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Alumni Spotlight: Julia Wells of Sabio

Liz Eggleston

Written By Liz Eggleston

Last updated on August 5, 2016

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Julia Wells took a leap of faith 3 years ago to enroll at Sabio, a new Coding Bootcamp in LA. Since then, Sabio has expanded to new campuses and refined their curriculum. Julia is on her third dev job since graduating, making over $100K/year. Find out more about Julia’s impressive career and her advice about salary negotiating and mansplaining for women graduating from coding bootcamps.

What is your pre-Sabio story?

I got my degree in Ethnomusicology from UCLA in 2006, but there isn’t a huge market for ethnomusicologists, so I worked in arts non-profits and fundraising, planning special events from  large galas to charity golf tournaments.

Why did you transition out of non-profits and start coding?

I had a friend on the East Coast who went to a coding bootcamp and successfully became a computer programmer. Knowing that I’m a nerd, he naturally thought I would like it. I had taken some computer science classes at UCLA and straight up failed them! I had the idea that I wasn’t cut out for a career in programming, until I found Sabio on a crowdfunding site, and everything clicked.

You were the first Sabio fellow, right? What stood out about Sabio and made you trust them?

When I met Sabio, they were crowdfunding for their school and were really adamant about teaching women to code. They didn’t care if you had a laptop or any coding experience. I sent Liliana and Gregorio an email, and the rest is history.

Did you try Codecademy or other online resources before you started Sabio?

I jumped straight into Sabio; I didn’t even know about those things!

Who else was in that first cohort?

Kevin, who became the first Sabio fellow to break a 6-figure salary. Barbara, who is living in the Bay Area as an entrepreneur. And Chris, who is employed as a senior engineer (despite only having our three years of Sabio training).

What was the difference between Sabio and those CS classes you failed in college?

In the first class, 90% of the class had programming backgrounds, while it was my first intro to programming course. I understood the theoretical foundation, but had a lot of trouble with the applied aspect of the class. There were also 3 women in that class of 30.

In the second class I took, C++ at UCLA, there weren’t even computers in class. We spent 45 minutes in class talking about how a compiler works without ever looking at a compiler. That was the only class I’ve ever failed. At Sabio, they required a laptop, which meant that they at least expected us to have a computer to code.

Did you like Gregorio’s teaching style?

He’s incredible. Gregorio had never taught before Sabio, but he’s awesome. In the first part of the class, there’s a bit more hand-holding. Then halfway through the course, Gregorio slowly starts weaning you off asking questions and encourages you to find the answers. He’s no-nonsense, which means he wants you to pay attention in class (and will call you out on that), and doesn’t want to hear you arguing or giving excuses. There are people with kids, risking a lot, to go to Sabio, so he wants you to be focused. You know exactly where you stand with Gregorio.

Have you stayed involved with Sabio as an alumni?

They can’t get rid of me. I’m like the 25 year old who still hangs around high school. I don’t formally teach anything, but we have tons of Slack channels that I participate in with future cohorts. Those Slack channels can range from JavaScript, SQL, professional development, women in tech, etc.  

I’ve been going to graduations, mentoring students, and helping with hackathons. I’ve especially loved being a part of those hackathon teams. I’m always asking Liliana, “Where do you find these awesome people??” and she says, “They just find us.” They put out a positive energy about wanting to teach women and people of color, and because they reach out to different channels, they find a really fun, neat community.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen over the past 2 years at Sabio?

Exponential growth! Sabio has expanded to the OC; they’re graduating 30 developers every three months. It’s incredible to see how much Sabio has grown.

When I took Sabio, we were the first cohort. Now, they’re accredited, on a college campus, with awesome instructors; it’s been really fun to watch the evolution.

As Sabio has grown, have you noticed the quality of students rise or fall?

Oh, they’re so much better. Part of that is that Sabio has finally nailed the curriculum down to a science. They’ve settled on a winning formula.

Last month, I went to a hackathon in Vegas with three, brand new graduates. We won the hackathon and they blew me away. They know so much, and they’re learning languages like Angular that I don’t even know! I was shocked.

Tell us about your career after you graduated from Sabio!

My first job was at IBIS World, which is a company that does online sales and reports. I left after one year, and they hired 3 other Sabio alumni. I was making $62,000 per year as a Junior Developer (which was a $5K increase from my job in non-profits).

Recruiters started buzzing, and I told them not to talk to me unless they could get me a job making $90,000. I thought this would get them to leave me alone, but someone offered me a job in Burbank at Health Data Vision for $90,000 in March 2015!

Woah- how did you land that job?

The reason I got that job was that they had everyone take a test in C# before interviewing. They only looked at my resume once I got there, and I tested so well that everyone thought I had ten years of experience! So, Sabio must have taught me something!

