3 Ways To Design Your Career Change

krishelle

Krishelle Hardson-Hurley

Krishelle Hardson-Hurley is a site reliability engineer at Dropbox. After earning a Master of Education degree from the University San Diego, she spent six years as a high school Math and Spanish teacher before undertaking a search for a new career that brought her to Hackbright Academy.

Hers was no sudden switch — Krishelle spent two years looking for the right path for herself. She believes that planning, hard work, but most important thoughtful design can lead you to where you should be, too. When not at work, Krishelle is spending time with family, working out and going to Disneyland.


1. Design your path

I recently listened to a podcast episode that spoke about applying design thinking to improve your life, similar to how a designer might go about designing a product. Product designers develop prototypes, and although I did not know it at the time, this is exactly what I was doing with my life.

I had been teaching for six years when I started to feel it wasn’t what was best for me. I began to go through the design thinking process and tried to identify the key issues. I asked myself: Why wasn’t I happy? What was missing? What did I like about this job? What didn’t I like? I needed to fix the problem, just like a designer. Asking these questions help lead me to other possibilities, or prototypes, for my new career. I looked at returning to grad school to get a Ph.D, I thought about becoming a teacher coach, I considered becoming a school administrator, I was looking into curriculum positions at edtech companies, I even considered going into computer animation.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 6.38.03 PMIn the episode, Stanford Professor David Evans explains that after your prototypes are created, the next step is to test them out. And that’s exactly what I did. I spent an entire summer learning and applying to various edtech companies. I arranged phone calls with anyone who would provide me better insight into their world. I wanted to make sure before I fully committed to a path, that I had enough information to ensure that I pursued a career that reflects who I am and allows me to be my best me. I spoke with two CEOs and an employee of various edtech companies, I had a call with a Professor at Stanford, I spoke with Ph.D students, employees at Pixar, Google and Dropbox, I even took an animation class. As one more possible path, I went to a Hackbright open house. That’s when it hit me. One of the speakers on a panel was a teacher, and she seemed to be speaking directly to me. That is when I knew that becoming a software engineer was the right path for me.

Take the time to design your path. Explore multiple paths and chose the one that reflects who you truly are, and allows you to be the best person you can be. Take the time to talk to people in fields that appeal to you before you commit. Take a class, go to events or listen to podcasts that allow you to hear other’s stories. Test enough prototypes and you too will have that moment when one of them just speaks to you. Finding the right path takes time, have patience. And before you dive in, make sure to reflect and measure whether that path will truly make you happy and reward you for being you.

2. Create frameworks

krishelleRecently I put together a blog post, 8 Tools for Organizing your Post-Bootcamp Job Search, in which I provide many examples of the frameworks I utilized to organize my job search. By creating frameworks, I mean create intentional structures that serve as a roadmap to the goals you are striving to achieve. As demonstrated in the post, I approach everything I do with a framework. This helps me to fully understand the why and the how when it comes to executing my designed path.

Once I decided to attend Hackbright, I sat down and created a framework around this goal. I asked myself: How will I pay for it? What preparation is needed? Which cohort is the best to allow for a smooth transition from my current job? How will I make my application stand out? Why do I want to become an engineer? Why Hackbright? These are all questions that I worked on for months to develop into a framework. At the time that I applied to Hackbright, the application involved an optional video submission. As part of my framework, I spent a lot of time planning out my Hackbright admissions video. I hired a professional videographer and worked to develop the message I wanted to convey. This process was critical to getting closer to understanding myself and designing my path. This is exactly what frameworks are for, learning more about yourself and tweaking things as you go.

KAt Hackbright, they encourage you to develop company and career profiles like those that I speak about in my blog post. As soon as I began the program, I sat down and asked myself: What kind of work do you want to do and what kind of problems do you want to solve? What kind of company do you want to work for? What company values or features are important to you? After doing this and reflecting upon the prototype testing that I had done before Hackbright, I noticed that my framework had evolved. Through all of the iterations of my path and frameworks, I had finally found that I would be most fulfilled by focusing on companies that want to improve productivity and education.

So what did I do? Add another step to my framework. I asked myself: What can I do to show that I belong at these companies? My answer: Make sure that my capstone project demonstrates this. So I created a project at Hackbright that mirrored my interests. I created a tool to help people learn a second language more efficiently. My tool allowed people to do inline translations of text they were reading. See? Education and Productivity.

