Alumni Spotlight

Meet Victoria: From Beginner to Engineer in 19 Weeks with Hack Reactor

Jess Feldman

Written By Jess Feldman

Last updated on February 9, 2023

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Victoria Ziegler was on track to become a medical doctor, but realized she needed a more flexible career. Inspired by a friend’s recent career change into tech, coding beginner Victoria enrolled in Hack Reactor’s 19-week, online coding bootcamp to become a Software Engineer. Victoria breaks down both how this unique, 19-week beginner bootcamp was her perfect on-ramp to making a career change into healthcare technology, and also her tips for incoming bootcampers on overcoming imposter syndrome and making the most of the experience. Now Victoria is a Software Engineer at a med-tech company and shares how she’s brought her medical experience into her new career in tech.

What inspired you to pivot from working as a medical assistant to software engineering?

Since high school, I was set on becoming a doctor. I got my bachelor's degree in biomedical sciences, was applying to med schools, had taken the MCAT, and was fully on track to becoming a physician. Before going to med school, I worked as a medical assistant to learn more about the career before I fully committed my life to it. I worked under several different doctors and industries (emergency, surgery, private practice) and found that I was not satisfied with the lifestyle that accompanies any of them. While doctors are paid well, I saw so many of them without any time to spend that great salary – Work was their whole life and they didn’t have time for family or travel. After actually seeing the career I’d idealized my whole life, I realized it was not for me. 

At that point in my career, it was scary to completely switch careers, but I saw a friend make a complete 180° with his life so I was convinced that a software engineering bootcamp was for me. My friend went from working in Vegas to becoming a successful software engineer after attending Hack Reactor! Software engineering sounded like the ideal lifestyle I wanted, which was working remotely, so I could also travel and have a family. It's a relaxed lifestyle, which is exactly what I was seeking.

There are so many coding bootcamps now — why did you choose Hack Reactor?

Even after my friend mentioned Hack Reactor, I still researched other bootcamps. I was attracted to Hack Reactor because they were starting a new program in software engineering that promised to take someone from zero coding skills to a full stack software engineer in 19 weeks. Other programs I saw were more accelerated, with 13-hour days for 12 weeks. While the Hack Reactor bootcamp program was long, they balanced our time with every other Friday off and the intention to let us mentally recharge between lessons. 

Did you receive any Hack Reactor scholarships?

Yes, I received this full-tuition Galvanize scholarship for the 19-week coding bootcamp!

Did you feel like a “coding beginner” before applying or did you need to know basic coding in order to apply to the 19-week program at Hack Reactor?

I had done some self-teaching through Codecademy and Code with Mosh on YouTube. I downloaded some apps on my phone and played around trying to code different problems to see if I even liked it. Obviously I ended up loving it!

Just like any bootcamp, Hack Reactor’s 19-week beginner bootcamp is hard! It’s accelerated and challenging, but doable. You can do this program as a complete beginner with no coding experience starting at ground zero, but I did some research and learned a little bit on my own before starting. Having a basis in Python and JavaScript when you come into Hack Reactor will go a long way!

Was there an application challenge to get into the 19-week bootcamp?

For their 12-week (intermediate) program, Hack Reactor requires passing an assessment first before they take you through their interview process. 

However, for the 19-week program, you don’t have to pass an assessment, but you do have to go through the interview process. In the interview, they asked me why I was getting into software engineering to see if this investment of time and money in learning tech was the right choice for me. 

What were the first 7 weeks like in the 19-week beginner bootcamp? Were they more beginner-focused?

Hack Reactor is great for beginners — They definitely eased us into the curriculum. On day one of the bootcamp, our instructors helped us set up our computers for coding, like getting things configured. In the first several weeks we were introduced to Python, with beginner topics such as for loops. We had morning quizzes where we would have to practice coding easier problems. 

What was a typical day like in the online, 19-week software engineering bootcamp? 

We were on Zoom for ten hours a day, from 9AM-7PM PST, pivoting back and forth from lectures, pair programming, solo programming, quizzes, and project work. We would have an hour lecture, an hour or two of coding, an hour lecture, and so forth. That was already a long day, plus we typically had homework assignments after class. After 5:30PM, we could stay in the room and ask our instructors and TAs questions while working on our projects. Then we would work throughout the night and complete the reading for the next day. Realistically, I was probably dedicating 15 hours (9AM to midnight) to the bootcamp.