I’m now on my third post-Sabio job. Currently, I’m an Applications Developer at a gigantic publicly traded fashion company in downtown LA, making $96,000. Actually, two weeks ago, they offered me a raise to $102,000. I’m now the co-founder of a startup as well!  My boyfriend and I started a software design/development firm this year, through which we have a couple of clients already, and we’re in the alpha testing stages of an app, BassFace, which filters nearby musical events by genre. We hope to have this ready for beta testing in the fall.

Wow- $102,000! There’s a conception that LA salaries are inherently lower than SF and NYC salaries. Is that bogus?

I don’t really know how to answer that, because I’ve been in LA for my entire life. And Irvine especially seems like it’s exploding with tech jobs! It seems like 1 out of 2 grads are going to jobs in Irvine, so based on my personal experience, LA jobs are just fine.

What does an Applications Developer at your company do? Don’t most of your customers find your clothes in malls?

Brick and mortar stores are losing out to online retailers, so my company knows that they need to beef up their e-commerce department. E-commerce is up 1086%, and after they hired me, I’ve been making it rain with Sabio resumes, and they have hired one other Sabio grad (and are interviewing more next week).

I maintain the company’s 5 brands’ sites worldwide, as well as work on internal tools used by the merchandising and inventory teams.

How many people are on your dev team with you?

There are five other engineers in LA, but there are also developers in Milan, St. Petersburg,and Shanghai.

I love that you set a salary standard of $90K and went for it. Did Sabio help you with salary negotiation in those jobs?

One thing that definitely helped was winning hackathons, because being able to call myself an “award-winning” developer gave me a boost of confidence. Plus, if you have Hackathon wins on your resume, companies want to give you an interview. And more than anything, Sabio pushes you to go to hackathons. They’ll put you on a team, give you a t-shirt, whatever you need.

Also frankly, I think that right now, companies want to employ women, which has helped me.

While I was looking for jobs, I could go to Gregorio at Sabio to ask him questions about offers. I was offered a position using SharePoint, and he told me not to take it. Then when I went to my current employer and they were offering me a salary just shy of $100K, Gregorio gave me a lot of really great advice. He’s never been wrong so far- he told me “Look, this is a team of five developers, working directly under the CTO. He’s going to notice you and pick you out of the bunch to give you cool things to do.” Then six months later, they offered me a 7% raise, so he hasn’t been wrong yet.

You went into Sabio with zero practical coding experience. Do you like what you’re doing as a developer now?

Even on days when I spend all day fixing a bug that turns out to be a comma, I’m so happy. I like being able to wear what I want and do what I want, as long as I get my work done.

As a woman, everywhere you go in life, you’re judged by how you look. In this role, none of that matters. I get to be judged by what I do and how I present my work. That’s an enormous gift that I wish I could give everyone else. I’m judged on 1’s and 0’s, not on my hair.

What has been your experience as a woman in your developer roles?

It’s been a mixed bag. Overall, it’s been positive, but some men understand this more than others.

In my first job, my boss was a man, and there were literally zero other women in the IT department at the company. He told me that before I arrived, everyone thought I was hired as an assistant. My boss took it upon himself to send out a memo saying, “This woman is not my assistant. She is an engineer, and you better treat her like one.” So my first experience as a developer was actually great, but maybe only because he advocated for me before I started.

It sucks that your boss needed to say something, but lucky that he did!

Yeah, my second job, meanwhile, had a couple of brogrammers. For the first three months, I spent a lot of time proving myself, with my coworkers treating me like I didn’t know what I was talking about, constantly explaining “programming” to me. I’ve read that this is pretty common. So, yes, I’ve experienced that, but nothing that made me want to quit programming.

In the Sabio Slack channel for women, what kind of advice do you give other women graduating from a coding bootcamp and going into the real world?

This is a two-fold problem. The first is that we all complain about mansplaining, but a lot of women internalize that and start to question themselves, and think that they do suck at programming. I think that women are more likely than men to internalize that feedback and question their skills.

The second issue is that as a woman, if you’re the only female developer in your office, there’s a lot of pressure to be the best, because otherwise people will say, “Ugh, lady programmers-- amirite?”. I tell women who graduate from Sabio that all you have to do is be your own #1 cheerleader. Even the most amazing female developers will have days that they suck, and that’s fine. Be in your own corner, support yourself, and know that you are a good programmer at the end of the day. That way, when someone is an asshole at work, you know that it’s not your fault.

Do you have any final words for our readers?

I’m just grateful that you’ll listen, because I stop people on the street to tell them how much I love Sabio.

To learn more, read Sabio reviews on Course Report, or check out their website here!

About The Author

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston

Liz Eggleston is co-founder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students choosing a coding bootcamp. Liz has dedicated her career to empowering passionate career changers to break into tech, providing valuable insights and guidance in the rapidly evolving field of tech education.  At Course Report, Liz has built a trusted platform that helps thousands of students navigate the complex landscape of coding bootcamps.

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