Having worked in career services at UC Berkeley, Ronke Aderonmu joined Hackbright Academy as a Student Success Coach with a deep background in education and job success. Through career development classes, one-on-one sessions, and events with industry experts, Ronke guides students to find their ideal jobs at supportive, inclusive companies. She is passionate about Hackbright Academy’s mission to #changetheratio and coaches students through everything from impostor syndrome to salary negotiation. But Ronke’s advice isn’t exclusive to Hackbright Academy students- we recommend that any woman entering the tech industry read these tips!
Tell us first about your experience in career services before you got to Hackbright Academy.
I always knew that I wanted to work in education, creating supportive learning environments for people. I worked in marketing at an education technology startup, which gave me an inside look into the tech space. Then I transitioned to the career services department at UC Berkeley Haas Business School, working with students, getting them job interview ready, working with employers and recruiters, and doing a deep dive into the recruiting and hiring space.
When I discovered Hackbright Academy, I thought of it as this perfect merging of my career services background, my tech experience, my education background, and my overall love of advising and supporting students. At Hackbright, I’m supporting women in the program with career education and guiding them in their job search process.
What does the career services team at Hackbright look like? What’s your role as a Student Success Coach?
We're growing! Our Hackbright Academy Career Services team has Success Coaches and a Community Manager to work with our students and alumnae. Learn more about Career Services and our team here.
I'm primarily teaching classes on career development and meeting with students one-on-one to talk about their career background and strategize to effectively find a job after they graduate from Hackbright. I also plan for our Career Services curriculum for Week 11 & 12 of Hackbright, where we invite industry experts to share job search advice, strategies and tools to prepare the women for success. Our Career Services team also provides field trips during the program, where students have the opportunity to see the inside of a tech company and connect with and learn from engineers who work there.
We also have a Partnerships Team, that works directly with employers, developing relationships with companies who are passionate about Hackbright and want to hire our students.
When does that career prep begin for a Hackbright student?
This is something that definitely sets us apart from a lot of other coding bootcamps; we start from Day One, and even before. Our career services team does a pre-work assignment about social presence and personal brand that the students complete before starting the program.
We want students to be thinking about the job search even before they get here. For a lot of women, the end goal is to find an ideal job in a supportive environment, and that takes time.
Students send us their resumes so we can start taking a look and helping them think about that even before they get to the program. Starting on day one, we do weekly career development workshops and meetings until Week 9. Then in Week 11, we start our full career services curriculum.
Does that mean that a student needs to know the exact job she wants before she starts at Hackbright Academy?
There are definitely both types of students. Some know that, for example, machine learning is their dream field and Hackbright is a stepping stone to get there. We also have other students who just love coding and don’t know what the job market looks like. They don’t have an exact job title in mind when they get to Hackbright.
Hackbright supports both types of students--helping the students who have a specific goal define the steps that they need to get there, and working with those who are exploring to figure out what aspect of engineering they really enjoy. We try to expose our students to roles in the tech space and expose them to different levels of seniority in engineering teams so they have a good sense of their options.
Can a Hackbright student apply for a non-Python job when they graduate?
Most Hackbright students do end up in Python roles. However, students can get jobs outside of Python.
We have students who end up working in a very different language than Python because they've been able to show that they have this strong skillset in Python and are able to pick up new languages really quickly. There are also companies who code in a certain language, but have a language-agnostic interview process. You can interview in Python, but know that once you start that job, you'll need to pick up this other language that the team is using.
There are also students who come to Hackbright with familiarity with other languages like Java or Ruby on Rails too. When those students finish Hackbright, they're not just applying for a Python role; they might also look into companies using the other languages that they are familiar with.
We loved that your CEO recently pointed out that Hackbright students aren’t “placed” in jobs; they earn them. What do you expect from a Hackbright student in order to be successful?
I love that she shared that. We're not placing students in jobs through career services. Our goal is to empower them to job search effectively. We want them to have that experience of earning their job and making things happen.
A successful student shows grit throughout the job search process, and isn't fazed by discouragements or disappointments They hustle and advocate for themselves, finding what they need from the resources and education we’ve provided them, through their alumnae and mentor network, through the field trips and whiteboarding practice they’ve participated in, etc.
The most successful students know when they need to ask for help, are proactive in asking for the resources they need, and take advantage of the lifetime career services we provide at Hackbright. We support our alumnae even with their second, third and more jobs after Hackbright.
Are there specific challenges that female coding bootcampers face when they enter the job market?
The lack of diversity in tech is problematic, and it’s the reason why our mission is to change the ratio. This lack of diversity is not exclusive just to women, but it is something that our graduates face when they dive into the job search. They might go on interviews with a company where they would be the very first woman on the team. Or they’ll ask good questions and realize that the culture on the team isn’t one that is supportive and that would allow them to learn and grow as engineers.
We try to address and equip the women for those challenges during our career services program. We invite guest speakers to talk about how to navigate the interview process in tech; we provide tools for women to find companies where they’ll be supported and thrive in their career growth. And when they find that first job, our graduates then become the people who can speak about that experience and pave the path for future women entering the tech space.
