Mentor Feature: Michael Varnell


December 20, 2023

6Minute Read

Today we’re proud to feature Michael Varnell, one of our dedicated mentors who brings a unique and inspiring story to the table. In this interview, Michael shares his journey from the depths of personal struggles to finding his passion in the tech industry, emphasizing the transformative power of sleep, education, and mentorship.

Depression and a car accident prompt big change

Michael’s story begins when he graduated from the University of Central Arkansas during the 2008 economic downturn. Faced with limited job options, he took over his family’s liquor store, but quickly found himself drowning in depression and destructive habits. 

A car accident, in which he had fallen asleep at the wheel, prompted a sleep study—revealing a severe sleep disorder that was affecting every aspect of his life. But thanks to the introduction of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), Michael’s life took a dramatic turn for the better. 

“The first full night with it at home, I woke up the next morning, cooked the entire family breakfast, cleaned up afterwards, and felt fantastic. Come to find out the problem I’d been having the whole time was that I wasn’t getting restful sleep. My oxygen was desaturating, as it does with obstructive apnea, and it was just destroying my will to live. So that likely had hurt my motivation along the way too. I decided that I was never going to let that happen to me again,” said Michael.

Working in healthcare and rediscovering a love for tech

Motivated by this experience, he enrolled in Baptist Health’s sleep school, and eventually started working as a sleep tech himself. However, the pandemic brought new challenges, and Michael, like many, found himself burned out in healthcare. 

“They pulled us out of our jobs and put us in different areas during Covid, and I was just done with healthcare, had no passion for it anymore. But I did still have a love of technology. So I started looking at what it would take to make my skills relevant again, and kept seeing this pesky little ad on Facebook for this bootcamp through my local college,” Michael said jokingly. 

Michael’s inclination for technology led him to discover Promineo Tech through Northwest Arkansas Community College, where he immersed himself in the front-end development bootcamp.

“After I signed up for everything and got started with it, it just totally reignited the love that was always there, and I decided that at all costs, this was what I was going to do,” said Michael.

Bridging the traditional education gap and focusing on front-end

Michael’s initial college degree was in management information systems and web development, focusing on both back-end and front-end work. However, he was particularly drawn to the visual aspect and user experience of front-end development. Over time, he observed changes in the industry, acknowledging that his original skills were becoming outdated. 

He recognized that the tech stack taught in the bootcamp provided the practical knowledge necessary to enhance the value of his degree. And the experience wound up surpassing his expectations.

“I ended up learning more in the bootcamp about actually building things, and not as much theory—but how to actually go hands-on and construct something—then I learned in my degree. It turned out to be very much worth the money,” Michael said. 

His favorite parts of front-end development are creating user experiences, making data visually appealing, and preparing it for storage. Michael now strongly believes in the importance of dedicated front-end and back-end bootcamps, giving individuals the flexibility to specialize or cover both areas based on their interests. He’s grateful to the bootcamp experience for expanding upon his formal education and filling in the blanks.

“I really loved learning about how to connect the APIs and where you could pull data from the outside. When I did my degree, we were using Java to pull user information over and manipulate it, and we never went into how to push that stuff out and send it through to an API and store it. Getting to learn that side and connect all of the things that I had been taught was really the most rewarding part of it,” said Michael. 

“Also, I had a really excellent instructor in Natalie Childs. She was really good at making up analogies that would help things make sense, and she was really patient with everyone. She would stay over after class time, answer questions. She even met with us a couple of times after the class was over and we’d send her five bucks for a coffee and she’d sit and work with us for another couple hours. That kind of involvement, you don’t find in a lot of other places.”

Michael notes that specialization in one area of software development allows for immediate entry into the workforce, while those wanting a comprehensive skill set can choose to cover both ends. Michael emphasizes the motivation this division provides, particularly for those, like himself, who may not be initially excited about the back-end.

Becoming a mentor with Promineo Tech

Upon completing the program, Michael made a decisive career move and resigned from his healthcare position to focus on his job search in the field of software development. It didn’t take long. Shortly thereafter, he was approached by a Promineo Tech team member to be a mentor, after coming highly recommended by his own mentors as a standout student. He applied, and got the job.

“I have loved being here. I feel like I learned something from the students every day. It’s just turned out to be the best career move I ever could have made,” Michael said.

Michael’s favorite part of mentoring is witnessing the transformative moment when students, nearing the end of the bootcamp, realize the potential of web development. He describes the joy of seeing the “aha” moment when they grasp that having access to data allows them to build anything on the web. 

“The most fun part is that point where a student realizes ‘Wow, I can build anything as long as I take the time to plan,’” said Michael.

He enjoys observing students overcome struggles, particularly with learning JavaScript, and how their excitement grows as they understand the significance of their earlier challenges. This pivotal moment marks a shift where everything starts making sense, and he takes pleasure in guiding them through planning and problem-solving, fostering a sense of accomplishment and enthusiasm in the learning process.

“I’m happier in this position than I have ever been before. It’s a really, really fun job. And when you’re happy, it’s not work anymore, it’s just living. You’re just enjoying life. So I may end up being here quite a while because of that,” Michael said.

Giving back and looking forward

Michael’s desire to give back doesn’t stop with the Promineo Tech community. He recently participated in a charity event called Give Camp, which involves a weekend dedicated to providing tech support for various charities, including updating and enhancing their websites. Michael loved the opportunity to collaborate with individuals from different workplaces, each contributing their unique skills to support charitable organizations. He reflects on the fulfilling nature of such activities, emphasizing the diverse ways he can contribute to making a positive impact.

Looking forward, Michael hopes to complete the back-end bootcamp to round out his skills and become a full-stack developer—and possibly to even combine his passion for sleep with technology. 

“I’ve always wanted to get back into the sleep side and maybe build out a service for helping people with compliance and advice for how to deal with mask issues and things like that. There’s the chance that in the next few years, Medicare will start to pay for consultation visits with people that are clinical sleep professionals. And if that came about, then there would be an opportunity there for working on a project to develop a virtual visit type setup. And with VR coming the way it is, I think it could be really interesting to see where that goes. Virtual doctors’ visits might get very interesting at that point,” said Michael.

Michael’s commitment to job satisfaction over salary echoes the sentiment that happiness at work is invaluable. His journey from adversity to a fulfilling career in tech exemplifies the transformative impact of education and mentorship. As he continues to learn and contribute, Michael embodies the spirit of Promineo Tech’s mission to empower individuals to achieve their goals in the ever-evolving tech landscape.


Feeling inspired by Michael’s journey? Explore how you can pave your own path to a rewarding tech career with available programs at Promineo Tech

Connect with Michael on GitHub and LinkedIn, and check out his website. Also, be sure to check out his YouTube channel Cranky Coder, which he created to provide help and tips for people learning frontend development.

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