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Student Spotlight: From Teacher to Software Engineer

Rebecca Saines, Software Engineer, Streak 

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Recently, Hackbright alumna Rebecca Saines sat down with Course Report, one of the top online resources for prospective students considering intensive bootcamp programs, for their Alumni Spotlight. Formerly a middle school math and science teacher, Rebecca decided to pursue her passion in coding by attending Hackbright Academy, with soon after landing a position as Software Engineer at Streak.

Below are some excerpts from their discussion.  Visit Course Report to read the interview in its entirety.

What were you up to before Hackbright Academy?

I was on the pre-med path in college before finally getting the guts to tell my family that I didn’t want to be a doctor. So naturally, I instead graduated with a degree in Spanish. But I had always had a penchant for teaching and working with kids, so I applied for Teach for America and taught middle school Math and Science in North Carolina.

After teaching for five years, my husband George was bitten by the startup bug and we decided to move to the Bay Area. I used that move as an opportunity to transition from the classroom to…literally anything else. I ended up finding a position in customer service in an EdTech company, which is where I started to get more technical.

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When did you decide that you wanted to become a software engineer?

I was always interested in tech in the classroom and I had always had a propensity for math and science, but it wasn’t until I joined that EdTech company that I started to actually parse JSON and work with a database or an API. I kept learning those things as a customer service representative, moved on to manage the team, and then I moved into product management. As a product manager, I missed debugging and doing the technological stuff. When I realized that this piece was missing, that was a huge part of my decision to go to Hackbright Academy.

HB Alums at Lunch

Did you think about going back to college or getting a masters degree instead of a coding bootcamp?

I found that the return on investment for a coding bootcamp was so much better than going back to college, which is a much bigger monetary investment and a much longer time investment.

Click here to read the full Course Report interview.

Hackbright Academy is the 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 Rebecca completed.

How Scholarship Winner Natalie Miles landed a job at Credit Karma

72584_751438918288_206195_n Natalie Miles is a business analyst at Credit Karma who earned a full scholarship to the Hackbright Academy Part-Time class. Eager to help with tasks at her current role, her knowledge in programming is vital in the current work landscape, and as a woman, she knows the increasing need of females in tech. 

It was during a job transition when Natalie had the idea of getting into the data science field. 

Wanting to learn Python, Natalie, who had previously known about Hackbright, heard about the scholarship application through Hackbright from the Women Who Code newsletter. “I read it all the time and saw that there was a scholarship opportunity. I had been through boot camps and that had always been the first thing on my mind.” Natalie said she liked that it was all women.

“It’s a great way to learn a challenging subject, being with other like-minded people who are similar to you.”

After the application process, which Natalie found to be quite painless, she had heard within two days that she got the scholarship.

“I think for me I would have been reluctant to make that jump had I not received the scholarship. The program was something I wanted to do for awhile and I always pushed back because I knew it required a huge time and money commitment, so having that money commitment out of the picture and knowing it would just be a time commitment on my part made it a go ahead.”

Hackbright’s new Prep Course is twice a week during the evening, for eight weeks that covers the foundations of programming, which amongst the many topics, includes Python, GitHub, basic data structures and functionality. The prep course is perfect for those that want to get more into programming but still need some more experience before taking the Fellowship course.

As far as the program itself goes, Natalie made great friends in addition to a great education.

“It was a very encouraging and nurturing environment. I like the fact that there wasn’t weird competitiveness going on, and it really helped forge great relationships. The cohort I was with was great and I made some really great friends from this class. It’s hard to meet people outside of work so having an in-person class is a really rewarding experience.”

Projects That Carry into Work

As a business analyst at Credit Karma, and a former operations analyst at Lending Club, Natalie wanted to learn programming to help with mundane projects and tasks in her work.

“One of the most important things as far as getting into the data science field is that I have a basic understanding of Python, and [without this education], wouldn’t be able to do.

One of the cool projects I was able to do at Hackbright during class was using an API project to improve a work-related issue. I was able to make a tool to have a presence of Reddit.”

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Eventually, Natalie would like to get a master’s degree in data science or an MBA. “I feel like I’m at such a big advantage knowing how to program—it’s such a valuable skill set. There’s not a lot of representation of women in these roles, and I feel an obligation to help and not be left behind because technology is advancing.”

Natalie’s advice for people who might be interested in learning about the Hackbright program and getting into more technical roles: “If this is something you’re interested in, make sure you set yourself up for success. Don’t keep putting it off because of timing…there’s never going to be a perfect time. Do it now while you have the availability, because you want to be able to focus on this and give yourself a chance to succeed.”

Hackbright Academy is the engineering school for women in San Francisco dedicated to closing the gender gap in the tech industry offering 12-week software engineering programs and night courses for women.

Seven Books to Launch Your Career in 2017

In the New Year, we often re-dedicate ourselves to self-improvement, re-invention, and to taking our career to the next level. To support that process of leveling up, Hackbright staff and instructors have recommended a few books for our readers!

The twist to this list is that all of the books were authored or co-authored by women, and they all offer ways to improve your “hard” or “soft” skills as a software developer or tech worker.

Note: Hackbright did not add any affiliate links to these book reviews (you’ll have to Google them!), and we are not receiving any revenue or other compensation for these recommendations.

