Swati Gupta studied psychology in college and worked as a counselor in New Delhi, India, but when she moved to San Francisco, she was ready for a career change. After much research, self-learning, community college computer science classes, and a nudge from her software engineer husband, Swati chose to enroll at Holberton School’s two-year code school. Learn about why Swati was attracted to Holberton’s tuition model, her views on women in tech, and why she decided to turn down an offer from Apple for an internship at NVIDIA!
What was your educational background and career path before Holberton School?
Before Holberton School, I earned a bachelor's and master's degree in psychology and worked as a counselor in New Delhi, India for about three years.
Then I got married, moved to San Francisco and took a break from working. At that time, I was exploring a couple of different fields – business management, HR, etc. My husband got me interested in technology. He worked as a software engineer and would show me what he was working on, including a feature that he wrote for his company that became very popular. Seeing those things attracted me to learning to code.
Did you learn to code before attending Holberton School?
Initially, I started taking online classes on Lynda.com and my husband was also teaching me. Then I took some math and computer science classes at Foothill Community College for a year. I could’ve received my associate’s degree in computer science but there were general classes in English and social science that I was not interested in, so I didn't get the degree.
What made you want to do a coding school after taking computer science classes at a community college?
The classes I was taking were giving me a really good introduction to programming and computer science concepts, but I was looking for a project or internship to get more practical exposure. As I was looking, I found out about Holberton School and did a lot of research on the School. I met with mentors, students who were enrolled in the program, and with the founders. They were all really helpful, answered all my questions, and I liked everything about the program.
Why did Holberton School stand out to you?
I preferred Holberton School because Holberton offered a more comprehensive software engineering training. At Holberton you don’t just learn one programming language or just focus on one stack – you work on all levels of a software lifecycle with your peers and mentors.
I was considering two other options. I didn't choose Hackbright Academy because they are more focused on web technologies and front-end. Another school that I was considering was 42. I ultimately didn't consider that either because the program was not very structured.
Since you had already taken some computer science classes, were you looking for a specific stack to learn at Holberton School?
No. The program provides the opportunity to work at multiple levels and that was attractive to me. In school, I was only doing one language, Java. I wanted to learn more before specializing in one area. Before Holberton, I didn't know how to use the command line, I didn't know the basic admin commands, how to debug my system when something goes wrong, or how to make my system more secure. I didn’t know about VMs or Containers, I learned all of that stuff at Holberton.
Holberton School has a deferred tuition model. Was that a factor in your decision to attend?
Yes. You don't have to pay any upfront tuition fee – you pay once you get a job. That is another attractive point about Holberton School because you don't have to take a loan. At other colleges or bootcamps, there can be an uncertainty about whether you will get a job or not. But at Holberton School, if you don't find a job after a certain point, you don't owe them anything. That is another attractive aspect because it makes the school totally invest in you.
Walk us through your application and interview process for Holberton School.
The process itself was interesting. Right away when you start filling out the application, it asks you to really explore and inquire of yourself reasons why you want to join the program. You have to justify why you want to enter the tech industry, especially if you're transferring from another background.
Then you have to do a couple of other challenges, which were pretty easy. The biggest challenge is to build a website following their specific guidelines. They want to see your willingness to complete the challenge. The application is pretty long, and so is the program. They want to see your motivations and see if you can sustain this experience. Holberton also wants to see if you can follow a set of guidelines. You lose points if you don't follow their guidelines. I had to redo my website because in a couple of places I was missing their guidelines. It took me approximately two weeks for the application process.
Describe your cohort. Is it diverse in terms of gender and career backgrounds?
Oh yeah, it is very diverse. We have people from all different places. We have men and women with degrees in different fields and it’s around 20 people.
What phase are you currently in at Holberton School?
The program is divided into three phases. Phase one is focused on the full-stack curriculum that all students must do. Phase 2 is a six-month internship and phase 3 is dedicated to the specialization of your choice. For phase 3, Holberton School is flexible and allows you to continue your job if you choose to make that your specialization. I'm currently in my internship, so I'll graduate in 2018.
Could you explain your learning experience? Walk us through a typical day at Holberton School.
