Mariya always enjoyed STEM subjects at high school, but landed on a humanities major in college. In her last year at Cornell she took a computer science class and loved it, so after graduation, Mariya enrolled at Grace Hopper Academy coding bootcamp in NYC. Now she’s putting her new skills to good use as a software developer at Crisis Text Line! Mariya tells us about the practical skills she learned at Grace Hopper Academy, the strong friendships she made with her cohort mates, and her experience learning to code with all women in the classroom.
What is your pre-bootcamp story? What were you up to before Grace Hopper Academy?
I went to high school at Brooklyn Tech, where we chose “majors,” and I was a bioengineering major. By the time I got to college, I wanted to focus on humanities, because I was so exhausted with STEM! I went to Cornell and majored in American Studies and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies (FGSS). By the time I was a senior, I really missed STEM subjects, and took one computer science class, which I really liked. After I graduated college in 2015, I started picking up small web development projects on Craigslist, realized I had a knack for it, and decided to enroll in a coding bootcamp. I guess Facebook’s algorithm knew I was searching for coding bootcamps, because I saw Grace Hopper Academy in my Facebook feed!
How much coding did you teach yourself? How much programming had you done at college and in high school?
Did you research other coding bootcamps or did you have your heart set on Grace Hopper Academy?
Grace Hopper Academy was the second bootcamp I applied to and I got in. The first one I applied to was Enstitute, which was a technical apprenticeship program, but it actually shut down during the interview process. I also looked at App Academy.
What attracted you to Grace Hopper Academy?
Did you think about going back to college and doing a 4-year CS degree?
I actually wasn’t extremely satisfied with CS classes in college, and college is super expensive. My plan was to do a coding bootcamp, work for a few years, and if anything, I could go back and get a Masters in CS – a lot of Masters Programs will accept work experience instead of undergrad classes.
Was Grace Hopper Academy’s deferred tuition a factor in your decision? How does that work?
Fullstack Academy, which has the same curriculum, has upfront costs of around $16,000. I couldn’t have afforded it. I already had student loans from college, and didn’t want to take out more loans, so deferred tuition was definitely a strong consideration during my research process.
Grace Hopper Academy takes 22.5 percent of your salary for one year after you find a job. So there was only an upfront deposit of $3000. I borrowed that from my mom, and I got that investment back within my first month of employment. The rest of the tuition comes out of my salary once a month.
In terms of paying for education, I only paid Grace Hopper Academy if I got a job. And they delivered on all their promises. Grace Hopper said I’d be employed within three months after graduation, and within the first month, I had two job offers, so I was very satisfied with my experience.
What was the application and interview process like for you?
First, there was an application where you attach your resume and write about why you want to do Grace Hopper Academy. Then I received a timed assessment on Hackerrank, where I had an hour to answer 5 questions.
The next step was an interview with pair programming. One of the Fullstack Academy fellows Skyped with me for half an hour and we solved two problems together. After that I got my acceptance email!
Grace Hopper isn’t for total beginners. Their interview and testing process is definitely not feasible for beginners.
How many people are in your cohort? Is your class diverse in terms of race, life and career backgrounds?
I was in the first cohort, which was 16 people; now the cohorts are about 25. Since we were the first cohort, it was diverse in terms of career background and age; however, the cohort after me was definitely more racially diverse. In my cohort, I was the youngest one at 22. It was super inspiring seeing people mid-careers just change completely.
And being the first cohort actually strengthened camaraderie between us. We’re still like, “we were the first ones, how cool is that.” We still see each other every two weeks or so.
What was it like being in a classroom learning with all women?
I don’t know how apparent it is to everybody – because I was an FGSS major, I look for these things – but it’s been proven in several studies that men definitely talk more than women in classrooms. We escaped that because there were no men! But I definitely felt like there was a more relaxed environment and that people were more comfortable expressing themselves. I don’t know if everybody felt that. In terms of any huge significant differences, not really.
What was the overall learning experience like at Grace Hopper Academy? Did it match your learning style?
In the mornings, we had a 60-90 minute lecture, then a workshop that directly pertained to the lecture we’d just had. We would learn skills and theory, then immediately apply them in the workshop, which was super nice. Grace Hopper tells you they are going to teach you practical skills, and they deliver. You’re immediately applying what you learn and how to build things with those skills, which is incredible.
The curriculum is split into Junior Phase and Senior Phase. Junior Phase is lectures and workshops, and in Senior Phase you focus on three projects. First is Stackathon, a three-day hackathon you do yourself or with a partner, then everybody builds an e-commerce website, then you work on your capstone project for 2-3 weeks.
How many instructors or mentors did you have for your cohort?
We had three main instructors during Junior Phase, and one main instructor during Senior Phase.
What is your favorite project that you worked on at Grace Hopper Academy?
