Neha Gupta was a doctor in naturopathic medicine before realizing she wanted a career that enabled her to solve more varied problems each day. With family and friends who worked as engineers in the tech industry, she had a supportive network to help her transition to tech. See why Neha chose to learn to code at all-women bootcamp Hackbright Academy, how her bootcamp learning experience compared to college, how she balanced a full-time coding bootcamp with a part-time job, and why she chose to become a part of Hackbright Academy’s first South Bay cohort!
What is your pre-bootcamp story? Describe your background and your career path.
I went to Northwestern and received a bachelor’s degree in Integrated Science and a degree in Molecular Biology and Genetics. My goal was to become an allopathic doctor and go the traditional MD medical route, but I ended up wanting to do natural medicine. I attended National University of Health Sciences, which is a school for chiropractors and naturopathic doctors, to receive my doctorate in naturopathic medicine.
What made you want to switch career paths from medicine to technology?
In my last year of medical school, I was taking classes and working as intern at the school clinic. My experience there was very repetitive. I was seeing a lot of patients coming in with the same kinds of complaints and ailments, and I couldn’t use the wide variety of tools I had to treat patients. I don't generally like to do the same thing over and over again when at work, so I got bored of that quickly.
I moved to the Bay Area from Chicago right after I graduated. I took my board exams, passed, and got licensed for the state of California. I was searching for naturopathic doctor positions, but in the back of my mind, I was also thinking, "my experience wasn't that great in terms of the variety I was seeing. So do I really want to do this?"
In the Bay Area, we're surrounded by tech and many of my friends and family are engineers. My parents are both engineers so I've had that engineering background surrounding me since very early on. So I thought, "Why not combine medicine and engineering and find a job that is at the intersection of healthcare and technology, because there's so much potential."
How did you find out about the coding bootcamp model? Did you consider getting a computer science degree?
Actually, my husband was the one who told me about coding bootcamps. I definitely didn't want to go back to college because I'd just finished four years of undergrad and four years of medical school. So I did my research and looked at a bunch of different bootcamps in the Bay Area. Hackbright Academy was top of my list mainly because of its mission to change the ratio with its all-women bootcamp. I only applied and interviewed with Hackbright, and I got in. The whole process went so fast, so I didn't look further after that.
What were the other factors important in your decision to attend Hackbright? Location, price?
Yeah, I actually looked into Hackbright Academy in January and at that time they hadn't launched the South Bay cohort, but I knew that they were going to. I purposely waited to join the South Bay cohort before I enrolled. I live in San Mateo so it's right in the middle of SF and South Bay, but I preferred the driving/parking in South Bay.
Price was definitely something I was thinking about. When I saw that Hackbright Academy had deferred tuition, that bumped them up on my list even more. I participated in the deferred tuition program.
How long was your Hackbright Academy interview process? Did you use resources to help you prepare?
What is the South Bay Hackbright Academy campus like?
The South Bay campus is in a normal office building within a multi-office building complex. And there's a nice big parking lot, with plenty of free parking, so that's good. Our campus is on the second floor, and we have one large room. Hackbright splits up the room so that on one side, it's the lecture hall for all our lectures, and then there's the lab part of the room where all the computers are and where the instructors help you with projects.
We fit comfortably in the space since there were six of us but it could probably hold 20 students. I think they are also looking into expanding and getting more rooms for the future.
Can you tell me about your cohort? How did an all-women cohort with different life and career backgrounds add to your learning experience?
As the inaugural cohort, we were a small group, but I liked it because we all grew closer to each other. Most of us had no prior coding experience, and some of us had taken coding classes in college. We all came from different backgrounds, and all wanted to do different things in tech. My focus was on health tech or education tech, since I was also a tutor during college. There was another woman whose focus was on the intersection of social justice and tech. It was definitely nice to have such a small cohort where we could share our past experiences that shaped who we are.
Describe a typical day at Hackbright Academy’s South Bay campus. What was the learning structure like?
The program is broken into three sections. For the first five weeks, lectures were at 10am every day for an hour or two. Then we would have a lab to reinforce the concepts discussed in lecture. We had lunch from 1pm to 2pm, then another lecture, then a lab again to reinforce the lecture concepts. We went home around 6pm. Those first weeks were very structured.
The next five weeks were when we started our individual projects. For these weeks, we still had lecture at 10am, but then we had individual project time. If we needed help, we would get into the queue and then one of the instructors would come and help us.
The last two weeks were more career focused. We had lectures, but they were a lot of guest speakers like engineers from partner companies and Hackbright alums who are working in the field. We also had field trips to different tech companies.
What did you think about the teaching style of Hackbright Academy in comparison to your traditional university learning path? Did it work better for you?
Hackbright Academy was definitely intense because we were learning new things every day and there was little time to digest everything. Over the first eight weeks, we had assessments to demonstrate that we understood what we had just learned. That was helpful because I could focus on what I had learned and see if I understood what was taught.
Personally, I like being challenged and learning at a fast pace. That's how my undergrad was and that's how medical school was as well. We were always learning and there was very little time to catch up on what was just taught. The weekend is basically the only essential time you get to make sure you understand the material.
