You’ve likely heard that mentorship is key to a successful career change, but what exactly makes a great mentor and how can you get the most out of a mentorship? As a beginner coder, Elana was drawn to the rave reviews of Hack Reactor’s career prep and tight knit alumni network. With the added bonus of Telegraph Track – a free extra layer of resources provided to underrepresented students at Hack Reactor, including extra office hours, speaker programming, networking opportunities, and a mentorship program – Elana graduated ready for her first job as a software engineer. We talked with Elana and her mentor, Fro, about how to build a fruitful mentorship in tech!
Elana, what were you up to before Hack Reactor? What motivated you to change careers from health to tech?
My background was in international development and data collection. I was doing light programming, using software platforms like Blaise and Survey CTO to create surveys for large-scale research projects in developing world contexts and Stata for data analysis. I was 60% sure I wanted to transition into a coding career. I started considering coding bootcamps and since I still hadn't found a new job when COVID hit so it seemed like the perfect time to make the career switch. The circumstances of COVID solidified my decision and I started looking for a school.
And why did you choose Hack Reactor?
I chose Hack Reactor for several reasons. A major factor in my choice was that Hack Reactor has a strong reputation. I also liked their rigorous curriculum – Hack Reactor was one of the only schools I saw that had such an intense schedule. I figured if I was gonna dive in and commit my life to this, I might as well do it full-time (6 days a week, 12 hours a day). When I looked at Hack Reactor reviews, a lot of alumni mentioned the staff support they received, during and after the program. People also raved about the close alumni network.
I knew I could learn coding on my own, but what really sold me on Hack Reactor was the dedicated assistance through the job search process. I wanted the help they offer in resume building, creating a dynamic LinkedIn profile, knowing which companies to apply to, and if I should still apply for a job that's above my qualifications.
What is the Telegraph Track?
Fro: Telegraph Track is a free, extra layer of resources, including networking events, career panels, 1:1 pairing with mentors working in the industry, community, and office hours for students from underrepresented backgrounds in tech.
Before I became a Telegraph Track mentor, I was a Hack Reactor alum and participated in Telegraph Track! As a queer person, I wanted any advantage I could get to break into the tech community. Telegraph Track includes an after-hours program where students have a safe space to talk through hard conversations about what to expect in tech/ what you might face in the industry. They showcase panels of guest speakers like Laurie Voss and alums who offer insight on their expertise and individual experiences.
Toward the end of Hack Reactor, students in Telegraph Track get matched with a mentor who helps with the job search. As a mentor, I was matched with Elana!
Who qualifies for Hack Reactor Telegraph Track?
Telegraph Track is an extension of the Hack Reactor’s immersive program that focuses on building a strong community to support the careers of underrepresented software engineers. Students who are welcome to join Telegraph Track are from underrepresented backgrounds in tech, including women, nonbinary people, people of color, LGBTQIA+, disabled people/people with disabilities, immigrants, first-generation students, veterans, and students over age 40.
Fro, did the hard conversations about diversity that Telegraph Track facilitated actually prepare you for a career in tech?
Fro: I came from a science background so I was already exposed to the lack of diversity within the science community. I was lucky enough to find a job at a company, HOVER, whose statistics around queer employment weren't as bad as some companies, but I was still the first female-leaning person hired on the frontend team at my company. I'm now the Co-Chair of the diversity and inclusion committee and it's taken two years for us to get those numbers up. Even if you get a great job at a company that really tries to hire diverse employees, you’ll still face the reality that the tapestry of tech is not very diverse. Those conversations at Telegraph Track were spot on.
How did you two get matched as a mentor + mentee?
Elana: Hack Reactor sent out a questionnaire for both parties and did the matching based on the answers to those questions. Funny enough, Fro and I have found interesting connections between us that we didn't mention in the questionnaire and that Hack Reactor couldn't have known beforehand. They did a good job matching us!
Fro, what motivated you to become a mentor at Telegraph Track?
It's two fold – personal and professional reasons. First, I had a great mentor who helped me get a job when I was a Hack Reactor grad and I love paying it forward and volunteering whenever I can. There's a saying I love, "As we progress higher, we reach back." For me, it's a huge deal to reach back and elevate someone else, especially someone from a diverse background. I have to help ease someone else's passage into the tech world however I can.
