11 February 2013

Lydia's Hackbright Q&A with Angie

Since Lydia has been answering a lot of Hackbright questions as well, she thought it would be a great idea to post them in the same place. I agree!  Here are her answers to Angie's questions:

Why Hackbright and Python? There are other "intensive courses" out there like Dev Bootcamp, with Rails.

  • Hackbright is great because you’re with other women. I wish I could find the article I’m thinking of, but I know Christian and David have been quoted that they noticed in another bootcamp that sometimes if women were paired with men the men would (intentionally or unintentially) take control. In pair programming there’s a navigator and driver. It seems that many times the men always wanted to be the driver. It’s just easier to learn and communicate with your partner when everyone’s a woman. It helps. Though I’m sure you could learn Rails and front-end skills elsewhere else. I think most of us choose Hackbright because we wanted the camaraderie we got from Hackbright.
  • I’m actually interested in front-end web development, which you don’t get a lot of at Hackbright. But because I learned Python I have a good foundational programming language under my belt. It’s been a lot easier for me to learn JavaScript because I know Python so well.
  • Python is “made for humans” to read. There’s a lot of white space and it’s easier to figure out what is going on in the code than in other languages. Christian chooses to teach Python because it has a welcoming community (like the Pyladies meetups) and because it’s an easy foundational language. Knowing Python opens a lot of doors and helps you feel more fearless when learning a different language. 

How competitive is the application process and what can I do to better my chances of being accepted? Does early application help?
  • The application process is very competitive! With each round more women are finding out about Hackbright and are applying.
  •  Early application definitely helps. I applied early and it was helpful to know I was accepted so I could make plans.

How did you prepare for the application process? Any specific exercises/projects you recommend? I'm doing Codeacademy and hoping to get into Learn Python The Hard Way.
  • You don’t need to know anything to apply. Christian just wants to know if you enjoy solving problems. He’ll help you actually learn the programming stuff.
  • What I wish I had done before going to Hackbright was go through Learn Python the Hard Way and InteractivePython.org (How to think Like a Computer Scientist). I wish I had done both these things twice! It would have helped me understand some of the concepts we learned quicker.  

Do you suggest attending any meetups or workshop events? If so, which ones? 
  • Any Girl Develop It or Pyladies event is great for learning how to code and networking. Some Women Who Code events are good. All of these can be found on Meetup.com.
  • Oh, and also go to Girl Geek Dinners. They’re big supporters of Hackbright and I always meet interesting people when I go to a dinner.
  • [From Michelle: Railsbridge, RailsGirls, Ruby Meetups, Women in Tech meetups, hackathons, anything mentioned on Women 2.0, etc.]

 Did you consider other programs before attending Hackbright?  Why did you choose this program?
  • I am a former teacher who started going to Girl Develop It workshops in May and enjoyed learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. I saw App Academy and Hackbright mentioned in a GDI newsletter. I didn’t like that App Academy asked you to solve some Ruby problems in their application (they’ve since changed their application). I thought I couldn’t afford Hackbright but was interested. I randomly met Letitia Lew (a current Hackbright mentor) who told me that if I was interested in software development I should “think about Hackbright.” I just needed someone to tell me it was legit. That was just the push I needed. I applied that night.

I currently live in Madison, WI & realize that the cost of living in SF is quite higher. Can you estimate the total amount of money needed, including living expenses like food, lodging, etc to attend the program?
  • The cost of living is extremely high in San Francisco and cannot be emphasized enough. One studio apartment in high-demand neighborhoods go for $1300 a month. You should contact Hackbright alumni Sonya Eick who moved to the Bay Area from Michigan. She found an affordable place using Craigslist but had to commute at least an hour a day on BART. Commuting from the East Bay or the Peninsula on public transportation would probably be your best bet if you want to cheap rent. I can’t calculate your living expenses for you. It really depends on your lifestyle. Sonya might be able to help you there.
  • [From Michelle: studios are way more after the rent spike of last summer. See my Hackbright living cost estimates here.]

Were you on your own as far as finding accommodations while attending the training or did someone from the program assist with this too?
  • We were on our own when it came to accommodations. It takes patience and a strong intuition, but it is possible to find an affordable place.
  • [From Michelle: I don't think there are affordable places. Prices are way too high. But pay anyway. You won't regret it.]

What is your overall feedback about the quality of instruction during the program and the support provided in job placement after the program?

  • The program is really new so they’re still figuring out their curriculum and what works best. The program has a scrappy startup feel. This can be had for someone who really wants a lot of structure and is seeking a traditional academic environment. You get what you put into the program. You will be coding simple programs with a partner from the first day. You will jump in and work on projects. That’s how you learn in this program. If you’re willing to invest the time and energy while you’re at the school (as well as study and review at home) you will be successful. Everything is very hands on and very fast paced. You learn a lot in a short period of time.
  • I think it’s helpful for women thinking about doing a bootcamp to review the points in Pamela Fox’s blog on Proving Yourself as a Self-Taught Developer and keep these ideas in mind as you prepare to find a job. Just remember that you’re still competing with CS majors. You really have to work to prove yourself.
  • Support for finding a job is great. David is a great networker. We met 20 partner companies at the speed-dating meet and greet at the end of Hackbright. David is always working hard to help us find a job.
Have you found it easy/difficult to find employment based on your training?
  • Technical interviews can be hard! You’re put on the spot. I know the point is to see how we perform under pressure, but geez, it can be a demoralizing process. What’s great about Hackbright is that we’re all so supportive. We give each other tips and even let other Hackbrighters know what to expect if we’ve interviewed with a company before. We send each other interesting blogs all the time and constantly quiz eachother. We used the networks we had, the connections we made through David/Hackbright and each other to find jobs. 
  • I am currently working for a company I had connections with. I worked as a temp and helped them move offices. They wanted me back and hired me for Tech Support after Hackbright. I might pursue Product Management, Engineering (Developing Internal Tools), or Sales Engineering. I think this is a good step for me and the company is growing rapidly.

And if you are currently employed in a position involving the skills learned at Hackbright, do you feel that the training prepared you well?
  • I feel that Hackbright made me fearless about learning programming languages. If I don’t know something I don’t flinch. I simply google a tutorial and start hacking away at a project. Python was a great foundational language and I’m glad I know it. I’m building on the skills I learned at Hackbright by working on projects and going to hackathons. I start my tech support position tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll just jump right in. I’m not afraid of learning technical content and building things. It’s not a mystery anymore.

How long did it take the typical graduate to find a job after completing the program?
  • We’ve only had 28 women graduate from Hackbright and each has their own story. I don’t feel there is a “typical” Hackbright situation so far. Some women have started jobs at Survey Monkey and Eventbrite, some have gone back to get CS degrees, some have done Tech Support or Product Management. Every woman is different.
  • In this second round of Hackbright, 12 women already have jobs. The last few women have had a ton of interviews lined up.

Do you have any advice for how to best prepare before attending such a program?
  • You don’t need to know anything to apply. Christian just wants to know if you enjoy solving problems. He’ll help you actually learn the programming stuff.
  • What I wish I had done before going to Hackbright was go through Learn Python the Hard Way and InteractivePython.org (How to think Like a Computer Scientist). I wish I had done both these things twice! It would have helped me understand some of the concepts we learned quicker.”

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