Halfway through her senior year at UCLA, Laura Mead decided that she wanted to be a developer, so she applied to Dev Bootcamp and describes her choice as “one of the best things you can do to jump into the tech industry.” While she was a top performer at her job at Salesforce after graduating Dev Bootcamp, Laura needed a more supportive management team, and recently moved to Twitter as a Solutions Engineer. We sit down with Laura to talk about getting a job after graduation (hint: write a compelling LinkedIn summary!), fighting impostor syndrome in an unsupportive environment, and finding a team she loves at Twitter.
What did you study in your undergrad?
I started as a music major at UCLA, changed my major four times and finally graduated with a degree in English. I didn’t realize I wanted to be a developer until halfway through my senior year and by then it was too late to change my major.
Did you take Computer Science classes in college?
I took an introduction to C++ my senior year and, ironically, really disliked it! I didn’t want to go back to school for computer science- that’s when I found Dev Bootcamp.
What prompted you to realize that you wanted to be a developer in your senior year?
I had dinner with some family friends, who are programmers, after a UCLA football game. They told me I should become a developer, but I was hesitant because I didn’t love math. They explained that it was more logic-based than math-based, so that winter break I started looking on iTunes at Harvard and Stanford’s free CS podcasts. In hindsight, I wasn’t actually building or developing anything very substantial, but at the time, I thought I was doing something cool. Even just setting up a virtual machine on my Mac was something I’d never done before. The fact that I was able to successfully do that and that I was loving it indicated to me that programming was something I should seriously consider.
Do you think your background as an English major has affected your career as a developer?
I think there’s a benefit to having an English degree. There’s no harm in being able to verbalize and communicate well. A lot of people don’t see the correlation between English and coding, but code is just another language. The parallel between sentence structure could be loosely correlated with lines of code.
I also think that having a passion for learning is critical to being a successful developer because this industry is constantly changing. If you don’t want to keep learning then this isn’t the industry for you.
Was your goal in doing Dev Bootcamp to get a job as a developer?
My goal was to get a job. The Dev Bootcamp tuition is a substantial amount of money to be dropping on something you aren’t serious about.
Why did you choose Dev Bootcamp specifically? Did you look at any other bootcamps?
That was the only one that I knew of at the time. It seemed to achieve the goals I was looking for. I saw how many students were placed into jobs and the positive environment Dev Bootcamp embodies - that really convinced me that this was the place I wanted to be for achieving the goals I had.
Who were your instructors at Dev Bootcamp?
We had a couple of different teachers. The class is divided into three different sections, all about three weeks long. I had a bunch of different teachers like Anne and Shadi.
My experience at Dev Bootcamp was fantastic and I always share that with people who ask. I know that they’re constantly iterating the program, so the experience that I had is probably going to be different than someone applying today because there’s even more to learn now. That doesn’t make it better or worse, it’s just the nature of such a rapidly evolving industry.
Did you have any feedback that you gave after the class was over? What was the feedback loop like?
Once you graduated, how did you stay involved in the Dev Bootcamp community?
I was a Teaching Assistant for about a month. Being a TA allows you to search for jobs and keep your GitHub portfolio active while you’re going to interviews, meetups, networking, etc.
Being thrown into the real world is a little intimidating. So coming back to Dev Bootcamp was like coming back to home base. It was like recharging your batteries, being with people who understood where you were coming from and where you were going. Being able to help other cohorts gave you a reinvigorated sense of purpose, and if you couldn’t help a student, at least you could learn something new.
I got hired by Salesforce less than one month after graduating. The holidays are always a difficult time to get hired so there were a lot of people I knew who took a lot longer and they would go into the classroom almost every day.
What is your advice about meetups and hackathons?
I think those are all really great for learning, networking and getting to know people. As far as getting jobs out of them though, I haven’t seen very much success.
I saw most people getting jobs through personal relationships or by doing something totally out of the box. One person I know started inspecting elements on web pages to see if she could debug anything- she would send fixes to the company and start a relationship. I thought that was brilliant.
How did you find your first job after graduating Dev Bootcamp?
Actually, both of my employers found me on LinkedIn! A technical recruiter from Salesforce reached out to me. We had a call, then I came in for a three-hour interview which consisted of meeting the team and a technical interview.
I noticed that your LinkedIn lists the projects you did at Dev Bootcamp. Do you think that was important to recruiters?
Actually, I think having a LinkedIn summary is more important than listing your projects (though that can’t hurt!). A summary is the only opportunity to share your voice from a more personal perspective. Using your LinkedIn as a real resume is the most powerful way to use that tool. As a developer, it’s significant to have metrics like test percentages, how many languages and frameworks you’ve utilized, how you’ve worked on a team, etc. However, I think it’s important to remember that you need to be a personable engineer.
