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Phil Holberton fireside chat about Betty Holberton, leadership & diversity

Holberton School was named after Frances Elizabeth “Betty” Snyder Holberton who was one of the six programmers of the ENIAC, which was the first programmable, general-purpose electronic digital computer. Betty Holberton helped create what would later become modern-day software engineering.

We recently had the honor to welcome Phil Holberton, who is Betty’s nephew, for a fireside chat with our students. Former CPA, Phil Holberton delivers executive-level excellence via his consulting firm, the Holberton Group, and publishes a periodic online bulletin, Speaking of Leadership.

Below is a highlight & edited version of some of the Q&As that happened during the fireside chat. The discussion covered Betty Holberton, leadership, and diversity.

Would you mind telling us about Betty Holberton and what made her such a great problem solver? 

Betty Holberton had a very strong analytical brain. Believe it or not, when she went to school at the University of Pennsylvania she wanted to join the math department. A profession in the math department said “uh uh” you’ve got to go to Home Economics, Political Science, Journalism or some other department. That began her career in saying, “I am not going to take no for an answer”. She was a very intelligent woman and she had a very strong voice in what she believed in and she just went about it and her problem-solving skills, which I am sure we will get to a little bit further down the line of conversation here, she got to use them quite a bit.   

Is it true that in the beginning due to ENIAC projects being classified, Betty and other computers could only work from diagrams and blueprints? 

True. As I understand the story, six of the best and the brightest we call to program computers for artillery during World War II. Computers were as big as most rooms are these days. They handed the plans to Betty and her five cohorts and they say, “All we do is have the wiring diagrams and you have to go and figure and help us program this”. And those women, as smart as they were, they figured it out. We are grateful for her past because that was the first computer basically in the United States, the Antioch. 

Is it true that Betty solved more problems while sleeping?

All the people in psychology and social sciences would say [that] more stuff is done at the subconscious level than any conscious level. Whatever she did at the conscious level was worked over 2 or 3 times in the unconscious level. I don’t know it for fact, but I’m following what goes on in science, but probably presumably so.

When is it necessary to sacrifice individual needs to fulfill team goals and how do you reconcile these differences afterward?

The most important attribute of any company or any organization is to have a vision and a mission statement and you have some culture to help you get there. The interest of the company proceeds the interest of any individual and any team. I am often reminded of the event [with] Johnson & Johnson [about] twenty years ago when they tampered with Tylenol and put poison in it. I can’t remember how many people were killed but it was devastating to America. The CEO at that point in time says, “I don’t care how much it costs. We are taking all of the product off of the shelf and we are all going to start over on Tylenol”. Tylenol was the biggest brand in the world but no one person trumped the ideal mission. “Our customers come first and we protect our patients and out users of our product”. I read somewhere that it may have cost them 250 million or a half a billion dollars to do that and where they probably could have done something different, but that showed integrity. You have to live, I don’t want to say a higher power but you have to have a higher North Star which is usually organizationally driven. 

How should leaders best motivate their employees and try to build a sense of community? 

The most important thing about leadership is to think of it in two dimensions: Transactional Leadership and Transformational Leadership. Transactional Leadership is when you have control of their paycheck, bonus, and time off, so someone is working for the transaction. The best type of leadership is transformational when they work for you because they want to work for you and they aspire because you are a really good human being. Granted, it is hard for a lot of leaders to behave that way because they were brought up to be A-Types and command and control. When I work with CEOs today, we spend a lot about putting water and sunshine on their executive team and the people inside their organization because If they grow they will be able to grow themselves. I turn it around. If you ever heard the concept of Servant Leadership- it’s like flipping the leadership chart around where the leader is always serving the organization- that’s their higher power. If you can inspire an organization to reach for that North Star and achieve things that otherwise don’t appear attainable, you’ve done a really good job. During this COVID period some of our CEOs rose to the occasion more than I would ever imagine. They are less about command and control and they are more about how they can inspire their entire team to come with me and help us get through this COVID period.

How can one become smarter, more adaptable, and emotionally intelligent?

There are diagnostic tests that help you get a baseline on your emotional intelligence. I advocate a test called Mindsets by a professor in California, Ryan Gottfredson. It is free and it will help you understand whether you have a defensive posture or an offensive posture in the four different dimensions. 

