Chloe Condon worked as an office manager to support her career as an actress before choosing Hackbright Academy in 2016. Five years later, we’re visiting with Chloe to talk about the impressive career she’s built as a developer evangelist and an advocate for bootcamp graduates. Learn about the projects that Chloe’s working on as a Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft, her two pieces of advice for women building a career in tech, and what to look for in your first engineering job after a bootcamp.
Update: Chloe has actually moved on to her fourth amazing job after Hackbright Academy – she’s now a Senior Developer Relations Engineer at Coinbase!
This article was produced by the Course Report team and sponsored by Hackbright Academy.
What inspired you to shift from acting to tech?
Living in the Bay Area, I was working as an office manager to financially support my acting career, but I didn’t feel like I was using my brain to its potential. I came across programs like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code, and I was inspired but I thought I may be too old to learn how to code. Lucky for me, my partner who works in tech told me I could still learn. In my acting career, my overall success was mostly out of my hands whereas in tech, I get back 100% of whatever I put in.
Why did you choose Hackbright Academy in 2016?
I had gone to a couple of meetups for women in tech, so when I went to the informational meeting for Hackbright Academy, I immediately knew that this was where I wanted to go. While there are online resources if you want to go the self-teaching route, I needed the accountability and I wanted to learn with other people. I also met with a few bootcamp alumni for coffee before I decided to join Hackbright to ask about their experiences. Everyone I met was so lovely, incredible, and smart and I’m still in touch with a lot of them.
What I loved about Hackbright Academy was the welcoming, positive energy — and their mascot was a “balloonicorn!” I also genuinely believed (and still deeply believe!) in Hackbright Academy’s mission to change the ratio of women in tech.
What did you actually learn at Hackbright Academy? When you graduated, what did you know?
When I graduated from the bootcamp, I was mostly applying for Junior Engineering and Junior Software Development roles. One month into my job search, I discovered the Developer Advocate role, and I decided that was what I wanted to do.
What has your career looked like since graduating from Hackbright Academy?
My first job after Hackbright Academy was as a Junior Developer Evangelist at Codefresh. I was working on our content, giving talks, doing webinars, and helping out with articles and documentation.
Then I got to stretch my creativity as a Developer Evangelist at Sentry, which allowed me to bring my theater background into tech. I created a lot of video content which was fun because Sentry’s brand was so quirky and unique. They gave me the creative space to do what I thought developers wanted to experience and I ended up creating an award-winning meetup called Sentry Scouts. It was a gamified, camp-themed tech meetup – there were patches and stickers like the Girl Scouts — we even had Girl Scouts come in to sell cookies! I created it because I had gone to many tech meetups that were boring with cold pizza and warm beer.
My evangelist work was getting noticed on social platforms and in 2018, I joined Microsoft as a Senior Cloud Advocate on the Next Generation Experiences Team. I never thought in a million years that someone with a theater performance degree who went to a coding bootcamp would be helping university students around the world! Since joining Microsoft, I’ve traveled the world, been a keynote speaker at events, and created engaging blog and video content. I’m a huge advocate for folks with non-traditional backgrounds and a lot of the work I do is to make tech more inclusive to people who didn’t know about technology early in their life.
Five years later, are you still in touch with the network you built at Hackbright Academy?
The network from Hackbright Academy was a huge selling point for me when I was researching bootcamps. I still have access to our Slack channel where I can chat with my cohort and anyone else in the Hackbright Academy community. We still talk to each other about what we’re currently working on and it’s like a little second family. Plus, I got my second job at Sentry through a Hackbright alum! We met at a Learn Docker event and she had read an article of mine, so she invited me to interview at Sentry.
I have also mentored students at Hackbright Academy since graduating. My mentees have made life-changing career pivots that allow them to afford the life they want. For example, one of my mentees is now a Software Engineer at Reddit. Over the years, I’ve also given Hackbright graduation speeches, where I like to highlight analogies to Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” because there are so many parallels between what Elle went through and what we all go through with in the tech industry as women.
At Microsoft Reactor, we host Hackbright cohorts, giving them a tour of Microsoft and doing a Q&A. I love helping folks who are trying to get into this industry because it’s hard getting doors to open for you. I’m team Hackbright forever!
What’s your advice for recent bootcamp grads looking for their first tech jobs?
At the Hackbright Academy campus, there’s an illustration of “The Iceberg of Success” where the top is the career that outsiders see and the bottom is all of the rejection and failure. My number one piece of advice about your first role in tech is to be resilient. You’re probably going to get rejected from the first job you apply for, and don’t be discouraged if you get more than five rejections. You have to pound the pavement, network, get your resume into the right hands, interview, and apply to as many jobs as you can. If I had given up after my first rejection, I wouldn’t be working at Microsoft today! Coming from an acting background, I was pre-conditioned for rejection with auditioning because I had been told “no” so many times. But unlike an audition, in an interview, you can ask the hiring manager what you should work on and they’ll tell you what you need to learn for the next interview. Take the time to prepare yourself for the interview — knowing how to interview well is an important skill for a software engineer. Even the most senior engineers (including me!) have to study for interviews.