There are plenty of people who have skills that will blow you out of the water every time. There are people infinitely more capable than I am, but what I think really stands out about me as an individual is that I like to talk to people. When you’re an engineer, you have to interact with sales, other people on the engineering team, and non-technical teams. You need to have a personality. You need to like other things besides just sitting in front of your computer all day.
Did Dev Bootcamp prepare you for that or was it something that you had to cultivate on your own?
Dev Bootcamp inherently chooses students that are out of the box or who push the envelope. They do lessons on “Engineering Empathy,” which focus on how you relate to other people. We did these cool check-ins every Friday morning, which I wish every company did!
That’s honestly why I have such close bonds with people from my cohort because we went through a lot together during those 9 weeks. Everyone is risking something, whether it’s time with your family, money, quitting your job; we’re all taking a giant leap together into an unknown pool.
I think it’s incredible that Dev Bootcamp facilitates these check-ins, because it helps you understand people better and that quality is crucial for working on teams, especially teams that tend to focus on code. Being able to relate to one another I think is one of the most best things you come away with.
Tell us about your first job at Salesforce- what did you do?
I was a demo engineer, which means that I built demo applications on the Salesforce platform for sales engineers who then sold them to customers. It was fun, but different than what I did at Dev Bootcamp. At Dev Bootcamp, we had to test our code and write code well. But as a Demo Engineer, no one was going to read the code itself.
What was your first month like at Salesforce?
It was kind of scary! Impostor syndrome is a real thing. It was hard, too because I was one of the only female engineers on my team and I had just come from a really welcoming environment at Dev Bootcamp. My family will tell you there were a lot of phone calls and late night conversations, questioning if this was even something I wanted to do.
Ultimately for me, ramping up meant putting my head down and working as hard as I could, forcing myself to push through that impostor syndrome and that fear that I couldn’t do it. I started taking on as many projects as I could and successfully turning out so many apps that and I ended up being the highest performer on my team. I built 50 more demo applications than the next guy.
In the first 6 months, I was the first team member to build over 100 demo applications in 2014 across all of our teams in the U.S., India, Ireland, and Japan.
You either can psyche yourself out or push through and really excel. After a lot of hemming and hawing and crying, I chose to push through.
Did you feel supported by managers and more senior developers?
Unfortunately no. It was a very cliquey group from the beginning, so I felt pretty isolated. I consider myself a generally friendly person and I love getting involved in team events, but this group was intentionally exclusive. When I started, there was one woman on the team, but she changed teams a few months after I started. After she left, the team really became a boys’ club and it was pretty evident that I didn’t belong. As for support from upper management, that felt nonexistent. Within the first two weeks on the job, my manager told me that I didn’t have the skills to be a ‘legitimate’ developer at Salesforce. That was pretty upsetting.
How do you get over that experience?
I knew after two weeks that I wanted to leave, but my parents convinced me to stick it out. When my manager told me I didn’t have the skills to be a developer, I decided to be the best performer on my team. As soon as someone tells me I can’t do something, it makes me more determined to prove them wrong.
Six months into my time there, I was project managing million-dollar deals and turning out quality work that was being recognized by the VP of Sales. It was one of those situations where I had to overcome my insecurities.
One year later, you moved to Twitter- how has your experience at Twitter been different from Salesforce?
It’s funny; I’ve been working at Twitter for three months now to the day. Being here has completely blown my experience at Salesforce out of the water. I had zero mentorship at Salesforce and it didn’t feel like a safe place to ask questions. There’s just no comparison to Twitter. I have so much help here. There are two senior engineers on my immediate team and they are so nice. I can ask anybody questions and they’ll take the time to help me out.
At Twitter, my goals for the first month were clear. We had an Excel sheet of all the things that I was going to accomplish in the first 30, 60, and 90 days just to help me feel really comfortable ramping up.
At Salesforce, I was doing a lot of that ramping up on my own. It was up to me whether I was going to sink or swim; nobody was helping me. Here at Twitter, I’m in a totally foreign industry - ad tech. I knew none of the ad tech verbiage, so it could have been a huge challenge. But being surrounded by people who are willing to help me out and grow me has been an absolute blessing and I’m just so thankful to be here because it confirms that there are developers out there who are welcoming and encouraging.
At Dev Bootcamp, I met the nicest people ever; everyone’s willing to help you. Then I got a job with Salesforce where few people were willing to help me. Making the move to Twitter where people are fun and supportive was the confirmation I needed to prove I joined an industry in which people are helpful. I just needed to see it.
What advice do you have for future bootcamp grads on getting the right job?
I started asking a lot more questions about the environment and the culture fit after Salesforce. The culture fit is more important than a lot of people give it credit.
