I’ve been applying for jobs almost continuously for ten years and I can finally stop. I’ve accepted a job as a software engineer at Earnest and my first day of work is April 19. I’ve been working on transitioning into software engineering since 2014 and am so excited to finally have the title.
All throughout my undergrad career, I applied for jobs. It was a huge range of positions and companies, but mostly summer internship positions at biotech companies or research organizations. I didn’t really have a strong idea of what bioengineering was when I applied to UC San Diego in 2011 and realized during my time at UCSD that well, maybe other people don’t really know either. Having to explain my degree in interviews and struggling to find job descriptions that even somewhat matched my class content might have been my first hint that an undergrad degree in bioengineering might not lead me directly into a career.
In the summer of 2014, my Dad told me I needed to either get an internship, take some classes or move home because there was no way he was going to pay my San Diego rent for me to bum around on the beach and work at the surf shop (fair enough, Dad). My (then) boyfriend (now husband) Alex was a computer science major and had been pressuring me to take a CS class, because “[I’d] be a natural!” and “It’s perfect for type-A, high-strung, detail-oriented types like [me]!” I wanted to spend the summer in San Diego, so I registered for CSE 5A, Introduction to Programming, having no idea it would change the direction of my life. I spent the summer doing a good amount of bumming around on the beach and working at the surf shop as I had intended, but I also found myself enthralled with the topic and the problems I was solving in this beginner level C-language class.
In my second to last quarter at UCSD, faced with an empty slot for a class and a nagging feeling that I needed to explore my abilities in computer science a little further, I registered for CSE 11, an introduction to object oriented programming class in Java. It was considered “accelerated” but I knew if I was falling behind I could always drop the class and at that point bioengineering had decimated my GPA so badly I wasn’t afraid of a bad grade. Plus the instructor got a chili pepper on RateMyProfessor! As the semester went on I stopped recognizing myself. Who was this girl, spending Friday nights in the computer science lab (somewhat affectionately called “the dungeon”), starting assignments the day they were assigned, coming to every office hour and doing the extra credit for fun? I was enjoying an engineering class for the first time based entirely on the content and not the shared-pain-bonding I had in my other classes. I didn’t know anybody in this CSE 11 class - they were all freshman or sophomores in computer science and I was a super-senior in bioengineering. I was thrilled to be working on something I enjoyed so much and overcoming some serious impostor syndrome that I had developed over the previous five years, but had a sinking feeling that I had missed my chance to do something I really loved. I looked into every option I could to somehow take more computer science classes at UCSD. (Is year five too late to change my major? Can you minor in an engineering discipline if you’re already majoring in one? Am I seriously supposed to stick with the decision I made at 17? Can’t somebody do something? I only just figured out this is what I’m supposed to be doing! Yes, no, yes, and no, if you’re wondering.) I couldn’t slow the march of time and graduated in June of 2016. I had a minimum wage job, an engineering degree I had know idea how to use and a bunch of undirected energy around “getting into computer science”, whatever that meant.
After graduation, I worked hard in that position, where I was doing customer service for a distribution company. Full-on, headset, how-can-I-help-you-today, let-me-get-that-tracking-number-for-you customer service. It was really hard work, and I genuinely think that my experience in that position will inform how I treat people in customer service for the rest of my life.
I didn’t have the energy to go back to school right away, but I knew I needed to figure out my next steps, whether that was a position where I got to use my bioengineering degree or try to transition into software development. As I’ve done many times in my life, I chose not to choose and pursued both. I applied for jobs at biotechnology and medical device companies without getting much positive feedback. At the same time, I researched my options to learn computer science in a more structured way, doing price and curriculum comparisons between graduate programs and software engineering bootcamps. I spent my breaks eating my lunch while driving to the public library near my office so I could take Codecademy classes in the computer lab.
Before long, I moved into a different position at the company, doing some marketing and other business information tasks. It was better paid and lower stress than customer service, but still far from what I hoped to spend my career doing. I poured my heart into an application for Hackbright, an all-women’s 12 week coding bootcamp in San Francisco. I got my rejection letter from them on the day Trump was elected to office. I spent the next year continuing to self-teach computer science as much as I could, began taking night classes at Mesa College and researching computer science programs. I found a post-baccalaureate program at Mills College, a small, liberal arts, women’s college in Oakland. I had heard of Mills before, but didn’t know much about the school and definitely didn’t know they had a computer science program. I went to a couple of info sessions and was totally sold - it was exactly what I had been looking for. It was an accredited institution, a proper Masters degree, and seemed like it had the computer science fundamentals I was looking for. I had spent my whole five years in undergrad saying no WAY was I going to go to grad school, and sent my application to Mills College on February 8, 2018. I was laid off from my job on February 16.
