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Alumni Spotlight: Susan Gleason of Startup Institute

Lauren Stewart

Written By Lauren Stewart

Last updated on March 13, 2017

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With a computer science degree and over 15 years of industry experience, Susan Gleason left the workforce to dedicate time to her family. When she was ready to return, software development had changed. Interested in getting back in the action, Susan chose to re-skill in the Web Development course at Startup Institute in Boston. Learn about Susan’s journey back into tech, the real-world project she worked on with her cross-functional team at Startup Institute, and the gratifying struggle to land a Software Engineering role!

What was your educational background or last career path before you decided to attend Startup Institute?

I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science and 15 years experience in the technology industry. I have over seven years of development experience and another seven years of experience ranging from technical sales to product and project management. I stayed home to care for my children and my mother when she was ill.It had been 15 years since I’ve worked in the tech sector, so when I started at Startup Institute, I was coming back into the workplace.

So you stepped away from the workforce for about 15 years. Was Startup Institute your chance to re-enter the workforce again?

It was. I had spent some time looking for a job, and a friend told me about Startup Institute and suggested I go to one of their information sessions. I went, and after speaking with the Director of Admissions, I was intrigued. I really didn't think I would be able to go back into software development, but when I talked with her, she was so understanding and supportive. She told me, "you can do this!" She helped me take the first step toward returning to development with her support and innovative thinking.

Did you consider going back to a traditional university to take courses? Why did you choose to take a coding bootcamp?

I had heard about coding bootcamps, but I never considered them because I felt that it was probably going to be more of a beginner's level, “let's go back to college” type of thing, and I've done that. Startup Institute was the first bootcamp I stepped into and when I did, I had no need to look further. Startup Institute offers much more than an academic experience, it is a launch pad to a new career.

What was it about that info session and Startup Institute in particular that made you want to attend?

I think it was the support that I found. Right off the bat, I was told I could do something that I knew I could do. I could get back into development, but I didn’t expect anyone to actually believe that. I expected to hear that it's been too many years. So I appreciated the support they gave me saying, "you can do this."

Did you consider any other bootcamps when you were researching?

I didn't. I didn't look at any other bootcamps because I knew Startup Institute was the right place. The information session spoke to all my needs - technical knowledge, job search preparation and a strong professional network.

How was the application and interview process for Startup Institute?

It started with a  fantastic interview with the admissions team focusing on my goals and how they might be a good match for their program. For the web development track, they evaluate your technical skills by asking you to write a program. They gave me one week to write a program in Ruby On Rails that would send a text message to my phone. I took on the challenge, knowing it was my chance. It was tough but I enjoyed it so much that I knew I needed to return to development. What followed was an interview with the program director and an acceptance letter.

Do you have any Startup Institute interview tips for our readers?

I think the biggest thing is to be yourself. The admissions team is there to help. They aren't there to judge in any way, shape, or form. Be yourself, and show them what you really want to do. They're going to help you decide what is right for you. If you attend, they will give you everything they can to help you succeed.

How many people were in your cohort and was it diverse in terms of gender, race, life and career backgrounds?

There were about 50 people in the cohort, and only six in my web development track. It was a great group of diverse people, all looking for a change.  I'm in my 50’s and would say that I was on the older side. There were probably 5-6 other students over 40. My classmates’ backgrounds were varied. We had people coming back to work, changing their roles, or just graduating from school. Technical backgrounds ranged from beginner to expert. One of my classmates in the web development track had really never done any coding before, and she's now a software engineer.

What was your learning experience like at Startup Institute? Tell us about a typical day.

A typical day started out with a fireside chat, where one of the CEOs from a Startup Institute hiring partner would come in and talk. It really opened our eyes to what's out there, the different networks that the Startup Institute works with, and the different options for us. They show you what it takes to start your own company.

This would be followed by one or two sessions on interviewing, networking, or resume writing. And then we would divide into our own tracks, where I had sessions with my web development classmates. On Thursdays, we went off-site to work on our partner project. We worked with people from other tracks (digital marketing, sales, and design) on a project for one of Startup Institute’s partners. The web development sessions not only covered programming in Ruby on Rails, but included everything from market trends to software tools and the agile development process. This technical training brought me up-to-date with industry issues and trends, which was just what I needed. You might ask how we had time to learn Ruby on Rails – this is a bootcamp, expect long days and nights to keep up with the pace.

