Posts

Career Change: How One Woman Went From Project Manager To Engineer At Slack

Roo Harrigan was ready for a career change, so she made the trek west from Madison, Wisconsin to San Francisco to become an engineer!  After graduating from Hackbright Academy’s 12-week software engineering fellowship she landed her dream gig as an application engineer at Slack! We talked to Roo about what made her realize it was time to give engineering a shot, her student experience at Hackbright, and life as an engineer at Slack.



What motivated you to embark on a new career path?

blog intro (683x800)I was sort of a “soft” pre-med in college, and after graduation I was recruited by Epic for a project management role, helping hospital systems install clinical software. I loved this job, but the amount of face-time with customers that the role required of me was exhausting.  I struggled being the point person for customers 100% of the time, and was frequently working late nights and weekends just to catch up on hundreds of emails.  I realized I wasn’t as extroverted as I’d thought…in fact, I crave working alone for long stretches of time!  

So, I wiggled my way into a more product-facing role at Epic.  I started working with software developers for the first time, and I felt jealous of them – I was so excited about the features the team was building, and I had things I wanted to make! But of course, I had no idea how to make them. I began trying to teach myself to code at home, but with my work schedule it was very hard for me to carve out the time, and I was traveling too much to commit to any type of regular course.  So after much deliberation, I put in my notice at Epic, completed all the online introductory coursework I could find about Python, and applied to Hackbright. And you let me in!

I started working with software developers for the first time, and I felt jealous of them – I was so excited about the features the team was building, and I had things I wanted to make!

How did you feel upon learning you got accepted into an all women’s coding bootcamp?

roo classsI was overjoyed.  My partner and I had already started our move from Madison, Wisconsin to San Francisco because he was also accepted to a coding bootcamp out here.  We were literally driving through the middle of Wyoming when I saw the email on my phone, and I just cried quietly in the front seat for about 10 minutes afterwards.

But I also remember this distinct feeling of, “It’s go time.”  I had quit a good, stable job in an inexpensive, wonderful city to move across the country for this bootcamp and live for an unknown period of time with no income, and I do not come from an infinite amount of money waiting to catch me if I need it. It was a wild risk.  It felt like modern-day manifest destiny. And I remember thinking “I’m going to have the best life of my life now. Everything is new again.”

It was a wild risk.  It felt like modern-day manifest destiny. And I remember thinking “I’m going to have the best life of my life now. Everything is new again.”

Looking back, do you think Hackbright was the right choice?

embracethegetupIt was an excellent choice for me.  Hackbright’s full-time program allowed me to completely dedicate myself to the process of difficult technical learning to prepare for a career change.  In twelve short weeks,  I went from seeing the internet as a black box of magic to building a web-app with interactive maps.

Beyond that, I was able to build a network of relationships at Hackbright with like-minded women who supported me and challenged me to solve problems in new ways. I met mentors who expected me to succeed and raised my own expectations for myself, and I met engineers and recruiters who believed I could make a meaningful contribution to their companies. And, incredibly, some of them offered me jobs!

In twelve short weeks,  I went from seeing the internet as a black box of magic to building a web-app with interactive maps.

It is these relationships that will stick with me far longer than the experience of learning how a hash map works, or why most ‘random’ things are actually quite predictable with the right set of tools (shoutout to Cesium 137, though). Tech always changes, but if you have a network that helps you change with it, you’re set.

What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

Screen Shot 2016-09-29 at 5.02.46 PMFirst, I am very proud of myself for making the leap to move to San Francisco, attend Hackbright, and strike out on my own in this whole new crazy world of tech.  

Second, I’m really proud of the fact that I gave myself the time to document that journey, both by hand in my journals and in my medium posts.  Writing about my experience fossilized it for me in a way that taking pictures never would.  I couldn’t believe how many women I’ve met since I graduated Hackbright who have told me they read my writing and actually found it entertaining, even funny!  

After Hackbright, you got a job offer from Slack; how did you feel?

I was elated! The interview process made me feel like they already believed I was technically capable of succeeding – that the harder question was whether or not I was a friendly, helpful, and resilient person. That really resonated with me, in a way no other process did.  

What do you like about being an engineer and working at Slack?

I could go on and on about this, but the best part about working at Slack is the people.  Every day, I am excited to learn from them.

Most importantly to me, the moments where I think something like “I’m not smart enough to do this” or “this isn’t for me” are really few and far between now.  I’m nicer to myself, because I feel happier.  I am so interested in how code works; I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that fascination was so motivating.

Don’t get me wrong, there are very hard days at work; days when I feel like my brain has leaked out of my ear and wonder how I could possibly go on?  But I take a break, and then I just do.

roo slackMost importantly to me, the moments where I think something like “I’m not smart enough to do this” or “this isn’t for me” are really few and far between now.  I’m nicer to myself, because I feel happier.  I am so interested in how code works; I can’t believe it took me this long to realize that fascination was so motivating.

Slack engineers do a pretty good job of protecting one another from having too many meetings. This puts my previous life in stark contrast; I never had quiet time to focus on one problem before jumping into a meeting or presentation, I rarely felt calm and curious, I seldom took breaks during the workday just to stretch or get a glass of water.  That is all commonplace now, and I am so thankful for my new routine.  And it all started with Hackbright! Wild.

Tech always changes, but if you have a network that helps you change with it, you’re set.


Are you or someone you know ready for a career change? Sign up to learn more about our software engineering fellowship!



Find Out How 11 Women Learned To Code – Watch These Videos On “Becoming A Software Engineer” (Tech Talks!)

Thanks to our generous supporter GitHub for hosting and recording the tech talks on December 10, 2013 – and for participating in the Hackbright Academy Dinner series for women in tech!