Creating these plans and structures helped me to realize who I was, what I wanted, and how I was going to see my goals come to life. Your plans will change and evolve, and you can’t predict how anything will turn out. What matters is that constructing a concrete plan will expose where you haven’t thought things through and what you haven’t looked into. It will give you a mindset to live in as you pursue your plan, like having a map as you explore a new city. Make sure you know where you’re going, at least for now. Keep reflecting and be open to tweaking things along the way.

Frameworks allow for a deep dive into a path you design. Just like a designer continues to test a chosen prototype, you too must continue to test the path you have chosen. This process is about learning more about yourself, so do the work. And guess what, when it comes time to share your story, you’ll be able to talk about it fluently, because you’ve got that structure in your head.

3. Audaciously be the best YOU that you can be

Krishelle Hardson-HurleyWhen I was young, every morning before school my mom would say to me “Be the best Krishelle you can be.” I have carried this message with me to everything that I do. It wasn’t until I began the process of changing careers, that I realized the part of this message that I had been missing. In your career, you can do your very best work every single day, but if you aren’t setting audacious goals and putting yourself in the right place to achieve those goals, you may find yourself underwhelmed by your own accomplishments.

And this is exactly how I felt, underwhelmed. I realized that the goals I had set for myself in becoming a teacher, had led me to a place where I was struggling to make a difference beyond my classroom. I needed to be in a place that reflected my values and allowed me to fully be the best that I could be.

So after designing my path and creating my frameworks, I set my sights on a few companies focused on building productivity and education tools. At the top of my list, was Dropbox. I had spoken to several Dropboxers and knew that the company culture, mission and values aligned closely with my own.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 6.50.53 PMSo what audacious thing did I do? I had this great conversation with a Dropbox engineering manager at an event that I attended in September of last year. I was so inspired by her, that I wrote her an email saying how determined I was to do whatever it would take to work with her. I told her that if ever there were an opportunity for a junior engineer on her team, I hoped to be considered. And guess what, she invited me to interview and I got the job.

Here’s the thing though. Getting this job had two important ingredients: I audaciously put myself out there for an opportunity, yes. But I truly believe that because I had done the work to design my path and frameworks, my story was clear when I got in front of the right person. I was the best Krishelle I could be, and she could see it.

So what is the lesson here? Along with designing your path and creating the accompanying frameworks, do as much as you can to put yourself in the right situation and in front of the right people. Social capital is far more important than you might think, so start investing.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 6.55.33 PMEven if you’re unsure what direction you want to go, get out there and share your story. Go to events and reach out to people, and most importantly ask direct questions. Can you recommend any resources where I can learn more about that? What do you love most about your role? What is your experience with work life balance at x company? What is the most important thing you learned in your first role as an engineer? What advice do you have for beginning engineers? I’m really interested in x and y, can you recommend any companies or roles that I can look into? Demonstrate that you have a fire for learning, a growth mindset, and a drive to make an impact. I still strive to do this in my role at Dropbox.

Lastly, make sure the message you convey in person is consistent with your online narrative. Part of being the best you can be, is making sure you are at your best in all the places that people can see you. Allow the world to see who you are and what you care about. This is your design, remember? So share it, publicly. Maybe it’s by sharing articles and resources on Twitter or LinkedIn. Perhaps you might write blog posts about your learnings, create a video or podcast or put together a personal website. Whatever it is, make sure it shows your best YOU.

People respond to a genuine story, so don’t be afraid to share yours, audaciously. If you’ve taken the steps above, you’ll know who you really are, or at least be one step closer than you were. You’ll be that someone everyone wants to know. And when you’re in front of that important person, you are guaranteed to shine.

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Check out The Most Important Lesson My Sister Ever Taught Me by Huffington Post about Krishelle’s inspiring journey to becoming a software engineer and the Medium blog Graduating from Bootcamp and interested in becoming a Site Reliability Engineer? she co-authored where they provide a list of comprehensive resources for new bootcamp grads and those interested in a career as a site reliability engineer.

You Survived Bootcamp, Now What? Advice From a Hiring Manager and Mentor

emmalubinEmma Lubin is an engineering manager at GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar and web hosting provider, aiming to radically shift the global economy toward small businesses. She obtained a Ph.D in Biology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2013, and became a software development intern at GoDaddy the following year. She quickly became a software engineer there, and last April was promoted to engineering manager.

Emma volunteered as a mentor at Hackbright in 2016, and served as a guest speaker at the Bootcamp to Engineer: How I Landed My Job panel event. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and eating burritos, often at the same time.


 

Congratulations! You’ve graduated from bootcamp. Maybe you’re now looking for your first software job, or maybe you’ve been there a while and are aiming for a leadership position. Either way, as someone who’s been hiring for the past few years, I can give you some tips I wish I had known when I was first starting in a similar position.

