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Leila began her career working as an architect in Brazil, moved to the US to do her masters at the University of Cincinnati, worked as a project manager, and taught herself enough web design to land freelance jobs. Now her varied career path has led her to New York City to become a full stack developer at women-only coding bootcamp Grace Hopper Academy. Leila tells us about her fascinating journey, what factors convinced her that Grace Hopper Academy was the right fit, and how much fun she is having solidifying her web development skills!

Quick update: Leila recently landed a job as a Fullstack Software Engineer at the New York Stock Exchange. Go Leila!!

Q&A

What were you up to before you started at Grace Hopper Academy?

I studied architecture and urban planning at the Federal University of Parana in Brazil and worked as an architect. Then I moved to the US and did a Master’s Degree in Architecture and Community Planning at the University of Cincinnati, and worked for a few more years in an architecture firm doing project management. I started thinking about changing careers about two years ago, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I thought about engineering but eventually I decided on software development because I had always liked playing with computers and basic software programming.

About a year ago I made the switch and started learning how to program through online resources, mainly in HTML and CSS. I started doing some freelance projects as a Front End Developer. With my design background I was able to work on interface design and user experience.

What kind of resources did you use to start learning how to program?

I started with Codecademy, then took two classes at Girl Develop It in HTML and CSS, and an introduction to Bootstrap – that was pretty relevant. I also took courses at Udemy, Udacity, and Treehouse.

If you had already taught yourself, why did you decide to do a coding bootcamp?

I had grasped the front end concepts and the interface design technologies by myself, but I felt for back end programming I needed to be in an immersive environment. I also thought this would help me find better opportunities professionally – my goal is to become a full stack software developer.

Did you look at other coding bootcamps or just Grace Hopper Academy?

I did a bit of research on several bootcamps, looking at location, class size, and curriculum. Most bootcamps didn’t really appeal to me, so I continued teaching myself and doing freelance projects. Before I found Grace Hopper there was nothing that I was really excited about, that I could imagine myself going to. I’m a member of Women Who Code and in their newsletter they announced a scholarship for Grace Hopper. It also mentioned it being a women’s only bootcamp, so I eventually decided to apply after reviewing it.

Was location important to you when deciding on a coding bootcamp?

It was a hard decision to move to New York from Cincinnati, Ohio. But I thought moving to a larger city like New York would expand my professional opportunities in the future. I moved here the Saturday before classes started, on January 11, 2016.

Was Grace Hopper Academy’s deferred tuition plan an important factor in making the choice?

Everything about Grace Hopper was important in my decision. The fact that Grace Hopper has deferred tuition where you don’t pay until you get a job, was definitely a plus because I was already teaching myself and it was another cut on my income. But I think the main factor was the curriculum and the programming languages. We are studying full stack JavaScript, a language which is growing so much. We are focusing on Node.js and Angular which are very important frameworks. We are also studying computer science concepts, which give us a much better understanding of programming. Also, since students have to already have background knowledge of programming, the curriculum doesn’t start at the very beginning. So we get the chance to work on complex topics that would be super hard for an absolute beginner.

Were you specifically looking for a women-only bootcamp?

I wasn’t necessarily looking for a women-exclusive bootcamp. But since I found out it was women only, that was a big factor, and I was even more encouraged to apply.

Did you ever think about doing a 4-year Computer Science degree?

I thought about doing a Masters Degree in computer science because it would be shorter. But because I’m a little older and already have undergraduate and master’s degrees, I didn’t want to do a full four-year program. Also, in programming, there are a lot of opportunities for people who don’t have degrees, but do have experience, so even if I didn’t study at a university, I know I’m getting experience in web development, just at a different level.

Where is the Grace Hopper Academy classroom?

It’s in the Financial District in Manhattan at a WeWork coworking space. We have a large classroom area and we take advantage of the common facilities of the coworking space. It’s a nice classroom with enough space for everybody.

What are your fellow classmates like? Are they diverse in terms of race, life, and career backgrounds?

We are 16 students in total. There are a few international women, and women with varied backgrounds like accounting and biology. There are some students right out of college as well. I think most people were already living in New York, but some people, like me, have moved to the city for the program.

What is the learning experience like at Grace Hopper Academy?

Classes start at 10 am. We usually arrive earlier and work on coding challenges and do pre-readings for our daily workshops. We have short lectures, in the mornings or afternoons. Most of the time we are doing workshops where instructors give us a project based on the curriculum, and some guidance on how to proceed, then we pair program in teams of two people.

Right now we are studying Angular so we just started an Angular project. The class schedule is very intense, even with just the minimum program requirements. Then if you want to, you can do more and engage in other activities in the evenings and weekends. In the evenings we may get together with study groups, and sometimes an instructor or alumni from Fullstack Academy will be there to assist us. There are also talks from other Fullstack alumni. We also try to do hackathons over the weekends.

It’s intense but fun. Our group is very connected and we’ve bonded together – we’re friends and we like to be around each other.

Who are the instructors at Grace Hopper Academy? What are their backgrounds?

We have three instructors right now, two have been through the Fullstack Academy program and have been instructors for a year, but before that they had varied backgrounds. One of them was going to medical school then changed careers before he finished. Most of them don’t have a background purely in coding.

What has been your biggest challenge during the coding bootcamp so far?

Having information poured on you and feeling like there are some gaps in your knowledge. But I’ve realized with time, if you let the knowledge sit a bit, things start making a lot more sense and you realize you know much more than you thought. It’s just about accepting and being patient with yourself.

You mentioned that you’re working on Angular projects now. What is your favorite project you have worked on so far?

In class, we are doing workshops most of the time. Grace Hopper has a Junior Phase and a Senior Phase. So in the Senior Phase we will start working on our own ideas, but our Junior Phase is mostly guided projects. So far what I like the most is working with Node and Express to create full stack web applications. Those projects give you the confidence to feel like you can build an app on your own already.

Do you know what type of jobs you’ll apply to when you graduate? How is Grace Hopper preparing you for that?

I’m not really thinking about it right now; we are instructed not to worry to about jobs during the Junior Phase. We will have a full six weeks, when we are working on capstone projects, to also work on resumes and the job search, so I’m trying to push that back and fully focus on the curriculum. But we do have presentation days where seniors from Fullstack Academy present their capstone projects, so that’s a nice way to see where they are at, because our curriculum is really similar. Later on we will also have mock interviews and general career coaching.

What has been the best surprise about Grace Hopper Academy?

How much we are actually learning and how much we are being pushed to learn every day. Even if we don’t fully understand everything, we keep going and that puts us on a very intense routine and schedule. It’s nice to see how much you can absorb – which is a lot more than you would think, you feel you have the power to learn things very quickly and effectively. I really like that feeling.

What advice do you have for people who are considering a coding bootcamp?

First of all, you need to know why you’re doing a bootcamp. Definitely find out if you really like programming, because a bootcamp is a big investment of time and money. Try to dig around and see all the aspects of programming. Also find out which languages you want to learn and what is trending in the market.

My final advice is to go for it, know that you want it and just do it. It’s a very fun and interesting experience. I’m loving every second of it.

Find out more on Grace Hopper Academy’s Course Report page. Or check out the Grace Hopper Academy website.

About The Author

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Imogen is a writer and content producer who loves writing about technology and education. Her background is in journalism, writing for newspapers and news websites. She grew up in England, Dubai and New Zealand, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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