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Software engineer Jason Wesson on his new career and why he values mentorship

Hack Reactor

Alumni Story Jason Wesson

We recently caught up with Jason Wesson, a graduate of our 12-Week Online Software Engineering Bootcamp. In the Q&A below, read how Jason made his way from teaching science to being a Software Engineer at Code for America, an organization built to address the widening gap between the public and private sectors in their effective use of technology and design.

Learn about his current role, the major project he's working on, and the direct line he sees between his former career and his current one (including how teaching and mentorship are always going to be a focus for him, no matter his role).

I’d like to start by getting a sense of how you found your way to software engineering. What drew you to this type of work? And what keeps you interested?

Prior to software engineering, I was a middle school science teacher in east Austin. One year, I decided to host a coding club for my students, and that was my first introduction to programming. I had no idea what I was doing, and thankfully my students were able to quickly pick up the language. After resigning from teaching, I kept looking back on the time I spent pairing up with students to learn how to code, and so I decided to become a software engineer. 

Now that I'm a software engineer at Code for America, I've found that my motivation stems from my team and users relying on me to help keep our product running and constantly improving. This has led to me exploring new technologies every week, studying the languages I'm working with, and volunteering for roles that need to be filled. 

What led you to enroll in the Hack Reactor program? 

My former roommate, actually! Kela was going through Hack Reactor's bootcamp during the time I was teaching. Given that I saw Kela holed up in her room for several months, I knew that "immersive" was a key component of this 12-week program. Additionally, I was drawn toward the Telegraph Track program, which I knew I wanted to take advantage of it I was accepted into the program.

What did you get out of your time in the bootcamp? 

I think one of the most important aspects of the program, which is a core component of what I do at work every day, is pair programming. The first four weeks of the immersive that are dedicated to pair programming helped me keep moving forward and also helped me overcome my imposter syndrome. Everyone knows something that others don't, which is why paired programming is much more effective than working individually. With that in mind, I've found pair programming's philosophy to be applicable in most other things in my life, and I don't think I would've appreciated it as much if it weren't for experiencing it at Hack Reactor. 

Congrats on your new job at Code for America! What is your role there? What do you do on a daily basis?

Thank you! I'm a software engineer for a product called GetCalFresh, which is a Rails application that helps Californians apply for access to nutritional assistance (SNAP/EBT). Our product was a response to the fact that California's forms usually took an hour to fill out and the applicant was constantly coming across confusing language and repetitive questions. The app that we maintain reduces the number of questions by a significant margin and it can be completed in 12 minutes. 

On a daily basis, I'm still learning Ruby and Rails, but I spend some portion of the day pairing with another software engineer and working on features and bugs. I also attend cross-functional meetings and sit in on conversations with California officials that help determine the focus of our product. 

What do you like about your role? What challenges have you faced so far?

I like having a ton of support to take my time with learning everything. I have the tools that Hack Reactor helped me acquire so that I can learn on my own. On the other hand, I'm still experiencing moments of imposter syndrome, which especially comes up when I'm pairing with another software engineer and I feel like I'm barely holding onto what we're working on. 

The remote work lifestyle has its benefits and downsides, for sure. I think that if it weren't for paired programming being a core practice at Code for America, I would've looked for an on-site role so that I could easily reach out to others for help. Being remote gives me the opportunity to work from home while I look after my dog, and it means I'm not tied to the city that I'm currently living in, which means a lot to me. 

On your LinkedIn page, you write about your experience teaching and how you love it still today, even as you pursue a new career in software engineering. Do you see opportunities to continue connecting and teaching others in your new role? 

Oh, absolutely! Given the number of cross-functional meetings I have every week, I know that it's important to be able to present technical information to others in a way that they can digest and learn from. Plus, when I finally get the hang of my role in the team, I'll likely be mentoring others coming into the team, which I've found has scratched the "teacher" itch that I always have on my back. 

And on the side, I still mentor people who are trying to get into Hack Reactor by hosting weekly meetings and occasionally watching them complete coding challenges on their own. It's something I've been doing since early last year, and I don't have any plans to stop helping those who come from a non-technical background in switching careers. 

Lastly, do you have any advice for someone who’s about to step into their first day of the bootcamp? How can they get the most out of their experience? 

If it's your first day at the bootcamp, then I highly recommend you try to reach out to people in your cohort over the course of the first two weeks. Pop into random people's Zoom rooms, ask what they're working on (and never give unsolicited advice!). You're about to be with these people for the next three months. You'll effectively log more hours with them than their own families will have in that time span. 

By breaking down the barriers from the very beginning, you're more likely to survive the bootcamp, and your colleagues are as well. In the end, when you're all graduated, you'll be able to rely on each other again when the job hunt begins. You should never have to go through this life-changing experience alone, especially if you're doing it through Hack Reactor.   


Want to read another alumni story? Learn about Grace Lindelien's journey from photographer and small business owner to software engineer.