Krishelle Hardson-Hurley is a site reliability engineer at Dropbox. After earning a Master of Education degree from the University San Diego, she spent six years as a high school Math and Spanish teacher before undertaking a search for a new career that brought her to Hackbright Academy.
Hers was no sudden switch — Krishelle spent two years looking for the right path for herself. She believes that planning, hard work, but most important thoughtful design can lead you to where you should be, too. When not at work, Krishelle is spending time with family, working out and going to Disneyland.
1. Design your path
I recently listened to a podcast episode that spoke about applying design thinking to improve your life, similar to how a designer might go about designing a product. Product designers develop prototypes, and although I did not know it at the time, this is exactly what I was doing with my life.
I had been teaching for six years when I started to feel it wasn’t what was best for me. I began to go through the design thinking process and tried to identify the key issues. I asked myself: Why wasn’t I happy? What was missing? What did I like about this job? What didn’t I like? I needed to fix the problem, just like a designer. Asking these questions help lead me to other possibilities, or prototypes, for my new career. I looked at returning to grad school to get a Ph.D, I thought about becoming a teacher coach, I considered becoming a school administrator, I was looking into curriculum positions at edtech companies, I even considered going into computer animation.
In the episode, Stanford Professor David Evans explains that after your prototypes are created, the next step is to test them out. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent an entire summer learning and applying to various edtech companies. I arranged phone calls with anyone who would provide me better insight into their world. I wanted to make sure before I fully committed to a path, that I had enough information to ensure that I pursued a career that reflects who I am and allows me to be my best me. I spoke with two CEOs and an employee of various edtech companies, I had a call with a Professor at Stanford, I spoke with Ph.D students, employees at Pixar, Google and Dropbox, I even took an animation class. As one more possible path, I went to a Hackbright open house. That’s when it hit me. One of the speakers on a panel was a teacher, and she seemed to be speaking directly to me. That is when I knew that becoming a software engineer was the right path for me.
Take the time to design your path. Explore multiple paths and chose the one that reflects who you truly are, and allows you to be the best person you can be. Take the time to talk to people in fields that appeal to you before you commit. Take a class, go to events or listen to podcasts that allow you to hear other’s stories. Test enough prototypes and you too will have that moment when one of them just speaks to you. Finding the right path takes time, have patience. And before you dive in, make sure to reflect and measure whether that path will truly make you happy and reward you for being you.
2. Create frameworks
Recently I put together a blog post, 8 Tools for Organizing your Post-Bootcamp Job Search, in which I provide many examples of the frameworks I utilized to organize my job search. By creating frameworks, I mean create intentional structures that serve as a roadmap to the goals you are striving to achieve. As demonstrated in the post, I approach everything I do with a framework. This helps me to fully understand the why and the how when it comes to executing my designed path.
Once I decided to attend Hackbright, I sat down and created a framework around this goal. I asked myself: How will I pay for it? What preparation is needed? Which cohort is the best to allow for a smooth transition from my current job? How will I make my application stand out? Why do I want to become an engineer? Why Hackbright? These are all questions that I worked on for months to develop into a framework. At the time that I applied to Hackbright, the application involved an optional video submission. As part of my framework, I spent a lot of time planning out my Hackbright admissions video. I hired a professional videographer and worked to develop the message I wanted to convey. This process was critical to getting closer to understanding myself and designing my path. This is exactly what frameworks are for, learning more about yourself and tweaking things as you go.
At Hackbright, they encourage you to develop company and career profiles like those that I speak about in my blog post. As soon as I began the program, I sat down and asked myself: What kind of work do you want to do and what kind of problems do you want to solve? What kind of company do you want to work for? What company values or features are important to you? After doing this and reflecting upon the prototype testing that I had done before Hackbright, I noticed that my framework had evolved. Through all of the iterations of my path and frameworks, I had finally found that I would be most fulfilled by focusing on companies that want to improve productivity and education.
So what did I do? Add another step to my framework. I asked myself: What can I do to show that I belong at these companies? My answer: Make sure that my capstone project demonstrates this. So I created a project at Hackbright that mirrored my interests. I created a tool to help people learn a second language more efficiently. My tool allowed people to do inline translations of text they were reading. See? Education and Productivity.