I’d love to tell you what happened between then and when I was accepted to Mills on March 8, but I’ll be honest - I don’t really remember. I know Alex and I went to Ojai for the weekend, and I know I applied for unemployment, but that’s really it. Mills was the only program I had applied for and I had no backup plan at all. The stress consumed me entirely and I really can’t remember anything that happened.
When I got my acceptance to Mills, I felt such a wave of relief. It felt like my transition into computer science was finally happening. I spent the next six months taking as many community college classes as I could, packing for our move to Oakland, and figuring out how the heck I was going to pay for a Masters degree at a private college.
Graduate School (2018-2020)
I started my classes at Mills in the fall semester of 2018 and knew I was where I needed to be. I had an immediate connection with my professors and the program. I loved the small class sizes and individual attention. I went into grad school with a totally different attitude than undergrad. I had an intense focus on doing well in my classes and got involved with the computer science community on campus in every way I could. Although Mills is a beautiful school with tons of unique opportunities and Oakland has a fun event every single night, I stayed singularly focused on what I was there to do.
Throughout my first year, I applied for tons of summer internships. Unfortunately, many big companies hire their summer interns really early. Even though I took data structures in my first semester at Mills, it was too late for me to interview at most big companies. My advisor received an email from LendUp, a mission-driven fintech company based in Oakland, asking for resumes of current students looking for summer internships. The hiring manager’s wife had attended Mills and they met there, so he said he’s got a soft spot for the school. I had a phone interview on May 14, an on-site interview on May 22 and my first day of work at LendUp was June 3, 2019. I had a wonderful time as an intern that summer. I learned so much about building software, why fintech can have such a huge impact and what it means to work on a software engineering team. I had the opportunity to extend my 9 week internship to 12 weeks and finish building out the application I was working on. I was very gently asked if I was sure I wanted to graduate and didn’t I want to just work instead? I said no, I needed to finish my degree (I had already accrued most of the debt, after all) and headed back to Mills for my last year.
That fall I attended the Grace Hopper Conference in Orlando, where I volunteered in exchange for free admission. It was a total joy, meeting so many awesome women in tech and getting to hear interesting talks. While I did go to the career fair part of the conference a couple of times and had a great time learning more about the companies that were there, I didn’t really send in applications at GHC. I was pretty committed to heading back to LendUp when I graduated, since I had such a wonderful experience there and knew I would be so well supported. I continued to stay in touch with LendUp, working with them on an event at Mills and attending their Christmas party. Early in 2020 we started to work on getting me hired officially, then COVID hit. I was told that LendUp wasn’t going to be able to hire me after all on April 8, 2020. I was devastated, but understood why they had to make that decision.
I graduated from Mills College with my Masters Degree in Interdisciplinary Computer Science on May 16, 2020.
2020, A Year That Only Maybe Happened
This can’t possibly be news to anybody, but 2020 was rough. I experienced endless job rejections, personal mental health struggles and dealt with the disappointment of canceling 2020 plans. Alex and I moved into my parents house and wiled away time going to the beach and taking long walks around our small town. I applied to as many jobs as I could, but there were just so few entry level positions being posted during this time. The unstable financial situation combined with a huge increase in the number of developers looking for jobs made it a pretty hopeless time to look for a job. In December I completed a timed online code challenge from Amazon and got robo-rejected within the hour. It was another disappointment of many, but felt like a bit of a wake up call. I needed to try something different.
2021, Trying a New Way
I think of myself as a person willing to ask for help, so why wasn’t I asking for any? I think of myself as a person who does well when I’m in a community, so why was I isolating myself? I acknowledged that my efforts had been failing and committed myself to doing something different.
I was referred to the Outco program by a friend who had previously been an instructor there and started reaching out to some network contacts to try to shake up my methods. After spending a lot of time comparing programs and figuring out whether the price was right, I registered for the February 1 course at Outco. It’s a really intensive 4-week program consisting of classes, mock interviews, take home assignments, lots of interview practice and career coaching.
