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From Healthcare to Software Engineer with Hackbright Academy

By Jess Feldman
Last Updated March 10, 2020

From Healthcare to Software Engineer with Hackbright Academy Alumni Reyna Diaz

Reyna Diaz began her career as a medical assistant, working in patient care and administration, but she soon realized neither were her dream job. She took her empathy and problem-solving skills to Hackbright Academy where she attended their Software Engineering bootcamp. Just three months after graduating from Hackbright Academy, Reyna is now working as a Software Engineer at Commure! We spoke with Reyna to learn how her pre-bootcamp skills help her in her new tech career, how Hackbright Academy prepared her for a JavaScript job, and how she landed her role at Commure.

What were you up to before Hackbright?

I did my bachelor's of science in human biology at the University of California Santa Cruz. After school, I wanted more hands-on exposure to patient care, so I did some medical assisting and then I ended up becoming the Chief of Operations at a dermatology clinic. During that time, I learned that I liked intense problem-solving and that I no longer related to patient care. One of my responsibilities as the Chief of Operations was improving operations with new technologies. I started to see that there was a big hole in healthcare technology and how things could be improved. That got me interested in engineering and I started to look for places that could help me expand on that. 

Before Hackbright Academy, did you teach yourself to code at all?

I did! I was exposed to Ruby in a 2 week intro course through another bootcamp. After my tech interview for Hackbright Academy, I learned Python with Codecademy before I started the bootcamp.

Why did you choose Hackbright Academy? What factors were most important to you when choosing a bootcamp?

I chose Hackbright Academy because it was a welcoming environment. When I was looking for bootcamps, nothing seemed manageable with my current lifestyle. Having the mindset that you would need to be studying a hundred hours a week and being at the classroom through the weekend sounded unrealistic to me. Hackbright wasn’t like that. They made it possible to continue having a work-life balance like you should when you go into engineering. Price and location were the most important factors to me. I was looking to stay in San Francisco and the Hackbright Academy price was fair compared to other bootcamps in the Bay Area. 

How did you pay for your bootcamp tuition? Any tips for future bootcampers?

I used a loan from SkillsFund. They were great to work with! SkillsFund has a free calculation tool that gives you a good idea of the interest you should expect. They are also flexible with the loan amount.

How difficult was Hackbright Academy's application process for you?

I had no coding experience whatsoever before I applied to Hackbright Academy. At the time, it was daunting because I had no idea what to expect. My interviewer had such a positive attitude toward interviewing during that coding challenge. With other coding challenges, I was so nervous that I couldn't think. Everything seemed impossible. But when I was interviewing with Hackbright, they were encouraging. I think that those nerves are one of the main things that block people from engineering. The more relaxed you are, the easier the problem gets. 

Tell us about the other women you learned with at Hackbright – what was your cohort like?

There were 27 women in our cohort, which was one of the larger cohorts at Hackbright. I was hesitant about having a large all-women cohort in general. I didn't know what to expect, but this group ended up being overwhelmingly positive and encouraging when we all got together. It became a strong connection — we were all working towards a common goal and we were in it together. In my cohort, there were only three people who had a computer science background. Most people had different backgrounds like art, history, English, medicine, or project management. It was a good combination of experiences. 

What was the teaching style at Hackbright Academy? Did it match your learning style?

I did an in-person bootcamp because I wanted to collaborate with and learn from other people. Hackbright Academy focuses on pair-programming so that you can learn from other students. Because we all have our own experiences, it contributes to the way that people problem-solve.

One of the great things was that class started at 10am with a lecture. I continued to wake up early and took advantage of those hours before class. It made a big difference, especially for students who commuted. After the first lecture, we had lab time to solidify what we learned. At 1pm we would take a one-hour lunch break and everybody was good about putting everything down and taking a mental break. We would return to another lecture promptly at 2pm and then another lab. That was the general flow, and it changes once you get into project season. While we were working on our projects, we were still getting lectures on new concepts. We were also getting advice for interviewing during all of that. It gets challenging, but it's obviously doable because it’s well-structured. 

