Meet Stefanie: From Psychology to Microsoft's LEAP Program

Stefanie Hansen was struggling to find a career path that was creative, intellectual, meaningful, and collaborative—until she started learning to code. Read along as she shares about her journey, getting accepted to Microsoft’s LEAP program, advice for aspiring developers, and more.

Congrats on being accepted into Microsoft’s LEAP program! When did you apply?

Thank you! I applied at the end of December, on the final day that applications were accepted. I was a bit distracted over the holidays!

What made you decide to apply, and what was the process like to get in?

One of my friends was admitted into the LEAP cohort and is nearing the end of his internship. I had heard of the LEAP program prior to his acceptance, but I didn’t know many details about the program. I keep in contact with him, and his experiences encouraged me to apply. I know that Microsoft is a great company to work for and the fact that they pay their interns to learn is an amazing perk! I wanted to find a job that would enable me to work with experienced mentors and continue developing my skill set, as well as provide valuable and relevant experience that would help me build my resume. The LEAP program fit the bill perfectly!

The first step in the application involved submitting a resume in Markdown and writing two essays about your personal thoughts and experiences regarding programming. Then, I was invited to interview at the Microsoft campus. There were two 45-minute long whiteboarding interviews with different interviewers that took place back-to-back. I have gathered that the difficulty and subject matter of these interviews varies, but I was asked two relatively straightforward questions involving array rotation and linked lists. Then, I was accepted into the program about a week later! The entire process from application to acceptance took about three weeks.

Tell us about when you first got interested in coding. What piqued your interest?

My interest in coding dates back to middle school, when I used to create Geocities websites in Notepad. I thought that it was amazing that you could create something tangible and interactive through simple text in an editor! Of course, at this time, I was mostly playing around with HTML and CSS and my Javascript knowledge was limited to inline scripts that I mostly copied verbatim from search results.

I came back to coding after I spent about seven years in college devoted to numerous fields of study. I couldn’t settle on a single course of study because I was interested in so many things. I wanted intellectual stimulation, a collaborative environment, a creative outlet, and meaningful work. I spent a lot of time jumping between the humanities, liberal arts, and sciences before finding coding.

Have you found those things in software development?

Absolutely! That is why it is the one field of study that I’ve stuck with so far. It is the only professional field that has proven to be multi-faceted enough to keep me engaged and excited about my work.

What were you doing before applying here?

As I mentioned before, I spent about seven years in college. I received my Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the University of Washington and spent another three years trying to decide what to study in graduate school. I completed all of the prerequisites for veterinary, dental, and medical school before deciding that I wasn’t passionate enough about medicine to be so indebted (in time and money). I spent some time working as a barista before beginning to experiment with code. I heard about Code Fellows from a friend who thought that I would enjoy development, and I decided to apply.

What was the most rewarding part of your class?

This question brings a story to mind—about halfway through 201, I remember looking for a particularly frustrating bug in my program. I spent about 45 minutes scouring the code (well past the recommended 15 minute rule) before I asked my instructor, Duncan, for help. He helped me pinpoint the problem, and I started laughing about how ridiculous the issue was. He told me that he knew that I would make a good developer because I was able to laugh about the struggle. I think that the most rewarding parts of my class were those times that I was able to achieve something after a long and sometimes frustrating struggle. That satisfaction (albeit often short-lived!) and the knowledge that comes with it is definitely worth the effort.

That’s definitely a crucial trait! What was the biggest challenge that you didn’t expect?

I think the biggest challenge is Imposter Syndrome. I think that most bootcamp graduates (and probably most humans) deal with it and people don’t really talk about it. There were and still are many moments where I wonder if I actually deserve to be called a “real” developer because I feel that there is so much more that I have to learn. But everyone starts out somewhere and I am committed to continuing to grow, learn, and better myself. An entry-level dev is not expected to know everything, and it’s okay to ask for help or input. It helps me to take a few deep breaths before high stress situations such as interviews and just try to be myself.

What has it been like joining an industry that tends to be male-dominated?

I haven’t had any experience in the workplace yet, so I don’t have much insight to share. Code Fellows provided a warm, inclusive environment and I felt very welcome there. I can only hope that I will be treated with that level of respect in my future work environment.

Any advice for aspiring devs?

Don’t be afraid to reuse old code if you understand it. Reusing code allows us to build out more complex applications in less time and with less effort. Code-blindness is a real thing. If you’ve been working on debugging a problem for a long period of time, try to pull yourself away and take a breather. Fresh eyes can be extremely helpful. Embrace copy-paste (thanks, Larry Tesler!). Learn to be okay with not understanding the whole picture. You will constantly be learning new things, but this will probably occur through lots of struggle and involve a lot of confusion. Try to embrace it—you will get there with time, effort, a rubber duck, and Stack Overflow! Don’t be afraid to talk to other people about your code. Code critiques are a gift and you can learn a lot from gaining someone else’s perspective (and they will often learn from talking to you as well!).

Anything else you’d like to share?

Not at the moment. :) Thank you for a great experience, Code Fellows, and I’m excited to see what the future holds!

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