Here’s our list of 7 books to launch your career this year:


#1 Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Recommended by Meggie Mahnken, Hackbright Director of Fellowship Education

Author Gayle Laakmann McDowell is a software developer, and she describes her book as a way to navigate the sometimes tricky coding questions that arise in interviews for software developer positions. The book’s purpose is to provide you with the opportunity to practice tackling 189 potential programming interview questions via her approach for breaking those questions down into manageable modular-sized chunks. Gayle’s ultimate goal for each reader is to develop a comfort level with these types of questions so that she or he can whip up flawless algorithms on the whiteboard during an interview!

Hackbright’s Meggie Mahnken’s quick take on the book: “It’s a no-nonsense overview of many topics that would otherwise be intimidating to tackle. The introductory chapters on different types of technical interview questions, runtime, and other fundamental topics never fail to motivate me to enjoy the process of whiteboarding. Technical explanations are peppered with ‘real world’ interviewing insights. Even though it’s not in my primary language (python), the Java code snippets are incredibly approachable and informative.”


#2 Cracking the Tech Career by Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Recommended by Meggie Mahnken, Hackbright Director of Fellowship Education

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Following her book on acing the coding interview (#1 above), Gayle new book offers targeted career advice for landing a job at a top tech company like Google, Apple, or Microsoft. She provides guidance on potential career paths, and how to develop the right type of experience, mindset, and skills so that you’ll be a good cultural fit at these companies.  Bottom line, this book shows you what the hiring committee wants, and how you can develop a career path to achieve it.

 


#3 Hello Web App by Tracy Osborn

Recommended by Hackbright VP of Strategic Partnerships & Mentoring Angie Chang

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Tracy Osborn’s book “Hello Web App” is geared towards non-programmers (or newly minted developers) who would like to build and design their own custom web app using Python and Django. The book supports readers through the process of choosing a project, setting up a database, creating templates, and launching your app.  Tracy is also planning on releasing a new book, “Hello Web Design”, later this year which focuses on web design fundamentals and shortcuts for non-designers.

 


#4 Two Scoops of Django by Audrey Roy Greenfield 

Recommended by Hackbright TAs Jennifer Griffith-Delgado and Meg Bishop

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 In this third edition of her book, Audrey Roy Greenfield provides tips, tricks, patterns, code snippets and techniques that will help you master Django. The book is not designed as a Django tutorial, however, so you should be somewhat familiar with Django first so that you can leverage this as a valuable Django resource.  A few example chapters include: optimal Django environments, fundamentals of Django app design, queries and the database layer, building and consuming rest APIs, testing best practices, finding and reducing bottlenecks, security best practices, logging and debugging, etc.

#5 Doing Data Science by Cathy O’Neil and Rachel Schutt

Recommended by Hackbright Instructor Henry Chen

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“Doing Data Science” is based on lectures from the Introduction to Data Science course taught at Columbia University. In many of these chapter-long lectures, data scientists from companies such as Google, Microsoft, and eBay share new algorithms, methods, and models by presenting case studies and the code they use.  If you’re familiar with linear algebra, probability, and statistics, and have programming experience, this book is an ideal introduction to data science. The book is collaboration between course instructor Rachel Schutt, Senior VP of Data Science at News Corp, and data science consultant Cathy O’Neil, a former senior data scientist at Johnson Research Labs. Cathy just released a book in 2016, “Weapons of Math Destruction”, about the dangers of Big Data (it was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award).


#6 Probabilistic Graphical Models by Daphne Koller and Nir Friedman

Recommended by Hackbright Instructor Henry Chen

Image result for Probabilistic Graphical Models by Daphne Koller

This book complements the same OpenClassroom and Coursera courses by Stanford Professor Daphne Koller and her co-instructor Nir Friedman. The introduction to reasoning algorithms (machine learning) is based upon probabilistic graphical models that capture and analyze uncertainty. From the Coursera course, the content covers probabilistic graphical models (PGMs) as a rich framework for encoding probability distributions over complex domains. These representations sit at the intersection of statistics and computer science, probability theory, graph algorithms, machine learning, etc. They are the basis for a wide variety of applications, such as medical diagnosis, image understanding, speech recognition, natural language processing, etc.


#7 Program Development in Java by Barbara Liskov and John Guttag

Recommended by Hackbright Instructor Henry Chen

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“Program Development in Java” is aimed for students who know how to write small programs, and are at the stage of enrolling in a second or third programming course. Readers should be familiar with Java, but this is not a “how to code in Java” book. Java is just the “vehicle” for teaching key concepts for the whole process of developing production-ready software. The book is written by Barbara Liskov, an MIT Professor (and winner of the 2008 Turing Award), and John Guttag, also a professor at MIT. The focus of the book is on modular program construction: how to organize a program as a collection of well-chosen modules. It centers on four main topics: requirements analysis, iterative program design, debugging and testing, and design patterns.


Like these books? There are dozens more! 

Finally, if you’d like to discover more tech books authored by women, an invaluable resource is Etsy Engineering Director Lara Hogan’s list of tech books authored by women.

And if you think we should feature other books in a future list, please add your suggestions via the comments below!