What did you build for your final project for Hackbright? Which programming languages did you use to build it?

We each built individual projects to showcase what we’ve learned. These projects demonstrate our passion for engineering, our thought process, and inspiration. I took something from my past experience and turned it into an application called My Pill Helper. This app helps patients with reminders about taking their medications every day. I built the entire project, back end to front end. I used Python, SQL Alchemy, PostgreSQL, Flask, Jinja, JavaScript, and JQuery. It was a great way to test out different languages and frameworks to build on what I had learned. At the end of the course, everyone presents their final projects to different companies at what we call "Demo Night" or "Demo Day." The company I work for, Commure, was actually there!

How did you get your software engineering job?

Commure came to the Hackbright Demo Night and they were impressed by the My Pill Helper application I made. They made the connection that I had a passion for healthcare, but wanted to be in engineering. All of that was important to the role that I'm doing now. I did an official technical interview with Commure and was hired. Actually, one of my interviewers for Commure had graduated from a coding bootcamp! It was inspiring to be interviewed by someone who graduated from a bootcamp, too. 

How did Hackbright Academy prepare you for the job search?

A few weeks in, Hackbright starts out with an initial career strategy session to evaluate your past career and what your career goals are in order to give you starting points for interview questions. They help you form your narrative in a way that sounds good to an interviewer. A lot of people struggle with talking about themselves and showcasing what they know. It's easy to feel like everything that you've done in the past is completely irrelevant, but that is definitely not true! The team at Hackbright Academy helps you find a way to show that what you have done, even if it's not engineering, is relevant to what you will be doing. Hackbright also gave us weekly career lectures to give us examples of what to expect and things to consider, which I thought was extremely helpful. We also went on “field trips” to companies in the Bay Area. 

Did you go on any of those Hackbright Academy field trips?

Yeah! It was cool! We went to a couple of different companies – Mya and Microsoft’s Reactor campus – to do workshops and whiteboard. It was cool to interact with the team members at those companies and see the spaces that we could potentially work in someday. Whiteboarding with their employees showed me different ways to think and approach these difficult problems that we could get when interviewing. It made the idea of interviewing less intimidating.

Tell us more about your job – what are you working on at Commure?

I'm an Engineer at Commure, which provides an open platform for healthcare developers. It’s nice that I get to leverage my medical experience a bit. They recently launched their developer site. Commure has an amazing culture, and it's been great so far. There are a lot of insanely brilliant people aboard that are inspiring to learn from. It's definitely a challenge every day, but that's what you sign up for when you go into engineering. I'm grateful to have been able to make this transition and I'm happy to be working here. 

Has your past career in caretaking and admin been applicable today as a Software Engineer?

Patient care empathy definitely transitioned into my new role as an engineer. You have to collaborate with your coworkers so being empathetic is important. A key part of my administrative jobs was problem-solving and prioritizing issues, and I’m still using those skills today. You're always going to have priorities, but making sure you get them done in the right order is important.

Are you using the technologies you learned at Hackbright Academy in your job now?

I learned Python and JavaScript at Hackbright, and I'm using JavaScript now. I'm in the process of learning some other languages. I feel like Python is an amazing intro language. It helps you craft the concepts and gives you a great starting point to understand lower-level languages. I was happy to have learned Python and I'd love to work with it again in the future. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an engineer?

The hardest part was making the decision to actually do it. When you think about making the transition, you start considering everything that is going to be hard about learning to code and becoming an engineer. That's part of making the initial step, but it can be a big barrier to people trying to make the transition. For me, it helped knowing that I was going to Hackbright, which was the right bootcamp for me. You have to accept that you're going to be overwhelmed sometimes but that you are going to be okay. Other people have gotten through it and you can get through it, too. 

How do you continue to learn and grow as an engineer after graduating from a bootcamp?

Hackbright has a lot of resources for alumni to continue their education. And they have a big alumni network! I actually work with another Hackbrighter at Commure — she's amazing. Hackbright offers career-related events. Other people in the alumni network will share meetups they’re hosting or going to as well. Right now, I'm continuing to learn by learning on the job.

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

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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