#GlobalEngineer Day – Hackbright Grad Creates App for Good

Natalia Margolis, Hackbright Fellowship Grad and Software Engineer at Huge, created an app called Notifica that allows people detained for deportation to send out alerts to family, friends and lawyers with the push of a button. In celebrance of #GlobalEngineer Day, we sat down with Natalia and talked about her experience at Hackbright, her experience working on Notifica, and her advice for women seeking a career in software engineering.

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What was the inspiration behind creating the Notifica app?

The inspiration came from Adrian Reyna of United We Dream, and the original hackathon team in Oakland. We met at a post-election action Meetup co-organized by PyLadies and Techqueria. When we went around the table saying what gave us hope, he said it was that folks already have strong networks supporting them. Adrian wanted to use tech to create a tool to activate those networks for a rapid response to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids and to give people some control in a moment of chaos and uncertainty.

For our company hackathon, Cid Donham, Genki Hagata, Jessie Kim and I worked with Adrian to make this app a reality. The goal is to provide a way for undocumented immigrants to take control in a situation that causes a lot of uncertainty and fear. We were all deeply disturbed by the militarization of ICE and the fact that more and more people are getting swept up in raids and targeted attacks. After the hackathon, we ramped up and an incredible team of developers and designers worked around the clock, fighting to get the resources we needed to get this app into the hands of users as fast as possible.

How has the creation of the app impacted your own life?

It impacted my sleep and quesadilla intake… But seriously, this has affirmed why I got into tech in the first place. I wanted to find ways to bridge tech and social justice. After working on this, I have more confidence that I can actually do what I originally set out to do when I made the career transition.

I have also learned how much can get done, and how many roadblocks you can work through, when a team is passionate and genuinely cares about the success of the product on a deeply personal level. For everyone who worked on the team, this project has inspired a sense of purpose.

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How did your experience at Hackbright prepare you for working within a large digital organization like Huge?

I learned how to pick up new technologies quickly, and I learned to not be intimidated by the unknown. Pair-programming taught me how to communicate clearly about code, how to collaborate, and how to leave the ego out of work. Being around inspiring and supportive women also set me up with a little voice in my head encouraging me when I have challenges, and advising me about how to succeed as a woman in this industry.

Why is it important for software engineers like yourself to create apps for good?

If the tech community is upset about what’s been happening after the election, or what’s been going down for a lot longer than that, it’s time to do something about it. The tech industry has a ton of resources and skills to contribute. As a privileged white woman, I have benefited from an unfair system, and have a lot of resources too. Let’s leverage our resources by working with nonprofits, grassroots movements, and civic organizations to develop the tools they need, and develop apps with a purpose.

And hacking on apps for good in our spare time is a great start, but we also need to change the industry fundamentally. We need to be conscious of the ethical impact of our work and the lack of diversity in the culture of tech itself. For example, when software used to make decisions in the criminal justice system ends up having racial bias, it’s clear that software engineers need to think about the implications of what we’re developing and make sure the decision-makers and developers are diverse enough to have the perspective to flag these kinds of issues in the first place.

Any advice do you have for Hackbright students pursuing the job search after graduation?

Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know things. You won’t learn anything if you pretend you already know it all. The companies that are worth working at will value that honesty and curiosity, and will be the best places to grow.

Check out Notifica here and follow Natalia on Twitter @nmargolis89

 

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Hackbright Academy is the engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry offering 12-week software engineering programs and night courses for women.

From Dental Assistant to Genentech Engineer: Meet Ruba Hassan

Ruba Hassan is a software engineer at Genentech who graduated from the Hackbright Academy fellowship in September. Before Hackbright, she was a dental assistant. A single mom, Ruba wanted to make life better for her and her daughter. Here’s how she changed her life by learning how to code.  

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Ruba Hassan, Hackbright alumna, has completely changed her life within the course of a year. Working as a dental assistant for 9 years, she realized she needed a change for her and her daughter. “I wanted a career change but wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do,” she says. “I live in the Peninsula, so I wanted to get into tech. Knowing there were many tech bootcamps, I proceeded to look into what each had to offer. I wanted something that I would enjoy and a career that would give me the flexibility to work from home if need be to spend more time with my daughter. I started taking a few online classes: HTML, CSS, and found it fun. That’s when I found Hackbright. They had a part-time class called ‘Intro to Programming’. It was two nights a week, and I met some amazing women. Those women became my best friends and we developed a support system.”

After the class, Ruba felt confident enough to apply for Hackbright’s fellowship, a 12-week intensive that prepares you for a career in tech. “It was the part-time class that really helped me with the application,” she says. “My advice to anyone thinking about getting into tech is to take one or two classes to see if you would enjoy coding or if you’d understand it – and then go from there.”

Ruba was on vacation with her daughter at Universal Studios when she received the email that changed her life. “I got the email saying I was accepted into the fellowship program, and it was life-changing for both myself and my daughter. I knew I could provide a better life for her.”

“Emotionally, I feel more confident, stronger as a woman and that I can do so much more. I’m a part of a group of scientists that are building a huge project. It’s empowering.”

From there, Ruba quit her job and started the 12-week fellowship program.

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“The fellowship experience was great, my classmates and I are best friends now and we got through the program together – no matter how challenging it got. The teachers are very helpful, the students are very helpful, and we learned from one another. They always said, ‘don’t worry, we’ll help you through it’ when things got challenging, and it really made me calm down and relax and realize that yes, I can do this.”

During the fellowship, everyone creates a project. The project that Ruba worked on happened to get her a job at Genentech after she graduated.