When I was teaching at Brandeis my students would ask if leaders were born or were they made. What do you think my answer was? I would say “Yes”. Some had more natural talent than others but like anything, in life, you have got to keep practicing. Some people may have zero knowledge of what the word emotional intelligence means and they may have absolutely incredible natural talent and don’t have to worry about it as much as people that it’s more awkward for. From my perspective, if you want to navigate and get the best out of life, learning this skill is really important for you to learn over time. It will help you in your marriage, in your community, and in your business. I would say to learn that early and often. Practice it.

Why has there been more focus on emotional intelligence separately from IQ recently?

Most hiring practices in North America look at two things: your prodigy and where you grew and they try to assess intellectually your intelligence, particularly if they are trying to hire someone on the inbound side to help them grow within the company. 

IQ has always been an important barometer for any hiring organization. I would say companies are now getting more sophisticated in understanding people’s emotional intelligence because they are beginning to recognize that this is a more important attribute as people move up the ladder. I’ve seen statistics that say 75% of the people that work in the company say that they like the company but they don’t like their boss. That says something about your boss in terms of emotional intelligence and if your boss is oppressive, it is going to make it very hard to work for. That being said, emotional intelligence together, we as a society can get much further.

How can those of us in STEM help support diversity? 

One thing I am inspired by at the Holberton is it’s a diverse organization and prides itself on admitting students of diverse backgrounds, nationality, color, and ethnicity. The Holberton school within itself is the living practice of what needs to go on in this world. One of my CEOs says “It’s our behaviors that count. It’s not our talk”. Holberton invites people of different nationalities to come in different stages of their career-which is a wonderful attribute. I would opine that the more you get to know people that are not of the same ethnicity as yourself build those friendships and those strengths. Make sure to include time in your schedule every day to build those relationships. When you go work for and they have a couple of hundred programmers, get to know the people first. That’s more important than all the technical skills. Having those relationships is really important. I encourage every man, woman, Black, Asian, American, Indian, regardless of nationality, get to know the people first; get to know your peers and your bosses. We are all human beings. Even though they might be a boss…

When a leader makes a mistake, how do they apologize and make things better for everyone?

First of all, an “I’m sorry” goes a long way. I am learning a lot about communications in my job now working with CEOs. There is a difference between communication that comes from the head and communication that comes from the heart. If you say I’m sorry from the head, forget it, nobody will see it and nobody will believe it. If you come and you talk from the heart, and a lot of CEOs find that hard because they are on defense and want to have a strong view of themselves and not vulnerable. I encourage you to follow Brene’ Brown and her work on vulnerability. She is one of the sought after forefront of thinkers in terms of emotional intelligence, vulnerability, and how to behave as a leader. You have to say it from your heart. If you are not programmed that way, to speak from the heart, one activity you can try is to turn up your music and microphone and speak or write like you are journaling and journal from the heart and usually, you will have something that will start to work there. I have had several CEOs in the last week give me communications they want to share with staff, they were all fine but they did not come from the heart. You will be far more effective if it comes from the heart. Everyone needs to develop these skills.

We are very grateful for Phil for sharing his time, wisdom, and knowledge with our community and for his support of the Holberton School since its inception. The full chat recording is available below.

Priyanka Chopra Joining Holberton School Board of Trustees

In case you haven’t already seen, check out the NY Times! Actor, producer and social activist, Priyanka Chopra, has joined our Board of Trustees and invested in the school – to take an active role in attracting women to software engineering.

“No path to success is linear, but it’s staggering that women make up half the workforce and have held fewer than 25 percent of jobs in tech for the past two decades,” says Chopra. “At the Holberton School inclusion and diversity are more than just buzzwords, it is prioritized and infused in their DNA, and I’m looking forward to joining the Board of Trustees to help further their mission and close the gap.”

Priyanka joins our amazing collective of Trustees which includes Grammy winner, NE-YO, Jocelyn DeGance Graham, CEO at CloudNOW, Stephane Kasriel, CEO at Upwork, and Solomon Hykes, co-founder at Docker.