Probably my capstone project, because it was three intense weeks. For the e-commerce website you’re given specs and it feels more like a real work project. Whereas for the capstone project, you think of what to build, you decide on the process, and build it from scratch yourself. Plus, I loved my team, we got along so well. During Junior Phase and most of Senior Phase you’re in the classroom from Monday to Friday. But when we were building our capstone, we were there pretty much Monday through Sunday. Monday to Friday we spent 10 hours together and during the weekend a little less. We definitely bonded hard.
Tell us about that Capstone Project!
Our project is called Symph. It’s a way for users to create music within the browser. Usually, music apps don’t actually create music within the browser- users have to download files and then play them. With Symph we use ToneJS, a sound library which allowed us to play music within the browser. That is unique and significant because there is no lag time, and the sounds are just there already, so it’s faster. Right now, one of my teammates, Emily, who now actually works at Grace Hopper, has continued working on Symph and has added more instruments for users to play with.
I have no music background, but Emily has a Masters in composition and is a trained musician. Our other team member, Alex (she works for Facebook now on the west coast) also has a degree in musical theater. So they were both very musical, and since I was completely non-musical, I suggested that we make the app usable for people like me. What if we make music visual? That’s how we came up with the 8x8 grid that you see.
How did Grace Hopper Academy prepare you for job hunting?
They prepared me so well; I wish my college career department was nearly as good. We started working on job preparation about 8-9 weeks into the bootcamp. We got substantial feedback on our resumes because web developer resumes have different standards from most other resumes – you are highlighting your projects and that’s what you want employers to see at the top. We also revised our LinkedIn profiles- they even took our photos for LinkedIn to make us look professional.
We did mock interviews, both technical and behavioral. Our technical interview prep started in our Senior Phase. Each morning, we did REACTO, which is an acronym for the steps you do during a whiteboard problem in an interview. So we did half an hour of that every day, which was immensely helpful. By the time I got into real technical interviews, nothing surprised me. I’m pretty sure that one problem I’d done during REACTO showed up during my interviews!
Tell us about your job at Crisis Text Line! What is your role?
I was hired into the software integration team, so I work mostly on the backend, and mostly with APIs. I’ve been here for 3 months. Crisis Text Line is a crisis line which operates through text messages only. We have our own platform, so if you are texter, you are texting us from your phone, but our crisis counselors are on a platform on the computer which makes it very easy to collect data and respect anonymity.
How did you find the job?
Crisis Text Line came to our hiring day. I had never had a real job since I was fresh out of college. When I looked at the list of hiring partners, I put Crisis Text Line as number one immediately. I had worked for a rape crisis line when I was a freshman in college, and nonprofit work was really important to me, so when I saw a nonprofit company that also did tech, I was very excited.
For sure. I’m learning PHP right now. I feel like you’re always learning new technologies, even if your job is in the same language you learned, because so many new updates and libraries are released literally every single day. I definitely feel like I’ve been learning a lot on this job. I do feel like Grace Hopper Academy has prepared me to teach myself new things. Obviously we learned a huge amount of information in a really short time, so I feel comfortable going online, watching tutorials, doing problems on my own and learning.
What kind of onboarding or training did you get at Crisis Text Line? Tell us about your first month as a developer!
The first three months were onboarding. On my first day, I was given an overview of different departments to talk to. The software integration team is three people plus our manager. I was also hired with two Fullstack Academy graduates, so we definitely feel very comfortable with each other, and actually my manager is also a Fullstack grad from the first or second ever Fullstack Academy cohort.
I’m the only female engineer in our engineering group, but the company itself is very diverse other than that. I believe that diversity only strengthens a team.
What’s been the biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learn to code and how did you overcome it?
Lack of exposure and representation. I had a computer science “major” in my high school, and out of 30 people, there was only one woman. I never saw girls coding, so it was never in my mind as something I would enjoy doing, and I never had to take a CS class. I only took it because my best friend was a CS major at Harvard, and she told me I would love it. Before that class, CS was just an abstract thing. Looking back, I think it would have been great if I had been exposed to CS earlier. In college you meet people who have been coding since 5 or 7.
How do you stay involved with Grace Hopper Academy? Have you kept in touch with other alumni?
We do have alumni events where we are invited to come back and talk to new students about our journey – what we did before Grace Hopper Academy and our jobs now. My cohort also stays connected through Slack, and we see each other every couple of weeks for drinks or to hang out. 12 of the ladies from my cohort stayed in NYC.
What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
From my perspective, when I started coding the learning curve was quite high because it wasn’t the mode of thinking I was used to, even coming from a STEM background at high school. So be prepared to fail many, many times. Computer science, programming, the MEAN stack, what it means to be a full stack developer- none of that really clicked for me until a month into the program. SO just trust the process, keep on learning, keep on failing, it’s fine. You’re definitely going to get it if you persist. There is this idea that you either “have it or you don't,” but I found that students get what they put in. The more hours you put in, the more you practice, the better you will become.