Holberton School & the Three Engineers, Part 2: The Intermediate

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.

 

Rona: The Intermediate, This Could Be a Great Opportunity
Rona comes to Holberton School with a bit more insight into the tech industry than perhaps someone like Dora. Coding had been a hobby of Rona’s younger self, having played around with html and CSS.

Q: How did you find out about Holberton?

Rona: I actually heard of Holberton through word of mouth, from my sister. She knew they were just starting up and she had seen their TechCrunch article. She came back to me and suggested that I apply. There were a few reasons for that, but mainly because I was unemployed and I was still figuring out what my next steps were. When my sister and, in turn, myself, heard  that it was free, it was two years long, and that they had this big, almost radical vision about what they wanted to do and how they wanted to rethink education, specifically educating people for tech careers  it just seemed cool. It seemed hard to turn down.

 

Q: Tell me a bit about the application process.

Rona: It wasn’t that painful. It was a series of challenges to find information. There were two types: going out and finding the information to solve a problem and then sharing information about yourself. I think the biggest part was [building] the website. I remember thinking this is a promising area to go into, because I got really into the project. I took a course for intro to programming when I was in college and it went alright… I managed to learn whatever they were trying to teach me but I wasn’t sure if that meant I was good at coding or I just took a college class.

 

Q: What are the main differences between the previous course you took and Holberton?

Rona: The main difference is that the instructor would walk us through the whole approach from the beginning and you kind of watch and see ‘ohhh, that’s how you do it’ and barely keep up with their problem solving approach… then later when you get to the problem step, you apply that yourself… which is very different from the Holberton style. It worked but I’d have to say that watching someone solve it for you made me insecure around whether I’d be able to come up with the pieces to solve the problem on my own.

 

Q: How does Holberton have you approach a problem

Rona: At Holberton it’s a lot more of an intimate process where it’s you, and the problem, and your peers … I’ve really enjoyed having a lot of freedom in approaching every problem myself. Basically they say ‘this is what we want to see at the end’ and you have to work on the problem from there.

 

Q: When you were applying what was the mood amongst your family and friends?

Rona: We mostly discussed with my mom. We weren’t sure how she would take it since there were no previous students [Batch 0]. She wondered if I was going to be able to get a job. We had to convince her it was the right decision.

 

Q: How did you convince her?

Rona: We just talked about the people who were founding the school, and our brother was in the tech industry so I think we were also relying a bit on knowing that people went into tech that were just self taught and managed to have very good careers. She started off at ‘oh, I don’t know if this is right’ but now she’s happy we did it.

Q: What were you doing at Dropbox?

Rona: I was there under their apprenticeship for SRE so I was embedded in their databases team. I had one real big project in the beginning. It was cool because I got to walk through all of the steps- thinking through how to code, to deployment, then monitoring, and patching when necessary.

 

Q: Walking into Dropbox did you feel confident with your skillset?

Rona: I felt pretty confident. I would almost say I had some hubris because at Holberton we break things down all the time, making me feel like I’m going to do great but, walking into Dropbox I realized the depth of technical knowledge that can be had and how people have an expertise after being in the field for 5-10 years it kind of reset my thinking to realizing there is so much room to grow which is both intimidating and cool. I do think Holberton put me in a good place to tackle the challenges that came, though.

Holberton School & the Three Engineers, Part 1: The Novice

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.


Dora: The Novice, Could This Be For Real?
A graduate from a typical four year university with a degree in biology, Dora came to the realization that she no longer wanted to pursue a career in her field. Dora chose to cut her losses, and dive into learning how to code. The bet she made on herself has paid off in a big way, landing a full time software engineering position with Scality.

 

Q: What were the different options you had after you graduated?

Dora: TJ’s was the first job that sprang up and I just kept it because it was convenient because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. The idea of going to grad school crossed my mind, or even doing another undergrad but it’s just way too much money that I didn’t have. I was fortunate enough to come out of undergrad without any debt and I didn’t want to take any on. It took something like Holberton to help me narrow down my options.

 

Q: Tell me how you heard about Holberton School.

Dora: My friend was having a party and I started talking to this guy that I haven’t seen in years. I asked him what he’s doing now and he said ‘I work at Apple’. I thought he meant in retail… This guy was a philosophy and German double major how did [he] start coding? He told me he learned through online bootcamps. I didn’t even know you could do that! The next day I updated my phone, downloaded the news app and actually saw an article about Holberton School.

 

Q: Tell me about the application process.

Dora: I started getting positive feedback from Julien and Sylvain and I was like woah, this is amazing. I got to the third round; the interview process, and it just so happened I was going to be in San Francisco for Thanksgiving, so I did an onsite interview at the school before anything was set up which was really nice to be able to see the space and everything. They asked me all types of questions like ‘why do you want to be a software engineer’.

 

Q: Walk me through the realization of being accepted and actually moving here.

Dora: I think it took about two weeks of me actually being here for it to set in that this is actually now my life. It did not sink in at all while I was in Minnesota still preparing. My friends all thought I was doing something crazy, but my family was really supportive. Then, about a week before school was about to start I packed everything in my car and headed out here [San Francisco].

