In honor of International Women's Day this year, we hosted a Live Alumni Q&A featuring four women who broke into tech by attending bootcamps! The panel answered real questions from the audience like:
Linda: I was born in the United States, raised in Mexico, and then moved back to the U.S. when I was 17. I knew some English, but I had to reinforce it when I came back, which held me back when I went to college, on top of having a child. I dove deep into the banking industry and I loved it! After 11 years in banking, I grew into the investment sector, but I felt like there was something more for me. I decided it was time to take the leap and switch careers into tech!
Michelle: I was a caseworker in the child welfare sector of social work for over a decade, which was high-stress and low pay but super rewarding. When the agency I worked for closed my division, I confirmed I was burnt out and needed a mental break to decide my next moves. I revisited my interest in graphic design, and found UX design which led me to a career in UX writing.
Natalie: I started working at Panera Bread as a junior in high school and continued working for four years, as I explored career options at a community college. I tried nursing and childhood education but nothing called me. A friend suggested I try learning to code, which I initially was not interested in, but after self-teaching I fell in love with coding and started exploring coding bootcamps!
Sadie: In 2016, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree and was exploring art and design. I started Skillcrush to see if web design was an option for me. After taking a couple of Skillcrush courses I realized it was, and I pursued a master’s degree where I learned web design and front-end development skills, supplemented by Skillcrush courses. I graduated with my master’s and then stepped away from tech completely after getting burnt out on it. I did yoga, traveled, and wrote until 2021 when I restarted my Skillcrush journey with their front-end development intensive.
What was your perception of working in tech as a woman before you went to a coding bootcamp? And now that you’re in the industry, was that perception accurate?
Natalie: I didn’t have a strong opinion on what it would look like to work as a woman in tech, just that there would be fewer women. My perspective shifted when I realized there were several women in my LearningFuze cohort who I looked up to as the smartest in the class! On the job, however, I am the only woman on the team, but it’s a small team. I’m also the only front-end engineer! From what I’ve seen at bootcamps, there are more women in tech than ever before.
Linda: My sister is a senior engineer and told me stories of unfairness as a woman in tech, so I expected that going in. But my experience at Sabio changed my perspective. Liliana Monge, the CEO & Co-Founder of Sabio, modeled how to channel the inequity as an opportunity to create diversity in a job. As I’ve worked in the industry, I’ve been lucky to work for many women in senior roles. Liliana’s involvement helped change my perspective about women in tech.
Are you ever too old to switch to technology, specifically learning how to code?
Michelle: I was 44 when I went into bootcamp and I was not the oldest in my class! For me, being older was an advantage because I know myself, I'm not screwing around, and I'm ready to go. Not that young people can't be ready, but it took me into my 40s to be ready! It’s never too late. Also, I never experienced discrimination for not being “hip to tech” because I was “so old.” In the bootcamp and workforce alike, I’ve never felt like I'm too old to do this. Honestly, I’m hitting my stride — I say go for it!
Course Report Insight: The average bootcamper is 32 years old! And bootcampers are 36-40% women, though that percentage might look different on the job.
What convinced you to enroll at the bootcamp you chose?
Sadie: I chose Skillcrush for the lifetime access, price, and community. I like the ability to go back and refresh or explore new curiosities and I wanted to have that open access.
For any incoming Skillcrush students, I recommend taking advantage of your community! Everyone in your cohort is there to learn and accomplish a goal, which was key to my success. Use the office hours and participate in the Slack channel. Get comfortable asking questions when you’re unsure of something. For $2,000, I took the Front End Intensive which included job search coaching and a job guarantee!
Michelle: I was introduced to General Assembly by word of mouth. I had the confidence to enroll based on my friends who testified to the quality of education and their immediate job placement after attending the bootcamp. While General Assembly is one of the more expensive bootcamps, they have payment options, which I needed and took full advantage of.
