A day in the life of an engineer: Becca Rosenthal

Becca RosenthalBecca Rosenthal graduated from Hackbright in December 2017. An Oakland native and musician-songwriter, she now works as a Software Engineer at Reddit. We chatted with Becca to learn more about her work, how she got her job at Reddit (it’s an awesome story), and what her day-to-day looks like as a software engineer.

Meet Becca

What was your background prior to Hackbright?

My background screams software engineer. I graduated from Claremont McKenna College with  a BA in Middle East Studies with a focus in Israel/Palestine, and then took the natural next step of moving to Jackson, MS for a two year fellowship at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. I was a Jewish educator by day and a musician by night.

What motivated you to learn to code / change your career?

When I finished my fellowship in Mississippi, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to work on solving interesting problems with people who are smarter than me. Right now, I think that many of the most interesting challenges in our world are being taken on by the tech world, and I wanted a seat at the table. I knew that in order to get a seat, I needed skills. So I figured that I’d give learning how to code a shot. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d be able to get a job as an engineer, but I figured having a bootcamp under my belt would help me get a foot in the door for interviews for a product manager role.

How did you get your job as a Software Engineer?

I started at Reddit almost exactly three months after finishing Hackbright, and received my offer two months after, to the day. As I (u/SingShredCode) mentioned in this Reddit AMA, I got my job through shameless networking, a lot of hard work, a little bit of songwriting, and a little bit of sheer dumb luck. Here are the big pieces:

  • I decided I wanted to work at Reddit when CEO Steve Huffman spoke at Hackbright. I emailed him after the talk and wound up getting a 1:1 lunch with him the same week as my interview started. How did I get this interview? Dumb luck and songwriting.
  • I got my mentor (who happens to work at Reddit) to refer me. This may or may not have been the result of him attending a show of mine where I performed a very funny but very fictional comedy song about matching with a professional mentor on Tinder filled with coding puns.
  • I networked really hard within the company. By the time my interview rolled around, I had eaten meals with over half of my interview panel. My recruiter and I coincidentally rode BART together the night before my interview – I had been at the office enough times that she knew me. Steve Huffman, the CEO, gave me a pep talk in the lobby the day of my interview. I wanted this job, and I did not hide my effort.
  • I worked my ass off studying for the interview. I spent hours upon hours alone at the whiteboard, went on a million coffee dates to practice talking about myself in an engineering context, and interviewed with other companies to get myself used to it.

What does your day-to-day look like as a Software Engineer?

7:06-7:18 AM: I fight with snooze button to attempt to wake up to go the gym. If I succeed in getting out of bed, I’m at the gym at 7:30 AM.

8:22-8:36 AM: My less optimistic alarm goes off, and I get out of bed and get ready for work.

9:30ish: Arrive at the office, park my bike, and have breakfast. I make a point of always eating in our common area, (called r/space). Through eating breakfast with the random assortment of Snoos (Reddit employees) that show up around the same time as me, I have gotten to know all kinds of people from around the company.

10 AM: Sit down at my desk. Check Slack to see if there’s anything going on I need to know about, check my email/calendar/get a feel for what my day is going to look like. I also check my Jira board, github, and other channels to see what work I have to do. I am on the creators team, and we are building tools to help people contributing content to Reddit. Some of the recent projects I’ve worked on include our Twitter integration (and the musical mentioned in the linked post – but that’s a different story).

Right now, I’m the technical lead on an experimental feature that I can’t talk about, but I can tell you right now that it keeps my plate very full. Through this project, I’ve worked with my product manager to help scope the project, written my first technical design doc (which provides the blueprint for how the product will be built), written the code, developed a full testing plan, worked with our architecture and infrastructure teams to make sure we’re building it right, gotten extensive code review, and more.

11:55 AM: Team stand up. I hop into our team slack channel and write down what work I did yesterday and what I’m going to get done today. It is a great way to give updates and keep track of what I’m getting done.

12-12:45ish: Lunch

“But Becca”, you may be thinking, “didn’t you just have breakfast a few hours ago? Isn’t it a bit early for lunch?” You’re right. I did just have breakfast, but that’s when lunch is. Just like at breakfast, I make a point to not eat at my desk. It has served me well, as engineers tend to eat together, which means that through meals, I have met tons of people on different teams. When it comes time for me to request code review from different teams, knowing people from around the org has proven very helpful.

1:30 PM:  Office hours. Though different departments do office hours at different times, almost every day, you can catch me at the office hours held by the infrastructure and architecture teams. I truly believe that our infrastructure team is filled with magicians, and they are profoundly helpful in helping to determine what is and isn’t feasible for a given project.

The rest of the afternoon: Is spent working. Writing code, debugging, debugging, more debugging, submitting code for review, receiving notes, making changes, etc. Lather, rinse, repeat. It sounds boring, but honestly, every day is different depending on the project I’m working on. I get to collaborate with different people depending on what parts of the code my feature touches, which I thoroughly enjoy.

6-6:30 PM: Leave the office. I bring my work computer home most nights, but I almost never do work outside of the office. When I’m not playing goalie on Reddit’s soccer team (the Snooligans), I’m at band practice, seeing a show, or at home, writing songs (including some for a musical I’m working on about Reddit). Some nights I’ll go out for happy hour with friends, other nights I’ll come home, cook dinner, and not speak to anyone. It totally depends on my mood.

Some time between 10-12 PM: Get into bed and unwind. I may or may not spend a lot of time on Netflix and Reddit.

How has your life changed since Hackbright?

Hackbright gave me the tools I needed to get a job at a company that I am so proud and excited to work for. I went from a job that felt like it had no growth potential to a field that makes me feel like my limits are endless. To be clear, it has been incredibly difficult to get here. I worked my ass off. And the work has been 500% worth it.

Anything else you’d like to share?

As I (u/SingShredCode) said in this Reddit AMA, being an engineer is hard, but it isn’t rocket science. There is a notion that engineering is this thing that only the most hardcore, brilliant people who have been coding since they were in diapers can do. In addition to being objectively false, this notion deters lots of women (and people with untraditional backgrounds in general) from attempting to enter the industry. As someone who came from an untraditional background, let me tell you that if you are willing to work your butt off and be confused and overwhelmed a lot of the time as you try to solve complicated and confusing problems, you can be a good engineer. But you have to be ready to work.

Some quick tips:

  • Go on a lot of coffee dates with engineers. Ask a lot of questions. Be really overwhelmed by how much of their answers you don’t understand. More importantly, though, practice telling the story of who you are and why you wanted to become an engineer. Notice what follow up questions they ask you based on what you talk about from your past, and adjust your answer accordingly next time. This is easy practice for recruiter screens.
  • As a bootcamp grad, you are not going to get your job off of your current engineering qualifications or skills. You are getting hired off of potential. Show yourself to know what you know and be humble enough to admit when you don’t know. Show yourself to be teachable.
  • Referrals are your friend.
  • Be shameless. Worst case scenario, the answer is no.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice.

As you start job searching, ask yourself the question: do you currently have a job at whatever tech company you are afraid of applying to? Would your life change at all if you received an email in your inbox informing you that you still do not have a job at this company? If the answer to both questions is no, apply. Either you will go through the interview process, get the practice interviewing, and get rejected, or get an offer. Either way it’s a win. So apply.

Interested in learning more? Check out our upcoming Part-Time Prep Course and our 12-week full-time or 24-week part-time Software Engineering Programs. Hackbright Academy offers a deferred tuition program to select, eligible students.

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