

Dalton soon started to understand code with a level of depth that surprised him. At that point, he pitched in to help classmates see what he saw. Dalton found his instructors to be kind and helpful.

“In showing us their own passion for programming and for learning, it taught me that this is fun—and it sealed my interest,” said Dalton. “They were great resources for anything that I had questions about. They were always willing to listen. And if they didn’t have the answer, we would try and find it together.”

Finding confidence in classmates

While coding came fairly easy to Dalton, there were other aspects to the boot camp that were challenging.

“Being a marine engineer on a ship in the middle of the ocean, we don’t do a whole lot of talking to other people. The ship is a very loud place, and you can’t really hear each other,” said Dalton. “Usually it’s a bunch of cranky old sailors, so there’s not a lot of normal human interaction. The boot camp felt like a whole new social experience: working with other groups and seeing the different ways that people work.”

Dalton says that working with different people at boot camp helped prepare him for the ins and outs of the workplace. He was able to partner with his classmates on some incredible projects, including an app to help you pinpoint a movie to watch, an app to help find parking during Georgia Tech game days, and an app in which peers recommend travel destinations, based on the user’s preferred activities.

“The mobile travel application was my favorite,” said Dalton. “It required learning React Native, which I had no experience with. Learning all of that and trying to figure out the best way to manage that was a lot of fun.”

Paying it forward

Since completing the boot camp, Dalton has been busy with his new job as a software developer at Wayfair. He found the position with the help of the career services team and moved from Atlanta to Boston to start.

“Career services sent out a link to apply for the Wayfair Labs position,” said Dalton. “As I learned about the culture of the company, I realized that sounded like a lot of fun. They work with a lot of the technology I have experience working with. As the interview process moved on, I realized that this is really what I want to be doing.”

In addition to his work at Wayfair, Dalton has been putting his newfound coding skills to good use working part-time as a tutor, helping new students navigate the fundamentals of coding.

“I can definitely put myself in their shoes and see how crazy it was for me to see everything for the first time. It’s also helping me keep things fresh in my mind,” he said.

Reflecting on the program, Dalton can’t imagine doing anything else now. As he continues with both his new roles, he feels fortunate to have found the boot camp.

“It’s not always just about the material that you’re learning,” said Dalton. “Sometimes it’s about the connections you make along the way. The boot camp was definitely one of the best experiences for me.”

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