Steven Garcia has had an interest in coding since he was deconstructing his PlayStation at age 14, so when he saw Holberton School in the news, he knew that the two-year program was next step for him. See why Steven opted out of the traditional computer science degree to attend Holberton School’s two-year program, how he stays motivated while coding 10 hours per day, and learn about his software engineering internship at Medsleuth!
What were you up to before Holberton School? What was your educational background and your last career path?
I was studying general education at Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa, CA. I was in my last semester and was looking to transfer to a four-year university. I was also working full-time at the Apple store in retail, so I was doing both work and school full-time.
I earned an associate’s degree in general studies geared towards computer science. It was a lot of math and a lot of science courses, but it didn’t teach me full-on how to code. It was mostly preparing me for a four-year computer science degree since I was looking at transferring to either UC Berkeley or UC Davis.
Right before I sent in my transfer applications, I came across the Holberton School application. I decided to apply to Holberton School first because they would give me a much faster answer.
When did you start having the idea that you wanted to learn coding?
I think it all began when I was around 14 years old. I realized I wanted to learn to code because my parents gave me a PlayStation 2 for my birthday. I got really bored of playing the video games, and wanted to know how the thing worked inside. So I kept taking it apart constantly until it broke. That's when I realized that I wanted to know how technology worked. Flash forward to college, when I had the opportunity to take an intro class to realize what programming can do. That fascinated me and geared me toward this path.
Did you research other coding bootcamps or software engineering schools? How did you hear about Holberton School?
I did not. I only knew of a few coding bootcamps, but wasn't really attracted to them, mostly because that type of education was unfamiliar to me. I wasn’t used to it, and it was just different.
When I found out about Holberton School, I was reading the news. It happened to be the first day they released the application, and I started applying that day. I did not do a lot of research even though I did not know much about bootcamps. I thought to myself, "I'm at a crossroads here where I'm either going to go to a four-year university or maybe I can try something different." So I choose Holberton School.
Were there any specific factors that you were looking for at Holberton School in terms of price, location, and the languages taught?
Not really. The thing that attracted me the most was the networking opportunities. It seemed that most other places didn't offer that as much, even colleges and universities. Holberton School provides networking opportunities with people that are in the field that can give you good advice and possibly be your mentor. It was a huge selling point for me to be able to interact with these people. In the past nine months, I’ve experienced a lot of interactions with these mentors, and I've learned a lot from them.
What was your Holberton School application and interview process like?
To give perspective, I was one of the first official students at Holberton School. The process towards the end was a little bit different, but let me explain. The first step was to sign up for the application. Then you go through a really small challenge to determine if you know how to Google things and find answers on your own. I remember one of the questions was about Betty Holberton, who they named the school after, and things like that. It's not like you had to have the knowledge of everything, but mostly they were looking to see how you find answers.
The third stage was actually an interview. Because I was one of the first applicants, I was a guinea pig for that stage. They also tested my knowledge of the website I built in the second stage of the interview. We then chatted to see why I was interested in computer science, what made me decide to attend a software engineering school, and we talked about my website and why I picked the topic I did.
How many people are currently in your cohort? Is your cohort diverse in terms of gender, race, and career backgrounds?
I started in January 2016 and my cohort started with 32 students. We now have about 30 students and about 40% are women. I'm Latino, and there are two Latinos. So yeah, there's diversity. I’ve noticed that everybody comes from a different background which was great.
Have you had a different perspective as a person of Latino developer within the tech world and learning at Holberton School?
I don't think any challenges per se. The only thing that I really notice, and I don't know if it's because I don't go to enough meetups, is that the type of networking is not the same. I haven't really met a lot of Latino engineers, and that's something that I think about. I feel like there are not a lot of people that can talk to me about the experiences that I might be having. I haven't met someone in-person who is Latino and an engineer.
How's the learning experience at Holberton School? I'd love to know what a normal day looks like for you.
I actually had the same process every day. I'll be working a project and really stressed out for half the day because I don't know what’s happening. In the first stage, I’m freaking out. In the second stage I think, "Okay. I need to stop freaking out and start learning new things." Then in the third stage of the day I’m thinking, "That was hard, but it was fun." I broke it down and basically every day for the first six months was like that.
I try to get there around 7am but isn’t a required start time. I’d start working on a project from the night before or that had just been released that morning, and would work until standup which was at 11:30am. During standup we talk about what's going on in the school and one student will take 5 minutes to talk about a topic that they were interested in to practice presenting in front of a group.
After standup, most people will take lunch and then work the rest of the day on projects. Sometimes we'll have meetups that usually happened in the afternoon around 4pm. Those meetups were mostly with mentors, and they will either teach a subject, talk about their experiences in the tech industry, or they'll talk about what they’re working on. Most people leave around 6pm, but I'd stay until about 9pm, go home, and then do it all over again.
How do you like the Holberton School teaching style? Since you took some computer science classes in college, how does the learning style compare or contrast?
I liked the teaching style, but it took some time to get used to because instructors don't tell you, "read page 5 of this one book and the answers will be there." You have to find those answers by yourself. It's actually been really useful now that I'm working. Holberton School’s teaching style works, and eventually I got used to it, so I like it now.
