What is your pre-coding bootcamp story? What is your educational background and last career path?
I graduated from Bates College, Maine in 2013 with a bachelor's in biology and math. Originally, I was pre-med, but by Junior year I realized medicine wasn’t for me. So I started college knowing exactly what I wanted to do, and finished having absolutely no idea! That actually ended up being a benefit, because I’ve now had a few different careers.
It’s not clear why I started doing that. I think I wanted to learn a new skill, and be more stimulated. My job was great for learning about managing a team, but it wasn’t much of an educational environment, so I enjoyed having a schedule which allowed me to come home and study. I became really interested and started using more of my time to move towards web development.
How did you first get interested in coding?
A friend did the part time coding bootcamp at Fullstack Academy – which he found really exciting. I also have a friend who works for MongoDB, plus my boyfriend got interested in coding around the same time, so we were both hearing about it, talking about it, and getting excited. The idea of using logic again, like I did in college for math, sounded awesome to me.
Was your background in math and logic useful for learning to code?
I think so. There are definitely a lot of girls here who say they are not comfortable in math, and they are still obviously doing an amazing job. I know that I love math, and it helps that I don’t approach a problem with that mentality.
When did you decide you wanted to learn to code full time instead of continuing to teach yourself?
Did you look at other coding bootcamps? How did you choose Grace Hopper?
I was strictly looking in NYC because I didn’t want to move cities. I looked at Fullstack Academy first because that’s where my friend studied. I also checked out App Academy, and then Grace Hopper Academy was announced. So I sent applications to Fullstack Academy, Grace Hopper Academy and App Academy.
I did one interview for Fullstack Academy and Grace Hopper Academy combined. I received the coding test from App Academy, but put that on hold while I was interviewing for Fullstack and Grace Hopper. I really was not seeking out an all-female coding bootcamp at the time, but ultimately I thought this would be a special and rare opportunity to be around this many women in this industry.
Was it important for you to learn a specific programming language or stack?
How important was Grace Hopper’s deferred tuition plan to your decision?
That’s another difference between Fullstack and Grace Hopper – at Fullstack, you pay up front. So the deferred tuition plan was definitely attractive and it helped me make my decision. Students usually incur a tuition and opportunity cost while at a bootcamp, so it’s pretty nice to put off the tuition during this time and just worry about maintaining yourself through the whole process. Another appealing element was that I knew they had a financial investment in me doing well at the end of the program. After working with everyone at Grace Hopper, I have no doubt they are also personally invested in having super smart women come out of this program and they truly believe in the program.
What was the combined application and interview process for Fullstack Academy and Grace Hopper Academy like?
I applied on each of their websites, then there was a test before the interview. They told me they received both applications, and said I could just take one test and one interview to be considered for both. In the interview we did a couple simple problems, then we pair programmed together. One of the most important things was not necessarily coming up with a perfect answer, but to show your approach and thought process. It’s important to show that you can think critically, and be able talk out your process.
At the end of the interview, they asked me whether I would prefer Fullstack or Grace Hopper, but I didn’t really have a preference. My interviewer was a woman and I asked a lot of questions about being a woman in tech, so that may have indicated an all-female program would be good for me. About a week later they got back to me and told me I was admitted to Grace Hopper specifically.
Is your class diverse in terms of race, life and career backgrounds?
There are 14 of us, so it’s pretty small. There’s a bit of diversity – there are a couple of international girls, and then there’s the inherent diversity in that we are all women in tech. I think the deferred tuition opens it up to a wider range of people; it’s less burden of a commitment to make.
What is the learning experience like at Grace Hopper Academy?
It’s awesome, really fun. It’s broken into two parts – a Junior and Senior phase, with well thought out transitions for every stage of the process. Right now we are halfway through Senior phase. In Junior phase we did a lot of structured workshops, and almost always worked in pairs which I really liked. At the beginning of Senior phase, we built an online store including all of its functionality in a group of four people. It was cool to talk out our problems as a group, then pair program. Next we had to build our own personal projects for a hackathon, so after the group project, it was a little less scary to build a whole project on my own.
What has been your experience learning in an all-female environment?
I wasn’t seeking out an all-women’s program, but I would encourage it to any woman who is looking at both co-ed programs and all-female programs. I have no idea what it’s like in a co-ed coding bootcamp, but the environment here is amazing. We all have the mutual interest of everyone succeeding, there is no competitiveness – we know there are jobs out there for all of us. It’s a really supportive environment- which you don’t always hear about for women in tech- so it’s a nice way to start a career in technology.
What are your instructors like? Are there female instructors?
