Holberton > Articles by: Yazmin Giraldo

Mary Gomez: from chemical engineering to programming

Mary Luz Gómez is a 36-year-old chemical engineer who worked for ten years on innovation as a product and project leader. One year ago, she quit her job at Kimberly Clark to pursue her new dream: becoming a Machine Learning developer. 

mary gomez medellin cohort 10 holberton colombia

Mary is a disciplined woman with clear goals and a persevering personality. When working for Kimberly Clark, she learned about technologies such as Machine Learning and Data Science. Mary remembered enjoying her programming classes back in college and knew this path was her future.

While looking for study options, she realized that traditional education was not right for her because she learned much better with practical projects. During her research, Mary found out about Holberton school’s project-based learning methodology and was drawn to it because she felt “Holberton is very similar to how we work in companies.” 

Mary found the admission process fun because it challenged her to learn new things. She barely knew anything about programming and had never made a website, but she passed and started the program in September 2019. 

“I didn’t want to be left with the question of What if I’m a programmer? I was passionate about innovation and technology, so I decided to do it,” she remarked.

The first day in school was difficult: she remembers crying when she realized the day was over, and she still hadn’t been able to do the assigned project, but she knew the idea was not to give up. Her peers were always there to help, and she is grateful for it.

mary gomez medellin cohort 10 holberton colombia
Cohort 10 students, Holberton Medellín.

One of the reasons that led her to choose Holberton was its Income Share Agreement (ISA) payment model: “I found it very inclusive. I will be delighted to give every cent after I graduate with the guarantee that someone else will have the opportunity to study,” Mary said. 

While finishing the first part of the curriculum last June, Mary had the opportunity to work with Skillshare for her final project at Holberton. After starting the Machine Learning specialization, the company decided to hire her as a Software Engineer. So she decided to seize this great opportunity and paused the Specialization for the moment.

“I don’t have a plan for the long term, but I like to bet on what I’m passionate about. Today I have a new career and new goals. My next step is to finish the Machine Learning specialization and continue to challenge myself,” concludes Mary. 

Holberton School Colombia was the first international campus that opened in Bogotá in 2019 with 50 students. Since then, it has grown to three more cities: Medellín, Cali, and Barranquilla and now it counts more than 700 students in Colombia. You can join one of the campuses for January 2021: Applications are open!

From delivering packages to writing code for unicorn startup Rappi

Kevin Giraldo is a 21-year-old Holberton School Colombia student from district 8 of Medellín, a low-income neighborhood with an average household income of US $135 per month. He grew up in a low-income family. Kevin occasionally worked with his father in a manufacturing company and understood that education was the way to have a better future. He discovered programming in high school and convinced his parents to buy him a computer, promising that this was the key out of their situation. Kevin recently started fulfilling that promise.

At fourteen, as he witnessed his teacher automating the voting process at school, using code, he understood that he wanted to be a programmer. “It was a straightforward case, but since I didn’t have any programming knowledge at the time, I found it very interesting”.

Kevin decided to switch from his high school to one that would offer programming classes. He continued to pursue his dream to become a developer by enrolling in a computer engineering undergraduate degree while working as a Rappi delivery to make some money on the side.As he was working, Kevin received a message from Rappi about Holberton School. A Silicon Valley software engineering program was opening in Medellín. Registration was closing the next day, and he decided to meet the deadline and apply. As he was going through the application process, Kevin thought he would never be good enough to be accepted into the program.

Kevin started his training at Holberton in September 2019 and recalled that one of his biggest challenges was having to comment on his code in English. However,  “the fact of not having teachers and having to do projects among ourselves [the classmates] made us very autonomous and independent.”

Because Holberton’s program was very intense, Kevin decided to only do delivery work on weekend nights, as he was one of the students who could not go to sleep until he finished the entire project.

For the final part of the training, Holberton partnered with tech startups Rappi, Kiwi, Ubidots, Skillshare, and Torre so that students could develop a final project that would solve these companies’ needs. Each company presented its challenges and provided mentoring through its engineers. That is how Kevin, together with two classmates, developed a crowd lending platform so people could obtain a loan to get the necessary tools to work as Rappi drivers.

Rappi was so impressed by Kevin’s project that they offered him a software engineering job.

