What were you up to before MakerSquare? Have you always been into tech?
I had finished my Journalism degree, and I was traveling while modeling and acting. I knew it wasn’t my forever game, and I had always been good with computers, though I did more design and digital art than code.
I did take a java class in high school, but I totally loathed it, so I had kind of ruled out programming until I heard about Makersquare. It made me realize there was way more to coding than I knew, and I thought it would be cool to be one of the first liberal arts folks in the industry.
What was your goal in doing MakerSquare? Did you have a career goal at the time?
If I can be honest with you, I think I was halfway through MakerSquare before I understood what a web developer really does. I just didn't deeply understand the difference between someone who makes websites and someone who builds apps or even the depth or complexity of an app.
I had started a company in college- an app that let users buy style leaders’ clothes- and I was managing developers, but it was like a black box. They were very techie, they couldn't explain things to us and we couldn't understand what was happening. I’m a communicator and a journalist, so I did know that if I could learn technical skills, I would be valuable.
I know I’ll start another business eventually, and that’s my goal, but for now, I’m really enjoying working at startups. The people are amazing, the work is exciting and you’re not boxed into one area.
Why did you move from Austin to New York to be a developer?
My final goal as a model was to walk New York Fashion Week, and I did that shortly after Makersquare. While I was here, I just remember being introduced to people and constantly thinking, “your company does what? That’s a job?” The startups in New York had bigger missions; they were pioneering technology, not just building apps. That was incredibly appealing to me.
Tell us about your first job as a developer after graduating from MakerSquare.
I actually got my first job while I was still a few weeks into MakerSquare. It was a three-month contract position at a Rails shop and I realized quickly that it really wasn’t the best environment for me to grow in, because I was the only front-end developer. One piece of advice I would give bootcampers is to make sure you are not the only person doing your job at your first company.
Don’t get me wrong, a coding bootcamp prepares you to be able to work on your own, but the amount that I grew at companies where I had senior developers and mentors is just insane.
Why do you think that mentorship in your career is so important?
Software is constantly changing, so you need to be constantly growing. You live and work on the bleeding edge of uncharted territory; it’s not a great place to be alone.
Luckily, development culture is about helping each other. We all build off of each other. We all remember when we had no idea what we were doing, and the people who helped us past that. My salary is much higher because my mentors taught me to negotiate; I code much faster because my peers showed me the tools they use; I’m still in this industry because my mentors taught me not to be so hard on myself and my code.
What should bootcamp grads be looking for during the job search, an interview, or the application process?
I feel like I could write a book on that. One cheesy piece of advice that made all the difference for me is to work for your heroes. Building software is a very creative process and is very demanding, so you have to have a lot of passion for it. During the interview process, ask yourself if you really bond with these people, because you're going to spend a lot of time with them. Especially at an early startup, you have to respect the people and care about the product.
Also, use the Joel Test, which is 12 different points to measure how strong a software team is. For instance, does the team use unit testing? Do they do daily builds? You can easily score a company as you’re interviewing and understand where their tech team is. Ask these questions during an interview and be ready to discuss them -- it’s sure to impress as much as it informs.
So after your first contract position, tell us how you navigated your career as a developer.
I’ve worked at three different startups since MakerSquare. I started at Qubit first, where I got to build interesting technology and gain really intimate knowledge of the browser, which is still very valuable to me today. I stopped feeling technically challenged after a while, and felt like I was ready to build something from scratch.
So I joined another startup- a funded subscription airline called Beacon- where I had complete ownership of the build. The startup shut down in less than a year, but it was an amazing journey. We built two apps in three weeks, watched our first plane take off, and were some of the earliest people using ReactJS in production. I worked day and night, seven days a week, but I learned a lot about developing a product end to end and it really helped me grow.
Finally, I joined my current startup, which is called Fohr Card, and we’re on a mission to end display ads by connecting content creators and influencers with big brands. Since I knew I had development skills, I was looking for purpose, the ability to innovate, work-life balance, and an inspiring team this time around, and I’ve never been happier at any company.
Did you get all of those jobs through networking or through MakerSquare?
