How I Got My Job Panel: Q&A With Nura Renke, Devon Jones, and Mehayla Cheadle
Hackbright Academy’s director of admissions, Jackie Anderson, interviewed academy grads Nura Renke, Devon Jones, and Mehayla Cheadle.
The grads talked about their backgrounds before they decided to learn to code, their experiences at Hackbright, what it was like looking for a job, and what they think has helped them find success so far.
Below is an abridged Q&A with a few highlights from the conversation to help you answer whether coding is a good career for you and are coding bootcamps worth it?
For more inspiration, watch the embedded video to see the full interview. In it, the panel further discusses anxiety around being a woman or a gender-diverse person in the workforce by answering:
- What are some qualities you have that you feel make you successful in your role?
- What are some things you’ve been working on lately? Tell us a little bit about what your day-to-day is like.
- What is the emotional transition like when moving from the supportive Hackbright coding community to a job in the real world?
- What advice do you have for someone who’s new to pair programming? What norms are there that are good to establish when you’re new to that?
As Jackie comments in the video, “It’s just really powerful to hear people that have taken control of their life and made this change. People who took the jump. And just how it was the perfect next move for them.”
Nura Renke graduated in 2017. She was previously a fundraiser for a nonprofit and now works as a software engineer at Salesforce. After seven years in special education, Devon Jones graduated from Hackbright in 2014 and works as a QA lead at Fanatics. And Mehayla Cheadle, who graduated in 2021, was working retail and amid a two-year job hunt before taking the leap to bootcamp. She is an implementation engineer at Forethought.
Here is the Software Engineering Program that helped all three graduates down their new career paths.
1. Why did you decide to go to Hackbright, and what led you down this road?
Mehayla: I had a little bit of exposure to coding in college. But I started self-teaching during that two-year gap after my undergrad. And I got more interested and intrigued by it. I discovered everything I can do with it.
It was honestly my roommate who worked in the tech field. She had co-workers who graduated from Hackbright, and I started talking with them. All of them had an overwhelming amount of positive things to say about Hackbright.
I started doing more research and decided to trust in this community.
I’m so glad that I did.
Nura: When I was working at the nonprofit, I was doing all their email newsletters and making their landing pages.
I said to myself, “Oh, I don’t want my things to look like the 1990s anymore.” So I started taking some coding classes. That was my gateway.
Then I started meeting people in these classes, and they were all from non-traditional backgrounds and were working as software engineers. I was intrigued. It’s not the cliched person that you think is working as a software engineer.
I was starting to think that maybe this was for me. I started to browse around for coding bootcamps.
I liked Hackbright the most because I felt like it was a place where I could be really vulnerable while I learned.
Jackie: You touched on something that I think is very important and relevant to anybody who’s thinking about joining Hackbright.
One of the biggest mental hurdles to overcome is to picture yourself here. Nura’s response also touched on how it can be hard to overcome what you think an engineer looks like because of that mental picture you have in your head.
2. How did you know software engineering was for you?
Mehayla: Well, I think first off, there’s kind of this fear about approaching it.
There’s not a lot of attainable knowledge out there sometimes. When you don’t know about something, it’s easy to say, “Oh coding, that’s a little scary.” …
There are so many resources out there that you can just try to see if you like it [such as] LeetCode [and] HackerRank.
There are a lot of ways you can have little small puzzles instead of big projects.
And if you like puzzles, if you like problem-solving, and if your mind is starting to get it, then you know.
Jackie: I feel like the Hackbright application process is set up like that.
It can feel intimidating at first. You might think, “Oh I need to know some things before applying.” Or you might be worrying that there’s like a technical interview that’s part of the admissions process.
But it’s actually fun to dig in and start learning some of the prereq items.
I feel like it’s a way to get acquainted with it. See how you feel about coding. And see how you respond to it.
Devon: I’ll be honest. When I started Hackbright, I wasn’t sure.
I kind of told myself, “Maybe I’d get more into project management or product management, and having a more technical knowledge would help.”
I was terrible at math and terrible at science. I had no interest in any of that. I don’t like puzzles.
But I do love organizing things. I love organization. I loved when I was a teacher. I loved the case management part of my job. And there are so many more roles in tech than just being an engineer. …
It’s about being comfortable pivoting. It’s about liking the fact that you get to tackle something and make it your own. It’s about bringing some of those other soft skills with you. …
When joining a company, get passionate about it.
There’s probably a role that allows you to do more of that and less of whatever it is that you don’t love.
3. What advice would you give to incoming or current students at Hackbright?
Mehayla: For me, I think what was important was making sure I was prioritizing a balance. I started to go on walks every single day after I finished bootcamp classes. And I think that really can help you come back and really refocus either that night or the next day when you need to. So, striving to get that balance.
Also, start your network growing as soon as possible. Get that LinkedIn profile and take the advice that the Outcomes and Career Team are giving you. Take it very seriously because it really does pay off.
Just by doing a little bit every week throughout the program, it just makes it so much easier after.
Devon: So I know for me, coming from education, that is a job where you basically learn everything and then from there on it’s more of an art.
It’s not a science.