Was there a time in the bootcamp when you stopped feeling like a “beginner?”

I remember I was coming towards the end of the first module and we had this huge project. I was having major imposter syndrome — coming from the medical field where I had to memorize everything to the software engineering field that didn’t require memorization and was instead about the ability to research and find the teacher within to develop an engineering frame of mind.

My girlfriend also went through the bootcamp with me and was a huge support. At this point when I was feeling such imposter syndrome, she reassured me that I was doing what I needed to do. I was acing my quizzes and that I had it under control. She affirmed that I’m not an imposter — I’m a programmer! That was a big turning point for me where I realized she was right. I am a beginner and I am struggling, but I am on the track to becoming a software engineer — I was doing it!

What did you learn in the 19-week Hack Reactor bootcamp?

The 19-week Hack Reactor full stack coding bootcamp is split up into three modules, and we had a major project and test at the end of each module. 

  • For the first module, we learned how to code using Python, Django, HTML, and CSS. We built out a full website! We built out two full websites in this module; one for tracking recipes and meal plans with user authentication and another for creating to-do lists.
  • In the second module, we were introduced to JavaScript, React, and microservices and learned about different types of platforms, like software as a service (SaaS). We built out several more websites using JavaScript and React in the front end and Python and Django in the back end, such as a website for a car dealership with sales and service departments.
  • In the third module, we were on our own! We had time to practice different techniques and dive into interview prep. Most of module three was working in teams on our final project. 

What did you build for your final project?

In groups of five, we had to come up with an idea for a website and build it from scratch. My group built a social connection website called Puppy Love, which was like a doggy Tinder app to connect owners to friends. 

Since we had such a short timeline to finish our project, we dove in with initial meetings on how we wanted it designed, what pages to include, and what our microservices would be. We confirmed the infrastructure first and then we all relied on our strengths to complete it. One person in our group loved front end design and wanted to spearhead that part of the project. A couple of us wanted to practice full stack, so we were in the back end creating APIs as well as the front end implementing forms and helping with the design. Another teammate wanted to dive deep into AWS services, so he spent most of his time setting that up and configuring it. We all separated based on what we wanted to do, but we still had to practice teamwork to make it all happen.

Did you present your final project at a Demo Day?

We did and it was a recorded presentation that we also listed on Github. We had 10 different groups in our entire class, so we had a whole day where we all presented. We all had a few minutes to show off our website and explain some of the code behind it.

Were your instructors experienced software engineers?

There was a vast array of instructors and experience. For each module, we had three instructors, which meant I had between 6-9 different instructors throughout the whole bootcamp. Every instructor had been in the workforce for several years before they became an instructor. It was cool hearing their different stories, too! One instructor had been in data analytics since the 90s and shared his frustrations with old, outdated tech like XML. It was interesting to hear the history behind all of the different code we were working with. Another instructor pivoted into tech after having been a firefighter his whole life — he made the switch into software engineering a few years ago and was willing to teach! 

TAs were called SEIRs (Software Engineering Immersive Residents) and they were recent Hack Reactor graduates who came in to assist with teaching, help debug code, and support us through our projects. 

Since this was an online bootcamp, how did you connect with your cohort and instructors? 

We had a massive cohort of 70 people which was divided into three pods — Even though we technically were in separate pods, we were together for every lecture and assignment. We ended up being a very social cohort! We had boards for all types of topics and we started a Discord chat that we all still talk on today. It was great to have a place to vent and learn from each other. Some of the other cohorts were jealous of how tight-knit our cohort was — It was a very unique experience. I'm still friends with a few people from my cohort and talk regularly about who’s getting hired and their interview processes. 

Were there other career changers in your cohort?

Yes! Most of my cohort were people who didn’t choose Computer Science in college and were getting into tech later in life. We also had younger folks who chose a coding bootcamp instead of college. The majority of people were making a big life change into a tech career, which made a welcoming environment.  

How did the bootcamp prepare you for the job hunt? 