Linda: I discovered Sabio from a family member who graduated from Sabio and showed me the platform and how the community interacts. I loved that Sabio offered a full-stack curriculum. I was astounded by the financial support and flexibility they offered, from the Women in Tech scholarship to ISA payment plans. I knew that if they would let people attend without paying first, they must be secure in their commitment to getting graduates hired in tech!
Natalie: I heard about LearningFuze from a friend who was so excited about what he was learning. When I researched LearningFuze, I couldn’t find a negative comment, which can sometimes be a red flag, so I decided to see it for myself. I took their coding prep course and instantly noticed how passionate the instructors were — it was contagious! They love coding and love teaching how to code. It was helpful to get clear expectations from the prep course. After that, I was excited to enroll in the full-time bootcamp!
My advice to incoming LearningFuze students is to take advantage of the teachers. I waited too long to ask questions out of embarrassment, but it’s more embarrassing to still not know something down the line! Ask questions. Take advantage of the career services offered, too. LearningFuze has an amazing career service program that will still help you years after graduation.
Michelle, what did your UX design cohort look like at General Assembly? Were there other women instructors and students?
Michelle: All but one of my instructors were women! One of General Assembly’s biggest strengths is its diversity. The culture supported people for who they are, how they identify, and what they want to do.
Sadie: While I didn’t have a direct mentor through Skillcrush, I am part of a robust community of developers that I can go to for knowledge gaps, to get unstuck, to celebrate and to commiserate! I became aware of most of the communities I’m active in now through the Skillcrush.
If you don't have your community just yet, here are a few resources I recommend:
Linda: While Liliana was extremely involved in the community helping with job placements, we didn’t have a specific mentor when I attended Sabio. Personally, I have family members that are in the industry, so that helped me. I landed a job within two weeks of graduation, but it was hard — the stress and imposter syndrome are real!
Since I attended, Sabio has grown so much as a community! They now have career services with multiple people helping students as well as an alumni mentorship program, which I am part of. I have 10 mentees that I work with weekly to support them overcome obstacles in their job search. It’s great to have someone that you can talk to who you know has gone through the same thing as you are going through. Sabio does stand-ups for alumni to hold each other accountable and talk about what they're working through. I see that Sabio is giving their community great tools for them to be successful at their job search — I'm happy to be part of the mentorship because I know it would have been awesome to have had a mentor when I started.
Michelle: At General Assembly, we had a career class every week, called Outcomes. Coming from a totally different field, I particularly appreciated having a dedicated class on career-building in tech. Every student has a mentor to help with salary negotiations and mock interviews, which builds this secure relationship where I trust that I can go to them and that they’ll reach out to me. Just this week my mentor checked in on me! Three of my instructors were women and I'm still connected to them to reach out and ask questions. I have so much respect for them — they are killing it in tech and I just want to keep learning from them!
What is the greatest challenge you’ve found as a woman breaking in tech?
Linda: The biggest challenge for me was less about breaking into tech as a woman and more about breaking into tech as a career switch with no previous knowledge of the industry and getting used to the technicalities. Coming from a people-oriented background, it was tough for me to switch my brain to think in a new, logical way! The sessions we had on algorithms and data structures at Sabio helped me so much in adapting to this form of logical processing. I was definitely given the right tools to overcome that at Sabio.
Natalie: As I was planning to go to LearningFuze to get a tech job. I heard a lot of negative comments from people telling me what my path should be. They said things like, “That doesn't fit you. That's not your style. You're gonna hate sitting at a desk. You should be out doing things.” Even after getting hired at my current company, I was told that I was hired because I am a woman — that maybe they hired me because I’m pretty and they wanted a girl on the team. Those comments are negative to anybody anyway, but especially to someone changing careers!
The biggest challenge was actually the things that I told myself and overcoming my own thoughts of what I thought I could do. People will say things and it will impact you, but the way you speak to yourself and view yourself will make or break you! I shifted my mindset to: “I’m here, I’m capable, and I've proven to myself up to now that I can do it, so there's no reason that I shouldn't be here!”