Holberton School differs from my learning experience in college because my classes were more theoretical, so we didn’t learn anything that you can really apply to the real world. You wouldn't really have to struggle and think things through.
Now that I'm working, I realize that the Holberton teaching style has been really helpful because every day at work I have to find answers that aren’t in a textbook.
That's great that you feel prepared for your current role! What was your favorite project at Holberton School?
There are a couple of favorites, but I think the one that I had more fun with was building an iOS app. It was a really simple game where a user has 60 seconds to tap a coin, and the app records how many times you tap it, and then gives you a score. I really enjoyed that project because I was always curious about mobile apps and how the interaction with the touch screen worked with the keyboard. We used Xcode and Swift, so that was pretty cool.
Another one of my favorites was one of the last projects we did where we built an Airbnb clone. I built an API, so basically storing data into a server and setting up databases. That project was fascinating because it put everything together for me. You can check it out on my GitHub.
We know that students are required to take an internship position during their studies or opt to start working full-time and finish Holberton remotely. Which route did you take?
I was deciding between skipping the internship and reviewing everything that I'd learned to start my own project. I was lucky enough to be offered an internship, so I ended up going that route.
Tell me about your internship position and how you got the role. What was the interview process like?
Everything started with Julien Barbier, who is one of the founders of the school. He sent an email to all the students introducing us to the CTO of Medsleuth. We talked on the phone for about an hour, about what the company does, and what they're looking for. He was also really interested in knowing what I was interested in, my experiences, and my background.
After that, he sent me an email with a coding challenge to translate XML into a JSON format, and I had to do that in Python. It was a really simple coding challenge; he was looking to see if I would reinvent the wheel or if I would use tools that were already available to me. After that he gave me an offer, we renegotiated for a little bit and then I accepted the position.
Congratulations! When did you start at Medsleuth and how long is the position?
I started about two months ago and it's a six-month internship. My manager did say that based on how I perform throughout the internship, and if I wanted to come back after I finish Holberton, they will most likely welcome me back.
Would you possibly consider not going back to Holberton to stay at your position now?
At this point, I think I'm really set on going back to Holberton School. I've been thinking about talking to my company to ask if they would like me to work part-time or on small projects, but I would really like to go back and finish Holberton School.
Tell us about MedSleuth and the types of projects you’re working on.
Medsleuth creates questionnaires for organ donation. So if someone wants to donate a liver, the questionnaire that they fill out is managed by us. Major hospitals hire us, and we build the application and integrate it into their system.
What technologies are you using currently?
I'm using a lot of Amazon Web Service (AWS) tools like Code Pipeline, Code Deploy, ec2, Lambda also other automation tools like Jenkins, and I write most of my code in Python and Bash.
When interviewing with Medsleuth, did you bring up your computer science experience from your associate's degree or did you mainly focus on your Holberton portfolio?
I mostly focused on my Holberton portfolio. I briefly mentioned my college experience, but like I said, it wasn't really much. I learned more at Holberton in the first three months than I learned at college in a year.
Is this software engineering position what you expected out of an internship?
It is different. Our company is small, so there are only seven trained engineers in the company. My job is really hands on all the time. I have my own projects and I have the liberty to suggest a lot of changes. So I can make my voice heard because it’s a small company and they value my opinion, even though I'm an intern, which is great. I was not expecting that from an internship, because in a bigger company I don't think you can affect the main product as much.
What I'm really focusing on at the moment is how the automation process works. I’m handling the part from where all the engineers write their code to be put in the production and development environment. It's really stressful when there is a release because I’m responsible if anything doesn't go through. It's a great experience because it's teaching me a lot of responsibility from a very early point of my career.
Have you had to learn any new programming languages since being in your internship?
I haven’t had to learn any new languages as I had already started learning Python and Bash. I've gone deeper into both of those languages at this point. I’ve learned a lot, and most of the new tools I'm using are the AWS tools. Holberton taught us a little bit about AWS, but not that much, so I didn't really touch Jenkins at all before my internship, which is an automation tool.
What has been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learning to code?
Even though coding is my passion and a hobby in general, it is hard staying motivated. At Holberton I was coding for over 10 hours a day, every day, Monday through Sunday. Keeping that pace up, it burns you out at a faster rate.
The biggest challenge is not overdoing it too much. Try to have a life as well. Holberton School gives students free time. We'll have our deadlines so we can organize our time, so it was mostly me because I wanted to experience more. I really needed to step back a little and say “okay, I'm going to go work out at the gym or I'm going to go and hang out with friends.” I needed to do something different than coding.
What advice do you have for people who are thinking about making a career change or thinking about attending a coding bootcamp or software engineering school?
Look for a school that will teach you how to learn new things. Because if you only know one topic, the next year that same topic might not be relevant anymore.
Look for a school that doesn’t teach you one subject, but they teach you how to learn new things. It is true that in technology, everything keeps changing. Don't settle for knowing one thing, but strive to learn how to learn many things.