We love talking to coding bootcamp grads who have landed their first jobs as developers; but what are alumni up to one year after they graduate? In January 2015, Nicki Klein was starting her first job as a developer after graduating from Sabio. Now, she’s teamed up with fellow Sabio alum Melissa Hargis, scaled back her dev job to part-time, and the Sabio duo are focusing on Shortkey, their app development business. Find out how these Sabio ladies are creatively fundraising on a “Hackathon Tour” and how Sabio helped build the technical skills and confidence they needed to launch their own company.
Nicki, what has changed in your career since we last spoke in 2015?
I’m still working at 1iota, but I just went part-time to focus some energy on Shortkey, which is Melissa’s and my business. Since we last spoke, I’ve also learned Swift and mobile development, and won a few hackathons!
We know that Nicki transitioned from finance to web development at Sabio. Melissa, what brought you to Sabio?
I was a Spanish professor for eight years at Cal State San Marcos. I was hired by the university to create their online Spanish curriculum, so I used their tech tools to create an online experience that mimicked an in-person class. That was an awakening period for me, because I was able to use my creativity and problem-solving skills. I realized that I needed to have a career I was obsessed with and could be creative in.
I spent my first two years in college as a Computer Science major. The problem there was that I was taking just one CS class per semester, along with a ton of other classes. I got more out of my first two weeks at Sabio than I did in two years as a CS major. That showed me that I really liked coding. Software development is a lucrative, in-demand career, so that was big in my decision-making process.
My big question was – how do I avoid taking my 7-month old baby to San Francisco for the summer to do a coding bootcamp? The only coding bootcamp I found in southern California was Sabio.
Did you meet each other at Sabio?
Nicki: Yes, we were the only women! There were only five of us in that first cohort, so it was a really tight group. Melissa and I definitely became friends during Sabio, but when it ended, we didn’t know if we would see each other again. About one month later, we both participated in a Hackathon together, and that was the beginning of our company.
Melissa: They always have women in their cohorts, but we were in Cohort 2. It was a really new startup at the time, so we were taking a risk.
Nicki, you got a job at 1iota after graduating from Sabio. Melissa, did you have a job after you graduated?
Melissa: I landed a full-time software engineering job at an accounting services company called TAG, three weeks before I graduated from Sabio. In the Sabio curriculum, we worked on our resumes, and once my resume was ready, I sent it out and got so many interviews! I got the very first job I interviewed for (my technique is confidence). TAG had a small software division focused on NetSuite. That wasn’t the stack that we learned at Sabio, but I was fine with it.
I just recently quit my job to work full-time on Shortkey.
So tell us about the first Hackathon you participated in!
Melissa: Sabio really encouraged us to get involved in Hackathons. It’s a great way to create a project that you can add to your resume/portfolio in one weekend. It also looks awesome to have done well in a hackathon. This was the TechweekLA Hackathon; we formed a team of five Sabio female developers and we took 2nd place!
This team was made up of women from different cohorts at Sabio?
Melissa: There was a woman from Cohort 1, Nicki and I from Cohort 2, and two women from Cohort 3.
Nicki: That hackathon was monumental, because after we took second place, the judges approached us and said we needed to turn our idea into a mobile application. The project was a multi-destination routing application. Say you need to get beer, tampons, and chocolate in one trip; Chorbit makes that happen.
Tell us about the evolution into your app development company, Shortkey.
Melissa: Nicki and I decided that night that we would learn mobile development. At the time, we were C# and .NET developers, but we spent the last year teaching ourselves mobile development.
How did you teach yourselves this new mobile technology stack after you graduated?
Nicki: Originally, we used Xamarin, which is a software that allows you to build a mobile app in C# and .NET.
Once we started to learn iOS, we learned by reading tons of documentation, Google and trying and testing (and failing!) together. We eventually taught ourselves Swift.
Sabio definitely gave us the tools to learn any language after graduating. That experience also simulates a real-world environment; we gained confidence that we could jump into a new language or new role or new business and come out on top.
You were living and working in different cities (San Diego and LA) – how did you keep the momentum going as you learned Mobile Development and developed your company?
Melissa: We live and breath on Trello – it’s like another organ to us! We create our projects in Trello and text each other at least 100 times a day. We’re really good at working remotely together.
Nicki: Basically, we’re in a relationship and we have a child and her name is Shortkey.
Tell us about Shortkey!
Melissa: Shortkey is the umbrella company that we’ll build all of our apps under. Chorbit is our first app, and we’re about to release our second app in March, which we’re really excited about.
Do you think that your first job after graduating from a bootcamp was important, or can someone graduate from a bootcamp and start their own business?
Nicki: I’ve learned so much at one 1iota and so many new technologies that I may not have learned otherwise. I’ve picked up a lot of tools that we can use in the apps we’re building.
Melissa: I didn’t necessarily have the goal to start my own company before Sabio. I thought I would work my way up at a company. It wasn’t until I started working that I realized that I had ideas that I thought were very important; now I have a major ego about those ideas, and I have to build my own things.
Have you stayed involved with Sabio now that you graduated?
Nicki: I’m really involved because I live in LA. They’re really supportive of our startup and are always emailing us – we’re always communicating. At Sabio we have five years of continuous support after graduating, so if you have a problem at work, you can always call Liliana or Gregorio. But besides coding help, they’re helping us with initial startup problems – that’s how they’ve been most supportive. We’re all on Slack, so everyone is still posting problems they’re having at work and asking questions.
That five-year commitment manifests differently for us than it does for other students.
Melissa: I’m still in San Diego, but I communicate on a weekly email basis with Liliana and Gregorio.
Have you fundraised for Shortkey?
Initially, we decided to go down the fundraising path after we launched our app in October. We’ve had lots of meetings, but we’ve decided we’re not going to pursue traditional fundraising. We thought we would need a lot of fundraising to meet product roadmap deadlines. But we’ve found that we don’t need a ton of money for Chorbit. For the next app, we will need more money for marketing and product. But we’re not hugely excited about spending time on raising money.
Instead, we’re doing a rockstar hackathon tour to raise our seed round. It’s an interesting approach to take control of our own seed funding through winning competitions.
We did just get accepted as a finalist in a NYC accelerator – we got that news today!
What’s your advice to someone considering doing a hackathon?
Melissa: Have fun with it and find a way to not be intimidated. We dress up for every Hackathon. At our very first hackathon, we dressed up in adult onesies. It helps to create excitement and keeps us from getting intimidated. We just won $5000 at the AT&T Developer Hackathon. There were hundreds of teams, and I hand-sewed us matching Chorbit cheerleader costumes! Hackathons are a great way to drum up attention around your skills and your app.
We have a lot of momentum going right now; we’re also being featured in a documentary about mobile app developers, and they filmed that AT&T Hackathon.
Do you think Sabio can work for every type of student?
Melissa: I have people contact me from LinkedIn about Sabio all the time and I’ve recommended a lot of people go through the Sabio program. That being said, not every person is a fit.
Nicki: It also depends on the type of learner you are. If you need someone to walk you through every step of a problem, you won’t be in the right learning environment at Sabio. You probably won’t be a great developer either, because you need to be able to jump into a fire and get yourself out.