Lightning tech talks focused on the topic of “becoming a software engineer” and were given by women who code, as accountants and software engineers!

Watch as 11 women talk about learning to code and becoming software engineers in the videos below:

Tech Talk: “Bootstrapping your Career – from Employee to Engineer!” by Megan Anctil & Kate Heddleston

Hearsay Social software engineer Megan Anctil and freelance software engineer Kate Heddleston talk about how to bootstrap your career into engineering!

Megan Anctil is a Software Engineer at Hearsay Social. Starting with a Bachelor’s degree in Japanese from Stanford University, she taught herself to code while working in Customer Support at Hearsay Social. She continues to be drawn to the thrill of solving logic puzzles and the artistic side of coding that manifests itself in elegant, well-structured systems. In her free time, Megan can be found continuing her coding education (it’s a lifelong process), learning new skills and bits of trivia for fun, exploring the city with friends, and planning next-year’s Burning Man costumes much too far in advance.

Kate Heddleston is a web applications developer (Python & Django). Kate earned a Master’s degree in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s degree in Communications, both from Stanford. She enjoys using open-source tools to build web applications, and especially likes building product features that interface with the user. Kate believes open-source technologies are the foundation of our modern tech-driven world and that automation is one of the core values that technology offers us. Thus, open-source automation tools are some of her favorite things in the world, just below puppies and just above shoe shopping.

Tech Talk: “The Development Process” by Ashley Lorden

Ashley Lorden is a software engineer at Lyft. Although she never took a CS course and formerly worked in non-profit, Ashley proudly introduced herself as a software engineer after taking part in the first class of Hackbright Academy. After participating in Hackbright, an engineering internship at SurveyMonkey and international travel, she’s now part of the engineering team at Lyft, where she gets to use Python, Angular.js, PHP and a bunch of other fun stuff to help connect people in cars. Engineers don’t tend to like bureaucracy, but a bit of structure is crucial to ensure the code you produce will be useful. Ashley will talk about the agile development workflow and organizational tools that provide clarity and make your time developing more effective, whether as part of a large team or for a project on your own.

Tech Talk: “How I Use GitHub To Start Coding” by Alyson La

Alyson La is an accountant at GitHub who hacks on the side. Her focus in learning to code is to bridge the gap between the worlds of finance and web development. She is inspired by the open source community and with the help of some of her fellow hubbers has created and contributed to several open source projects as well as internal apps.

Tech Talk: “Failure Driven Development – How learning from failure helps us build better systems, products, engineering culture” by Mercedes Coyle

Mercedes Coyle is a software engineer at Real Gravity, working with data processing, storage, and analytics. She is a Hackbright Academy Fall 2012 alumna and mentor for Hackbright students. Before becoming a software engineer, she worked in the photographic industry as a different type of developer, and got started in tech working in IT and systems administration. On the off chance that she’s not hacking or breaking code and hardware, she cycles around San Francisco or hacks motor vehicles.

Tech Talk: “Functional Programming” by Kelley Robinson

Kelley Robinson is a software engineer at Versal. After getting a Business degree, Kelley began working in financial operations but soon started looking for something more challenging. She made the transition to engineering by attending Hackbright in the Spring of 2013. Now Kelley works as a Scala developer and is learning to like California.

Tech Talk: “A Day in the Life of a Hackbright Student” by Siena Aguayo

Siena Aguayo is a Fall 2013 Hackbright fellow and graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 with a double major in English and East Asian Studies (focus on Japanese language). She always loved working with computers and found herself drawn to them from an early age. Her experience with Java in college and her soft skills as a liberal arts graduate helped Siena land a job as a project manager after she graduated, where she taught herself JavaScript, jQuery, advanced CSS, and a host of other related technologies that helped her deploy the company’s software both on their hosted network and in-house for customers. She loved learning how to build things for the web and now after Hackbright Academy, has an arsenal of Python to back her up on the server side and is a full-stack engineer.

Panel of Hackbright Alumnae Answer Your Questions!

Nicole Zuckerman is a software engineer at Eventbrite. She is a reader, dancer, cheese afficionado, Veronica Mars fan, and graduate of the Hackbright Academy Fall 2012 class. She transitioned from a career in college textbook publishing as a Program Director to a career in software development and has never looked back.

Marissa Marquez is a software engineeer at Trulia, a real estate site, where she’s part of the consumer search team. Marissa is a Hackbright Academy Spring 2013 graduate. She originally designed web sites and then started coding the HTML for them. As her role became more technical, she wanted to learn how all the pieces of a web app worked together. A desire for more formal training led her to Hackbright Academy where she learned full-stack development. She also enjoys hiking, snowboarding, painting and print-making.

Rebecca Bruggman is the newest member of the POPSUGAR software engineering team doing web development in PHP and Sass. Prior to graduating from Hackbright’s Summer 2013 cohort, she was in tech on the sales and PR side. After being involved in the tech community for several years, she realized she wanted to be a part of the building and innovation process, which lead her to make the awesome decision to apply to Hackbright. In her non-coding life, Rebecca loves to travel, ride her bike, and conquer every brunch spot in SF – one mimosa at a time.

Meggie Mahnken (moderator) hails from New Hampshire by way of Tucson, Arizona. She studied psychology and critical theory at UC Berkeley, reveling in postmodern theory but truly shining in a single technical role at an auditory research lab. She began to coding in her spare time as a mere curiosity, eventually meeting with other women in San Francisco to take a coursera course in Python. She quickly moved from building games and calculators to studying data structures at a hackerspace for another Python class. These experiences convinced her to embark on the path towards software engineering, arriving at Hackbright Academy to become a software engineer. When not coding, she’s coaching for the Cal masters swim team.

Tell us your story about learning to code!

View our photo gallery from the Hackbright Academy event at GitHub HQ here!