How did you choose what field to specialize in?
Michelle: During General Assembly’s UX design intensive I thought I would be a UX designer, but once we had a class on UX writing I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Since I have a background in professional and creative writing, I figured if I can condense an 80,000-word novel into one sentence then I can do UX writing, which is all about being clear, concise, and useful. I supplemented my knowledge by taking UX writing-specific courses online and completely fell in love with it!
Linda: As a full-stack developer, I kept my options open. I applied for multiple titles and positions, first landing a role as a software engineer doing mostly back end then evolving to a full stack software developer role at my current company. I love being able to apply all the knowledge I learned at Sabio on the job. You never stop learning in this line of work!
Sadie: I started with web design courses and liked it, but once I started doing development and learned how to translate design into code, I felt more aligned with that path. I’m always curious about other paths in tech, so who knows where I’ll go from here!
Natalie: LearningFuze taught full stack, so I learned it all! The company that reached out to me when I graduated was for a front end role, so for the past two years I’ve focused on that and I love it. It’s been fun to translate design into code, like Sadie said. Starting this year, I’ll be diving back into back end, so I’m refreshing what I learned at LearningFuze. I’m also curious to keep diving into new technologies and see what else is out there.
How long did it take to land your first tech job offer after graduating from a bootcamp?
Linda: I took the job search very seriously — I applied for over 1,300 jobs, making LinkedIn my best friend! I was spending so much time on social media, so I deleted everything but LinkedIn and just scrolled and applied for jobs. At Sabio, we started applying for jobs two weeks prior to graduation, so I had multiple interviews. Within two weeks of graduation, I landed my first opportunity!
Natalie: I didn't get to dive into that job search during bootcamp because I was still making edits on my portfolio when I got an email within a week after graduating from someone asking if I wanted to do an interview. I remember thinking it was a scam, since I was just out of bootcamp and I hadn’t even applied for that job. Career Services at LearningFuze checked and confirmed their legitimacy so I went ahead with the interviews and was hired within two weeks of graduating from bootcamp.
Michelle: Right out of bootcamp, I decided to be a teaching assistant (TA) at General Assembly, which allowed me to go back through the UX course for three months and hear all the information again. Plus, I was being paid more than I was in social work, so I was already getting a raise in tech even though I wasn’t in the tech workforce yet. Once I completed the three months, I applied to about 100 UX writing jobs on LinkedIn and landed a job at PayPal three weeks after I started the job search!
Sadie: I started the job searching portion with Skillcrush on the first day of February and got a job in two months, after applying for 250-275 jobs!
Course Report Insight: On average it takes bootcamp grads three to six months to land a job!
Natalie, how did the team at LearningFuze prepare you for the interview and help you navigate salary negotiations?
Natalie: It came as a surprise to me getting an email from the principal engineer at my company, so I made sure to ask why they reached out to me. They loved my LinkedIn profile and that it linked to all of my projects, a video of me talking for a scholarship, my GitHub — this proved to them that I was dedicated and wanted a job! Even before I started searching, my social media presence made a huge impact on getting hired. Once I did get hired, I prepared by looking into the tech stack at a higher level, then diving into each technology. The company was based in React, which I already knew from my bootcamp, but they also use TypeScript, which I didn’t know, so I started diving into learning Typescript.
Since I initially thought it was a scam, I’m so grateful I took it to my Career Services team for guidance because they helped frame the interview for me, gave me questions to ask the interviewer, and made sure I was prepared for the process. My favorite question they told me to ask was scary at first! “Do you have any doubts about me going forward?” I thought that was a daunting question to ask in an interview because they could say yes and not hire me! To my surprise, it was an excellent question to ask because they had to answer on the spot and it was positive: they liked my attitude, I had the skills they were looking for, and they wanted to go forward with me. Not only did it ease my nerves about their opinion of me, but it also exuded confidence on my part. I didn’t have experience in interviews like this before, so the Career Services staff at LearningFuze was imperative to my getting hired.
