Maggie Neterval had a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science, but felt she just wasn’t on the right career path. After switching lanes and moving to NYC to work for an organic food delivery startup, Maggie discovered her passion for tech. Her Founder House roommates introduced her to coding bootcamps, and Maggie enrolled in The Grace Hopper Program, an all women coding bootcamp in New York. Learn more about Maggie’s journey into tech, why she chose to teach other bootcampers as a Fullstack Fellow at The Grace Hopper Program after graduating, and how she landed her new job as a Front End Engineer at Dataminr!
Tell me about your pre-Grace Hopper story. Your undergrad degree is in cognitive science?
I studied cognitive science at UVA and thought I wanted a career in neuroscience. I realized that wasn't for me after working in a couple of research labs. I graduated a little early and moved to New York City to work for a startup called Sakara Life which does high-end organic meal delivery. That really introduced me to my lifelong passion for health and nutrition.
I did a little bit of everything at Sakara Life. It was quite a small team when I joined, and it was really fun to watch it grow while I discovered my passion for tech. I was really interested in a lot of the technical challenges the company was facing and started to teach myself a little bit of programming on the side, and totally fell in love. So I decided to leave that startup to pursue programming full-time.
So you were working for a tech company, but when did you realize that you wanted to work as a software developer?
While I was still working at Sakara, I was also living in a co-living space for people in tech called Founder House. I was actually a house manager of one of their locations. I became friends with a lot of excellent developers and people who have made a career out of programming, and they really pushed me in the right direction in terms of online resources, and how to really make the career change.
I had actually never heard about coding bootcamps until a few of my Founder House friends suggested Fullstack Academy to me. I had become friendly with Fullstack Academy alumni, and they let me know about the new Grace Hopper program. It was pretty new at the time I had heard about it, and I thought that it would be a really great fit for me.
The Grace Hopper Program is an all-women coding bootcamp; how important was that to you?
Since Sakara is a mostly female company, I really loved the "all women empowering each other" environment. And obviously, the deferred tuition model at Grace Hopper is really attractive to someone who at the time was not totally confident that they'd be able to make this career change into tech. So overall it was a great fit for me.
I'd say that the deferred tuition, the reputation academically, and the curriculum aligning with my interests were the top three, but learning with all women was a close fourth. I really enjoyed that all women environment at my previous job, and it was not a disappointment at Grace Hopper either. It was really cool.
Tell me about your cohort at Grace Hopper. Obviously, you were learning with all women, but did your class feel diverse in terms of a career and life background, and race?
Yes. I'd say it was one of the most diverse groups of people I've ever worked with. Some people had computer science backgrounds, but the rest came from such different industries. Everyone brought different skills to the table. There were people from marketing, finance, and some people straight out of college.
It was a really unique opportunity to be learning something completely new with people who brought a perspective from all different industries. I thought that was really cool. Obviously, it was all women, but the racial diversity I thought was great and representative of New York. One of the things I love about being in the city is that everyone has had such different life experiences; so I did think that our cohort was reflective of that, in a way that constantly surprised me, especially since the tech industry is often not as diverse.
Did the teaching style at Grace Hopper match your learning style? Can you describe a typical day?
Yeah, absolutely. The on-campus portion of the Grace Hopper Program and Fullstack Academy is divided into two main parts: Junior Phase and Senior Phase. During Junior Phase, you spend an hour or two on lectures each day and then the rest of the day doing workshops with a partner. I am definitely someone who learns by doing so that really aligned with my learning style.
Senior Phase, which is the second part of the program, is completely project based. So you'll be working on three different projects. Two are with a group and one is an individual project. So again, learning by doing is the best way to learn– at least in technology and at least for me. So I found it really helpful to be diving in for each new technology we learned and applying it immediately.
Did you feel like learning to code with women changed the learning experience at all?
I’ve only done Grace Hopper, so I can't compare it with another program, but I would say that I felt a little bit safer asking questions that I may have kept to myself if I had felt more judgment. Knowing that everyone was coming in on the same boat, entering a new field, I didn't feel like any of my questions would be looked down upon. Whether that was a product of the Grace Hopper culture as a whole, or the all-female environment, or some combination of the two, it was a very safe space to ask any questions that came up, and really learn at your own pace; not to be made to feel stupid or insecure during that process which is something I was so nervous about.
Did you have a favorite project at Grace Hopper? Tell us about it!
I did my final project with two other women in my cohort, who are now my dear friends. We tried to build a better version of Slack- the real-time messaging system. I had a lovely time working with them. We explored a couple of new technologies and really had a great time learning together, making mistakes, and correcting them. We spent the last few weeks developing our capstone projects and that’s what we presented at Hiring Day. Hiring Day is where local employers come and watch you present; there's an interviewing and networking session after.
What technologies did you use for this Slack clone? Did you have a name for it?
We called it “Lack” because it was meant to be Slack but a little bit simpler and less noisy. We used Firebase which is a back-end-as-a-service that Google has released. It gives you a real-time database as well as a few auth tools. And then we used Angular on the front end.
Our readers always want to know about the job search. How has Grace Hopper prepared you for the job search? Did you feel prepared throughout that process of looking for a job?
I was the most nervous about that process. One thing that Grace Hopper did, which was super helpful, was set aside the first hour of every day during Senior Phase for whiteboarding problems. Whiteboarding is a big part of the tech interview process– answering data structures and algorithm questions live instead of doing it on a computer– which can be really anxiety provoking. Since I didn’t come from a computer science background, I did have to put in a lot of my own time after graduating to sharpen up those skills to a point where I felt confident going into onsite interviews. Grace Hopper gave me an excellent start.