The thing that I struggled with most with Hackbright is the idea that I couldn’t just memorize everything. I couldn’t learn everything. I couldn’t remember everything. I’d get like 40 different tabs open with 40 different things that I wanted to brush up on. And then I would just be paralyzed.
Accept the fact that you don’t need to know everything, and that you don’t need to memorize everything. You just need to know what to Google.
I found a few really great resources to bookmark. Then I found a few people that were really good at explaining things in a way that I understood.
Then I took it one day at a time. …
Nura: Well this is advice that I actually tell myself at work.
Number one, don’t be afraid to look stupid.
Like you pay to be here. You want to use every day to your utmost advantage. So, ask a billion questions. Don’t feel self-conscious that you’re the only one asking questions.
A lot of people would come to me after class and say, “I’m so glad you asked that, because I didn’t know,” and “I was too afraid to ask.”
So ask a billion questions. …
Another key thing that works every time at work is if you are stuck and frustrated, and you’re just not getting it, take a break.
Walk. Get up. Just leave the problem there. Don’t force it. I promise you that if you will come back, you will have a clear mind. You’ll be able to think through what was just there.
I still do these things.
4. What were the most enjoyable and most difficult parts of your bootcamp experience?
Devon: Coming from education, the most enjoyable part was going into a nice quiet office environment, sitting down with my computer, learning things, getting right answers, and then having the opportunity to really get creative and do something hands-on again.
Coming from my background, I mostly worked with people who were not perfect people. They were not predictable.
It was really nice to just kind of have that context switch. To be able to sit down and know that there was a right answer. And if I found it, everything was going to work. It was going to be this great feeling. …
But, you will never be 100% comfortable. Usually, the minute you get 100% comfortable, you end up changing jobs. So that was really hard to wrap my head around. Just getting used to never being 100% competent.
Basically you just kind of make your peace with that. And then you move on with your life.
Nura: I still talk to a lot of the people that I went to school with in 2017. The network is full of really nice supportive people.
Also, I don’t know how people do this who are self-taught. It’s amazing. I’m just truly floored. But it was really great that Hackbright basically gave me all the information that I needed to know. I would just show up and learn. So I appreciate that too.
The most difficult part still haunts me. This one particular week, we were talking about classes.
I cried the whole weekend. I was like, “This is it, It’s not for me. I’m not going to make it.”
And finally, I remembered the teacher in class. I could picture in my mind something that that teacher said, and it finally clicked.
And I remember being like, “Aha! I finally get this crazy class concept that I’ve never seen before.”
Devon: That’s how I felt when you get into CSS. I was like, “Oh God, screw this.”
Nura: Yeah. Yeah. Everyone has their week where they say, “Oh, okay. This is testing my whole being.”
Mehayla: Yeah, I think the most enjoyable part about the bootcamp was the way we got to learn. You’re not just alone in the process really. …
I think the most difficult part for me was just physically sitting in front of a computer for so many hours. I have a super active lifestyle. So that was a bit of a transition for me. … Just have good lumbar support, and take care of your physical body.
5. Was changing careers worth it? What advice do you have for people in the room who are looking to change their career?
Devon: I definitely think it’s worth it. I know when I was thinking about getting an education before, I was so specialized.
I would have had to start at the entry-level anywhere else I went. Or I’d have to go back and pay a lot of money and spend a lot more time to get an additional degree.
This is almost like a trade school.
It’s something where you can learn a super, in-demand skill fairly quickly and immediately come out even at the entry-level. …
There are not enough people getting computer science degrees to fill all of it. So employers are looking for bootcamp graduates. They know that you’re learning to do things and that you’re going to need help on day one.
Nura: 100% it was the right decision for me. I was basically an admin in my last role before tech. I was cleaning the office. I was stocking the fridge. I was taking care of everyone’s needs.
I didn’t really have a clearly defined role. …
I’m just glad that I made the connection that, even though I don’t have the math skills or the engineering background, that there was a place for me in tech.
6. How have you coped with rejections in the job search when you were interviewing and job hunting? What helped you be resilient?
Mehayla: So, before Hackbright, I had a two-year job search. I had submitted over 500 applications. And there were definitely points in that time when I got extremely discouraged. I think the one thing that helped is like just consistently applying. Just keep applying no matter what. …
And if you feel discouraged, then reach out to friends.
Reach out to other people who are in Hackbright, because that’s another benefit of the program.
After Hackbright, you’re going through the job application process with your entire cohort. So they understand exactly what you’re going through.
And I think Hackbright also kind of had a discussion with everyone. I love that they did this.
Some people are going to find jobs sooner than others. Establish boundaries about how you talk about that and make sure you’re asking people.
Because for some people, it’s going to be hard. For some people, it’s going to be really easy.
Jackie: Yeah. I love that. And way to point out that the community is there.
That’s one of the beautiful things about spending this time with all these different peers. You’re building this community. You’re building this network. They’re there to support you through the process.
So is the Hackbright team.
By no means do you graduate and then get pushed out of the nest. We want to still be a part of your journey after graduating. We still very much want to hear from you and help you in any way we can.
Have questions about Hackbright Academy?
Pease feel free to reach out and talk to one of our Admission staff members at any time.
- Call us at 844-433-8686
- Text us at 385-217-2304
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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