I have mentored at least five people through Telegraph Track, but I'll have a conversation with anyone who comes from Hack Reactor and reaches out.
Professionally, I was asked by HOVER's leadership to be the face of HOVER's engineering department. I do panels as part of outreach for HOVER and I serve as an advocate and face for the company.
How do you work together as mentor and mentee?
Elana: Hack Reactor encourages meeting at least 4-6 times, but it's up to the mentor and mentee to figure out what that relationship looks like going forward.
We regularly message on Slack and meet every week for at least an hour. It feels similar to therapy in some ways – if I'm anxious or insecure about something, Fro reassures me that it's the normal process, that it's difficult to apply for jobs and that it's normal to apply for jobs and get continuously rejected. Fro's perspective has been invaluable to me.
Could you share an example of a problem that your mentor helped you overcome?
Elana: One firm roadblock Fro helped me through was my cover letters. I would get bogged down trying to write perfect cover letters, which blocked me from getting applications out. Fro reviews cover letters and resumes at HOVER and assured me that I had a solid framework. They showed me how to make easy adjustments for each company I applied to and simplified the process for me so that it wasn't so daunting. Working in a committed time frame helped me focus and stay productive. I would have gotten it done eventually but it helped to have the support of someone who's gone through this process directly and who can offer their invaluable insight.
Overall, Fro’s mentorship has helped me work around Imposter Syndrome. It's a long slog, but it helps to regularly check in with someone who knows my history, who's paying attention to my specific progress, and who has gone through literally the same experience as a Hack Reactor alum. It's helpful to have their perspective both as a Hack Reactor alum and as someone who is now in a hiring role and can offer insight to the application process.
Fro: Our next step is a mock interview to see where Elana's strengths and struggles are so I can offer feedback.
Elana, you were looking for a support network throughout the job search; have you felt that support at Hack Reactor?
At the moment I'm getting a ton of support from my career services manager, the greater Hack Reactor alum network and from Fro, which I'm so grateful for and hope to be in a position to pay forward one day. Had there been any gaps in support, Fro would have filled them.
Throughout the program, and especially in the second half, Hack Reactor has dedicated sessions to career content. We went through:
I tend to get caught in indecision loops, so having Fro, who knows the system and can offer pointed feedback, was crucial for me. It was great to get that reassurance from someone who's currently working in the industry.
Any tips for someone trying to find a mentor as a career changer? Any red flags or things to avoid?
Fro: There is no perfect mentor! But there is someone who can help you in the time that you need! A lot of people go into a job thinking that they'll be assigned a mentor – that’s not quite correct … it's better to find a more organic solution.
Don't limit your mentors to engineers. Find mentors in other departments that you can look up to, to expand your insight and understanding. Outside of my personal mentors, I look up to people who are where I want to be in a few years, people who I consider awesome managers. But it doesn’t have to be an engineer; look up to people who you think are awesome, set up 1:1s with them, and get your questions answered. Generally if they have the time, most people are excited to help. But not everyone has the ability to help in that way. Don’t force a mentor relationship on someone or waste their time.
Fro, has your company, HOVER, hired any Hack Reactor alumni?
Fro: Yes, we have a strong Hack Reactor presence at our company. When I was hired, our entire frontend team was from Hack Reactor or App Academy. We don’t exclusively hire from coding bootcamps, it just happened to be that way.
Are you seeing diverse applicants coming from bootcamps?
Fro: Bootcamps may be a cheaper alternative to college, but they’re still expensive! Someone who goes through a bootcamp program without acquiring loans was already financially privileged. I personally went into extreme debt in order to go to Hack Reactor.
There are, however, some bootcamps that are geared toward diversity specifically. Hack Reactor has a number of scholarships available, including the We Stand Together Scholarship for Black/African American students and Galvanize scholarship.
How can a mentee get the most out of their mentorship?
If you do want a mentor, you have to do at least half the work! You can't expect your mentor to come into your meetings and have the agenda set. A good balance is to always come to a session with questions and to deeply listen to what they say.
Finally, schedule real recurring time. If you can get someone who has the time, meeting consistently can help with accountability. In the age of COVID, a quick Zoom meeting can still be really helpful.
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