Julie Pitman had two decades of business experience in the medical field, but when her company made staff cut-backs, she took it as an opportunity to make a career change. Julie shares how Hackbright Academy’s online prep course and online software engineering immersive bootcamp gave her the skill set and confidence she needed to land software engineering roles at two startups. Plus, we ask Julie if Hackbright Academy’s inclusive, all-women community has proven to be as supportive in an online setting – read her answer.
What inspired you to pivot into software engineering?
Before Hackbright Academy, I worked for 20 years in the medical field in sleep medicine. Even in my business career, I was always able to do more technical things and understand hardware and software. I had some friends that said I would be great at programming so I decided to give it a shot. When COVID hit, my company had to reduce our team to be able to keep clinics open. I saw this as an opportunity to make the career jump and enroll in the full-time Hackbright Software Engineering Course.
Did you teach yourself to code before enrolling in the bootcamp?
First, I took the prep course at Hackbright Academy to see if I liked coding and I absolutely loved it. The prep course is a live online class, and it’s taught much like the actual bootcamp, with an instructor teaching a lesson and assigning homework. We would do the homework and work on pair programming.
There are so many coding bootcamps out there now — why did you choose Hackbright Academy?
A friend of mine was a Hackbright Academy graduate, and she raved about the bootcamp, saying it was excellent and that she would recommend it to anybody. Hackbright Academy also set itself apart for me because I had never taken an all-women’s course before. I know how few women are in the tech field, and I thought it might be helpful to join an all women’s bootcamp to have the support of other women and people who are getting women into the field.
What was Hackbright Academy’s application and interview process like?
The application process was very much like the job interviews you go through after you graduate! Overall, it was a very friendly environment even though I was told most people don’t pass the evaluation on the first try. Hackbright gives applicants feedback so anyone who doesn’t make it in is welcome to try again. During the interview, you pair program with someone and work on a problem. You walk through it together and write out the steps before running the code. I was nervous going into the interview, but found it very comfortable.
Did Hackbright Academy’s prep course help you pass the technical assessment?
Since I took the prep course and practiced for a few weeks before scheduling my interview, I ended up passing on the first try! I don’t believe I would have gotten into the program without taking Hackbright’s online prep course. When you’re learning on your own and searching online for answers, you can get overwhelmed because there’s so much information out there. I liked how Hackbright lined up the structure of the prep course because it helped me stay on track with what I needed to learn.
What was a typical day like in Hackbright Academy’s remote Software Engineering Immersive?
In the morning, we would get in our Zoom classes and go over our homework assignments. After that, we would go into lectures and pair programming. We then took a break for lunch and after we would go back to lectures.
On Fridays, we would do check-ins and feelings days where we went over how the week went. Were there happy moments or moments that made me cry? It was helpful to have these meetings because sometimes it can feel like you’re the only one struggling and that was never the case.
What did you actually learn during the bootcamp?
The curriculum was Python-based, but we also covered HTML, CSS, React, PostgreSQL, SQLalchemy, and Flask. When we were first exposed to the material, our response would be that it was too much to learn and that we were moving too fast. By the following week, though, we had gotten it, but you’re learning something new so it feels like the same process again. As you get through the bootcamp, you remember that you were able to figure out the previous material, which helps you practice and pick up the new material. By the time you’re working on a big project, you’re able to put into practice all that you learned.
Did the teaching style match your learning style?
Even in the online bootcamp, Hackbright Academy was able to make the class more than just an instructor talking at you. There were demonstration modules so you could download the code being run in class and play around with it. The exercises and instruction directly dealt with what was being taught so you could have hands-on teaching.
We worked in groups on exercises and pair programming. When we did pair programming, the instructors would pop in multiple times to check up and make sure nobody was getting stuck. If you were having trouble with homework or exercises, the instructors were very responsive and walked us through the problem.
What did you build for your capstone project?
My capstone project was called Storybook Creator, and it’s a website for children to create their own storybooks. I built a canvas for kids to be able to create their stories and draw or upload pictures to the books. Once the book is completed, they can go back to a library and create new books or read the ones they’ve written. I used PostgreSQL for the database, and SQL and Flask with Python to be able to interact with HTML and CSS. I'm still working on it even though the bootcamp is over because I just love the idea.