Do you see internal challenges i.e. impostor syndrome in your graduates? How do they combat that?
I read an article recently that argued that impostor syndrome is sometimes used as an excuse for employers who aren’t doing enough to tackle the diversity problem in their companies. Psychologists argue that everybody (even men) have impostor syndrome, and so the rhetoric around this being just a female issue can be damaging. So, we want our students to know that imposter syndrome is a common experience that most people have. What’s most important is how you choose to deal with those feelings when they come up.
We encourage our students on the importance of tracking their accomplishments so they remember what they’ve done and how far they’ve come. We want to remind the women of their milestones as they go through each week at Hackbright, and we celebrate their successes during and after the program so that they keep those top of mind to counter the self-doubt and self-minimizing effects of imposter syndrome.
Does Hackbright vet partner companies on behalf of students? What should a coding bootcamper look for in their first company?
There are two ways that we go about that. One is that our Partnership Team vets partner companies that want to be a part of the Hackbright Academy mission. They talk personally about the company’s goals, mission, the structure of their engineering teams, their onboarding process, if they've hired from a bootcamp before, how they’re impacting diversity in their company. That helps us find companies that will be supportive for our graduates and new engineers in the field.
The other way we address this is by educating our graduates on how to ask effective questions in an interview. We also stress networking, because an effective job search requires understanding the insider perspective, not just what you learn from an interview. Meeting people who are actually working at the company every day is crucial to finding out what it’s actually like to work there.
A few great questions to ask employers:
- What is your onboarding process like?
- If I’m looking for answers to a question or if I want to learn a new technology, what would that process look like on your team?
- What role does the manager of the team play at your company?
Those are all questions that we want our students to be prepared to ask in order to tease out if a company is a right fit for them.
Are there telltale signs that a company will be a poor fit for a woman engineer?
A big red flag is in salary negotiation. If a company isn't being upfront with you about what they want to pay you or are paying you ridiculously below market rate, that's really concerning.
When you talk with employees at the company, if no one is excited to be there or happy to be there, that's really concerning. High turnover rate can be a red flag. Or maybe you realize that there's no training offered, or there’s a lack of a supportive and learning culture. Or everyone looks incredibly overworked. If the company doesn't value a culture of communication and you don't see that clearly, these are all big red flags.
Salary negotiation is a place where women get notoriously shortchanged. How do you guide students towards that $92,000 starting salary at Hackbright?
Salary negotiation is incredibly important to changing the ratio in tech, so we work to provide adequate support for our students in this area and tackle the issue of the wage gap. If a student has an offer from a company, she can contact career services, and we talk through strategies for negotiating and evaluating the offer to make sure that it's a right fit.
We also provide a strong education and workshop on negotiation and compensation during our career services curriculum. We bring in a salary and negotiations expert to speak on effective strategies for negotiation, how to set the right bar, how to let companies anchor, etc.
How important have you found the alumnae network to the success of Hackbright Academy students?
The alumnae network is definitely something that we pride ourselves on and sets Hackbright apart from other bootcamps. We have a large and growing network of over 400 graduates and women in tech.
Going through this intensive experience together unifies the students, and then as alumnae, they have gone on to work at great companies and paved the way for future women. They’ve found out how to find a successful company, how to build and leverage an effective network, and how to make a good connection. When new Hackbright students look to their alumnae, they can see examples of how they’ve been successful. We also have Hackbright alumnae coming back to be mentors and collaborating with us in the admissions process. We have alumnae who give guest talks and panels, and they share their experience about the job search and about their day to day life in the workforce. Alumnae play an important part in our program, and we appreciate them so much.
We also have an ambassador program that we're growing to invite alumnae to share about their jobs search experience and their bootcamp experience to empower other women who want to take that leap of faith and step into a career change in their own lives.
We love hearing success stories. Is there a recent, inspiring success story that you can share?
One of my favorites was a student who graduated from the program and went to our Demo Night (an event where we invite our partner companies to meet our current students). She fell in love with the culture and mission of one company at that event. They were in the education space and making an impact on accessible learning. She was so excited about them, but they were coding primarily in Ruby and not in Python.
So this student made a commitment to dedicate three months after Hackbright to ramp up on Ruby and build another project in Ruby. She had regular check-ins with our Career Services staff -- communicating with our Director of Career Services and Alumnae Manager about ideas and plans of action she could take to maximize her job search. She stayed really active and engaged with Career Services throughout her time after Hackbright, and when she finally applied for that dream job, they were thrilled with her. For me, that story is really profound because it just shows her level of grit, her level of commitment, and her resourcefulness to make things happen for herself.
That’s what makes for a strong and successful alumna – she goes after what she wants. She’s not letting impostor syndrome or any other obstacles stall her.
Is there anything that we skipped that you want to make sure that we include?
I love that I'm part of this mission to change the ratio of women in tech, and I’m really proud of the resources that we can provide for our students, so I'm glad to talk about this any day! Thank you for letting me share what we're doing at Hackbright Academy.