Anna's Journey Into Software Engineering with Hackbright Academy

Anna Peery was in search of a fulfilling career, and after enjoying a bootcamp prep course, she decided to take the leap into software engineering at Hackbright Academy. Even though her career change wasn’t traditional, she landed a job as a software engineer at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory shortly after graduating. Anna tells us exactly why she chose Hackbright Academy, the Python curriculum that she’s still using today, and how she prepared for technical interviews after graduating. Plus, hear Anna’s advice for other bootcampers about the final project!

What were you doing before Hackbright Academy? 

Prior to pursuing Software Engineering, I worked in healthcare as an Occupational Therapist. I helped people with disabilities perform everyday life tasks. I have my master’s degree in Occupational Therapy, but within my first year of working, I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled by my career path. My partner’s whole family is in Software Engineering, and I began to explore that.

Did you try teaching yourself to code before attending Hackbright Academy?

Yes, I did HTML and CSS. I signed myself up to a few courses through Codecademy. 

Next, I did a 5-week Javascript prep course with Hack Reactor, which was more intensive than the Codecademy courses. I wasn’t set on Hack Reactor for the full bootcamp but I did enjoy the prep course. 

What made you choose the Hackbright Academy Software Engineering Program?

My partner and I had to move to the San Francisco Bay Area for his Ph.D. program. His family lives in the Bay Area, and his older sister recommended Hackbright Academy. She explained that Hackbright Academy is a women’s code bootcamp with a great support network. I was interested because their curriculum is based in Python, a back end coding language.

How did you pay the tuition for the programming bootcamp? Any creative tips? 

I didn’t have savings to pay for the bootcamp. The Skills Fund Loan needed a cosigner and since I have outstanding student loans from graduate school, my partner and parents collaborated to cover the tuition for Hackbright Academy. Now I’m paying them back, interest-free.

What was the Hackbright Academy application process like?

I did the pre-work course and also coding practice problems every day for about 4 weeks to prepare for the interview. Hackbright Academy’s prep course was in-person, and met Tuesdays, Thursdays, and all day Saturday. Hackbright Academy also offers a mock interview, which is a practice round to gain feedback. Because I was well-prepared, I felt confident during the interview, but it took a lot of time and effort to get there! After the official, in-person phone call, I went through a standard code challenge through Coderpad to solve two problems. 

Obviously your cohort was all women – did it feel diverse?

I loved my cohort! It was a supportive group of people involving a wide range of backgrounds and ages. When they decided to change their career greatly varied – some had recently graduated from college while others had over 10 years of experience in another field of work.

What did a typical day at Hackbright Academy look like? 

The day started at 10am with a lecture on the fundamentals. Next, we spent time in the lab and worked on an exercise involving the topic we had discussed in the lecture. Then, there was a lunch break, another lecture, and lastly, pair programming. 

What did the Hackbright Academy curriculum cover?

They began with the fundamentals and then moved onto tools (like Flask) to build web maps. We also learned Javascript, SQL, HTML, CSS, and other tools to help communicate and build a web app. Toward the end of the course, we worked independently and built a web app.

Tell us about that app you built! What did you get to add to your developer portfolio? 

There was one week of pair programming when we built a movie ratings web app. We used Flask, SQLAlchemy, PostgreSQL, HTML, CSS, and Jinja to build our moving ratings app. In the second half of the course, I was inspired by my interest in astrology so I created a moon phase tracking fullstack web app that uses data from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to track the moon phases. Users can track moon phases by viewing the moon phase calendar, adding moon phase events to their personal google calendar, and signing up to receive text message alerts for upcoming moon phases. I built my moon phase app with Flask, SQLAlchemy, PostgreSQL, and Python on the backend. For the frontend, I used HTML, CSS, and Jinja. I also used Twilio API for the text alerts, Google calendar's API, OAuth, the Javascript Library FullCalendar, and Skyfield, which is a Python library for interpreting astronomy data.

Personally, I think I put too much focus on my project instead of studying and practicing for interviews, whiteboarding, and data structures. For anyone who does go to Hackbright Academy in the future: Don't put too much pressure on that project!

So was Hackbright Academy worth it for you – did you get hired as a software engineer? 

I definitely think Hackbright Academy was worth it! I now work as a Software Engineer at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory on the Grid Integration Systems and Mobility Team. I started my job at SLAC about 2 weeks ago and have now started working remotely because of coronavirus. I really enjoyed the program at Hackbright Academy, and I loved the focus on Python and having a support network of women to lean on. Even after graduation, there's a lot of community support and a great alumni network that's always there for you.

What are Hackbright Academy’s career services like? Did they help you get ready for job applications?

Shout out to Hayley! I loved her. I was able to call her up before interviews to practice. During the course, we had three meetings with Career Services to perfect our resume and personal story. We discussed objectives, our angle, and how to market ourselves. The career services team also sent out weekly newsletters about job opportunities. But even after I graduated, I had to keep building my own interviewing skills. A few of our whiteboarding sessions at Hackbright Academy were pushed back or canceled to prioritize our final projects. After graduating, a lot of my cohort-mates would get together to practice whiteboarding together. In retrospect, now graduated, I realize it would have been more useful to have focused more on whiteboarding, as it is a huge part of the interview process as a software engineer. 