Know where you’re going

When changing your career, you have options: you can make a 180 degree pivot into software engineering, or you can combine programming with your past expertise. I often hear from bootcamp grads that their program focused on web development skills, but as they’ve gone more in depth into software engineering they’ve gotten a better idea of how broad the landscape of the technology industry is, refined their interests, and decided to focus on backend engineering, or work in product management.

At GoDaddy, I’ve worked with bootcamp grads who have made both choices — one woman combined her design background with engineering to become a UX engineer, while others don’t use their backgrounds in day-to-day work — and in both cases they have made enormous contributions to the team. Be clear with prospective employers about what you want, and find one who will help you achieve it. Being unsure of what you want right after bootcamp is an understandable and common position, too, and if that’s the case for you, don’t be hesitant to look for environments that will help you develop your interests. There are companies out there, like GoDaddy, that are willing to invest in people who are ambitious and smart and help them grow their career the way they want. Engineers there are encouraged to explore new directions as they develop more real-world coding skills and discover opportunities they might not have known about when they first came onboard.

Whichever course you’re taking, one mistake I made that I’ve seen in others was downplaying my past experiences; don’t discount these, to yourself or to those looking to hire you. While there’s a never-ending amount of industry knowledge you’ll develop, many analytical and professional skills you already have are translatable between fields. One person described this to me as having a vector of skills; I was just pointing that vector in a new direction.

When I first applied for software internships, I condensed nearly a decade of biology research into a few lines on a resume, and devoted more space to descriptions of small coding class projects that were nowhere near that kind of accomplishment. I started getting attention to my resume only after I put all of my skills on it. Software engineering is a tool to solve a wide array of problems, and it needs engineers with diverse backgrounds and approaches — that’s one reason companies are hiring from bootcamps. Someone making a mid-career switch can leverage their previous professional experience and learn quickly; leading small teams and shipping projects are accomplishments that hiring managers will look at even if they were achieved in a different industry.

Overlooked skills that matter

When I hire for a junior or senior engineering role, I ask technical questions that I’ve calibrated against other candidates at those levels. For many companies, though, hiring a bootcamp grad is uncharted territory, and your interviewers may not know what skill level to expect from someone straight out of bootcamp. They may not have developed metrics for what a strong bootcamper interview looks like. This is something that will change over time, but for now, if a company asks questions that are targeted for someone with traditional industry experience, don’t get discouraged or interpret it as a reflection of your prospects in the field.

My own interview process for bootcamp grads is a work in progress and I know that, particularly when I first started interviewing, I passed up good candidates because of its flaws. When interviewing a bootcamp grad, I try to identify a candidate I think GoDaddy should make an investment in and grow within the company, and largely look for three things: problem-solving ability, motivation, and communication.

I’ve learned that, for a bootcamp grad, expecting working code by the end of the interview isn’t a valuable metric. Analytical skills don’t come only from coding Python. Someone who has raw problem-solving skills and is excited about the work they’re doing will have the drive to learn new technologies — something required of any software engineer, no matter their background — and be able to contribute to the team.

Many bootcamps, Hackbright included, will prepare you for whiteboarding interviews and stress the importance of communication — you’ll do a lot of learning on your own once you get the job, but much of what you’ll develop comes from discussion with your peers, and as your future coworker, I want to know that we can work through a problem together. Being able to describe the blocker you ran into when you don’t know the landscape or vocabulary is one of the higher activation barriers to pass when switching fields to software engineering. Interview me, too, to see if I’m doing a good job of helping you; the fastest way to get past that barrier is with the help of strong, on-the-job mentors.

Before you get to the whiteboard, the first step in the interview process is often a coding challenge or phone screen. The problems you’ll solve will be similar to those in whiteboarding interviews, but not all bootcamps will prepare you for them. It’s important to practice and get comfortable in the environments you’ll be working in; use a headset and solve problems in online codepair tools like hackerrank or collabedit. If you haven’t already, find practice problems on leetcode, careercup, or interview cake and try as many as you have time for.

Use your coding skills as a voice

The other advice I want to give you is not as a hiring manager but as a software engineer looking for ways to make the world a freer, more tolerant, and safer place. There have recently been calls for citizens to re-engage with their civic responsibility. While there are a number of ways to respond to that summons, as software engineers and as women who have an outside perspective on our industry, you are in a critical position. Technology will be key in helping to effect social change in this country and spreading education at the speed we need it. There are already nonpartisan efforts like Code for America that use technology to benefit their local communities, and there will be a growing number of initiatives and ideas that need web and app developers like you to volunteer, and holes in our society that need your innovations. Many people join the technology industry to disrupt another field; while you’re doing this, think about how you can similarly bring about change in our country. You are smart, capable, and trained — don’t count on anyone else to do this work.