Secondly, the career services at Fullstack Academy and Grace Hopper Program are superb. There are a lot of one-on-one meetings where they will help you with your resume and cover letter and just general tactics for approaching the job search that I had no idea about. Never having applied for tech jobs before, it's really a completely different game. So learning what the rules are from an actual recruiter who had been in the tech space who now works at Grace Hopper as a career counselor was invaluable.
I did end up staying on as a Fullstack Fellow for an additional three months, which really solidified the skills I would need in the job search. I feel lucky that I was able to be a fellow, and afterward I felt really confident going into interviews.
What motivated you to become a Fullstack Fellow? Had you gotten any job offers?
I knew pretty early on at Grace Hopper that I wanted to do the Fullstack Fellowship, so I didn't apply for jobs right away. Once I found out that I had been accepted as a Fullstack Fellow, I was really excited to stay on for another three months and be a mentor for the next cohort and sharpen my own skills as I mentioned. So I didn't end up applying for jobs until around the holidays this year.
What's the process to become a Fullstack Fellow?
We had to do a small written application during our Senior Phase as students and a technical interview with an instructor who would act like a student with a bug in their code. I went through and explained it to them and helped them debug, as well as answered a few behavioral questions.
I found out that I was accepted within a week of applying, which was really nice so then we could know going forward whether we'd be applying for jobs immediately or whether we'd be staying as Fullstack Fellows. For me, I loved the program so much, and I knew I wanted to stay, so it was really a no-brainer.
What was your transition like from Fullstack Fellow to a developer? I heard that you had quite a few offers and you had to make a decision between companies.
I interviewed with several different companies. Some were larger companies and some on the smaller end. I'm glad that I interviewed with different sized companies, because there are some unknowns for you in your job search, especially when it's your first job of that kind. I learned a lot about what I did and didn't want in a team and in the technology throughout the interview process.
So by the end, I was deciding between a couple of different options, and ultimately it came to feeling that the team was the right fit. I'm starting a new role as a Front End Engineer at a company called Dataminr on Monday.
What were some of the things that you were looking for in a company? How did you decide on Dataminr?
For me, the industry was a little bit less important than the team and the technology. My number one priority is to learn as much as possible and to grow as an engineer, so I wanted to be in an environment where people were constantly learning and excited about mastering their craft. Just as important were the people. It’s hard to judge the people before you actually get on site at a company and meet the team that you'd be working with, but it was important to me to click with the team. I think that's a huge factor in your happiness at work and therefore in your life– is getting along with the people you work with. You have to make sure that you're a good culture fit and that you're working style fits in with the communication style of the team.
Technology was another important piece for me. While I was a Fullstack Fellow, Fullstack Academy and Grace Hopper changed their curriculum on the front end to React and Redux, and I really enjoyed learning and then teaching those. The companies that were using those technologies was exciting to me, so I am glad that I'll be using those technologies at Dataminr.
From listening to your story, it sounds like Grace Hopper was the right decision for you, but looking back on the last year, what was your biggest challenge in your journey to learn to code?
I think my own lack of confidence was my biggest roadblock. I was really afraid that I wouldn't get into Grace Hopper Program, and then I was afraid that I would fail at the program, and then I was afraid that I'd succeed at the program but fail at the job search. And so you see a pattern here, which is my own lack of confidence pulling me back.
From talking to other women entering the field, it’s not uncommon to feel like an imposter, or to feel like you don't belong. Getting over that and realizing that I was hired because I am good at what I do, I passed the interviews, and it wasn't a mistake, and just really repeating that sort of mantra to myself that “it's going to be okay” was huge. My own self-doubt has held me back more than anything.
How have you been able to combat that self-doubt and imposter syndrome?
I don't think I'm totally over it yet. My next fear is "I'm going to be fired on the first day of the job." I know that it’s a terrible pattern, and I'm actively working on changing it, but it is tough, and it doesn't go away overnight. I think the biggest thing though is just talking to other women in my Grace Hopper cohort and having them express that they have felt the same way or reassuring me that those thoughts about myself didn't reflect reality. Ultimately, I think it just has to come from me. I'm hoping that more time on the job realizing that I can do this will stop them, but the voice in my head hasn't quite turned off.
What advice do you have for other people making that career change into technology and going to a coding bootcamp?
A coding bootcamp is like a guide, but I think individuals will really determine their own success. There are plenty of people who could go through the program and not be qualified to get a really good job afterward. Make sure you're doing the bootcamp for the right reasons. Don't read a review online and say, "Oh, I want to make a six figure salary. I'll just go through this program."
Your heart really has to be in it, and you have to like programming because in order to do really well you have to put in the extra time every day. If you’re trying to make a ton of money, go work in finance. You have to really love this so do it for the right reasons.
The second thing would be, don't give up if you fail the first time. I've always been really open about saying this at Grace Hopper, but I was rejected the first time I applied, and I really didn't think that I could ever be able to get in.
Even in the first week, I felt like I was in the bottom of the cohort. I didn't even know how to use a text editor. I didn't know any keyboard shortcuts. To look back on myself clicking around is really embarrassing. I put the extra time in every morning and at night and quickly I was able to rise up. Anyone with a certain level of intelligence could do the same, but you need to put the work in.
Thanks to everybody else tuning into this conversation. If you have questions about Grace Hopper, leave those in the comments of this video. Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook and let us know which school you're interested in, or which school you would like to see another live Q&A with. Have a good day everyone!