We had three instructors in Junior phase who sort of rotated, two were male, and one female. Now in Senior phase we just have one instructor, Ayana. She graduated from Fullstack Academy about a year ago, and is great to go to when we are stuck on a problem. Ayana is the most intelligent person I’ve ever met.
What has been your favorite coding project so far?
I really liked building my hackathon project. I built a Chrome extension to be used with Yelp. If you’re on a specific restaurant Yelp page, the Chrome extension uses the NYC Health Department API to find out the current and historical health grades of restaurant. We’d never seen Chrome extensions before so it was interesting to apply my skills to a different environment, and a good culmination of everything we’ve done. I like working on my own, and it was cool to solidify that I can do a whole project on my own. The hackathon was three-days long, then we presented four-minute project demos with the Fullstack Academy class.
What’s been the biggest challenge at Grace Hopper Academy?
Right now, my biggest challenge is coming up with creative ideas for projects. It can be scary to create a problem for yourself or suggest something if you haven’t wrapped your head around how you will approach it technically. That’s a whole other aspect of coding.
At first, we had trouble brainstorming our final project idea because we were trying hard to be creative. But we decided to build an existing board game called Seven Wonders, which one of my teammates loves. We are applying a lot of logic skills to take a step back and see how all the user interaction is going to work. So it’s nice that the parameters of the game exist already, but it’s a super intricate game. We have three weeks to build it.
How often do you interact with Fullstack Academy students, staff or alumni?
We haven’t really done any coding with the other students. But now that we’re in the Senior phase we’re a little more aware of what’s going on there. We are going to demo our final projects with each other, it is cool to have a partner school.
We do interact with alumni from the Fullstack Academy fellowship program. For three months after graduation, Fullstack takes on alumni to help with internal projects and also be TAs for both Fullstack and Grace Hopper. So we get to interact those alumni directly. I like that because they have really useful input for project ideas and things, since they’ve already been through it. We almost always have TAs available.
What was your goal in attending a bootcamp? What are your plans after you graduate?
I definitely want to look for a developer job. I haven’t narrowed my scope to exactly what I'm looking for in a role or company. We are just starting workshops on resume writing, so that’s getting me ready to get serious about that. I don’t have a full vision of the type of company I’d like to work for. but I definitely want to become software developer.
How does the coding bootcamp prepare you for job hunting?
There are a couple of ways. Since we’ve been in Senior phase, we start every morning with interview questions, where one of us poses as interviewer and the other as interviewee, and practice whiteboarding technical problems. We also had a workshop where we scrapped our old resumes and started on them anew.
When we complete our final projects, we’ll have a hiring day. Grace Hopper invites potential employers and lets us know ahead of time who is coming, so if we have a particular interest in a company we can let them know. After we demo our projects, we can then sit down with employers whom we are interested in interviewing with.
When will you start applying for jobs?
Grace Hopper Academy’s Hiring Day is the last week of class, and the final two days of the program are job search intensive. They have a very tried and true system so I’m relying on that to make it clear when I’m ready to be applying. I don’t have a complete developer’s resume yet and this final project will be a resume builder as well, so I’d like to get through that and feel comfortable with my final project.
What advice do you have for others considering a coding bootcamp?
I think if you’re a woman considering a coding bootcamp you should consider an all-female bootcamp. But you should also consider if a coding bootcamp is really something you want to do. It’s a major time and emotional commitment. If you’re not completely ready to do it, then you probably can’t handle the amount of things they ask of you. Bootcamps have high expectations and if you’re not ready to hear about everything they expect from you then it could end being difficult. However, if you are excited about working in web development, then it’s super fun, because you just get to spend hours every day with exceptionally smart people who are also excited.
How are you coping with the emotional side of getting through the bootcamp so far?
I’m coping mainly just because it’s exciting, fun and interesting. With web development, when you’re writing code you can ultimately see what you’re building. Every time you test or break your page, you see all the errors. Eventually, you’ll know exactly how to handle an error. I also think at an all-girls bootcamp, everyone around you is super supportive – there is always a pal in your cohort if you’re having a hard time.
Is there anything else you want to add about your experience at Grace Hopper Academy?
Something that definitely stands out about Grace Hopper Academy and Fullstack Academy, is the instructors and everyone who works here genuinely cares about every person. It’s definitely a business but they also really take an interest in each individual. I believe when they accept someone into the program they truly believe in that person from the beginning to the end and think the person can complete this and be successful. They want to see us happy and in a career that makes sense, that’s why there is a whole process to applying for jobs and fixing a resume, and meeting hiring partners.