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From Fine Arts to Software Engineering at Reddit: Meet Alumna Manisha Patel

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Last week, we announced our new Code Reddit Scholarship Fund in partnership with the amazing team over at Reddit. This week, we’re sharing the story of one Hackbrighter turned software engineer for Reddit.

manisha patelManisha Patel came from a background in fine arts, transitioning to work in project management at Apple. Her passion for programming led her to Hackbright Academy where she completed the Full-Time Software Engineering Program. Now a software engineer at Reddit, Manisha sat down with Course Report, a top online resource for intensive bootcamp programs to tell us why Reddit has now hired six Hackbright grads, her advice for other students to get the most out of their bootcamp, and how Reddit’s new scholarship will enable more women to learn to code at Hackbright Academy.


Q&A

Tell us about your background and how your path led you to Hackbright Academy?

I have an MFA in painting from the San Francisco Art Institute. As a working artist, I have always had a day job. For a while, I was doing FileMaker development at various companies. FileMaker is a WYSIWYG application development tool that lets you create databases and interfaces. You need to code a little bit, but it’s not real engineering.

I ended up in a project management role at Apple. I had a great relationship with the Apple developers, but I always felt like they were having more fun than I was! I’m a lifelong learner, so after a few years, I looked at the engineers’ enthusiasm and thought, “I want to do what they do and be a proper engineer.” So I started looking at coding bootcamps.

Why did you choose Hackbright specifically over other immersive bootcamps?

I had some conversations with other coding bootcamps, some of which had this old-school approach and said, “We’re going to kick you down and if you can take the pressure, then you’ll be amazing.” On the other hand, Hackbright said, “We’re going to set you up to succeed.” You pay a lot of money for these coding bootcamps so I wanted to choose a school that would guide me to the finish line, not push me down to see if I’d get up.

The fact that Hackbright Academy teaches Python was also a factor. My engineer friends with CS degrees told me that Python was great, and was the language that all their early CS classes were taught in.

Before Hackbright, I had never participated in all-women’s education, but I could see that it would be a different learning experience. I’d spent a lot of time working with male engineers and I know they’re very knowledgeable and generous, but I also knew they had a different way of talking, and sometimes didn’t answer the question that had been asked.

Do you have advice for future bootcampers?

Definitely take advantage of free classes and get familiar with coding.

For women, we have a lot of negative talk in the back of our minds, so my advice for women is instead of focusing on why you can’t do it, focus on why you want to work in this career. In my head, I had a picture of people who loved their work – my former engineering team who showed up every day with enthusiasm. I wanted to have that much fun. And it can be fun! It’s still a job, but it’s really interesting work – you get to feel smart, and solve problems. If you choose to focus on why you want to do it, that’ll really help you along because it’s easy to get stuck with all of the reasons why we can’t do something.

How did Hackbright Academy prepare you for the job hunt?

Hackbright does an amazing job teaching you the basics and building up your GitHub, so that you have work to point employers to. Hackbright also prepared us for the technical interview with algorithms and whiteboarding, but I found personally that I needed another month of practice after graduation before I actively started interviewing.

What advice do you have for other bootcamp grads who are looking for jobs?

My advice is to be confident about the fact that you are an engineer, and that you can figure out anything you don’t know. No engineer knows everything, so the skill you’re selling is that you know how to solve problems and find solutions. That’s what Hackbright is preparing you to do and that’s what you’re offering an employer, so lead with that skill.

Congrats on your role at Reddit! Are there any other Hackbright grads working there?

Thank you. Hackbright Academy and Reddit are very close partners, and they made the connection. I was the second Hackbright grad to work at Reddit. And because we’ve been successful in our roles, we opened the door for the others. Since I started 1.5 years ago, we have hired four additional Hackbright grads, so we’re up to six total.

Reddit also has a lot of employees who volunteer as mentors at Hackbright. As a company we host whiteboarding events, provide feedback on interview practices, and help students prepare for their job search.

The new Code Reddit Scholarship aims to give more women access to Hackbright’s programs. Do you think companies like Reddit have an obligation to offer scholarships like this to help women get into tech?

Reddit is super committed to diversity and inclusion, so opening a path for women to join the ranks of engineers is really important to our company.

I think the Hackbright scholarship is amazing. It’s scary to make a job change, it’s scary to envision yourself doing something you haven’t done before, so any kind of support, whether it’s mentoring or financial aid, is great. It’s just nice to know there are people out there who believe you can succeed – and being able to see that in a scholarship is incredibly important.

What is your role at Reddit and what kind of projects are you working on?

I work on the Infrastructure team, which means that I help keep the site live so our users can always access Reddit. Reddit is the sixth largest website in the US, so we have a lot of traffic to maintain. When I started, there were eight people on my team, and we’re up to 15 now. We use tools like Terraform to bring up server instances and use tools like Puppet to configure all those servers, and manage hundreds of different microservices that all connect to make Reddit run. I also work on a team called Core Services, so I’m building internal tools that allow other Reddit developers to be more productive and work in a consistent and scalable way.

Since I was hired, I have been promoted but I’m on the same team in the same role. As we’ve grown, I am now more focused on the services side – writing services for other teams as opposed to the DevOps side. Actually, the work I’m doing now is more relevant to what I learned at Hackbright.

How has the Reddit team helped train you on those new technologies?

There’s no formal training program, but there is a lot of documentation so you have to spend time reading code and asking questions.

At Hackbright, there was a very specific format for how to ask questions. Hackbright taught us to be very thoughtful about framing a question, saying, “This is the problem I’m trying to solve, this is how I’m approaching it, here’s the code. Can you tell me how to debug it or can you see an issue?”

That approach has been useful because during my first six months on the job I was always asking questions. It made a difference to be able to ask good questions of my team members.

Since you joined Reddit, how do you feel you’ve grown as a developer? Would you still call yourself a Junior Developer?

Oh, I definitely feel I’ve progressed from a junior developer. The fun thing about seeing fresh Hackbright graduates start at Reddit is that I can answer all their questions and I realize how much I now know.

When I first started, I felt like my job was to learn really fast, so my instinct was to just listen. Now, I notice that when I’m in meetings, I’ll speak up and make suggestions. I work on a team with some incredibly knowledgeable, tenured, really smart engineers. I’m nowhere near their level, but they ask me questions and listen to what I have to say. I can see that I’ve come so far.

When you look back over the last two years, what kind of role do you think Hackbright has played in your success? Could you have reached this point by self-teaching?

I don’t think I would have made the jump or succeeded if I had tried to do it by myself. I had a very clear career goal vision and I knew I needed help to get there – Hackbright helped me get there.


Interested in learning to code? Check out Hackbright Prep and our 12-week Full-Time or 24-week Part-Time Software Engineering Programs

This post was originally published on Course Report, it has been abridged for Hackbright Academy. Find the full article, more bootcamp news, and read Hackbright Academy reviews on Course Report’s website.

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