All the sudden it felt like I had a lot of options for things to work on and asked my therapist what I should spend my time on. She surprised me by saying “Why choose? What’s stopping you from doing all of them?” As a person who is chronically overcommitted and stretched thin, I’m very unused to receiving the advice to do more things. It was another moment during this process where I had to reckon with the limitations I had placed on myself for no reason.
Following her advice, I:
- Signed up for Outco to increase my interviewing confidence and get support from a team of coaches and classmates with more experience than me.
- Began working with Queen’s Web, a organization helping women gain software development experience, so I could add to my resume and challenge my impostor syndrome.
- Joined a team working on a grief support group React Native application designed and led by a contact of a friend I met through Queen’s Web, again to build my resume and reignite my passion for software.
- Rejoined the group of Mills College computer science students meeting every Friday to do interview practice so I could reconnect with my community there.
- Began doing some freelance web development for Ponto Footwear, to gain some experience and work for a mission I’m passionate about.
All these efforts paid off, and I ended up with some interviews I was really excited about and two eventually lead to offers of full time jobs. I would have been happy working for either company, but accepted an offer from Earnest, a fintech company doing student loans and student loan refinancing, plus some other financial tools. I’m so excited to be able to work in fintech again, improving access to financial resources. I personally had a really hard time figuring out how to fund my Masters degree and would love to do what I can to improve that experience for other people. I was referred to Earnest by my previous internship manager at LendUp. He was a huge advocate for me at LendUp and during the interview process at Earnest. This trend of advocating for me is why I ultimately chose Earnest. As a young(ish) woman engineer, having someone on my team is invaluable. I’m so excited to get started!
I have had a huge number of people support me and cheer me on during this transition into software, and it’s due to their encouragement that I finally made it into this industry. If you’ll indulge me…
I was lucky enough to have some really incredible professors at the three different schools where I took computer science classes.
Adam Jundt at UCSD taught a very inspiring programming class, with tons of opportunities to push ourselves beyond the given assignments.
Dave Parillo at Mesa College exposed me to a lot of new ideas about equity in tech and went out of his way to make sure that the women in his class were well supported, knowing that we were in for a rough road ahead if we stayed in tech. He put special effort into making sure that he did what he could to insulate his classroom from the inequities that exist in the industry.
My classmates and professors at Mills College were incredibly supportive. I was so lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful community during the only time that I was studying computer science full time. The equity lens that Mills classes use will inform my perspective of the software industry forever.
Susan Wang was my go-to person at Mills. She was my advisor and thesis advisor, I TA-ed for her, she taught my very favorite classes and her referral is what led me to my first internship. Her encouragement and advice was a game changer for me.
Colin Schatz, Ellen Spertus, Almudena Konrad and the other computer science professors were all essential to me completing the program at Mills and informing my perspective on computer science and the tech industry.
During my internship at LendUp, I received support and mentorship from many members of the engineering team. Sreenu Reddy, Rich Holoch, and Tom Wilson especially made sure that I knew what was going on and took the time to answer my many (many, many) questions. They advocated for me to have additional opportunities within the company and made sure I felt included. Rich continued to support me after I left LendUp, reviewing my thesis and advocating for me to get an offer secured. Sreenu also continued to support me, and referred me to the position that I just accepted at Earnest! He was so supportive of me during the interview process and I really look forward to working with him again.
I was lucky enough to have Ashrita Tiwari assigned as my career coach at Outco and what a stroke of luck it was! She helped me understand my own mindset during the interview and job search process, and how I was standing in my own way. She guided me from a scarcity mentality to one of abundance and she helped me understand what I bring to the table. The difference in my mental state during interviews before and after working with Ashrita was huge.
I’ve been supported and encouraged by my family through this entire transition and my entire life. I can’t express how important their support has been.
My husband Alex was the very first person to tell me I might want to look into software engineering, and he’s been encouraging me every day since. We missed a lot of fun events because I had to study and bickered plenty about whether he was “helping” or “taking over” when looking at my code, but now I get all his dorky software jokes so I’d say it all broke even. I couldn’t have done it without him. Full stop.
I’m so excited to get started at Earnest and see where my career takes me. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story!