Priyanka will work with us on making sure that our mission of providing high-quality education for the many is fulfilled. She will focus on accessibility, and more specifically inspiring more women into a tech career. In the US, only 20% of software engineering positions are filled by women.

As software and artificial intelligence are becoming, by the second, a bigger part of how our world works, it is essential to have gender parity in the teams that are building the product and systems that are impacting our society and life at large.

We at Holberton have been training the next generation of software engineers, and many are women already working in the field: from hunting asteroids at NASA, contributing to the future of self-driving cars at Tesla and building technology that will power artificial intelligence at Nvidia.

Priyanka has been an outspoken advocate, and role model, for women for many years and we are thrilled to align our values and actions to solve the diversity gap in the Tech industry.

Welcome Priyanka!

Holberton School is opening in New Haven, CT!

Our world is entering the fourth industrial revolution, led by software, automation and artificial intelligence. Companies, to survive, have to run at the pace of technology and leverage these tools, or risk becoming the next Blockbuster or Kodak. They need a workforce that is skilled and able to constantly retrain and retool.

Our post-secondary education, that was really developed during the last industrial revolution, is falling behind on equipping today’s students with the skills they need to thrive. Some institutions have managed to adapt – but only for the elite. Only a fraction of Americans can access this Ivy League club.

Tech companies, and really any company that is going through a digital transformation, is suffering from the lack of a trained and diverse workforce needed to take over 500,000 open positions. That’s what Julien and I decided to tackle by founding Holberton in 2015 – provide high-quality education to the many.

We took inspiration from progressive education, a movement that emphasizes learning by doing, problem-solving, critical thinking. A movement that leads students to develop their social skills and become lifelong learners. We wanted to make sure that the Holberton opportunity was accessible to anyone motivated to become a software engineer. We designed a free and blind admissions process selecting on grit, and made the school free until students find a job.

We welcomed our first cohort of 30 students in January 2016 and since moved to a new building that can accommodate up to 1,000 students every year. We have alumni working in Silicon Valley’s top companies including Tesla, Apple, LinkedIn and Facebook. Today, we are making the Holberton School opportunity accessible to even more Americans by opening our second campus in New Haven, Connecticut.

Connecticut has always been known for innovation. Leading in insurance, and a major actor for aircraft & parts manufacturing and ship & boat building. Technology-related jobs grew by an estimated 1,060 jobs in 2017 and contributed $16.2 billion to the state’s economy. In this context, Holberton will both help local companies to successfully navigate the digital transformation they are going through by providing the talent they need and also attract businesses to join the area, as the war for highly-skilled talent rages nationally.

New Haven’s low cost of living is also a big advantage. While the Silicon Valley is providing countless advantages, the cost of living can sometimes prohibit potential students from attending the program.

We have been working hard for months along with David Salinas and his team at District to make this happen, and we expecting to welcome our first cohort of students in January of 2019. Thanks to Comcast, CT Next, District Innovation & Venture Center, Indra and Raj Nooyi, Seedlings Foundation, State of Connecticut, and The Community Foundation for their support. Enrollment have started, apply here!

Student Spotlight: Max Johnson

Camden, New Jersey, if you’re not familiar, has at times been branded as ‘America’s most dangerous city.’ Max Johnson, if you’re not familiar, has at times been labeled Holberton School’s hardest working student. What does one have to do with another? Max grew up in Camden, NJ and in true poetic fashion, as his city experiences some positive changes, so does Max’s career trajectory.

In spite of the fact that Max had earned a degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology he struggled to find a related job in the field. He decided he was not going to let his tough surroundings dictate his future path and began looking into the prospect of breaking into the tech industry. Max was rejected by every program he applied to up until being admitted to Holberton School.

(L to R) Holberton School co-founder Sylvain Kalache, Max, Holberton School co-founder Julien Barbier

We are not our past. With this notion, Max set off to the west coast with a few thousand bucks, and the determination that he would come out the other side a full stack software engineer. However, the path to success was not paved with ease for Max. During his tenure at Holberton he experienced a few personal hurdles. These struggles coupled with the challenging curriculum eventually taught Max, arguably, his greatest lesson- it’s ok to ask for help. “My classmates had my back. They helped me, they supported me, they stayed with me after hours,” The peer learning structure and collaborative nature of Holberton School’s curriculum allowed for the network of helping hands that Max needed.