When I first started talking to Salesforce, I just wanted a job, so culture fit was less of a priority. I learned my lesson though so that when Twitter started courting me, I asked a lot of questions about the team. How do they work together? How do they communicate? Part of what I really loved about my team at Twitter when I was interviewing is they kept saying, “We’re like a family here. We stick up for each other and help each other. We have fun together.”
Are there women in leadership positions at Twitter?
Yes. I’m a Solutions Engineer at Twitter. I’m on an immediate team of three Solutions Engineers but we’re in a larger organization of about 12. On my immediate tem there’s one other woman and then my mentor, Joe.
My manager is a woman and she reports to a woman. Plus, there are three other women on my larger team.
I haven’t seen any discrimination towards women at Twitter – and I’m not saying that because I work here. There’s genuinely nothing that I’ve seen that’s been rude or inappropriate or derogatory at all. It’s all been really great. Even people who have been on the team longer than I have are asking questions and getting help and we’re having fun at the same time.
It’s been cool to be able to finally compare that and realize not all teams have to be like the other ones. I love my team here, I love my work here. It’s been the best couple of months and I want to stay longer.
Did Dev Bootcamp prepare you to confront Impostor Syndrome?
Actually, one of our Engineering Empathy sessions was about impostor syndrome. We did an exercise where we were paired up, and one partner would stand up and verbalize all the things that her impostor syndrome was saying to her- everything from body image issues to intelligence to family issues. Then we would switch.
We talked about it afterwards, and I wanted to fight for my partner, but then realized that I should fight for myself too. I imagine impostor syndrome as a giant wall that you have to hop over, or a dark hole you’re in and you’ve got to come out into the light. If we let our insecurities eat away at ourselves, we will just fall further and further into the pit or the wall will just get higher and higher. I believe the best thing to combat Impostor Syndrome is verbalizing the fear. Confronting it takes a lot of humility and vulnerability. Impostor syndrome is a real thing and I think even the best developers experience it.
I would think you’re now “over the wall,” but do you still feel bouts of Impostor Syndrome at times?
Well, especially in a new role in a really specific industry, I think my Impostor Syndrome is more present now than 6 months ago. The difference is that I’m in a safe team environment where I trust the people that I work with. I can verbalize my insecurities and they can dissuade them. I’ll be the first to admit what I don’t know. I’m like, “I’m so sorry that I’m asking so many questions” or “Thank you for your patience…” and my manager or teammates will say, “No, you’re only a month in. You’re not supposed to know this,” Or, “It’s okay. You’re not supposed to be flying on your own right now.” Or my mentor will be like, “I don’t know what that is either. Let’s look at it together.”
I verbalized insecurities that I had at Salesforce to family and friends a lot and they really helped me push through it. But there’s nothing like going to the source and getting the confirmation you need directly.
We forget to be defenders of ourselves. We are so quick to fight for other people and yet, when you’re stranded out there in the ocean, you kind of need to swim for yourself. It doesn’t hurt to have people encourage you and help you stay afloat and remind you the truth about yourself – that you are a developer, that you build quality programs and you are qualified to be here; they hired you for a reason.
Have you become a mentor for others?
I haven’t had a chance to officially mentor with Dev Bootcamp but I’ve mentored a lot of people. I have a lot of people ask me questions on Tumblr and LinkedIn asking about my experiences. I have a ton of friends in sales and UI/UX at Twitter who I answer questions for and teach.
I really feel like the developer community is welcoming and warm. If you come across someone who isn’t, then they’re probably dealing with their own impostor syndrome. Actually, one friend told me, “If you think the problem is you, it’s probably not. And if you think the problem isn’t you, it probably is.”
That’s really good advice. Do you think you could have become a developer without doing Dev Bootcamp?
I think Dev Bootcamp is incredibly valuable if you want to land a job sooner rather than later. It gives you some credibility, too.
I’m a self-learner, but it would’ve taken me years to get to where I am now. I don’t think I would have been hired by Twitter if I didn’t have the skills that I learned at Dev Bootcamp.
The best thing about Dev Bootcamp is that I know I wasn’t wasting my time. I use what I learned at Dev Bootcamp every day, whether that’s relating to people or picking up a new language. I learned mobile development two weeks ago and started developing for Android and iOS a week after that.
How did you learn Android & iOS?
I learned them through Treehouse, but I was at an advantage because I already knew what I was looking at. It was mostly just watching videos while learning the syntax, but I had picked up the programming concepts from Dev Bootcamp. Once you learn one language really well, learning a new language is just a matter of remembering syntax.
Objective-C is a really challenging language to learn, but I wasn’t intimidated by it; being able to jump in gives you a sense of confidence.
Would you recommend Dev Bootcamp to a friend?
Definitely, and I would absolutely do it again. I recommend Dev Bootcamp to everybody because I think it’s one of the best things you could do to jump into the tech industry and really get a great job as a developer.