After module three there’s a dedicated week to career services, which includes resume-building, interview prep, and really anything related to career-building. After graduation, we were each assigned a Career Service Manager to reach out as often as we wanted for the next six months. I loved my Career Service Manager Arthur! We met once weekly at first then biweekly. Having this 1:1 support was crucial to my finding a job so fast. He kept me accountable for applying to a certain number of jobs, working hard on updating my resume and my cover letter, and he helped me draft messages to people on LinkedIn. Once I actually found my job, he helped me with the interview process and negotiation. He was there anytime I needed him — I could message him anything and he would take the time to hop on a video call. My early career success was due to having this individualized support. 

Which tech roles did you feel qualified to apply for after graduating from Hack Reactor?

I didn't want to do apprenticeships or internships. With our preparation and the amount of experience we gained from the Hack Reactor bootcamp, I felt I was qualified for entry-level or junior-level roles, so I primarily sought those. I did apply for some mid-level roles, too, depending on how much experience they required.

Do you have any tips for other bootcamp grads on the job hunt right now?

Apply for everything because you really never know what you’ll get! I didn't realize at the time I was applying, but I actually applied for a senior role at the company I now work at, and they liked me so much that they created an entry-level role for me.

Congratulations on your new tech role at BEKHealth! Did you get the job through a bootcamp connection?

Hack Reactor has connections with companies that are open to hiring bootcampers and they compile those jobs onto a job board. Interestingly, this was the only job I applied for through this board and I think it helped accelerate my application process. Otherwise, I had been primarily relying on LinkedIn and other random job boards for job postings.

Did you feel prepared for the interview process at BEKHealth?

It’s hard to feel prepared for technical interviews. Tech interviews are an entire beast on their own —I did self-studying for them outside of Hack Reactor. 

That said, I felt extremely prepared for the behavioral interview, thanks to Hack Reactor, but it still varies by company. My company asked a lot more loose questions about my technical expertise rather than actually having to code something for them, so in that sense, I felt prepared for the interview process from Hack Reactor. However, for other companies I interviewed for I felt very underprepared for their coding challenges and technical questions.

What kinds of projects are you working on at BEKHealth?

Our primary focus at BEKHealth is clinical research data, so we convert electronic medical records data into our system, and then we do a lot of the data compilation and analytics for the clients to view and manipulate. I'm a Full Stack Engineer, so I help with both the front end and back end, but I'm primarily on the front end at the moment. Since they already have their website built out, I work on bug tickets, adding new features, refactoring old code, and unit tests.

Are you using everything you learned at Hack Reactor now on the job?

I’ve definitely had to add to what I learned at the bootcamp. I’m additionally using VueJS, SQL, MongoDB, GraphQL, and Flask, which I had zero experience in and may have been only briefly covered at Hack Reactor. The main things I can transfer from my bootcamp experience are Python and JavaScript. There’s been a lot of learning on the job!

Are there any transferable skills from your former career as a medical assistant to your job now as a software engineer?

My experience in the medical field was a big reason why I got hired on this job. I have a lot of experience in clinical research and medical charting systems, so that was a major benefit to starting this role. I understand a lot of the data they’re working with and can manipulate it. Other transferable skills were time management and team management as well as being used to the chaos and stress of the work environment.

At this point in your tech career, was Hack Reactor worth it for you? 

Absolutely! I recommend Hack Reactor to anybody — it was so worth it. I don't think I could have gotten to this point by myself. Learning how to program was so rigorous that I think I would have ended up giving up if it was just self-learning. I needed the structure of a class and specific assignments to help me learn how to build everything. 

What is your advice for making the most out of the 19-week Hack Reactor beginner bootcamp experience? Anything you wish you had known before day one of the bootcamp?

Tackle that impostor syndrome right away! You are meant to be here, you chose to do this, you desire to understand coding, so go for it! You don't need to hold yourself back for the fear of failing. It's really hard, but anybody can learn how to code. Start with the mindset that you are an engineer, you are a coder, you are a programmer! 

Know that you are going to fail, but that’s a daily part of the process. As a coder, you are failing constantly. You have to be comfortable with everything breaking and having to restart. So much of coding is debugging your own code or someone else’s. Everything gets broken all the time and you just have to get used to the feeling of failure. 

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

About The Author

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman

Jess Feldman is an accomplished writer and the Content Manager at Course Report, the leading platform for career changers who are exploring coding bootcamps. With a background in writing, teaching, and social media management, Jess plays a pivotal role in helping Course Report readers make informed decisions about their educational journey.

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