The confidence Max has gained due to his hard work at Holberton is evident. With his first high- paying job in tech secured, he felt compelled to share his journey with our most recent cohort of students. The overwhelming take away from Max’s talk was one of perseverance and that above all, hard work wins out. He shared with us the below Les Brown quote:

“If you want a thing bad enough to go out and fight for it,

to work day and night for it,

to give up your time, your peace and your sleep for it…

if all that you dream and scheme is about it,

and life seems useless and worthless without it…

if you gladly sweat for it and fret for it and plan for it

and lose all your terror of the opposition for it…

if you simply go after that thing you want

with all of your capacity, strength and sagacity,

faith, hope and confidence and stern pertinacity…

if neither cold, poverty, famine, nor gout,

sickness nor pain, of body and brain,

can keep you away from the thing that you want…

if dogged and grim you beseech and beset it,

with the belief in yourself, you will get it!”

Announcing Holberton School’s Summer Coding Camp: Take Deux

Due to the success of last year’s summer coding camp Holberton School will be sponsoring our second annual summer camp for students aged 15-18. Last year we facilitated introductory programs for high schoolers with no programming experience. Each of the campers were able to successfully construct their own website from scratch.

Salesforce Senior UX Engineer and Holberton School Mentor, Ayesha Mazumda, offers a summer camper some tips

This year, in addition to providing a track suited for someone with no programming experience, we’ve added an iOS/Swift curriculum to the mix. We’re excited to accommodate the novice as well as the tinkerer this year with our two separate curricula. The summer coding camp will closely resemble the structure of Holberton’s software engineering program by sticking with the peer based and project based pedagogy that’s made our students successful. You can catch campers working in teams sprawled across beanbags or huddled together around some computers. We’re excited to provide these high schoolers with a glimpse into what it’s like to work and innovate in the tech industry!

Campers will have an opportunity to meet with various industry professionals throughout the 3 week summer camp. Additionally, as eliminating barriers to a quality education is part of Holberton’s overall mission, we are proud to say we will be offering this program to campers free of charge. Providing high quality tech education is the goal, and we believe that this summer coding camp is one of the first steps to exposing these teens to a viable future. Apply here!

Mentor Mania

Holberton’s curriculum is unique in the way that it’s continually iterating based upon feedback from mentors and industry trends. Mentors are professionals working in the Tech industry, from small companies like Gandi and Scality, up to the Facebook and Google of the world.  It is our pleasure to welcome new mentors to the Holberton family. We’re excited about the varying areas of expertise these tech professionals will be joining us with.

Without further ado, we introduce you to the newest additions to the Holberton School Mentor program…

Evelyn de Souza

Evelyn is a Data Privacy and Security Strategy leader who serves as an advisor to several startups and has been overhauling and re-institutionalizing security and privacy in the smallest to the largest organizations in order to protect user’s personal data, as part of her consultancy. She has been recognized as one of the Top 10 Women in Cloud by CloudNOW and as a Silicon Valley Business Journal Woman of Influence. During a sabbatical last year, Evelyn took six months to launch a non-profit affordable housing initiative in her community which has become the launch pad for her next generation community concept.

 

Michael Kehoe

Michael is a Staff Site-Reliability Engineer (SRE) at LinkedIn working with various teams within the company to improve their operability experience. Thanks for Michael that your favorite professional social network is always up and running. Michael has experience in systems engineering from frontend proxies to backend databases. Before joining LinkedIn, Michael interned at NASA working on the PhoneSat project.

 

Paul Guermonprez

Paul is an autonomous drone software architect and drone big-data analyst for Intel. One of his projects is working with Intel clients to analyze data gathered from drones with computer vision, 3D reconstruction and deep learning using Intel Insight, Intel’s drone data solution. Another one is designing autonomous drone solutions for complex cases like indoor navigation and delivery fleets. He started as bioinformatician in human biotech for 8 years, then moved to tech to focus on high-performance computing and IoT. He is now helping Intel partners build autonomous and data driven drone solutions. In his spare time, Paul is a pedagogical consultant for higher education and is teaching Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Toulouse University in France.

