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Q&A with Allison Chen, Hack Reactor alum and Software Engineer II at Smartcar

Hack Reactor

Q&A with Allison Chen, Hack Reactor alum and Software Engineer II at Smartcar

We asked some of our software engineering alumni to share their learning journey going through our bootcamp and their experience since graduating.

Today, we're catching up with Allison Chen, who graduated from Hack Reactor San Francisco in 2018. Chen is now Software Engineer II at Smartcar, which is a platform that allows developers and businesses to connect their mobility apps and services to cars. Below, she reflects on her experience at Hack Reactor and what it's like to work at the 19-person series A startup.

What was your background before learning to code?

Before starting Hack Reactor, I had no background in coding. I studied molecular biology in college, and after, I worked in a research lab studying hydrocephalus and other neurological disorders as a lab assistant, and also at a local hospice as an intern. Although my background in biology did not require me to learn to code, I became interested in it after seeing some of the genomic data analyses and bioinformatics research one of my coworkers was able to do using Python. 

How did you find out about Hack Reactor?

I had friends that had attended bootcamps, and the ones that had gone to Hack Reactor had the best things to say about their experience. I also did my own research on bootcamps as well and compared reported outcomes and previous student testimonials.

What did you hope to accomplish with Hack Reactor’s software engineering program?

My main goal of attending Hack Reactor’s software engineering program was to become a competitive and employable job candidate by the end of the program. While there are endless resources to learn to code available on the internet, I wanted to focus on the industry standards and learn what the best practices are. I also wanted to be able to build a network of cohort mates and past alumni that I would be able to lean on during the process of learning to code, and during my job hunt. 

What have you been able to achieve since graduating from Hack Reactor’s program?

After graduating from Hack Reactor, I was a lead Software Engineering Fellow at Hack Reactor, and halfway through my tenure, I was asked to become a Technical Mentor for the next incoming cohort. It was really fun helping new students that were going through the same process that I did.

After starting at Smartcar as a frontend developer, I have helped revamp and add new features to our homepage, authorization flow, developer dashboard, and documentation center. While I consider frontend my comfort zone, I have worked on several backend and infrastructure projects as well, which I wasn’t really expecting when I first started at Smartcar. At the end of my first year, I was promoted to Software Engineer II at Smartcar, which was super exciting! In the past year, I have been given much more responsibility and ownership in the projects that I am working on and I feel like I have grown a lot as a software engineer at Smartcar.

How was the transition from bootcamp to your first job in software engineering?

For me, I was very lucky that the transition was relatively smooth because I was working on a project with tech that I was comfortable in, with a very supportive team around me. My first project was to completely rebuild our homepage with another frontend engineer. While the scope of this project was large, and there were plenty of new things that I had to learn to be able to do so, our homepage was built using React, which I felt I had a very strong background in coming out of Hack Reactor.

I was able to feel more comfortable in the role as well because my coworkers were very kind and patient when I had questions, and were encouraging and provided much-needed feedback during code reviews. I definitely had some aspects of imposter syndrome when I first started, but my manager and coworkers always encouraged me to share my opinions and showed me that I was a valuable member of the team. 

What are some of your favorite projects you have worked on while at Smartcar?

My first project, revamping our homepage, is one of my favorite projects because I was able to help build it from the ground up. It also holds some sentimental value as my first project here at Smartcar. Additionally, the homepage has been continually updated in style and functionality as our company has grown, so it is always nice to revisit it and give it new features and touch-ups.

Another project that I enjoyed working on a lot is the new onboarding flow in our developer dashboard. We want developers to have a seamless experience when integrating with our API, and previously, upon signing up, there was no guidance as to what to do next in our dashboard. With this new feature, developers are able to see directly the steps and their progress to making their first API call all within our developer dashboard. 

What are some of the benefits of being a software engineer at a 19-person series A startup like Smartcar?

Working at such a small startup, you really get to work with every member of the team, from engineering to sales to marketing. We have a really collaborative environment, and each organization within the company is always cognizant of how they can help each other perform to their best abilities so we can create the best product for our customers. It’s really nice to be able to enjoy working with every single one of your teammates. On the engineering side, working at a small company gives you the opportunity to work on a large variety of projects, because there are always improvements to make and features to add. However, you also get to really become the owner of certain aspects of your product, because you’re often building from the ground up in a series A startup like Smartcar. No matter what you are interested in building or gaining more experience in, there’s a chance that you will be able to do so (and improve the product as well).

What advice would you give to other bootcamp graduates looking to find their next job opportunity?

Although it may feel like you might want to take a break after finishing a grueling 13-week bootcamp, it is so important to utilize the momentum you have coming out of the bootcamp to power your job search. The job search is just as hard, if not harder than the bootcamp itself, and it can get very disappointing and discouraging over time.

However, just remember that every job application gives you information on how to improve yourself and your job search process, and will bring you closer to finding your next opportunity. Stick to a rigid schedule, find a group of cohort mates to be your accountability partners, and be sure you are able to speak articulately about the technical challenges you’ve faced (and how you’ve overcome them). As a software engineer, you will eventually find the company that is the perfect fit for you!

Where can interested developers and users learn more about Smartcar?

Smartcar is a platform that allows developers and businesses to connect their mobility apps and services to cars. Our customers use our APIs to verify vehicle mileage, enable digital key sharing, manage EV charging, track fleets, and more. This blog post is a good start to learn more about our product and how it works. Interested developers can sign up for a free account on our website.

Interested in becoming a developer or a software engineer?

If you’re interested in learning the skills to become a developer or a software engineer, Hack Reactor can help you get there. Click here to learn more about our software engineering immersive or click here to get started with our free prep courses.