Frances Liu graduated with a degree in Business Analytics, then immediately enrolled at Hackbright Academy. She had gained some coding skills at college, but realized she needed more hands-on project experience to get a job in tech. Frances chose Hackbright Academy’s all women coding bootcamp for its supportive and friendly environment, and its Python curriculum. We asked Frances how her bootcamp experience compared with college, and about her new software engineering job at Teradata!
What is your pre-Hackbright Academy story?
I was a fresh college grad when I entered Hackbright Academy. I graduated in May 2016, and started Hackbright in July 2016. In college, I started out as a microbiology major, switched to computer science for a year, and then ended up graduating with a business analytics degree. I mainly focused on R, SQL, statistics, visualization, and presentation of data. I ended up going above and beyond and making my own website and interactive graphs and presentations on the web.
My first experience with programming was when I was 6 or 7 years old. My dad had a copy of The C Programming Language in our bookshelf. I read through it and enjoyed it, but didn’t comprehend the logic behind it.
Why did you go straight from college to a coding bootcamp?
I had college experience but didn’t have enough project experience. My computer science and computer engineering major friends had a whole bunch of projects from their college coursework and personal endeavors. I had many internships, but it wasn’t enough to get a job. The majority of jobs in the data analytics and data science fields required Ph.D. and master’s degrees.
Throughout college, I also didn’t have the chance to grow my network. I didn’t attend clubs, go to meetups, and wasn’t actively engaged in the community due to working full time and taking more than the maximum number of units allotted in a semester by dual enrolling in community college to finish my degree faster. Along with learning new skills, building a portfolio of projects, I felt that going to a coding bootcamp was a great way to build a network that I could tap into whenever I needed it. At the end of the day, a network of people, and relationships, are things you can’t buy.
Did you consider majoring in computer science at college?
I actually had an issue with the computer science classes at my college. The ratio was 10 women to 250 men in the lecture hall. That’s why I ended up choosing an all female bootcamp. I applied to App Academy and I considered Dev Bootcamp, Flatiron School, and Hack Reactor. But, ultimately, I chose Hackbright Academy because I knew how important and valuable it is to empower other women to go into engineering. After attending several female-only and co-ed events, I felt the female only events more inclusive when it comes to people of various backgrounds and experiences.
Other than being all women, what other aspects of Hackbright Academy stood out to you?
The fact that the curriculum was Python-based was very appealing to me. Python stood out to me when I was doing business analytics because R and Python are both very strong in the data science community. So I could always go back and work in data science/analytics. I wanted to keep my options open about going into a data science or software engineering direction, so the curriculum was a deal breaker for me.
Some bootcamps do group projects for their final projects, but at Hackbright Academy, that solo endeavor was really important because it let me assess my skills from end to end.
How did you pay for the tuition?
Hackbright gave me a partial scholarship because I was in student loan debt after college. Rather than taking out money via loans, a family member loaned me money to fund the rest of my Hackbright experience, and I used my cash on hand to pay for housing, living expenses, and food.
What was the application and interview process like for you?
Hackbright’s initial online application is like doing a job application– they ask who you are, where you’re from, and what your background is. Then there’s a coding challenge with an unlimited amount of time to complete. Other bootcamps I applied to had time-restricted challenges. I completed the coding challenge in Python, but the Hackbright admissions team said it didn’t have to be fully functional (their goal was to see my logic and reasoning), and any language would be sufficient.
How many people were in your cohort? Was your class diverse in terms of age, race, life and career backgrounds?
We had 25 to 30 people, and there were a large variety of backgrounds. Some people were less experienced in coding, so it was more challenging for them, and others were ahead of the curve, or understood the material from the get go. The students ranged in age from 23 (me!) to mid 50's. One older student had a CS degree and was well versed in Fortran, but wanted to learn something new so she applied and was accepted to Hackbright. We were also diverse in terms of backgrounds and cultures. We had people with design and art backgrounds, teachers, engineers, journalists, and project managers. It was extremely diverse, which was awesome. Everyone always brought different opinions and ideas because of their background and experiences.