Did you have a favorite project that you built while at Startup Institute?

I think my favorite project, and most rewarding experience, was the work we did for our partner company. As you're learning code, you’re given very simple projects to learn with, but it was great to dig my hands into real work, solving real problems. We worked to combine data from multiple departments to deliver executive level reports on the state of the business. We used the Tableau business intelligence and analytic tool with a data transformation and integration ETL tool to pull together customer usage and billing information from multiple systems.

Did you work with a team on that project?

Yes, we did work as a team. On our team, we had members from the Sales, Digital Marketing, Web Design and Web Development tracks. We all approached things differently, giving us a multidimensional view of the problems and their solutions. We worked well together and learned much from one another.

How and when did Startup Institute prepare you for the job search? How did you approach it?

At Startup Institute, you actually start interviewing and networking with companies within the first couple of weeks. We worked on our elevator pitch, resumes and interview techniques. We spent time with our mentor creating and refining job search plans. The process was so well-tuned that I had a three-month apprenticeship position in Boston before I graduated, with a mobile strategy, design, and development company. It was a fantastic learning experience with consulting projects that both broadened and deepened my web development experience.

The network of alumni and partner company contacts that I built at Startup Institute gave me the means to explore all possibilities, resulting in my current software engineering position at a high-tech company in Boston.  

Tell us about your new role! How was that transition coming back into the workforce?

I’m a Software Engineer at an experienced startup company based in Boston contributing to the development of a cloud service management platform for maximizing cloud efficiency. I’ve been in my role for about 8 months and enjoy being part of the link between Engineering and Support.

To be honest, it was a rough transition at first. The current technology, tools, and development process were all new to me. To put it in perspective, the Internet was brand new when I last worked as a developer, and we were lucky to have new product releases once a year– nothing like the current SaaS environment. Deploying product features at such a rapid pace has changed the entire development process for the better. Although the technology is new, the basics never change and it didn’t take long to get up to speed

How did your company make sure that you were ramping up and continuing to learn when you first started?

I have a mentor who has truly been a lifesaver. He helps me with everything from the product to the development process and tools. That does not mean to say he is the only one I can go to. Everyone I work with welcomes the chance to help each other. I am in a role that bridges engineering and support so I work with all components of our product and couldn’t do my job without help from everyone else. Ramping up is a continuous process as our product is maturing just as fast as the company is growing. The challenge makes it all worthwhile.

You’ve now worked two different times as a woman in tech. Has that experience changed?

When I first entered the workforce as a software engineer, there weren't many women, but I don't think it played a part in the hiring process. Today, I think being a woman makes it easier to find a new position – everyone is looking to round out their team. At my current company, we actually have quite a number of women developers and our presence is growing.

How's the Boston tech scene? Do you stay involved with Startup Institute at all?

I do stay involved. We have 3 or 4 events specifically for alumni and hiring partners of Startup Institute each year, plus evenings to meet their current students. I keep in touch with the alumni and get a chance to meet some of the new students. It's a wonderful organization and it's been very supportive of both my initial job search and continued development. I will say the support from the staff and cohort members is priceless. I wouldn’t be where I am without each and every one of them.

What advice do you have for people who are thinking about re-entering the workforce and considering a coding bootcamp to make the jump?

For someone who's returning to the workforce, my best advice is just to believe in yourself. Find a bootcamp that you feel comfortable with, and if possible, find one where they will help you get the contacts you need in the industry. I think having a solid network and knowing that you have a team that will work with you to find a job is necessary to make a smooth transition. Anybody can learn to code, but finding the team that will help you get the job is the hard part. Startup Institute will give you what you need and a way to give back to those who follow in your footsteps.

Read more Startup Institute reviews on Course Report. Want to relaunch your career in tech like Susan did? Download Startup Institute’s web development course syllabus to learn more about the program.

About The Author

Lauren Stewart

Lauren Stewart

Lauren is a communications and operations strategist who loves to help others find their idea of success. She is passionate about techonology education, career development, startups, and the arts.

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