 

Han Yuan

Han, the Senior Vice President of Engineering at Upwork, has joined the mentor team at Holberton School. Han has a genuine interest in alternative education models. “Knowledge pays dividends for the rest of someone’s life.” In joining the mentor team, Han hopes to help pass along the valuable knowledge he’s gained over his 19 years working in tech. To Han, mentoring can be both personally and professionally gratifying adding that Holberton School is cultivating a strong and diverse talent pool.

We are proud to offer a malleable mentor program in which mentors have the opportunity to choose what areas they want to help with as well as how often they would like to be involved. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor at Holberton, check out the info here.

Student Spotlight: Corbin Coleman

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again; the varied student body is an integral ingredient in our Holberton School’s secret sauce. We look forward to having more high school students like Corbin Coleman join the Holberton School community. I caught up with Corbin over a complimentary (and tasty!) lunch at Docker HQ to chat about his time at Holberton, his internship at Docker and how his hard work has recently paid off with a transition from intern to full time software engineer!

Corbin ringing the Job Gong @ Holberton School, signaling he landed an internship!

Corbin’s story starts like a lot of American students, he graduated high school and decided that he would attend a community college to complete his general education classes. “I was accepted to a four year university but looking at how much debt you have to go into, I thought it was ridiculous.” While community college can be a more affordable option than university, the education model is based on passive learning where instruction is mostly about theory.  Corbin was looking for a more practical education where he would learn by doing, preparing him for the industry. Holberton School was a natural choice for Corbin with its project based curriculum, and the fact that there is no upfront tuition sealed the deal for him. “I did not have to choose between quality and affordability, Holberton was offering both.”

Not unlike many 20-somethings, while attending community college Corbin was working as a server during the “in-between” time after high school. It was during this time Corbin discovered Holberton School. “My dad first introduced me to Holberton. Then he explained to me that this school was the direct opposite of everything I didn’t like about traditional education.” This was the type of program Corbin could see himself succeeding in being that Holberton’s education model follows a project based and peer learning structure.

Fast forward to the point of the internship period in Holberton’s curriculum. “One of the key elements that got me prepared for job interviewing was white boarding.” Corbin explains that the built in technical interview practice increased not only his whiteboarding skills, but his confidence.

Corbin helps the container crew @ Docker HQ!

“Beyond the technical concepts, Holberton does a great job of making it [school] feel like what work feels like.” Corbin noted that the peer based learning structure prepared him to work on the software engineering team he’s a part of now in one of San Francisco hottest startup, Docker. “I learned how to communicate with people that didn’t come from the same background as me.” We’re increasingly seeing the trend in Silicon Valley of skills, not (necessarily) degrees. The soft skills we bolster at Holberton School bring that phrase to life and Corbin is here to prove it.

Corbin’s seamless move from high schooler, to server, to Holberton School student may show an unconventional path but he seems satisfied with his ultimate decision. “Because the way Holberton is run, and the way the curriculum is written I now have a skill set available of being able to teach myself new concepts.”

Mentor Spotlight: Ayesha, Senior UX Engineer at Salesforce

Holberton School’s curriculum places emphasis on mentor relationships. We have mentors spanning various verticals across the tech industry–from Senior Software Engineer, Ludovic Galibert at Netflix to Neha Jain a Software Engineer at LinkedIn. These mentorships are a win-win for industry veterans in many ways. For Ayesha Mazumdar, a Senior UX Engineer at Salesforce, mentoring has been a constant ever since her high school years. Opportunities to mentor has meant personal growth and, in turn, advancement in her career.

Ayesha (pictured here furthest to the left) poses with Holberton students after a tour and an animation workshop @ Salesforce

Ayesha started a Computer Science Club when she was in high school whose mission was to visit local middle schools and begin teaching students the coding basics. Her passion for mentoring continued throughout her college career, working towards a similar goal. After graduating, Ayesha was eager to get connected with her next mentoring relationship when Holberton School sparked her interest stating “the whole Holberton School system really resonated with me…” She explained to me she was drawn to the practical nature of the curriculum and wanted to help impact the next generation of software engineers.