“I wanted to build a website for dental surgery. It’s an oral surgery scheduling app that’s built to allow patients to go online to the surgeon’s website to schedule the appointment on their own, texting a confirmation after the appointment has been made. It’s a real app based on my life experience in the dental industry.”

When interviewing with Genentech, the recruiters asked Ruba to “show them something you’re proud of” and that project is what got her the role as a software engineer at the company. Now, she’s building a website and working with scientists.

“Working at Genentech has been amazing,” Ruba says. “It’s a huge relief. Emotionally, I feel more confident, stronger as a woman and that I can do so much more. I’m a part of a group of scientists that are building a huge project. It’s empowering.” Ruba says her favorite part about her job is seeing her code live. “I’ve only been there a month and a half and I’ve seen my work go live on the website. That itself is more rewarding than anything else.”

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When it comes to the fellowship, Ruba says she couldn’t have found a better program. “As a mom, I had to go to school from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and make sure to drop off, pick up and take care of my daughter’s needs. It wasn’t easy, but I had support.  I would recommend the program for any woman or mother. People think they can’t do it because they have children – and that’s not true. It was a stressful 12 weeks in terms of picking up my daughter, but it’s a short period of time. Now I have the flexibility with work to spend more time with my daughter. I also will say that the Hackbright alumnae community was incredibly helpful with my job search.”

Hackbright Academy is the leading engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry.  Learn more about Hackbright’s 12-week software engineering program Ruba completed.

From Mom to Engineer Extraordinaire: Meet Hackbright Academy Grad Wendy Zenone

 Wendy Zenone is an associate application security engineer at Lending Club, who graduated from Hackbright Academy’s boot camp. Before Hackbright, she worked in the ad department at Facebook, helping customers customize ads. After a leap of faith, she decided to forgo a salary for three months to learn how to code at Hackbright. Here’s her story. Visit Course Report to read the interview in its entirety.

Working as an aesthetician at MAC Cosmetics, Wendy Zenone was underwhelmed and underpaid. Living in Silicon Valley with a son to raise, Wendy wanted to improve her life.

“I had gone back to school late in life, doing an online Bachelor’s in Communications at the University of Massachusetts, but education was expensive, and I calculated it would take me six years to graduate at $1,500 a class. So, I started looking at internships where I could get experience without having graduated.”

Wendy took her first internship at a public relations firm that represented small Silicon Valley tech startups, where she learned tech terminology and began to open her eyes to possibilities in the field.  After that, she took a job at Facebook in the ads department, creating a tool that helps customers customize ads. Although the role wasn’t technical, per say, she worked with a team of engineers and her curiosity for learning grew. So, she began her Hackbright application.

“As I talked to my husband, we had some concerns. Hackbright was in San Francisco; it cost money and it would mean three months without a salary. But ultimately, his opinion was that coding is the future, and it’s something that we needed to make happen.”

To many’s surprise: Wendy didn’t get the position after her first interview.

“When I got that rejection email, my heart just dropped,” she said. “It hurt regardless of how old you are, but I was in my late thirties, and I knew I didn’t have another four months to get started.”

So, she wrote the interviewer an email, asking for another interview.

“I wrote that I was very nervous and I did not feel that my interview properly conveyed who I was and my interest in Hackbright, so I asked for another chance.”

That was the first time Hackbright had given someone a second interview after being declined (and they’ve since changed their policy). Low and behold, Wendy got accepted after her second try.

The Application Process

The application itself is a series of essays and then a small coding challenge.

“When I applied, they said the coding challenge was ‘optional.’ But here’s a tip: it’s not! If you skipped the coding test, it showed you weren’t up for the challenge. Since then, the coding challenge is now mandatory.”

When it came to Hackbright being entirely female, Wendy felt more comfortable. “I actually didn’t look at any other coding boot camps, but I thought back to P.E. class in high school and thought about how there were certain activities that I felt intimidated doing in front of men. I knew I would be more comfortable in an environment learning with women. Hackbright was better for me.”

Now working as the associate application security engineer at Lending Club, Wendy was only the third person out of the Hackbright Academy history to go into security. Now, it’s becoming more prominent: Hackbright now has a small Security Study Group.

When it comes to getting your name out there on the field, Wendy says it’s all about who you know.

 

“Ignore the self doubt. I had a lot of self-doubt, but every time I felt that doubt, I would replace it with, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Try everything you can – from applying to jobs to internships, all they can say is no.”

“One very important thing in tech is who you know,” says Wendy. “Graduates need to not only initially rely on sending in resumes, but also to network and meet people in the industry. Go to Meetups and events that are focused on what you want to do. Those connections will greatly improve the trajectory of your career going forward. My job was found by networking and not solely relying on the partner company network of Hackbright.”

“I never thought I would be a security engineer, and I am here. I still feel like I’m Jon Snow and I know nothing (laughs). But I am still here!” On the application security team at Lending Club, Wendy works with everyone who creates the Lending Club website and the platform – engineers, developers, and the QA team. They look at internal and external applications to ensure that they are secure. “We make sure the code is secure and that there aren’t any holes in the applications that could allow our data to be compromised. Basically, my job is to keep the hackers out.”

To other women who want to change careers, Wendy says to ignore the self-doubt. “I had a lot of self-doubt, but every time I felt that doubt, I would replace it with, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Just trying everything you can – from applying to jobs to internships – all they can say is no. Every day that you stay on this new path in your life is one step closet to becoming a senior developer or a senior security engineer. I never thought I would finish my final project at Hackbright because I felt like I would never know enough. But here I am!”

Hackbright Academy is the leading engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry.  Learn more about Hackbright’s 12-week software engineering program Wendy completed.