We also went on two main field trips in the last week of bootcamp. We went to Mya Systems, and we also took a trip to a Microsoft Reactor space to build a small app tutorial on the Microsoft Azure services.

How did you find the job with SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

I applied to about 50 different employers. I applied for this job cold, which is discouraged, but I did a lot of them anyway. I also did networking at career fairs. Everyone has a different way of going about their job hunt. You have to spread your wings far to get those numbers back.

When I applied to SLAC, I also reached out to a tech recruiter. I said, "Hey, I just applied to this position, I'm really interested!" That garnered a positive response back. 

What is your job like as a software engineer at SLAC Lab? What kinds of problems are you working to solve?

The SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is funded by the Department of Energy and operated by Stanford. The Grid Integration Systems and Mobility team (called GISMO) focuses on using clean energy for electrical power grids and electrical transportation. There is a lot of talk about photovoltaics, otherwise known as solar energy.

My current project is concerning the development of an economic marketplace for individual distribution systems that have renewable energy. For example, if you own a solar panel and have too much energy, and your neighbor is going to use your energy, you should be compensated for what you have given away. There isn't a good system for that right now, so that is what we are building!

What was the technical interview with SLAC Lab like? 

The interviewing process for my position at SLAC was very different from others I had experienced. During my onsite interview, I had to build an app. I also had a code review. It was a practical application of what I would do on the job. 

When you were searching for a job, did you notice any bias against bootcamp grads or were people receptive to it?

People are very receptive. I don't feel like I actually received negative pushback from being a bootcamp grad. It's all about how you tell your personal story. People are inspired by those who make career changes into these jobs. If anything, I think once you get your foot in the door, people really applaud it! 

Are you using what Hackbright Academy taught you, including Python, or did you have to learn new programming languages in the past few weeks?

I definitely think Hackbright Academy did a great job preparing me for what I was actually going to do on the job, such as learning the tech stack, the tools, and building web apps. We use Flask and code in Python on my job. I am still learning Amazon Web Services (AWS). My position is very cloud-computing-heavy. At the end of the year, they want me to become a certified AWS developer. 

SLAC is amazing though, letting me take my time to study because they know I'm coming in at entry-level. They want me to develop my skills without too much stress so that I can become a great developer.

Even though Hackbright Academy is an in-person bootcamp, did you feel prepared to be able to work remotely after graduating and starting at SLAC? Any tips for a bootcamp grad who is about to start a remote job? 

Yes! I definitely think Hackbright Academy helped prepare me for remote work. Even though we do receive a lot of support throughout Hackbright Academy, there is a lot of room for individual planning, organizing, and managing your own tasks. That said, it is hard to start a new job remotely. It's harder to build those relationships with team members, but we do have frequent Zoom meetings!

My recommendation for those also starting a remote position as a new engineer is to reach out to team members, even if it’s just socializing during a lunch Zoom call. Make sure to set up a home office, follow a regular routine, and reward yourself after a long day of work in order to keep work during working hours. And don’t be afraid of your work! In the beginning, I was nervous to push some of my code to my team's github, so it was important for me to remember that I'm still a beginner engineer, and the more eyes on the work, the better I'll learn and be prepared for future tasks.

Do any of your skills from Occupational Therapy translate to your new career as a Software Engineer?

Yes, anything you do in your past can be used later. My career in occupational therapy taught me how to execute problem-solving. I had to make confident, independent choices, jump in there, and trust my judgment. And that's a lot of what I have to do today. Even though there is a lot I have to learn, I jump in with what I already know and take charge of the task. My past career helped me get through imposter syndrome

There are only four people on my engineering squad, which means I have to figure things out for myself. My team is very multidisciplinary and if you reach out, they are very happy to answer questions. That's another reason why I'm grateful for my past career. I speak up for myself. It's on me to reach out to someone if I need help. 

What do you think your biggest challenge or roadblock was on this journey to becoming a Software Engineer?

It was hard for my family to accept because I went to graduate school and received a master’s degree in occupational therapy. It is unheard of for people in that field to leave their career paths. Career changes are not celebrated by my previous colleagues in healthcare, and family and friends had skepticism over pursuing a coding bootcamp. They asked, “Will it be worth it? Will you find a job? What if you regret this career change?” So, be confident in what you are doing and see it through. Obviously, I found a position in the end, and my parents sent me flowers and said, "We are so proud of you!" 

Find out more and read Hackbright Academy reviews on Course Report. This article was produced by the Course Report team in partnership with Hackbright Academy.

About The Author

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Jess is the Content Manager for Course Report as well as a writer and poet. As a lifelong learner, Jess is passionate about education, and loves learning and sharing content about tech bootcamps. Jess received a M.F.A. in Writing from the University of New Hampshire, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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