Actually, I got all of these jobs in pretty different ways. I didn't know anyone in New York, so I went to a recruiter to get my first job. I had four job offers in like a week- it was crazy. If you find a good recruiter, they can definitely work for you.
I was referred to my second job, and I sent a cold email to get my third job. On the Fohr Card website, they talk about how much they love whiskey, so I went with a bold subject line when I applied: You Had Me at Whiskey. I focused on explaining why I was a great cultural fit because I knew when I was hiring that was important for developers.
I tried Switch app for a while too, which is like Tinder for companies. I found a lot of good opportunities through that, but was being pretty picky about culture at that point. I would say that’s good for people with a little work experience.
As a developer, did you ever hire other coding bootcamp graduates?
I got to do that at my first job at Qubit. I was the second engineer there and that team grew really quickly and we hired bootcampers from Fullstack Academy and General Assembly. We also had a MakerSquare grad and he's done really well there.
After hiring a bunch of bootcampers, I would say that everyone pretty much knows the same things and has the same skill level when you're graduating. Personality and culture fit matters a lot because if you're smart we can teach you anything. We're not looking for you to come with every skill we need you to have at day one.
After interviewing and hiring other coding bootcamp graduates, what’s your advice to employers in New York who are trying to hire from bootcamps?
Put your candidate in a technical situation that is out of their range and figure out how quickly they can discard their assumptions. That's directly correlated to how fast they can fix problems. If I can find someone who does that very quickly, it's an instant hire.
Don’t just ask the candidate to whiteboard- that’s not a realistic situation in the coding world. Instead, give them a problem that’s too hard for them, pair program, and help them work through it to see how they think. It's not about whether they get it or what they know.
I googled, read books, followed tutorials, and watched videos, all with the goal of building small projects. And I mean… really small at first. I didn’t always fully understand what I was doing, and I had to stop myself from trying to do that, because continually building was more important.
Once you’ve worked with two languages or frameworks, it becomes easier to draw parallels and things magically start clicking. Jargon like object-oriented and functional programming suddenly make sense. It all gets easier. Last week, I had to work on a python app. I’ve never seen a line of python in my life, but in two hours I had made the changes I needed at production level with little to no stress.
Are you and other MakerSquare alumni excited for MakerSquare to open in New York?
Yes! I've been collecting all of the MakerSquare alumni who have wandered up to New York over the years – we hang out. I'm really excited to have MakerSquare officially in New York. What MakerSquare is teaching right now is really valuable in the New York market, so I’m excited to grow the alumni base.
Other than being part of the startup world in New York, how else do you stay involved in the New York tech scene?
Honestly, mostly through events or gatherings that people I’ve met invite me to. I’m so curious about the 3D printers, the designers, the hardware geeks... and they’re all hosting talks and lessons and parties and hackathons all the time.
Do you have recommendations for a total beginner in New York who is looking for meetups or workshops?
MakerSquare offers free intro workshops, which seem pretty interesting. To learn more about the overall tech scene, New York Tech Startup is really great. I also love the AWS Pop-up Loft, which is an open co-working space with a lot of interesting, nice people who will answer questions for you or just chat. Look up meetups specific to whatever language you’re interested in. The BrooklynJS meetup is my kind of crowd.
I also think Python is great for back-end because data science is on the rise in New York.
It’s been really cool hearing what you’ve accomplished years after graduating from MakerSquare. What's your advice to somebody who's going to a bootcamp now- what made you so successful?
I’m not your typical developer. Great communication is really important, but bootcampers are also at an advantage because we all come from other fields and have other skills we can combine with tech. I also love learning. A lot of people want to be developers because it pays well, but this is a very frustrating daily job. Every day you will be frustrated and have to solve problems, and I love that. Your learning will not end after bootcamp.
Are you going to mentor at MakerSquare when they open on May 31?
Yeah, definitely. In my MakerSquare cohort, 50% of us were women. We didn’t necessarily believe that it was harder for women to work as engineers, but unfortunately, it is. It would have been nice to know another female developer earlier in my career, so I’m happy to do that for any brave chick that wants to take on the industry.