In the first three months, we got daily projects. For instance, we would get an introduction to the C language as a project with 24 hours to complete it. The project would be divided into two parts – one part would be a mandatory and the second part would be optional advanced questions. In the beginning, when we had introductory language assignments, they were pretty easy. It was like building a stack from the ground up. In the beginning, they would be easy, then intermediate, and then very, very tough. If you hadn't completed your easy/introductory part, it would be difficult to do the more advanced parts.
It would usually take an entire day for me to figure out some of these. I would do the mandatory stuff pretty easily and quickly. Then I would work on the advanced problems – I was ambitious with my grades so I would want to do all of the problems.
Did you have any special experience being a woman in technology and learning to code?
If any, it's all positive. I have been received with encouragement by people in tech. Wherever I go, people appreciate me for choosing to come into the tech industry. I feel grateful to all the efforts companies and women organizations are making to bring more diversity, and I feel it’s having a positive impact.
I feel the same thing at Holberton too – everyone is very encouraging. When I said I thought certain subjects would be too difficult for me to learn, one of the founders told me, "You shouldn't be scared. Don't think you cannot do it.”
Tell us about your process of getting your internship? Did Holberton School help you land your internship?
For my internship, Holberton helped me 100%. They arranged the interview and helped me prepare for the interviews. Holberton School was the platform for everything – the company I’m working with now came to our campus for interviews. Even prior to actual interviews, we had mock interviews every week with help from mentors and even the founders.
Did you have different internships to choose from? How was your job search process?
I had a full-time offer from Apple for a Site Reliability Engineer (SRE) position, but I chose a six-month software engineering internship at NVIDIA instead. Both of the opportunities were great and I had a hard time choosing one over the other. I decided to go with NVIDIA because the work they were doing was pretty exciting.
Tell us about your internship. How are they bringing you up to speed, how large is the team and what's a typical day like? What are you working on?
I'm working at NVIDIA, a GPU (graphics processing unit) design and manufacturing company, in a six-month internship as a software engineer. I’ve been here for a month and a half and right now I'm working on one of the critical tasks for the company. I had the flexibility of choosing the tasks for myself during my internship. My team works on enabling GPU support in containers.
Usually, my day starts at 9:30am and then I work until 9pm. It's not that consistent. Whatever tasks I've been given, I look into it, find more resources, learn more about it, try everything on my end before asking for help and then build a small prototype of how it should be done to check if I am moving in the right direction.
All of this stuff is pretty new for me. Every day I’m learning, I complete a task, I get feedback, then I try to improve on that. My team has been very supportive and helpful – they are very open to my questions
How has your previous background in computer science along with your Holberton experience helped you in your current internship?
I think everything together is helping me do the work every day. Since you work in teams, you need to find the right people and ask the right questions. And at Holberton we were trained for that by working on group projects.
Will you choose to continue at your internship or go back to Holberton School? What are your plans for your career?
I still have to decide that. I recently started the internship so it’s pretty early for me to decide right away. I do know that I want to keep learning the things I’m learning in my current role.
What's been your biggest challenge or roadblock in your journey to learning how to code?
I wouldn't say it's been an easy journey throughout, but I have enjoyed it. Learning to code has made me more mature in day-to-day life. Also, I look at things more critically now, and I’m a better planner.
As far as the biggest challenge, it’s more like a cyclic process. When your code doesn't work you are frustrated, challenged and it requires you to invest all your time. But once it works you are on cloud nine. So the challenge I would say is to have the patience to sustain this.
Do you keep in touch with other Holberton School students and alumni?
I don't get that much time to be involved in the school, but I am still on the Slack channel. If I have a question, I can still ask the founders. They are very prompt in answering my questions. If I find something that would be useful for the school, I pass it on. I wouldn't say I’m very actively involved, but on and off.
What advice do you have for people thinking about making this career change into software development and attending a coding school?
People should first explore if they're really interested in coding or not. They shouldn't just follow the wave which is running right now, with all the coding bootcamps and online classes out there. In the beginning, you really need to explore yourself. Don't just go straight into a program. Do your learning beforehand – do a project or maybe an internship. Find out if you're really interested or not.
People should really be introspective. It shouldn’t just be a one-off thing where they want to get a job and earn money. It's not that easy. You really have to put yourself into it to keep learning. There will be a lot of times that you will be frustrated and demotivated.