The 21-year-old programmer’s goal is to stand out with his performance at Rappi and to grow within the company. He also wants to create a programming community at El Pinal school, located in Enciso neighborhood (District 8 of Medellín), where he studied most of his basic training.

“As my family is low-income, my ambition was always to get out of here and grow. It is not hating or being ashamed of my roots, but wanting to grow and help my family, my friends and my community”.

Kevin Giraldo

A breakdancer’s journey to becoming a software engineer

Sergio Rueda is a breakdancer turned software engineer for the machine learning division of Mercado Libre, Latin America’s $50B e-commerce and auction site. Getting there was not easy, he had to balance a heavy workload in Holberton while trying to make extra cash doing translations and whatever he could get together from his dance shows.

Photo: Karen Daza (@dazita_sbc)

Originally from Barranquilla, Colombia, he moved to Bucaramanga to study mechanical engineering but his prospects and initial work experience after graduating had left him disillusioned. Sergio’s passion for breakdancing brought him to Medellín to join a dance crew with his friends. In Medellín, he discovered Holberton School and with it, his second passion: software engineering. 

Sergio decided to go through the admissions process as a challenge to himself and considered it sort of a game, but as he delved deeper into Holberton he decided becoming a software engineer is what he really wanted to do. 

After being admitted and just three months into the program, Sergio had to relocate from Holberton Medellín to Holberton Bogotá so he could live with his family, as he could no longer make ends meet. 

At first, Sergio would get frustrated because he could not finish the projects as fast as some of his peers, but he quickly learned to put his ego aside and developed the most important skill: learning how to learn. Even in the most trying times, he never thought about quitting and realized that no matter what personal challenges he was facing, starting a new programming project for Holberton always brought him happiness. 

I found a lot of support from the staff and my peers, they are now my family”, said Sergio.

Finding a job

Sergio says that being a programmer and a dancer make him very happy, each discipline compliments the other and brings about a balance, dancing helps his programming and programming helps his dancing. 

When Sergio began his job search after finishing foundations, he discovered that it was his soft skills, not just his technical skills, that made him stand out as a candidate. Rejections were common, so he narrowed his search to companies that valued soft skills as much as technical skills, and that is where he found the match with Mercado Libre. 

They were looking for a senior developer, so I told them: Let me solve the technical test, then you could know if we can work together now or in the future”, said. 

After a battery of soft skills and technical skills interviews, Mercado Libre made the offer and despite the fact that the job opening was for a senior candidate, the hiring manager in Mercado Libre told Sergio that they wanted to work with him because they saw his potential. 

Join me in congratulating Sergio on his accomplishments, all the hard work he put into going through the Holberton program and getting the job of his dream. Well done!

Students building apps for Colombia’s top tech companies

As part of their first-year curriculum, Holberton Colombia Cohort 10 students will work on their final projects with Colombia’s top tech companies under the mentorship of their leading CTOs and engineering managers. Participating companies include Colombia’s unicorn Rappi, robot delivery company Kiwi, learning platform Skillshare, IoT platform Ubidots, and remote talent marketplace Torre. Each company is coming to the program with a real-world product request to serve their business needs. Students will build the product or feature on top of each company’s tech stack.

“There are two objectives for the company capstone projects. One is to let leading employers access the best technical talent for their recruiting needs. The second objective is that these multi-week, hands-on projects will give Cohort 10 programmers real-world projects completed for top-tier companies to include in their portfolios,” said Jessica Mercedes, Country Manager of Holberton Colombia.

The projects include developing the following: 

  • Crowdlending for Rappi delivery couriers so that they can finance the purchase of a motorcycle
  • An algorithm to detect the distance of moving objects for Kiwi’s autonomous vehicles while using only one camera 
  • A picture-based class recommendation engine for Skillshare
  • A computer vision solution to maintain COVID-safe distances among factory workers using the Ubidots platform
  • A web service that centralizes job opportunities and applicants across many job boards for Torre.

Students will work for six weeks under the leadership of each company’s technical management and will be expected to deliver on the same level of technical excellency as their full-time employees. Each project will be presented during the demo day taking place on June 19th. The event will be live-streamed on Facebook, so be sure to follow our page to watch!