It’s important not to be too specific with what you’re looking for in your first role. Your first role is to get your foot in the door, and it can be hard to get that door open as a non-traditional background candidate from a coding bootcamp. The good news is that it’s now easier to get a job after going to a bootcamp because there are so many people (like myself) who work in the industry and are loud and proud with that non-traditional background.
I recommend new technologists join support groups and/or find a mentor. When I was starting this career, I spoke with others in my bootcamp about my struggles and soon realized I wasn’t the only one struggling. I now host an online show called How Can I Help? that focuses on questions you may have about the job search.
In your own tech career, have you faced any bias as a bootcamp grad applying for developer jobs?
I’ve seen tech hiring change since I first started applying for tech jobs. Your first job is the hardest – everything is easier once you have something on your resume. Right after bootcamp, a company refused to interview me because they said they had interviewed a bootcamp grad once before and it didn’t go well. I’m thrilled to say they reached out to me recently for a developer role and I noticed in their job description that they’re now open to bootcamp grads. When I used to speak at events all over the world, I would meet people in-person who wanted to hire me, even though I had been rejected by their recruitment software before because they wouldn’t allow anyone without a CS degree.
So many amazing people I’ve worked with at Microsoft and throughout my career are either self-taught or come from non-traditional backgrounds. I work with people that have been auto-mechanics or gas pumpers and they come from all different walks of life. I think it’s those diverse backgrounds that become superpowers in this industry. Since I’ve established myself in this industry, people don’t look for my degree, they look at my experience. Being at the senior-level of my career means I don’t have to go through the traditional routes. I get referrals and rely on my network, which is huge.
What kinds of projects are you working on at Microsoft in 2021?
This week I spoke at Ignite, which is Microsoft’s major annual event – 2000 people attended live which was exciting!
Before the pandemic, I traveled all over the world from Milan to Prague to France speaking about Microsoft technologies and holding workshops. I have launched a bunch of fun projects at Microsoft like my fake boyfriend app that got a lot of crazy coverage online.
What I love working on right now is Azure, Power Platform, and especially working with students (self-taught folks, bootcamp grads, or university students). A lot of the work I do is to make technical concepts interesting. I get to use the left side of my brain – the creative side from my theater background. For example, I recently used the Microsoft Face API to make Mario Kart Astrology and Mean Girls Day apps. I usually try to put my personality into the content and applications I build.
Lately, most of my time has been spent live-streaming, especially during the pandemic. I’ve been doing live content where I’m live coding or building Twitter bots or learning about artificial intelligence and machine learning out in the open with everyone. The pandemic has been unique for anyone working in developer evangelism because it used to center around in-person meetups and talks, which often meant only the people in the room that day heard your talk. Now you can livestream an online event and anyone in the world can get involved.
Are you using what you learned at Hackbright Academy in your job today?
I’m now on my third job and I use a lot of the information I got from Hackbright career services like how to network, how to talk to people, and how to get involved with communities. I use a lot of the information I learned at Hackbright in this new How Can I Help series that we’re doing at Microsoft.
I learned how to make my resume nice with Canva and how to talk through my problems when whiteboard. We’re actually about to do a whiteboard segment on the show in the next couple of weeks.
I learned a lot of programming fundamentals from Hackbright, but where I gained a lot of insight was getting the job you want, negotiating salary, and interviewing the company as much as they’re interviewing you. It’s hard to think about those things when you’re a new bootcamp grad and you need a job badly.
One of the bigger lessons I learned from Hackbright was that I was entering a field that’s very in-demand. At the time, I thought I would be lucky if I even got a job. We had so many amazing speakers who came in, talked to us, and gave guest lectures at Hackbright – that helped me understand what a good job looks like and what to look for in a company.
But I also cried in a Mcdonald’s during my time at Hackbright – the highs are high and the lows are low! It's very difficult to make a career change so I think if you can do that in a welcoming space with people to support you along the way, then it’s a good fit for a bootcamp.
Do you think cloud engineering is a good career path for new bootcamp grads?
Cloud encompasses so many different pieces of technology with many different careers to make out of it. I’ve gone from Docker CI/CD to error logging and tooling and reporting to now working with Azure and machine learning in the cloud. When I applied to Hackbright, I thought I was going to be a traditional software engineer. I didn’t even know what a developer advocate or developer evangelist was, I certainly never thought I would be working for Microsoft. And I’m excited for web3 and blockchain technology.
I wish I could go back in time and talk to Chloe when I was choosing a bootcamp, I didn't have any idea how many different jobs and technologies there were. I hear people say that they don’t want to sit behind a desk all day and code, but I tell them that there are so many different flavors of software engineering out there.
