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From photography to software engineering: One grad’s advice on changing careers and finding success

Hack Reactor

Grace Lindelien Alumni Story

Grace Lindelien has a professional background that might seem, at least at first glance, totally unrelated to software engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree in commercial photography and ran her own photography business for nearly a decade. But there are similarities between the two fields, she told us during a recent interview. 

“Photography is both a technical and creative skill, and I think software engineering also requires both skills,” she said.

To learn more about her views on non-traditional career shifts, her new role as a Software Engineer at HOVER, and her robust advice on how to make the most of your time in the bootcamp and afterward, read the full Q&A below. 

Grace graduated from our 12-week Online Immersive program, but much of her insight and advice can apply to students of any of our programs, including our part-time 36-week Immersive as well as our new 19-week Immersive.  

How did you become interested in software engineering? What do you like about it? 

My parents studied computer science and engineering in college, and my partner is also currently a senior software engineer. I built a few simple websites as a teenager and always enjoyed the process of seeing those come to life, so software engineering has always been an interest on my radar. I’m a huge fan of jigsaw puzzles, and in code, solving problems often feels like putting in those last few puzzle pieces. It’s a very satisfying feeling.


What led you to the Hack Reactor program?

Before Hack Reactor, I ran a photography business that was mainly focused on events and weddings, and therefore, the work tended to be seasonal. During the slow season in January 2020, I decided to start learning basic JavaScript on my own through Khan Academy and Codecademy, but quickly realized I would benefit from more advanced training if I wanted this to be a career.

A friend of mine is also a Hack Reactor alum and recommended the program. When the pandemic hit in Spring 2020, I decided to take the plunge. My photography business was on pause due to event cancelations, and I had looked into several bootcamps and Hack Reactor stood out to me as one that held its students to a high standard. I wanted to challenge myself so that I would gain a quality education and be in a good position to be applying for jobs after graduation.


What are some highlights of your time in the Hack Reactor program? What did you get out of the program?

I enjoyed the senior phase of the program the most. The junior phase is fast-paced, intense, and like a firehose of information. [Editor’s note: the 12-week immersive program is divided into a Jr. Phase and Sr. Phase. Please read more about the program breakdown on the course page here.]As someone with very little computer science or coding background, it was very challenging, but so worth it. The best part was finally being able to, in the senior project phase, apply what I had learned in the first half of the program. It was rewarding and fun to see projects come to life and be able to collaborate with other students on my team.

Do you have any advice for someone looking into this immersive program? How can they get the most out of their experience? 

If I could go back and change anything about my journey, I would have spent more time self-teaching computer science concepts and basic JavaScript prior to applying. However, this is in part because I really had no prior development experience beyond basic HTML/CSS, and I think I would have benefited from studying online resources for ~6 months instead of the ~2 months I did. Learning more of the fundamentals ahead of time would have given me a leg up during the junior phase. This advice probably doesn’t apply to someone who already has a bit of knowledge or prior experience.

I can also offer a few pieces of general advice for anyone considering the program. I think a couple of the biggest potential pitfalls are burnout and imposter syndrome. 

To avoid burnout, take breaks during blocks of coding time, even if for 5-10 minutes. Prep meals ahead of time, or make sure you have a support system of people who will help with meals, chores, or other responsibilities in your life. Clear your schedule for these months, and make sure the people in your life know you won’t be around as much temporarily. The schedule is intense, and the great part about it is how much you learn in such a short time. The program is six days a week, every week. Do your best to not study on Sunday, as it’s important to take mental breaks.

As for imposter syndrome, it’s easy to experience this when you’re faced with new complex knowledge on a daily (if not hourly) basis. Some people start the program with more experience than others. Only compare your knowledge and skills with the knowledge and skills you had yesterday, or last week - and never compare them to others. Ask questions early and often, even if you’re worried it’s a dumb question (it’s probably not).

My last piece of advice is in regards to job searching and interviewing. I spent three months as a resident with Hack Reactor after graduation. I worked on the Outcomes team and my job was to help students practice technical interviews. I would estimate that at least 75%+ of the students I worked with expressed nervousness and anxiety during those interviews. As you start to focus more on job search skills during the senior phase, please take advantage of these practice sessions! Especially if you find yourself disliking the practice interviews or feeling anxiety and nerves, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone as often and early as possible. Get as comfortable with interviewing during the program as you can, instead of doing it during your actual job search!

