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.

Course Report Spotlight: Q&A with Hackbright Alumna Marisha Schumacher-Hodge

Marisha Schumacher-Hodge, Software Engineer, Ellie Mae

Recently, Hackbright alumna Marisha Schumacher-Hodge sat down with Course Report, one of the top online resources for prospective students considering intensive bootcamp programs, for their Alumni Spotlight.  Marisha shares how her love for collegiate and professional soccer led to her passion for coding — eventually landing her a software engineering job at Ellie Mae.

Below are some excerpts from their discussion.  Visit Course Report to read the interview in its entirety.

What made you passionate about coding?
When I was an athlete, I felt like I was challenged every day, like I was problem solving and being creative, in a different realm. Aside from playing soccer, I had never really felt that same kind of passion or challenge in a job.

Did you research other coding bootcamps or did you have your heart set on Hackbright Academy?
My goal was to find a bootcamp that focused on diversity, by bringing underrepresented minority or gender groups into the tech space. After doing research and talking to alumni, I decided on Hackbright. After experiencing an all-women team environment during my soccer career, I realized in many cases that type of environment can automatically make some people feel more comfortable. They can achieve more because they are part of a team, supporting each other rather than competing with each other, which makes learning something completely new a little bit easier. I knew that I’d have a big network after graduating from Hackbright, which would probably help me land my first and second job, and be able to create lifelong connections with women on a similar path.

I knew that I’d have a big network after graduating from Hackbright, which would probably help me land my first and second job, and be able to create lifelong connections with women on a similar path."

What advice do you have for people making a career change through a coding bootcamp?
Make an effort to really understand the industry you’re getting into. It’s the hot thing right now to be in tech, and it’s definitely a big part of the future. But you have to try it out, build something, and work out, “Do I really like this? Do I want to be doing this all day every day?” There are people who know they do and are really passionate about it. Before switching careers and deciding, “This sounds so great,” do your due diligence.

Click here to read the full Course Report interview.

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 Marisha completed.