What did your day-to-day routine look like while applying to jobs?
Linda: One thing that worked for me in studying for technical questions was to write the technical question in my own words, record myself saying the questions, then listen to it throughout the day to make sure I was fresh in the information. In reality, knowing technical questions about three different languages is overwhelming, especially when you're learning in a short period of time! If you're not even able to answer technical questions, sometimes they move on to the next candidate.
Overall, focus on these tactics:
Sadie, how was the reality of job searching for your first tech job different from what you expected?
Sadie: While I was still doing the skills portion of Skillcrush, I asked other alums that were doing the job searching portion about their experiences and every single one said it was so hard. I didn’t think it’d be that bad, but when I got to it, it was hard! I anticipated rejection, but not how emotionally draining it would be to get a constant stream of rejections. Honestly, if I wasn't aware and didn't have that community, I probably would have dropped out. It was really helpful to have that job search coach because they reframed rejection into feedback, which helped bolster my will to keep going.
Linda, was it easier for you to land the second tech job than the first?
Linda: I was looking for work during the layoffs and the holidays, so no, it wasn’t necessarily easier. I use a similar question as Natalie when I interview, which is, “Based on the questions that I answered and compared to the different candidates, where do you think I stand?” It’s important to know where you stand. I got two offers and ended up making $40,000 more than I was making before, so the hard work paid off!
Sadie, having graduated from both college and a bootcamp, which education path do you recommend?
Sadie: It really depends on your goals, learning style, and timeline. Once you get clarity on those, it'll be easier to evaluate what options you have. I always ask, How do you like to learn? Do you know if you learn best with projects? Do you need a synchronous meeting or are you okay with learning on your own? Try to align yourself with the opportunities that will best help you set yourself up for success.
Did you feel prepared for your job after attending a bootcamp, both technically and as a woman breaking into tech?
Natalie: Yes and no. Learning at a bootcamp is like drinking water out of a fire hydrant — it’s incredibly difficult because you're getting so much information in such a little time. Although they can't teach everything in three months, LearningFuze taught me how to learn, which was the most valuable skill that I could have gotten from them. I now know how to Google, where to look, what questions to ask. LearningFuze enforced a learning mindset, which is imperative because tech is not something you master in one day; you’re constantly learning. I felt prepared that there wasn't anything I couldn't take on, but at the same time felt the impostor syndrome when I saw the size of the code base. LearningFuze taught me the confidence to know how to learn, which was good enough for me on the first day.
Michelle: I felt super prepared by General Assembly. I never had a moment where I had no idea what they were talking about. The longer I was working in my job, the more confident I felt — not only have I almost tripled my income in social work, but I know exactly what I'm talking about! No one was condescending to me about attending a bootcamp. I proved I had what it took and I felt really prepared.
Linda: Research the languages you'll be learning and when you’re in the bootcamp, give it your all! It will be tiring because everything is compacted in a short period of time. Once you finish the bootcamp, it's life-changing! It's definitely worth it.
Michelle: My UX design certificate is just the cherry on top. I'm bringing to this company all of my background and its diversity, my strengths in empathy and interviewing. I'm bringing the full weight of who I am, plus this UX design certificate. You are so much more than just what the bootcamp will give you!
Sadie: Your skills are valuable! It’s easy for developers to think they don’t know enough, but the role that's looking for you is looking for what you have and will teach you the rest, especially if it's a welcoming environment. You don't need to know everything to make it.
Natalie: I received the advice, “If you're the smartest person in the room, then you're in the wrong room.” I always felt like I needed to be the best, smartest, or fastest. When you're going into tech, you won’t be the smartest person and it's the best thing that you can be because you’ll have so much room to grow! Remember that you do deserve to be there — it doesn't matter your background or who you are, everybody answers this call from different backgrounds. Even though we're all very different people, we all were able to break into tech, so you do deserve to be where you're at.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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