In this edition of Engineer to Engineer, Michelle Macaraeg, Network Lead for WWCode San Francisco, sat down with Kristy Chu, a former Springboard student and Software Engineer at FloQast. They discussed making the move to the tech industry from the accounting world, the benefits and drawbacks of front-end versus back-end programming, and her experiences at a software engineering Bootcamp.
Can you share your experience before attending Springboard Software Engineering Bootcamp?
Before Springboard, I was an accountant. I was pretty lost after graduating college. Accounting was something that made sense and I got my CPA. I got sick of the non-work-life balance and decided to pursue a career change.
What motivated you to pursue a career in software engineering?
I always had an interest. I actually built websites when I was 12. I think there was a website called funky chickens.com that taught you very basic HTML. I built my websites on GeoCities. I built very basic websites. I just never really pursued it again. I never thought of it as an actual career path. I’m not sure why. Maybe, in my head, it was too hard to learn. It took time to get over my own hurdles in terms of setting limits on myself and my abilities.
Would you like to expand on when you realized that mindset switched?
After I quit my last accounting job, it didn’t sit right with me that I would be pursuing another accounting job. I would look at job descriptions and know that I didn’t want the opportunity. I just kept thinking that I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I still have a long career ahead of me and I should be doing something that I enjoy. I kept coming back to coding. I wanted to learn more about it and it was just taking that first step to figure out where to start. I ended up going with Udemy and that was the start of the journey.
During the course of trying to find a Bootcamp for yourself, what were things that you considered? Was it the curriculum, mentorship, career coaching? What were you looking for in terms of a bootcamp that fit your lifestyle?
Can you tell me about your experiences that stood out?
I was surprised by the amount of support from the student advisors and career coaches. They were a new curriculum and making changes real-time. They would get feedback from students and let students know they were working on change. I enjoyed working with student advisors. They made sure that I was not struggling through the curriculum and if I was, they would make sure how they could help. I was very happy with that part of the program.
Was there anything about the remote culture or a remote bootcamp that concerned you?
No, I think I did have certain ideas of what to expect out of a remote bootcamp. I assumed that the videos would be recorded and I would have to do additional Google searching on my own to supplement the parts that were missing. I would go onto YouTube and look for other instructors on a concept that I wasn’t understanding. The TAs and my mentor were also really great resources. A resource that I didn’t take advantage of was the community. We had access to alumni who were enrolled in Springboard and also your cohort. I already had a friend who had started six months before me and she was my accountability buddy.
Going into bootcamp, how did you prepare? In some cases, there may be technical interviews or you might have to do prerequisite work. Would you be open to talking about that?
It wasn’t too extensive at the time. You basically speak to someone and take an assessment to decide whether or not it would be a good fit for you.
Looking at the website, it seems they’re really committed to making sure that graduates find a job and have a Springboard guarantee. Can you share your experience with how Springboard helps you find your first job and your experience with one-on-one career coaching?
With the Springboard guarantee, there were certain conditions that we would have to fulfill in order to be eligible. One of those things was to pass mock interviews within two tries. The second thing was, after graduating, you have to apply to four jobs per week and connect with seven people per week. Connecting could be someone on LinkedIn, someone in your network who has a job prospect, or someone you are working on a project with.
Do you have mentors that you currently work with that have contributed to your journey in learning how to program?
There are multiple people actually. My mentor during the program was really helpful, not just in the technical aspect, but also in mental hurdles. My accountability buddy helped me make continuous progress and helped me figure out if I was looking at a problem the right way or should I be looking at it a different way. The third person is a friend who has been a software developer since college. She helped me with whiteboarding and mock interviewing. That was tremendously helpful for passing the mock interviews with Springboard and in real life. It was definitely a team effort.
I also wanted to get a little of your experience with building the front end and back end. Which did you enjoy more?
How did working in the financial industry shape your career in programming?
I think it’s great to have experience in the financial industry or any work setting. I understand what team collaboration looks like and how to communicate with others in a work setting.
You ended up working for a company that makes software for accounting, how has your domain knowledge from accounting contributed to the work at FloQast?
It really helped with impostor syndrome. Because I had this background in accounting, I already understood the user and the product. I actually used the product at my last job, so I know about the product itself. I can see both sides. I see the accountant side and is it going to help the user. I can also see the way that we want to build and implement it. It is interesting to see both sides converge.
What advice would you give junior programmers or someone who is considering learning how to program?
There’s going to be a learning curve to everything. You just have to take it one day at a time, one feature at a time, one line of code at a time. There are always going to be challenges. Lay it out where you have a step-by-step process and take a step back, looking at it from the bigger picture. Learn how it works and go through those components.
What advice would you give your past self with respect to some of the most challenging things that you faced?
I expected Springboard to be really easy. I thought I could get through Springboard in six months, it is a nine-month program. The advice I would give to myself is to slow down and be patient with myself.
Are you part of any communities focused on programming and how has community contributed to your journey in becoming an engineer?
I am not currently part of a coding community. At Springboard we were required to attend some networking as part of our career coaching sessions. One of them was focused on the Asian woman community. I really enjoyed those conversations where a panel would reflect on their own mental health or struggles in the community and how it translated to their current careers.
I think what is really comforting to know is that there is a community out there that is thinking actively about these things. That’s how I feel about the Women Who Code community. Know if you need a community, we’re here!