Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is an art. Maintaining a healthy work-life-study balance is next level. Kathryn Chew is currently enrolled in Hackbright’s inaugural Part-Time Software Engineering Program, set to graduate in July 2018. During the daytime she works to automate regulatory compliance at a FinTech startup. In a previous life she worked as an Egyptologist, exploring ways to integrate digital tools into archaeological research as a graduate fellow in UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, as project manager for AEGARON, and as a contributor to UCLA’s RomeLab and Encyclopedia of Egyptology. We chatted with Kathryn to learn how she prepared for the program, balances the Part-Time Program with her full-time job, and stays motivated during it all.
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How did you find out about the Part-Time Program?
I was already enrolled in Hackbright’s Prep class when I first heard about the launch of the Part-Time Program. It seemed perfect for me because although I was interested in learning coding more intensively and transitioning my career in that direction, I felt like I still had a lot of good growth and networking opportunities at my current job, and I didn’t want to give that up. I’m a woman who likes to have it all! Being able to keep a regular income and health benefits were a major appeal too. I didn’t want to have to stress about finding a new job right away after the Software Engineering Program was over, I want to make sure it’s the right one, not just the first one.
What did you do to prepare for the program?
I was ready to go from the start. I’d already done a lot of learning on my own using online resources like Codecademy, Coursera, and Skillcrush. Back in the day I had even tried to do a few nutty things like teach myself Macromedia ActionScript (does anyone even remember that?) or the Facebook API while in school, and later Google Apps Script to help me out with easily automated tasks at work.
I had picked up skills in bits and pieces from different places and I knew that what I really needed was the structure of a class and a better framework to put everything together. The big hurdle for me was more getting in the mindset that this was a transition I wanted, and that I was really ready to commit to it. I signed up for the Prep class as a way to get my feet wet and see if I liked being more serious about coding, and I just fell in love. There was no question in my mind after completing Prep that I was ready and eager to move on to the immersive program.
How do you maintain a healthy balance?
I won’t pretend it isn’t difficult sometimes! I commute to San Francisco for class from down on the Peninsula where I live and work, so just getting there can be tough. But building my days around train schedules can be surprisingly handy. It puts a lot of structure in my day and forces me to be disciplined about getting started on assignments early, and on some days when I have a long wait at the Caltrain, I find a quiet corner at the station and do my work there.
I was a little nervous about letting anyone at my work know that I am pursuing coding after hours, but they have actually been very supportive. The engineers are always interested to find out what I’ve been learning, and I’ve been taking on more tasks at work that give me the chance to practice the concepts covered in class. I find it makes things make a lot more sense to me than they otherwise would, because I’ll have real context and real data sets to wrap my brain around.
I do have the occasional week where stuff gets out of hand, and I have to be okay with stepping back and only doing what I can reasonably manage. It can be frustrating because I always want to give 100% to every task, but life is just like that sometimes, and the Hackbright staff have been very understanding and helpful.
Can you walk us through your average day?
On a typical Hackbright weekday, I’ll get up early and get in to work by 7:30. My office is usually deserted at that hour, but it is very peaceful! I’m lucky that I have some flexibility in my hours. I catch the train that gets me to BART and into downtown SF by 5:30. Class doesn’t start until six, so that gives me time to get coffee (essential) or something to eat, and review any homework assignments before class. Class gets out right at nine, I’ll usually get home by about 10:45pm.
It’s a long day, but I honestly look forward to days that I have class. They keep me on my toes, and learning something new always makes them worthwhile.
What’s keeping you motivated?
Building stuff and problem solving are two of my absolute favorite things, and I get really excited about discovering new tools to build and problem solve. I think being able to practice these skills during my work day really helps with my motivation because I get to see how powerful they are in the wild, so to speak, and it ensures I’m always reminded how worthwhile these things are to learn. Besides that, I always have a million ideas of fun or wacky or useful things to build running in the back of my head, and I really wish I had more time to spend building or playing with them! Reining in my ambitions is probably harder than staying motivated.
You’re halfway through the program, congrats! Expectations vs reality – how has the program shaped up so far?
The program has been really awesome so far. I have been just completely shocked at how much we have learned, and how confident I feel about using it. Although after completing the Prep course that was exactly what I expected! Hackbright has very good curricula, and the people and community serve as an amazing backbone to the program.
I will say that I am grateful that I opted to take the Part-Time Program. Although it can be challenging to negotiate the work-class-study balance, having the material spread out gives me more time to absorb it and put it into practice. I could easily imagine feeling overwhelmed or much less confident in my skills if I were learning so much in a traditional bootcamp format.
What are your plans after the program?
I am definitely planning to transition into a software engineering or developer job, though I am keeping my options open for now about what that will look like exactly. I also hope to spend some time building a few of those wacky project ideas I mentioned. Hopefully those will help hone my interests and improve my life at the same time.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Learning to code can be amazing and empowering, but making a major career transition can be a lot to handle, and even a little scary.
I would strongly recommend being as practical as you can in your approach. Spend some time thinking about exactly what you’re hoping to get out of every resource you cultivate, whether that’s tinkering with something on your own or enrolling in a bootcamp. Your time and energy (and money!) are precious and limited, and you want to be confident that you’re going to get a good return on your investment.
If you know what your successful outcome is supposed to look like going in, you can identify anything that isn’t helping you and drop it before you waste too much time on it. Conversely, you can identify what is working, and put all your energy there. With something like a bootcamp you really get back as much as you put in, so it’s worthwhile to make sure it suits your goals upfront so you can dig in with determination and get to work!
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