What was the learning experience like at Hackbright Academy?
For the first four to six weeks, every day was busy with lectures. From 9am to 10:30am we had a lecture, then from 10:30am to 12pm, we had an exercise to do. After lunch, we had another lecture and another exercise. Sometimes certain students needed more time with the material, so the instructors would do the formal lecture, then during the exercise and through pair programming, students could ask questions and figure out exactly what they didn’t understand.
On Fridays, we had a study hall where the instructors would go over everything from the entire week, and you could ask any questions. If students felt confused during class, it was always clarified later on. We had homework every weekend; the homework load wasn’t crazy and it built on top of what we learned that week.
How did learning with only women compare to your experience at college?
I did not have a positive experience in my computer science classes at college, and as one of the only women, I felt secluded and singled out. At Hackbright Academy everything was a lot more collaborative and it was a friendly and accepting environment. You do form cliques because you bond with certain people more as everyone’s expertise coming in was a bit different. If I had a question pertinent to Python and C++, I would ask someone who had taken C++ courses. We also had formal front-end engineers in the course who brought very useful knowledge.
What is your favorite project that you built at Hackbright Academy?
My favorite one would be when we first started putting everything together with Flask and making a real application. It was a fairly straightforward shopping cart application with a database, backend, and front end. Prior to that, we were more focused on functional algorithms – this was the first one where we got to see the whole thing stacked together. Another favorite was when we did Markov chains. At the time I didn’t get it, and hated it, but looking back, it was pretty fun because we got to work with our first API, the Twitter API. We built a bot that posted tweets on its own, and seeing and understanding that process was very important to me.
How did the Hackbright Academy careers team prepare you for job hunting?
As a fresh grad I felt a lot of their advice wasn’t as pertinent to me, because I had no full-time work experience – I had only done internships.
Hackbright’s mentorship program was one of my biggest takeaways– I still talk to my mentor today. He helps me when I have any problems at work, or with study; whatever I’m working on, he is there for me. Mentors are really invaluable.
I found my job fairly quickly; I started applying the last two weeks of Hackbright, and had interviews lined up immediately after. I got the offer in early November and started December 5th. I could’ve started earlier, but I wanted to give myself some time to unwind.
Congrats on your role at Teradata! What does your role involve so far?
Teradata is a big data/analytics company for B2B. My official title for the company is software engineer. The first team I was put on was working on some new servers. Since the company was transitioning to use more Python, I quickly picked up how to read Perl to help with some “translations.” Moving forward I want to do web development and teach, so I joined Toastmasters to practice my oral speech skills. I presented at our internal Python meetup about Flask, which is what I learned at Hackbright, and it caught the attention of a CTO. He brought me onto his project, a Flask RESTful API, and transitioned into my second position.
What kind of onboarding or training did Teradata give you?
I didn’t do onboarding until mid-February, and it was mostly business focused because Teradata is changing their business model. For the most part I had to learn on my own.
How do you stay involved with Hackbright Academy? Have you kept in touch with other alumni?
The were a few things I wanted to do when I graduated – I wanted to be successful, which I defined as completing interviews and finding a job. Then I wanted to learn the nuances of being a full-time employee, since it was my first full-time job. After that, I wanted to contribute back to the community by being involved in being an ambassador, writing blog posts, and teach the community.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
A lot of people focus on, “What will this bootcamp give me, will it help me find a job?” And I feel that’s not the right way choose a bootcamp. You should look at what you want to accomplish going in, and when you graduate. I went in with the mentality of wanting to learn and build up my network. Having a network is invaluable – you can’t put a price tag on human relations. I knew I was going to be in a smaller work environment, so I could practice things like speech skills in lightning talks, and the mentor program helped me accomplish my goals.
Remember that the learning never stops. Just because Hackbright Academy started your learning does not mean that’s it. You have to keep going. For those who do Hackbright then stop coding and practicing, they may reflect back, and say it’s not worth it. In reality, Hackbright is a valuable platform and foundation where you can start your learning and figure how you learn best.