What kind of work were you doing prior to attending Code Fellows?
I graduated from university with a degree in classic literature. It was right at the beginning of the recession, and I figured I’d go to grad school. I had very few skills that could easily be translated into the job market.
I ended up working in Apple retail for quite some time, and while it was good experience, I maxed out after a little while. There wasn’t any room to grow or advance in the company.
I thought of myself as a “power user,” but I didn’t know how to create stuff for the computer—like software. I’m also an ordained Rabbi, [but] I didn’t have a congregation, a pulpit, or anything like that. So instead, I wrote, taught, and made my Rabbinical living however I could. It’s difficult to do that and have a predictable income, let alone an income large enough to not have to worry.
How did you make the decision to attend Code Fellows?
I thought you had to go and get a PhD in Computer Science before you could get hired to write software. [M]y time at Apple really reinforced how little I knew about what went on in the computer, rather than just how to use it. That was the entry point into coding for me. One thing I know about myself is that I am happiest when I’m creating, making, and doing. Building software that has some social purpose—and does some social good—is something that gets me really fired up.
I felt that going to grad school or getting another degree was not the answer. That part of my life was over. I learn best when I have someone looking over my shoulder and telling me how I can improve—someone to give me complete and immediate feedback, and also hold my feet to the fire and make me actually do it! I learn best when I have someone giving me assignments, watching me, and helping me in real time.
Why did you choose Code Fellows over other coding programs?
First, because the opportunity to go deep into a single technology stack, rather than cover multiple stacks more cursorily, really appealed to me. It seemed like a good way to get ahead in the industry, because from everything I’d heard it was better to learn one stack of tools really well, rather than several stacks only “kinda sorta” well. Once I had a good, solid understanding of one particular stack, I have found it much easier to translate that knowledge into other languages and other tools.
Second, I knew I was going to rely a great deal on the [career development] training and alumni support that Code Fellows offers. The interview preparation was especially helpful. And once I’d graduated, staying involved in the alumni community has helped me with my networking and my professional growth.
Did you enjoy working in the group setting Code Fellows provided?
I had a great cohort at Code Fellows. I don’t know how typical it is, but from what I observed being a TA at Code Fellows, the cohort that you end up with is a pretty special thing. We got along very well. One of the things I was cautious about when applying to code programs was that all the students might be competing for the same jobs and therefore have an extremely competitive attitude towards one another.
Happily, that turned out to be false! My cohort and I still have a great relationship. We all reveled in each other’s successes, and helped each other with interviews, coding challenges, and projects.
Even though we were, in a sense, competing for the same jobs, there was a fantastic sense of community. The greatest asset of Code Fellows is how the intensity and atmosphere are conducive to forming relationships, rather than pitting students against each other.
What was a surprise you encountered while going through the program?
The hardest thing for me as a student at Code Fellows was learning algorithms and whiteboarding.
I hadn’t really realized that whiteboarding would be an important part of the job-seeking process once I graduated. I thought it was about just learning to code, but I discovered there is so much more to learn! It took me by surprise.
When one applies for a job in software, engineering, or an allied field, many companies do “whiteboarding challenges.” During a job interview, on a whiteboard, you have to write software that does a particular task or that implements a particular algorithm or a function of some sort. It may have practical use or may not. You can’t use a computer or reference books. These challenges can range from the practical to the kind of silly.
I find myself learning the math more easily now than I did when was in college. It was never an aspect of my life—graph theory and things like that. The two books that really helped me prepare for whiteboarding interviews and coding in general are All the Mathematics You Missed: But Need to Know for Graduate School and Cracking the Coding Interview.
Both books helped me solidify the very abstract and practical stuff I was learning at Code Fellows.
What is your current job like?
There was one hiring document that said my job title was just “java script,” in all lowercase letters [chuckles].
My role, broadly speaking, is user interface and experience design. I’m building programs to showcase visualization of data—particularly financial data—using the latest software that’s out there. One of the neat things about Code Fellows was we actually learned how to use [software such as] React, […but] things change very rapidly. It’s a continual process of learning.
Do you have a coding inspiration? Someone who writes great code, or has created something you admire?
My coding inspirations are the other trans people in technology-related fields. We are a small but mighty group, and every time I see another trans person doing this work I feel grateful for the path that they are helping to smooth for me. My sincere hope, now that I am here, working in this field, is to keep doing this for the trans people who will come after me.