Congrats on your full-time job at HOVER! Can you describe what you do there? 

Thank you! Despite receiving full-time offers for two other companies around the same time, I accepted an offer from HOVER to join their three-month summer internship program for a few reasons: I was most excited about the HOVER product and company as a whole, the internship seemed like an excellent first career step and learning opportunity, and the overall offer details between all three companies were otherwise pretty similar.

For context, HOVER offers 3D modeling and measurements services to homeowners, contractors, and insurance companies. Homeowners can upload photos of the outside of their home, and HOVER generates a 3D model with exact measurements of the roof, siding, and more. This can be used for renovations or repairs and makes the process so much easier (compared to getting up on a ladder and measuring by hand). From there, users can also use those measurements to submit direct orders to material distributors to get the job done with the right amount of materials. So far, I have mostly been contributing to the team in charge of estimation and ordering.

I knew from the beginning that my chances of joining the company full-time after the internship were up in the air, so I worked hard to make a good impression during the summer. I worked as a frontend engineering intern contributing to HOVER’s internal React component library, which embraces a standardized design system to implement reusable UI components for other developers across the company to use in their applications. I acted as a liaison between teams to communicate what components were current priorities to build and how engineers should be able to customize them for various use cases.

After finishing the internship program, I went on to accept an offer for a full-time position as a Software Engineer with HOVER and am currently contributing to new features and product maintenance for the same team I was with during the internship. Next year, there are plans to transition to a new team where I will be helping with other new features and priorities for 2022-2023, including making it easier for homeowners to collaborate with contractors by making virtual changes to the appearance of their home in the app before deciding which materials to order. The majority of my work is still currently frontend, but more and more opportunities have been popping up to collaborate with backend engineers and expand to full-stack work, which I’m looking forward to.

What are some things you enjoy about your job? What are some challenges you’ve faced so far?

First and foremost, HOVER curates a company culture which I found very attractive. There are many fully remote roles at the company across many time zones, so people tend to start and end their day at whatever time works best for the individual (while making sure to at least attend relevant meetings on time, of course). HOVER offers unlimited PTO (with a required minimum) and a wide range of benefits for physical health, mental wellbeing, and more. Work/life balance has always been important to me, and the culture here allows me the time and space to live and enjoy my life and come back refreshed and with a sharp, creative mindset.

Just as importantly, I love my team! Everyone is very collaborative and supportive, and quick to pair up to solve complex problems and challenge assumptions. I learn something new from my team every day, and that’s one of my favorite aspects of being a part of this industry.

I suppose the biggest challenge so far has been entirely of an expected nature. Hack Reactor offered a deep level of technical knowledge and training, but at the end of the day, this is my first tech job and my first time truly experiencing what it’s like to become familiar with a much larger, legacy codebase - or at least familiar enough to start contributing. When you start contributing to an existing product, there’s a steep learning curve that I’ve found starts to level out with time and practice.

You mentioned your former photography business, and it looks like you studied photography before that. Is there anything you learned in that field that you can use in your new role as a software engineer? Any sort of overlap? 

Absolutely! I have a bachelor’s degree in commercial photography and ran my own business for almost a decade before changing careers. Photography is both a technical and creative skill, and I think software engineering also requires both skills. Being able to read documentation and learn how to use technical tools quickly is a huge part of being successful in an engineering role.

Aside from technical skills, an essential part of interviewing well, getting to an offer, and continuing to be proficient in day-to-day work are soft skills. The professors at the college I attended for photography pushed us to embrace traits like professionalism, accountability, taking ownership of one’s own work, holding ourselves to high standards creatively, and so much more. These traits make a huge impact in any professional setting because they build trust and respect between myself and my coworkers.

As a business owner and photographer, I’ve learned quite a bit about reading body language and interpreting how others might be feeling, the importance of listening without interrupting, and communicating in ways that help put others at ease. I’ve encountered a wide range of personality types in the tech industry, and being able to relate and connect to every type of person has helped me build quality relationships with others in the company.

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Interested in applying to one of our software engineering bootcamp? In this blog post, we outline the similarities and differences between each of our programs.