Compared to learning in medical school, how was your experience learning new subject material with all women?
In college, I was surrounded mostly by guys, because I had STEM majors. Even in high school, I was one of the few girls in my math and science classes. Now, learning something new later in life compared to high school and undergrad, I definitely appreciated that the atmosphere was the opposite of competitive. Hackbright Academy was very nurturing. I was surrounded by women who had each other’s backs. The experience helped me be okay with making mistakes, which is natural when we're learning something new for the first time.
Others in my cohort also said they appreciated the supportive environment. We all know when we go into the workplace, we're going to be surrounded by mostly men. So even though we're not as sheltered going out into the real world, it's okay because we had this nice learning atmosphere where we built our strong foundation.
What was your biggest challenge whilst learning to code at Hackbright Academy?
Time management was my biggest challenge – balancing going to bootcamp with having a part-time job. It was probably even more challenging than learning the new stuff because you barely have time to do anything. After the bootcamp finished at 6pm on weekdays, and all day on Sundays, I would tutor high school students in chemistry and algebra. Saturdays were the only day when I could focus and ensure I understood what was being taught at Hackbright Academy that week.
I started tutoring before Hackbright, and when Hackbright started, it was the middle of the school year, so I had students whom I didn't want to abandon. It was definitely intense, but in a way, it was kind of relaxing. At Hackbright I was the student and I was learning all this foreign material, and then when I was tutoring, I was teaching material I already knew.
I had a lot of support from Hackbright to make sure I still kept up with the program. We were each assigned advisors, so if I ever had an issue, they were there to help us. I definitely felt supported through the whole process.
Tell me about your Hackbright Academy final project. What technologies did you use?
I had so many ideas for my final project so it was hard for me to pick an idea. I finally settled on creating MealHub because I really like to cook. During this program, I found myself having to make meal plans for the week because if I didn't have it written down, it would take too much time to think about what I wanted to make every single day. It's better to sit down on Sundays and write out what to eat for the whole week, then just follow that schedule. So I decided to build an app to help with that meal planning.
For last five weeks of the course, when we're working on projects, the lectures were focused on things we could put in our toolbox. We learned about D3, a data visualization program, and Chart.js which I used in my project to display the nutrient intake for each recipe. You can check out MealHub’s Github here.
How has Hackbright Academy helped to prepare you for the job search?
Hackbright has been super supportive in terms of the job search. It’s been more support than I expected because I didn't have this kind of support with my past schools. It's been amazing. I just graduated last week, but even one week out, I feel very supported. We have a Hackbright career counselor to whom we send weekly or bi-weekly updates on our job search. If we have any questions, she's always there.
Hackbright also has partnerships with companies and shares job listings at those partner companies. If we want to apply to one of those, Hackbright can refer us into that company, so that's been very helpful.
In terms of my job search, it's going well. Right after Hackbright, I went to Hawaii for a weekend because I hadn’t had a break for three months. When I came back, I started applying to jobs and got some phone screens so it's been good so far. On average, Hackbright grads get jobs in three to six months, so those are my expectations. I'm not expecting a job immediately, but hopefully, it doesn't take a year.
What sort of role are you looking for? Is there any type of company or industry you prefer?
Coming into Hackbright with a medical background, I didn't want to lose that aspect. I was focused on working at health tech companies. I didn't really have a particular role in mind before I started, but after going through Hackbright and making MealHub, I realized that I really liked working with the front end of the project. I like the back end as well, but I put a lot of effort into the front end. So now in terms of roles, I’m looking for full stack software engineer positions but with more of an emphasis on the front end.
Before Hackbright, I was very against startups. I wanted to look for bigger companies, mainly because my husband didn’t have a great experience with a particular startup. I had that in the back of my head so I kept thinking, "No startups." But I’m now open to that possibility. Currently, I've applied to more startups than I have bigger, well-established companies.
In terms of industries, I'm still leaning towards health tech. I’m also exploring education tech because of my tutoring background. I think those two industries would be awesome because that’s where my heart lies, but I'm open to anything.
What's the biggest unexpected difference that you've noticed about searching for tech jobs versus searching for jobs in medicine? Have you noticed a difference at all?
The biggest difference I've noticed is that there are so many jobs for software engineers out there. There's so much opportunity. There are so many places that I can apply to in almost any industry. For me, particularly it's health and education that I'm looking at, but tech is needed for everything. So whatever anyone's interest is, I'm sure they could find some way to bring tech into it. There's no shortage of job opportunities.
What advice do you have for other people who are considering a bootcamp and changing careers?
One big thing is make sure you like to code. When my husband first suggested coding as a possibility for me, I immediately said no because I had taken a coding class in undergrad and hated it. I thought there was no way I was going to do this. But I gave it a chance, tried it out, and realized that I actually really loved it. But if I hadn't loved it and had forced myself through a coding bootcamp, it would have been a miserable experience. So definitely make sure you like to code and you like to think in that way before starting a bootcamp.
Also, there are so many bootcamps in the Bay Area and in other parts of the US. I made a list of pros and cons for each bootcamp and picked Hackbright Academy based on those weighted pros and cons. So make sure you do your research.