We asked some of our software engineering alumni to share their learning journey going through our bootcamp and their experience since graduating.
In this blog, we're catching up with Chris and Uma Abrami, a married couple who supported one another through our Software Engineering Immersive. Chris originally graduated from our course in 2017, followed by Uma, who took the course and graduated in 2019. Below, we asked them about their experience going through the Software Engineering Immersive and how they both supported one another during the course.
What were your backgrounds before you came to Hack Reactor, and what inspired you to learn to code?
Tech was not my first job, or even my first career. I came from a background in management consulting and also worked for several years as a performing musician.
During my management consulting career, I was an ‘Excel jockey’ working with complex spreadsheets, pivot tables, and the like. I started programming looking initially to build out my skill set as an analyst, which involved learning SQL, R, Looker (etc.).
Before Hack Reactor, I had two main careers as a voice teacher and opera singer, and a program associate in a STEM department in an Education Research company in the SF bay area. My father was a programmer back when computers were coming out, but I didn’t consider it for myself until I saw a colleague of mine leave the research company to do a coding bootcamp and make the transition to become a software developer.
Shortly after that, Chris did Hack Reactor remote, which gave me more perspective on what a coding bootcamp might be like. I shared my growing interest with Chris, and he really encouraged me to take one of the introductory courses at Hack Reactor. Once I got a taste of coding, I was hooked! I really enjoy problem-solving and learning new things, so coding was a good fit for me. I find coding to be a highly creative and rewarding endeavor, and similar to music in many ways.
How did you two originally meet?
We met at Church. She was leading the choir. At the time, I was doing a lot of live performing and found out she taught voice lessons. So I sought her out as a voice teacher, and we got to know each other that way. Fast forward nine months, and we were in a relationship.
I was leading the congregation in song and directing the choir of a spiritual center, and Chris happened to come to service one day. At the time, Chris was a professional dueling piano player at a prominent club in San Francisco. Instead of asking me out, he asked for voice lessons! We connected through music, but also became friends and got to know each other socially... and the rest is history. :)
How did you two support one another while each of you went through the bootcamp? Did you two do anything differently when Uma went through the program after Chris?
I heard the saying when going through the immersive that ‘it takes a village to raise a Hack Reactor graduate,' So we each worked pretty ceaselessly to ‘clear the runway’ for the other person as each of us went through. When Uma went through, I did all of the cooking/cleaning/errands and the like, and she did the same for me. We also supported maintaining a regular sleep schedule, which I found to be very important.
One thing that I informed her of from my experience was the value of doing the remote program. We both went through prior to COVID-19, when it was possible to do the on-site immersive. Personally, I felt remote to be better for my situation as it gave me an hour or two of additional time back per day to work, and I felt that it removed as many uncontrollable variables as possible. She also ended up going through remote, and it served her well.
Another recommendation (after the technical assessment) was to start reaching out to folks on LinkedIn - it didn’t have to be much, because she was still in the immersive, but it was important to start building those relationships. She did so and was able to secure a paid internship that started literally four days after she finished the immersive.
We supported each other beautifully through our Hack Reactor experiences. When one of us was in school, the other did the housework and cooking and was the cheerleader. When we were having hard days in school, we could talk to each other, not just as partners, but also having gone through it. I took Hack Reactor 2nd, but Chris was insistent not to help me technically so I could figure things out on my own and with my peers... I was pissed sometimes in the moment, but looking back, I am grateful for it. :)
Since graduating, what has been the most rewarding part of being a software engineer for each of you? And what is it like having a spouse working in the same field?
As a profession, I’ve found engineering to be very clean - not unlike being a musician or working in some other craft. Often, you don’t have to explain to others or yourself how you spent your time. At the end of the day (or week or month), something is built that you can point to. Insofar as my employer and myself are satisfied with the solutions that I’m building, I don’t have to “take my work home with me,” mentally. And on those occasions where I need to work extra, I do it with the desire to get it right, which makes the extra hours pass quickly.
We’ve found that there’s a real benefit to both folks working in the same field. When the stresses of the job occasionally surface, we understand what the other is going through. This was, of course, also the case when she went through the immersive. If we’re working extra - we just say to the other “I’m in it” - and the nature of the challenge is immediately understood. It’s a potentially rare opportunity for understanding to just be granted, instead of consciously cultivated.
I really enjoy creating, problem-solving, and constantly growing, and software engineering demands all three qualities. It’s fun to continue striving for elegant and composable code, and the sense of self-accomplishment and pride when I have created something. It’s really wonderful that both Chris and I are developers. In addition to just sharing about our day, we can talk about technical problems or developer-specific situations, and we understand each other in a different way. We sometimes have to limit “tech talk” at the end of the day, but in general, it has been a new way for us to connect and support each other.
What advice would you give to others who are interested in becoming a Software Engineer?
Software engineering, at least at the levels I’ve worked at thus far, has more in common with logic, music, craftsmanship, and grammar than it has to do with math. I can’t tell you how many folks to whom I’ve recommended a career in programming whose first response is “I’m not good with math”.
You can do this - you may not end up being the best coder the world has ever known (though you can certainly strive to be), but you can still do well - extraordinarily well, and have a satisfying career.
The third thing I’d recommend (which I’ve already referenced) is to build out your Galvanize connections on LinkedIn, and work your alumni network. Uma and I each had dozens of conversations with kindhearted alumni following the course, which lead ultimately to every job at which we’ve been hired (five in total, between the two of us).
It’s no secret that the alumni networks of places like Harvard or Stanford are an indisputable part of their value proposition - I’d readily say that the same is true for Hack Reactor/Galvanize.
Often when I tell people that I am a software developer, they will say stuff like “I could never do that,” or “I am not smart enough for that” (sadly, often it is mostly women who say that). I would like to say to anyone, “Yes, you can do it!” Sure, certain personalities and interests can lend better to coding, but really if you give yourself the time, space, support, and resources, you can learn what aspects and areas of development you like best, and really excel. I truly had an incredible and rewarding experience at Hack Reactor remote - not only did I learn to code, I learned how to think technically and learn new tech quickly.
In addition to an excellent and unique program, Hack Reactor has an extensive and generous alumni community... all the jobs I have had was ultimately through contacting an alumni member, in both SF and Austin. Hack Reactor has a good reputation, and in my experience, if a company has hired one HR alum, they are often enthusiastic to hire more. LinkedIn and contacting HR alum was essential to all my job searches. As an example, after my tech assessment, I started contacting HR alumni on LinkedIn...I had a paid internship secured two weeks before graduation. I have recommended HR alumni at my companies, without hesitation, because I know the quality of the program.
Lastly, I would like to say that everyone’s journey looks different. Some people go straight from precourse to Hack Reactor's Software Engineering Immersive, while some people need a bridge in between or to take over the first part of the program. However the case may be, stick with it and don’t give up on yourself. Some people start Hack Reactor with coding experience already, and some start as total newbies like myself. I have seen with myself and others, Hack Reactor really will support you with what you need without additional cost and see you through to graduation, and beyond. Trust the process, believe in yourself, and the rest will follow!