 

Q: When was your ah-ha moment, when did you know you had made the right decision with Holberton?

Dora: I remember feeling super accomplished after our hexadecimal table project … since it was more of a logical or algorithmic problem we had to figure out, just gradually building on all of that – I think the pace was good for me. I would struggle just enough but be able to break through and figure it out.

 

Q: Why do you think Holberton is successful in training quality software engineers?

Dora: I think the project based learning style is for me… and apparently other people. It’s so much more efficient than sitting through a lecture. The peer learning obviously is huge. Being able to explain something to somebody is one of the best markers that you actually know it and being able to do that on a regular basis is great practice. The mentors are invaluable and it’s great to get to interact with people who are actually in the industry. Holberton is very reflective of the industry itself; all of that is how you’re going to really be working.

 

Q: Tell me about what you’re doing in your role at Scality?

Dora: We do large scale data storage and I work on the software engineering team. I work on integrating different clouds to communicate with the API. I’m working to match Zenko (Scality’s open source project) to the backend of the cloud.

Upwork CEO Marks Newest Addition to Holberton School’s Board of Trustees

We are excited to be welcoming Stephane Kasriel, Upwork CEO, to the Holberton family as he joins the Board of Trustees. Upwork is the world’s largest freelancing website. Stephane is also the co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s council on the future of education, gender and work.

Stephane’s work with the World Economic Forum gives him perspective when evaluating the state of education today. He recognizes that education is both one of the biggest challenges and one of the biggest opportunities of our time. “It can be a huge source of inequality, or done well, a great equalizer- the true American dream.” The old adage of coming up with a solution and not just a problem applies here. Kasriel believes Holberton could be the solution.

“Holberton has a real shot at building a true alternative to the traditional college degree. One that prepares students for the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.”

Stephane likens Holberton’s project based learning structure to what real life is like. Detailing his own experiences in a traditional education. He notes that while many of the theoretical lessons he learned were interesting, little of it ended up being useful in his day-to-day developer life. “Traditional programs teach Computer Science whereas Holberton teaches Software Engineering. And guess what, the world needs a lot more of the latter than it needs of the former!”

Holberton’s affordability, and above all, quality are two of the factors that attracted Stephane to get involved. “Holberton trains students for what the industry really needs and teaches them not just the science but the art of development, something that most people otherwise learn on the job or through their own open source community involvement.” This practical approach gives students an understanding at what a day-in-the-life of an actual developer is like.

Stephane’s vision for Holberton is to build a truly scalable education system. “In the U.S. alone, we need to train millions of software developers. And if you start looking at regions like Africa, where where there will be a billion more adults by 2040, and where they’re missing at least 25 million teachers, you realize that there is a huge opportunity for Holberton to have a giant impact on society.” We’re glad to have Stephane on the team and look forward to continuing the work of bringing quality tech education to the most.

Courageous Coding

Last night we were joined by Batch 2 rockstars, Naomi Sorrell and Kristen Loyd, who shared their secrets to maintaining success within the Holberton program with their pro tips and advice. In other words: it got real! The pair of students understand that there are many emotions and moods that come along with the fast paced nature of this program, and recognize that the struggle and the hard work make the learning much more gratifying.

They focused on ways to manage the course load with a few strategies that each student can mold into their own. The main strategies were broken down into six categories or themes:

  1. Assessing the situation
  2. Whiteboarding
  3. Time Management
  4. Communication
  5. Self Care
  6. Support Network

To highlight a few golden nuggets of wisdom, let’s focus on a few of these. Whiteboarding is something that Kristen and Naomi take seriously! The two regaled us with an anecdote of a four day project they were given of which they spent three of those days solely whiteboarding the code for understanding. This was the main point of the two aspiring engineers. They both agree that whiteboarding helps them fully understand the code they’re going to push out before they jump right to their computers. Check out Kristen walking us through a problem here.

Time management is something that so obvious that many forget to budget their time. Naomi suggests using timers to keep yourself on task. She explains the feeling of frustration from working a problem and getting the same error over and over. However, with a timer you can measure your progress. She suggests picking a length of time that feels comfortable for you and once you hit 20, 30, or even 40 minutes the timer will go off and signal to you that you should reach out and ask someone for help.

Building and embracing a strong support network seems to be the secret sauce. Both Naomi and Kristen emphasize the strong community aspect at Holberton as an underlying catalyst for their success. Actions as simple as understanding when your partner needs to take a walk around the block, grabbing a quick sweet treat, or even just asking a classmate for help all aid in creating the strong bonds we see between the students.


When following up with Naomi and Kristen they shared some final thoughts with me that seem to sum up the culture and environment Holberton prides itself on. In their own words:

“Grateful for such an engaged community that is always cooperatively exploring ways to grow as future engineers and empathetic humans.” – Naomi Sorrell

“Energized by the amount of conversation it sparked during and after the workshop; we are continuing to create a supportive community where we grow as individuals and take ownership of our education and goals.” – Kristen Loyd

Chat with Naomi about all things tech & community on Twitter and LinkedIn
Kristen loves to talk tech & whiteboarding on Twitter and LinkedIn