Q & A: Going From Prep to the Full-Time Software Engineering Program

Not everyone gets into coding bootcamp on their first try. Even though Valerie Moy worked in tech operations for five years and taught herself some code, she struggled in the Hackbright Academy coding challenge interview. She enrolled in our part-time Prep program to strengthen her Python skills and foundational knowledge. Valerie sat down with Course Report, a top online resource for intensive bootcamp programs, to share how she juggled her busy schedule to make the most of Prep and how the Prep Course prepared her for the technical portion of the Hackbright application when she re-applied.


What is your background and how did that lead you to Hackbright Academy?

I went to school for English literature and worked in publishing and nonprofits. About five years ago, I entered the tech industry in operations and client services. My job was problem solving, using people power, and organizational processes to make our company and product more efficient. I was exposed to the technical side of the business, and worked closely with engineers and product managers.

At some points in my job, I would hit a wall and need an engineering solution. I didn’t have skills to create that change myself, and I found that a little frustrating. I started peering over the engineers’ shoulders to see how they approached problem solving, and got really interested in engineering. I realized they were using the same logic-based skills that I already used, just with different tools and languages.

Did you try to learn on your own, or from your co-workers, before you researched coding bootcamps?

I found the most effective way to learn a concept was when I needed to solve a specific problem. For example, in operations there were some metrics we couldn’t get without running a SQL query. So I used some SQL resources my last company provided, and taught myself some SQL through trial and error. I also tried to do self-study and online courses in Python, which were helpful to some degree, but they lacked a lot of the “whys,” which is very important for me. It’s hard to retain something if I don’t understand why it works.

How did you come across the idea of a bootcamp and what attracted you to Hackbright?

I knew I wouldn’t get where I wanted to go through self-study; I’m not that kind of learner. I had heard about coding bootcamps and I started to meet bootcamp graduates who were working as engineers, which was a confidence boost for me to pursue that path.

A couple of people whom I worked with had been to coding bootcamps, including one who went to Hackbright Academy.

Why did you decide to take Hackbright Prep if you already had a bit of coding knowledge?

I originally applied for Hackbright’s Full-Time Software Engineering Program for the October 2017 cohort. The pre-work was in Python, which I had touched several years earlier, but I didn’t remember very much. When I did the Hackbright coding challenge interview in Python, I didn’t feel very confident in my knowledge, and I think that showed in my approach. Meggie, who I interviewed with, said I had a strong skill set, and would be a really good fit for the program, but I could use a bit more foundational knowledge to really succeed. She said I could strengthen those foundational skills through their Prep Course or on my own, but I decided to do the Prep Course and re-apply in January.

What was the learning experience like at the Prep Course? What’s a typical session like?

Each evening, we had a lecture and then a lab. Sometimes, we would have a couple of short lectures rather than one longer lecture. In the labs, we pair programmed to tackle an exercise related to that evening’s lecture. We were learning skills, then solidifying those skills. We covered Python, pair programming, developer tools like Terminal and IDE, logic like Loops, and basic data structures like Lists.

Pair programming was an interesting aspect of Prep and is something that continues in the Full-Time Program. Two engineers work with two keyboards, two monitors, two mice and one computer. One person drives and one person navigates, then you switch. Pair programming is challenging, because if you have an idea, it’s tempting to just jump on the keyboard and do it. But you both get more out of it if you take a moment to say and explain, “I have an idea, what if we did it this way?” Explaining your thought process to someone else really helps reinforce the learning process.

How hard was the Prep Course? Could you keep up easily with the material?

I found the Prep Course very doable. The way it was presented felt very intuitive. I had seen Python before, but when Hackbright taught it, I understood it in a way that never made sense to me before. I was like, “Oh, now I get it!”

Some of my classmates in Hackbright Prep had never done programming before; they had more of a learning curve than me, but Hackbright did a great job at building a foundation for us, and then building concepts on top of that.

Once you finished the Prep Course, did you feel ready to re-apply to Hackbright Academy?

I felt so much better doing the coding challenge interview the second time around! The first time I did the challenge, I felt like I was grasping the concepts by my fingertips. The second time around, I saw the challenge and said: “I know how to solve this problem in two different ways.”

After completing Hackbright Prep, I didn’t have to re-do the full application; I only had to do the coding challenge interview. Hackbright already had evidence of our skills and already knew why I wanted to do the full bootcamp.

Now that you’ve started the full-time program, how is it going?

I started January 2, 2018, and it’s definitely challenging. It’s different to learn all day, every day. Your brain gets tired, but the Hackbright team is very aware of that, so they’re good about scheduling breaks and making sure we take care of ourselves. The first few weeks felt challenging but almost comfortable, and then from weeks four and five onwards, it has really ramped up. I can feel my brain changing shape, which is not comfortable, but it’s exciting!

Are you glad that you did the Hackbright Prep before starting the full-time bootcamp?

Around week three, towards the end of our Python unit, I could tell that Prep was worth it. We had to put everything we’d learned about Python together, and I felt like I had such a solid foundation in Python because of the Prep course. The challenge was to understand how all of these things work and to choose the right solution to solve a problem. I felt really glad that I had such a good foundation in those concepts to begin with.

What’s been your biggest challenge so far at the Hackbright Academy full-time program?

The biggest challenge has been JavaScript. We learned Python for a few weeks, then switched to front-end HTML and CSS, then moved on to JavaScript. It’s conventional wisdom that your second real coding language is the hardest. JavaScript has some very similar structures to Python, but the syntax, the conventions, and what you can and can’t do are different. Hackbright provides a lot of exercises, so even if I don’t get to everything in the lab, I can go home and keep working on it, then bring questions to ask the instructors the next day.

What advice do you have for other people who are considering taking a bootcamp prep program?

Try to make the prep work a priority. When you do a full-time, immersive bootcamp, it’s easy to commit. When it’s part-time, you’ll try to fit in other commitments. But I think you need to be just as serious about the Prep Course as you would be for the full-time program. You want to get as much as you can out of that prep time, whether or not you end up continuing with a coding career. The more you build your foundational skills, the better off you’ll be. Programming skills are incredibly useful in today’s job market, no matter what industry you work in.

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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