This was Ayesha’s first time mentoring adults. “It helped me get a different sense of what it’s like to mentor your peers.” She goes on to explain “the experience is mutually beneficial since I get practice explaining technical concepts to adults.” Making the point that mentoring is of equally beneficial to the mentor and mentee, Ayesha credits some of her professional growth to the skills she was able to learn and refine through her participation in Holberton’s mentor program. “All the projects I see in the Holberton curriculum help to give me a sense of technology I should be keeping up with.”

Ayesha participating in a prospective student Q&A @ Holberton School

We chatted about what skills Ayesha relies on to do her job most efficiently, and it’s no coincidence the skills she highlights are paramount in Holberton’s curriculum. “Communication, definitely! You have to be able to communicate well with your technical and non-technical peers. Being comfortable speaking in front of a group of your peers is also super important.” Communication and public speaking practice are two hallmarks of our program.

Ayesha has a few words of wisdom for the aspiring mentor “One of the great parts about mentoring is seeing that each person has a very different perspective on how certain things work depending upon how they were brought up in the industry–I think that if someone wants to be a mentor they should remember that they can bring value to at least one person.” Ayesha’s even if it helps just one person it was worth it mindset is an asset to our mentoring program. It’s no surprise she’s experiencing success in the form of upward mobility in the Salesforce organization. We look forward to our continued relationship with Ayesha and commend her for all of her mentoring service. If you’re interested in becoming a mentor check out the info here!

We Get By With A Little Help From Our Friends

One of Holberton’s goals is to eliminate barriers to high-quality education. On top of having a no upfront tuition approach, we are going further with fundraising to help our students in need pay for living expenses. Holberton was invited to the Annual Top Women in Cloud Innovation Awards event hosted this year at Google where four students were awarded with Cost-of-Living Scholarships.

We’ve had the pleasure of teaming up with Google, Scality, and Accenture with this goal in mind. The total cost of living in San Francisco is 62.2% higher than the national average. When you take a look at the cost of housing in the San Francisco area — it’s about three times more than other cities in the U.S. Each of these organizations has helped alleviate the city’s cost of living for the four scholarship recipients. This initial round of scholarships were organized by CloudNOW’s facilitation of the fundraising. The CloudNOW STEM Scholarships are funded by Accenture, Google and were first announced in September, as a way to help students to pay for living expenses while attending Holberton.

Holberton believes that the cost-of-living should not hinder a student’s ability to attend the school and focus on their studies. “Holberton gave me another path after my goals were no longer served by traditional education, despite leaving me with a mountain of debt,” said Kristen Loyd, 26, of Brentwood, CA. Loyd is a former account relationship manager at an investment firm. “My only challenge was making ends meet until I could find a job and now Accenture has stepped in and relieved me of a great burden, for which I thank them.”

 

(L to R) Sylvain Kalache and Vint Cerf present Kristen Loyd with her scholarship.

(L to R) Sylvain Kalache, Vint Cerf, Tope Agboola, and Siki Giunta pose for a picture while presenting Tope with her scholarship.

Another scholarship recipient, Tope Agboola, has been juggling her time between Holberton’s intensive curriculum while maintaining a full time job. Her motivation and dedication made it a no-brainer for us to acknowledge her hard work with a bit of financial assistance.

We could not let Lindsey Hemenez’s dedication to her newfound passion go unnoticed. Lindsey was living in Elk Grove, California. Doing the math for you folks, that’s 6 hours of commuting a day. Lindsey was a rockstar at budgeting her time on the train so she was able to work on projects. The 6 hour commute soon became untenable, resulting in Lindsey having to move closer to the city. Although her commuting hours have shortened, the close proximity to the city has increased her financial stress.

New to the Holberton family, Miranda Evans is someone to keep an eye on! She’s decided to pursue a path to being a full stack software engineer via Holberton School. This decision, however, comes with it’s sacrifice of putting a pause on receiving an income in order to place her full attention on the curriculum.

All of these women strive to push the ball forward in integrating more women into the field of software engineering. With the helping hands of our corporate partners we are confident that they will find their way to success!

