Hack Reactor has a talented Career Services team across the nation dedicated to the success of our students and we’re thrilled to share their stories and perspectives. We sat down with Kisha Adams, Career Services Manager at our campus in Los Angeles, to talk about her background in college success programs, her inspiration to help people navigate life stage transitions, and her advice for students taking a Software Engineering bootcamp.
What was your background before coming to Hack Reactor?
Prior to Hack Reactor, I started in college access and success. I worked with a nonprofit under Coca Cola enterprises, and my main focus was on helping high school students find the right fit when it came to college and expose them to leadership development skills. This was for students who were in under-resourced, low-income communities who had high potential. I did that for a couple of years.
From there, I transitioned into a college persistence team and my primary role was keeping students in college once they got there. There was this concept of “summer melt,” where students that were accepted to college weren’t making it to their second year. I was identifying issues, challenges, red flags, and checking in with students to support them during that process. One of my primary focuses was helping students once they became Juniors and seniors: I helped them figure out a career path, find their foundational first career, and then connected them to career services at their college campuses. I worked with 30 colleges across the united states.
Once I got to that part of my career, it ignited a spark in me: we have college access and success programs, but where is that other aspect of supporting students once they graduated college? Where are they going, and how are we supporting these students? That's what got me into professional development training. From there, I transitioned into a different aspect of education. I was working with hundreds of students and not all of them wanted to go the traditional route (nor did I feel like it would be a great fit for them), but we kept advocating this idea that there’s a certain way of going through life and being educated.
I realized there was a stigma about alternative ways of education: vocational schools and other programs had a negative stigma in higher education and college success programs. I wanted to see it for myself, versus what I was hearing.
After that, I worked for a medical school where they had degree and diploma programs. It gave me great insights: I was able to see there are great alternative ways of learning that can get people in meaningful employment and support them throughout the process. In that role, I created the professional development training curriculum and helped students get ready for their internship opportunities, interviews, and helped make sure they had important documentation in order for them to transition into a job.
After being exposed to alternative ways of learning, that's what got me into the concept of Hack Reactor.
What inspired you to join the Hack Reactor career services team?
Once I actually went to this alternative way of learning, I loved what I was doing but I was overseeing an entire school, which was 500+ students. That became very taxing because every person has a different need and I wanted to do specialized advising for everyone. I would identify challenges with individual students but didn't have the bandwidth to do it.
I was looking for a way to do something similar with more one-on-one support, so when I saw the concept of immersive programs at Hack Reactor, it was great because I got the best of all worlds: I’m able to go into the classroom setting and give students these workshops and sessions, allowing them to grow in a group, but I’m also able to do one-on-one training to provide specialized support throughout the process.
I loved that Hack Reactor incorporated career services into the curriculum. In so many rooms of academia, we have career services programs, but many students don't utilize the programs even though it’s part of the package they pay for. Incorporating career services into the curriculum allows students to understand the importance of career services and see that they have a support system that's going to be invested in them. Our career services program doesn’t see students as a number but sees them as an individual trying to find meaningful employment.
What is the biggest difference between working with students in traditional academia versus working with students at a coding bootcamp?
What's interesting is that there are only slight differences, because we're pulling from the same pool of people who want education. The difference is the way they want to be educated or where they are in their life. Especially at the L.A. campus, we tend to have individuals who already have degrees and have already been in certain fields before they just realized “this is not what I want to do.”
The majority of our students come into the program and know what they want to do; this is not just a pit stop. They know they want to be in tech, want to be a coder in a certain capacity, and know that they're going to utilize a specific skill in their future careers. They may transition to front-end, back-end, or full-stack- or they might even go into a PM role- but no matter what, they're still going to be utilizing the foundation that they learned at Hack Reactor.
What originally inspired you to go into career services and other professional development roles?
I realized that I was really good at assisting people during their transitional phases and had this epiphany: Before going into career services, I was always working in some in-between state: middle school to high school, high school to college, and college to career. I was looking at the different aspects of those transitional programs and realized that, when it comes to career access and understanding how to navigate the job search, there’s not that much assistance there. If the assistance is there, it's more of a “you come to me” type of mentality.
I loved the idea of being able to share tools and tricks that can help students be successful- I get to help them form a foundation as they’re navigating the job search process.
What are the top 3 qualities you see in a student that sets them up for post-grad success?
The first one is self-awareness: that is super important. As students navigate the program and navigate the job search process, they have to really understand themselves, their strengths, and the challenges they may face.
If students are self-aware, then they are able to put themselves in a new perspective when people are giving them feedback, whether it's positive feedback or suggestions for growth. I see self-awareness being really really important in that process, because as a current coach, I can assist them in identifying some of their challenges and they can come to me when they face challenges in the job search.
The second is grit: students have to have the grit to push through the process and know that it may take a month (or even six months), but students are going to get there. They just have to push through that process and understand it will be tough.
The last thing is having a certain level of vulnerability and trust. I think that's tied in, because when I’m working with someone who is going through a certain transition in their life, it is a vulnerable state. People are going to deal with anxiety and stress, and they’re going to have questions because there’s that fear of the unknown. I can be most successful as a career coach when someone is willing to have those conversations outside of general job search topics.
A few examples of these include:
“I'm feeling stressed right now.”
“I want to give up because I'm not seeing the opportunities.”
“Today was a bad day in my job search.”
“I really feel horrible because the interview didn't go as well.”
With conversations like these, I’m able to go beyond surface-level and build rapport to help them grow throughout that process. When students are able to be vulnerable and identify certain growth points in themselves, I’m able to get them over the hurdle faster.
What advice would you give to someone looking for their first professional job?
Students should sit down and think about what they want to get from their first foundational career because it is their foundation: the first job is what's going to help them make the moves they want in the future. It may not be the perfect job but there are certain skills that you may want to learn or enhance, so students have to think about that.
For our graduates, I also tell them not to just stay in the silo of the technical ability: students have to think about how they want to grow as a professional and how they want to grow from a behavioral perspective. If students can make a list of the things that they want to grow in from a technical and behavioral perspective, that's going to make them most successful. When students look for jobs, they can cross-reference job opportunities with the list and check things off as they're going through the phone screenings, coding challenges, and on-site interviews. If the opportunity checks off a good percentage of the list, then they can know it's going to be a great opportunity.
For more information about Hack Reactor’s Software Engineering Immersive program and the talented folks who teach it, please click here. To learn more about Kisha and the rest of our team in Los Angeles, please click here.