Know that you’ve got what it takes

I know that some of you have already found your first (or second or third) job, and others are still sending out applications. Whatever stage you’re at, remember that deciding to switch to a new industry and taking the steps to get there is no small accomplishment. Whether you know exactly what you want right now, or want to develop the industry knowledge to figure it out, you and your skills are valued at an ever-growing number of companies.

Thanks to the awesome Hackbright alums at GoDaddy (Celia Waggoner, Ellen O’Connor, and Terri Wong) who advised me on what questions they wish they’d had answers to when graduating from bootcamp.

Which Coding Language Should I Learn?

A common question asked by adults who’ve decided they want to switch careers to software engineering is, “Which coding language maximizes my employment potential?”

It’s the wrong question.

What kind of work do you want to do?

“Fanaticism about any one platform or tool is almost always a red flag.”Different sub-fields of computing have their own popular, or required, languages and platforms. Want to build a web app or create scripts (and automate a sequence of commands)?  Then Python (taught at Hackbright Academy) is a great fit.  Become a front-end developer? Get to know JavaScript and its idiosyncrasies across different browsers, as well as HTML and CSS (all of which are also taught at Hackbright Academy).  Video games? It all depends on the gaming platform’s hardware.

One way to get a sense of coding languages that may be useful to learn is to search job postings of popular tech companies.  Often these job descriptions include flexible requirements related to lists of the “usual suspects” programming languages.  Here’s a 2017  job posting “bullet point requirement” for a software engineering position at Facebook: “Solid software development skills with experience building software developed in (at least one) Python, PHP, C/C++, Ruby, C# or Java.”  So the key for students of coding is to master one of the “usual suspects” to get your foot in the door.

Just write quality code

Stop worrying about it.Most managers don’t look for specific languages when hiring entry-level people. They look for candidates with general coding and problem-solving skills demonstrated in any language. Deep expertise in, say, Objective C++ or Java is for senior roles or consulting gigs of certain kinds, where only an expert at a specific language or platform will be able to get things to work.

Otherwise, it doesn’t matter what language(s) you’ve coded in. Compared to human languages, where a fluent English speaker could be utterly unable to communicate with a fluent Mandarin speaker, programming languages don’t have a steep learning curve at all. They’re more alike than different, and not as complicated as non-programmers think. You’ll figure it out on the job, and there are message boards like Stack Overflow where you can ask questions without constantly interrupting your coworkers.

Davin Bentti, VP of Technology at MedTech Exchange, says he doesn’t much care what languages a programmer already knows or not: “The main thing I look for is the ability to write quality code.”

Learn more than one language

klingonchurchCoding earnestly in two or three languages will make you more hirable. Not by giving you twice as many jobs to apply for, but by extending your knowledge and experience beyond a single, small zone of comfort. By learning what’s local, and what’s universal. It’s like taking a year abroad.

“Fanaticism about any one platform or tool is almost always a red flag,” says programmer and polymath Jeremy Bornstein, a former Apple engineer who crafted a fictional humanoid language for author Neal Stephenson’s science-fiction novel Anathem. “They don’t see the gaps in the toolset, so they erroneously believe it to be much more useful than it actually is.”

Often you have to use what you have to use. But MIT computer science professor Hal Abelson, who literally wrote the book on learning to code, teaches students to ask themselves what language is best for the task in front of them, and what special-use languages they might invent themselves to best serve their engineering needs.

Invent your own languages

Inventing a language for a specific task can be less work than using an existing one.

While at Hackbright, Gulnarra Mirzakarimova (a graduate of the program now based in Los Angeles) invented a coding language, Unicorn, for her final Hackbright project.

Coding a new language can also save time and impress your boss! One contributor to this post replaced 2,000 lines of C, which created a product’s built-in menus, with a minimal 25-line configuration file in a very simple language created using Lex and YACC. At build time, the pre-compiler converted the latest config file to thousands of lines of bug-free object-oriented C, popping two dozen control widgets into the interface. When the team’s manager reviewed the custom Lex/YACC code, he was far more impressed than if the C code had been hand-tweaked every time the product’s marketing team changed their minds.

“The important issue is what is worth programming, and what are the main organizational ideas in programs,” Abelson says. “Not the detailed syntax of one programming language or another.”