Shoutout to Jocelyn DeGance Graham who played an integral role in organizing not only the funding for the scholarships, but also in coordinating the Top Women In Cloud event, along with Susan Wu. We look forward to to our continued work towards the goal of eliminating barriers to high quality education.  Want to help us with training a highly qualified and diverse group of Software Engineers? Become a Corporate Partner and help by funding or recruiting our students.

Holberton School & the Three Engineers, Part 3: The Experienced

This is an ongoing series of interviews with Holberton students sharing their journey through the program. Holberton students come from many different backgrounds. These interviews are an inside look at each student’s unique journey into software engineering.

 

Mason: The Experienced, Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
Mason joined Holberton School with considerably more experience in software engineering compared with
Dora and Rona.

 

Q: How did you hear about Holberton School?

Mason: My mother’s friend from work had heard about Holberton and she knew that I was interested in some type of computer science education.

 

Q: What was your experience with computer science?

Mason: I had already been teaching myself computer science for about a full year starting with just html, css, javascript, a little bit of php, and eventually I began studying python. It was just a hobby I had gotten into on the side. I actually had a job teaching guitar.

 

Q: Did you study music in school?

Mason: I did! My bachelor’s and master’s degrees are both from music conservatories. After graduating, I had worked for 5 years as a professional musician. My primary income came from teaching, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much as the performing I also did, and I figured if I could replace my teaching day job with work as a software engineer then that would be ideal, especially since my interest in that field had already grown so much. Conveniently, San Francisco is a great city to be employed in that kind of work and also offers several educational opportunities for that type of position. I also thought that this career would allow me to maintain the performance side of my music career, which is still very dear to me.

 

Q: Why were you drawn to computer science?
Mason: I was drawn to computer science because the kinds of problems that you solve as a software engineer are actually really, really similar to the problems you solve as a music performer. People tend to think of music as a very right-brain, creative sort of activity and they think of software engineering as a left-brain analytical activity but the truth is that both… are both! I started out teaching myself online. That’s where I first learned about HTML, CSS… just what I needed to know to build a very simple static website.

 

Q: What was the reaction from your friends and family when you made this unexpected career pivot?

Mason: My father is a musician and my mother and my brother are both engineers. My mom is a software engineer and my brother is an electrical engineer. My other brother is a mathematician…so there’s a lot of music, math, and engineering in my family and none of them were terribly surprised, although I think my parents were a little concerned that I was letting go of music. My friends, especially the other members of my ensemble, were especially concerned about disbanding. I just had to explain to them that I was looking to replace the teaching portion of my music, not the performance aspect.

 

Q: Do you think that you’ve been able to maintain a balance between your music and your new career?

Mason: Perhaps these careers are easily balanced by everyone, or I may just be especially lucky that I have been able to keep a balance between the two. My manager I has brought up that it’s really important to her that I’m able to keep a balance between my music and my software careers, and I am very grateful for that.

 

Q: Do you think Holberton was able to dive deeper into languages you had previous experience with?

Mason: There was definitely a lot of validation. When you’re learning stuff all on your own, you don’t know how accurate the information is. Until you’re learning from and talking to industry professionals. Being able to communicate well with other students and mentors was validating in itself. I think that’s one of the strongest aspects of Holberton, and the mentor side of the program really strengthens that. It’s a curriculum that’s very adaptable. There are so many opportunities to go beyond the minimum requirements of an assignment. I tried to do every assignment and optional assignments. I liked that flexibility, and it absolutely enabled me to deepen my previously superficial comp-sci knowledge.

 

Q: Tell me a little about your experience with Holberton School mentor program.

Mason: The biggest benefit I got from the mentor program during my first year was the coordinated events: the fireside chats, and the workshops. Hearing professionals talk about technical knowledge helped me think about technology in a different way. To develop fluency in any field you really need to be immersed around other experts, adopt their language, and to an extent adopt the way they think about the subject. The mentor program facilitates that very well.

 

 

Q: What is your role at Docker?

Mason: I am a full-stack software engineer on the Distribution Services team at Docker, Inc. I help build and maintain the SaaS-related back-end services that enable users to use the Docker platform. I also work on the front-end of the Docker Store.