Creating these plans and structures helped me to realize who I was, what I wanted, and how I was going to see my goals come to life. Your plans will change and evolve, and you can’t predict how anything will turn out. What matters is that constructing a concrete plan will expose where you haven’t thought things through and what you haven’t looked into. It will give you a mindset to live in as you pursue your plan, like having a map as you explore a new city. Make sure you know where you’re going, at least for now. Keep reflecting and be open to tweaking things along the way.
Frameworks allow for a deep dive into a path you design. Just like a designer continues to test a chosen prototype, you too must continue to test the path you have chosen. This process is about learning more about yourself, so do the work. And guess what, when it comes time to share your story, you’ll be able to talk about it fluently, because you’ve got that structure in your head.
3. Audaciously be the best YOU that you can be
When I was young, every morning before school my mom would say to me “Be the best Krishelle you can be.” I have carried this message with me to everything that I do. It wasn’t until I began the process of changing careers, that I realized the part of this message that I had been missing. In your career, you can do your very best work every single day, but if you aren’t setting audacious goals and putting yourself in the right place to achieve those goals, you may find yourself underwhelmed by your own accomplishments.
And this is exactly how I felt, underwhelmed. I realized that the goals I had set for myself in becoming a teacher, had led me to a place where I was struggling to make a difference beyond my classroom. I needed to be in a place that reflected my values and allowed me to fully be the best that I could be.
So after designing my path and creating my frameworks, I set my sights on a few companies focused on building productivity and education tools. At the top of my list, was Dropbox. I had spoken to several Dropboxers and knew that the company culture, mission and values aligned closely with my own.
So what audacious thing did I do? I had this great conversation with a Dropbox engineering manager at an event that I attended in September of last year. I was so inspired by her, that I wrote her an email saying how determined I was to do whatever it would take to work with her. I told her that if ever there were an opportunity for a junior engineer on her team, I hoped to be considered. And guess what, she invited me to interview and I got the job.
Here’s the thing though. Getting this job had two important ingredients: I audaciously put myself out there for an opportunity, yes. But I truly believe that because I had done the work to design my path and frameworks, my story was clear when I got in front of the right person. I was the best Krishelle I could be, and she could see it.
So what is the lesson here? Along with designing your path and creating the accompanying frameworks, do as much as you can to put yourself in the right situation and in front of the right people. Social capital is far more important than you might think, so start investing.
Even if you’re unsure what direction you want to go, get out there and share your story. Go to events and reach out to people, and most importantly ask direct questions. Can you recommend any resources where I can learn more about that? What do you love most about your role? What is your experience with work life balance at x company? What is the most important thing you learned in your first role as an engineer? What advice do you have for beginning engineers? I’m really interested in x and y, can you recommend any companies or roles that I can look into? Demonstrate that you have a fire for learning, a growth mindset, and a drive to make an impact. I still strive to do this in my role at Dropbox.
Lastly, make sure the message you convey in person is consistent with your online narrative. Part of being the best you can be, is making sure you are at your best in all the places that people can see you. Allow the world to see who you are and what you care about. This is your design, remember? So share it, publicly. Maybe it’s by sharing articles and resources on Twitter or LinkedIn. Perhaps you might write blog posts about your learnings, create a video or podcast or put together a personal website. Whatever it is, make sure it shows your best YOU.
People respond to a genuine story, so don’t be afraid to share yours, audaciously. If you’ve taken the steps above, you’ll know who you really are, or at least be one step closer than you were. You’ll be that someone everyone wants to know. And when you’re in front of that important person, you are guaranteed to shine.
Check out The Most Important Lesson My Sister Ever Taught Me by Huffington Post about Krishelle’s inspiring journey to becoming a software engineer and the Medium blog Graduating from Bootcamp and interested in becoming a Site Reliability Engineer? she co-authored where they provide a list of comprehensive resources for new bootcamp grads and those interested in a career as a site reliability engineer.