How have you evolved as an engineer since you graduated from Hackbright?
My confidence has grown. In my first roles, I felt lucky that anybody would even consider me for a job. As I get more senior and experienced, I realize that I’ve created a career for myself. I get recruiter emails every week and I work in an in-demand field now, which is a humbling experience for me. I still have imposter syndrome in some ways, but it’s a different kind of imposter syndrome. You’re never going to feel fully comfortable in this industry because you’re always going to be keeping up and learning. It’s humbling for me to look back at the past five years of my life and say I did that, I’m so glad I did it this way.
I had never worked in a role as a decision-maker or a go-to person for a specific technology. I think that’s been the coolest, most valuable part of making this career change.
I think where I’ve seen the most growth post-bootcamp has been in helping other people get into the tech industry. If you do make this career change, then I encourage you to be what you needed during your bootcamp and to help other people get here.
Are you now seeing more bootcamp graduates working alongside you?
I work with a bunch of Senior-level and Principle-level folks at Microsoft who are bootcamp grads. A lot of self-taught developers and bootcamp grads work in developer relations. I remember taking an Uber developer out for coffee and, at the time, it felt so rare to meet a bootcamp grad in a role at a major company. I’d say I’m probably one of the louder ones because I do a lot of mentorship and advocacy around opening the door more for these candidates.
It’s almost shocking nowadays for people to have a traditional degree, I feel like a lot of folks made the career change around the same time I did in 2016. It’s particularly exciting for me, when I went to Hackbright in 2016 there was only a handful of people who had done a bootcamp and could speak to them being successful.
We need more non-traditional background people in this industry; it creates more diversity, representation and insight which in turn makes our tools better. As technologists, we know our lives and experiences. Having people from education, creative arts, parents, and other life experiences gives you a leg up from junior candidates fresh out of the university.
I’ve worked with a lot of bootcamp grads and it’s funny because not all bootcamps are like Hackbright where people are loud and proud they came from a bootcamp. There are some bootcamps that discourage talking about coming from a bootcamp, but I’m so loud about it because I want more bootcamp grads to be able to get into this industry.
Do you have career advice for women who are trying to get to the next step in their tech career?
Truly the best piece of advice I can give to you is to make sure you are getting paid fairly and equally. You need to ensure you’re being treated with the same level of respect as your other coworkers, male or otherwise.
When it comes to negotiating, talk to men and ask men what they’re making. It’s important to have transparency in the industry and to know if you’re underpaid or should be advocating for a higher salary. It can be incredibly uncomfortable; I personally want to start crying when I talk about negotiating. But you don’t want to discover one day that all the other guys are making more than you. Take care of that ahead of time and be uncomfortable enough to have those conversations with your recruiter or hiring manager.
As a woman in tech, I think a good piece of advice is to find your allies or group. Find the people you can go to who can support you when you inevitably run into crappy gender bias issues in the industry. I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have support from these folks and these can be non-binary, male, or female.
Find a mentor. If you’re a woman, find a woman mentor specifically who can speak to those experiences. My experiences differ quite a bit from the experiences my boyfriend has had in this industry.
Looking back on the past 5 years, was attending Hackbright Academy worth it for you?
Definitely. What continues to be nice about Hackbright is that they have a name in this industry. So many great engineers have come out of Hackbright over the years.
I think it was a great investment but it was also a big financial commitment for me. At the time I was an actress working as an office manager. I sold my Polly Pockets and did a bunch of stuff to help supplement the payment. I didn’t have money to go to a four-year program at the time. A bootcamp wasn’t affordable either, but it was an investment that I felt I needed to make in order to get the proper training, education, and one-on-one mentorship I needed.
Quitting my job and paying the tuition meant that I was financially invested as well. Had I done it on my own, I think I wouldn’t have had as much direction or known what I needed to do specifically when it came to interviewing. I had undiagnosed ADHD during that time and I needed the external accountability. Some people say you don’t need to go to a bootcamp because there are so many free resources online and they’re right – there are free resources online. But I needed external accountability from other people to keep the stamina to study every single day on my own.
A big part of the bootcamp is learning to interview as a software engineer in this industry. I’m glad I did it just for the connections, friendships, and networks that came from Hackbright. I’ve got three amazing mentors from Hackbright and I’m still even in touch with a lot of my instructors which is just lovely. I view that time in my life very fondly.
Of course, I was going through some tough emotional times with a lot of imposter syndrome, but I think Hackbright Academy was the best environment for me to go through. I definitely wish I could go back in time and give Chloe in 2016 a hug and say it’s okay, you’re going to get a job. I was stressed out and I’m glad I wasn’t doing it alone for that reason because I probably would have given up if I was learning on my own. It was a good investment for me.
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