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

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 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.

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