Since you took this bootcamp remotely, what was the Hackbright Academy community like?
We had a great cohort! My cohort was super supportive and very inclusive. We were always messaging each other and planning activities outside of class, like our Friday virtual get-togethers after class. We have a Discord channel that we were assigned to at the beginning of class and as long as we’re getting something out of it and participating, we’ll keep it going. Last week we had a get-together and at the end of it, we decided to do karaoke. We were having a great time singing at the top of our lungs and doing duets together.
How did Hackbright Academy prepare you for the job hunt?
Our last few weeks were focused on career training, and we received mock interview practice. Hackbright Academy brought in speakers who shared their career advice as well as hiring partners who described what they’re looking for.
Hackbright Academy arranged virtual career fairs where there were many, different companies at each fair so it’s not the same companies every time. At the virtual career fairs, these companies were set up in different rooms. We could jump in, listen, or ask questions to get as much information as possible and make connections.
What job search strategies did you use?
People will tell you how hard it is to get a job in this field after bootcamp, and my advice is that you should bank on it being even harder. Many people in this field don’t stay at a job for more than a couple of years before moving on so you’re applying to the same jobs that people with experience are trying to get. There are thousands of people interviewing for the same position and it can be difficult to get noticed.
I researched what I needed to know about the companies that I’m interested in because these interviews are more than a company trying to hire you. Keep in mind that you’re also interviewing them to see if they would be a good fit for you. It’s important to follow through and reach out to companies that you’re interested in in order to get connected instead of hoping they’ll see your resume.
You are now working as a software engineer at two separate startups! How did you land your software engineer role at Profound Sleep?
Profound Sleep is a sleep medicine company that makes sleep medicine available and affordable to everyone, even if they don’t have insurance. I had previously worked with several of the doctors on the Profound Sleep team, and they reached out to me when they saw on my LinkedIn that I had switched over to programming. They really liked that I had knowledge of sleep medicine from my previous job plus programming experience.
How did you get the software engineering job at Wirlix?
I first connected with the Wirlix team at a Hackbright Academy career fair. Wirlix is a new video based social network for conversations with a unique way to challenge ideas you disagree with. Our mission is to eliminate false realities and echo chambers from your social media feed. I met the creator and we set up a meeting for me to do a small challenge to see if I was a good fit. The challenge was to replicate the login screen for their iOS app. I didn’t have a Mac so I had to borrow one from a friend to get it done. I was able to finish it and Wirlix was happy with my work.
What projects are you working on at Wirlix?
I’m working on fixing bugs and testing features within the app. One of my coworkers is from Hackbright Academy and it’s really nice to have a supportive and diverse team.
What are the benefits of working at a startup as your first developer job?
At a startup, you get broader experience and more interactions with people and the code itself. My input is actually considered and used, which doesn’t always happen at a larger company. I feel more support from my team and boss so it was definitely the right decision for me.
Did you feel prepared to work remotely after graduating from Hackbright Academy’s online bootcamp?
Yes, absolutely. For a lot of these jobs, it doesn’t make sense to go into the office unless you’re unable to work at home. A lot of time is taken out of your day for a commute. Remote work allows us to work with people from around the world.
How has your past career in technical operations helped you in your career as a software engineer?
In my last career, I managed a lot of people and they weren’t all on the same shift or even the same roles. I learned to coordinate and make things work through communication and the building up of systems. I use this same kind of thinking and organization today as a software engineer when I’m solving problems.
What has been your biggest challenge in this career-change journey?
The interview process was the hardest for me. I did well in my previous field, and I was doing international lectures and similar events. Moving into a field where nobody knew me was difficult. I was only getting auto-rejections and I wasn’t sure why it was happening. I ended up finding a group of people with experience in the field and they used an email parsing system to improve our resumes. After a couple of days of using this new system, I was getting interviews! After trying this new system, I posted it online for Hackbright to use. We still go back and help each other out when we can.
Looking back on this journey, was Hackbright Academy worth it for you?
It was definitely the right choice for me. I made friends and became part of a community that I never expected to join and I gained so much from it. The online bootcamp was an amazing experience where I formed connections with people that are lasting beyond the end of the class.
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