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After over a decade working in journalism Sheena Ramirez sensed a shift in her industry and began to think about a career change. It was 2015 and she was a new mom. For anyone who has tried--or even witnessed--parenting an infant, it’s a full-time experience in itself, and just balancing work and parenting is a challenge for most, let alone navigating a career change. But Sheena was still itching to learn programming.
Sheena knew of Hack Reactor’s reputation for high-quality instruction but initially hesitated to pursue full-time coding bootcamp as she couldn’t imagine a way to fit the intensity of an immersive experience into her already full life and family:
“I was under the impression that I would have to uproot my life and move from Chicago to San Francisco. That I’d have to leave my family behind in Chicago while I did this program for three months. It just didn’t seem like I could make it work.”
Then she discovered Hack Reactor’s Remote online learning option while in a Facebook networking group, and saw an opportunity to make the career shift she had been working toward:
“I remember talking with my husband and saying ‘What if I just apply for this scholarship? It’s not going to happen, it’s totally not going to come through, but what if I get in and I just do the program for three months? Is this completely out of this world that we can even do this?’ And he was like ‘no, you should totally go for it.’ I thought it was a long shot, but I went for it and got the scholarship!”
Sheena has maintained a lifelong interest in computers and recalls her mother being her earliest and greatest influence. As she was shaping her decision to go to Hack Reactor her mother encouraged her to go for it. But Sheena’s mom had also encouraged her daughter throughout her childhood by setting a real-life example. Sheena’s mom is a self-taught programmer. As a child, Sheena witnessed her mom’s own career transformation and shared in the learning:
“Some of my earliest memories are of going through my mom’s programming language books, reading the tutorials and then writing programs based on all on her books. I always remember having a computer in the house, and I only realized later on that that’s not true of everyone at that time. But I grew up around computers.”
Sheena's mother encouraged and supported her interest in science, coding, and education from an early age:
Anything she felt an interest about I would encourage her to explore enough to make a decision of how she truly felt about it.
Once everything came together and Sheena was enrolled in Hack Reactor Remote, there were still the logistics of daily life to manage. Sheena’s daughter turned two on week 4 of the Hack Reactor program and she relied on her husband, in-laws and family friends to help with child care:
“My husband works nights so he would be home with my daughter until he had to go to work, when he would take her over to his parents’ house. Since I was on Chicago time, I wouldn’t be done until 10 o’clock at night, but usually more like 11, so my daughter would just stay the night with my in-laws and my husband would pick her up in the morning so I could see her during breaks. My husband and his family were the MVPs during Hack Reactor.”
Adjusting to working remotely for so many hours of the day was also very real for Sheena, but she was deliberate about carving out a work space and routine, and quickly got into the Remote rhythm. She reflected on her anticipation of the program:
“Going into it knowing I was going to be in front of my computer for eleven hours a day was...daunting. It took some getting used to at first but once you get into the habit of doing all the things you have to do during Hack Reactor, those days start going by really fast.”
And Sheena also adjusted to the way connections are made remotely--she was able to form bonds with classmates and is still connected to other graduates in a meaningful way. Connections are a key benefit to a program where the graduate network can be so instrumental in building a lifelong career. Sheena described how her classmates were in lots of physical places but came together in a unique way:
“Even though my classmates were based all over, one was in Jamaica, a number were in California, one was in Canada...I still felt like I got to know people pretty well just because I was interacting with them through my camera everyday, talking to them for hours and hours. I feel like I got to know people pretty well even though we weren’t directly face to face, which was very cool.”
Kenneth Marshall, one of Sheena's former classmates, shares that one of her greatest strengths is communication. This gave her the ability to bulldoze documentation easily and figure out the workings of new tech quickly. He recalls of a time when the team faced a challenging project:
"The team decided to tackle mobile development via React Native which was an unknown territory to all of us. But of course! Sheena's extraordinary comprehension/communication skill enabled us to figure out the workings really quickly. Sheena worked on the authentication for the application, which was a well needed feature, and also if it was for comprehension skill, we probably would not have done all the requirements within the projects timeline. Because of this, we were moving way ahead of time that we found time to have fun in our stand ups which gave us great confidence in our presentation."
Hack Reactor’s staff was key in helping Sheena stay empowered and encouraged as she navigated an intense program. Cara Chernoff, a Counselor for the Remote program was an especially important in Sheena’s Hack Reactor experience. Sheena shared how Cara encouraged her:
“You definitely have moments of self doubt when you think ‘I didn’t do great on that test, does that mean I’m not meant to go down this path?’ and Cara was there saying things like ‘we don’t expect perfection out of you, this is okay, we’re just highlighting stuff you might want to review.’ I think it would have been much harder for me to continue if I didn’t have her as a voice saying ‘you can do this, and if you’re struggling, here’s what can help’. Having that emotional support component in the program was very helpful.”
As Sheena's counselor, Cara shares how her role helps support, track and evaluate student development and success initiatives. This ensures student learning and growth with an emphasis on soft skill development:
"Working at Hack Reactor, I love how transformative the program is for our students both personally and professionally. Getting the opportunity to watch them from their readiness interview prior to starting the program all the way through graduation is so fulfilling. Students learn so much about themselves as developers, teammates, and individuals during the Hack Reactor program, being a part of the support system to make that happen keeps me motivated and excited every day."
At Hack Reactor all students focus on a Thesis project in the later part of the program, and build something using the tech they’ve learned. Sheena’s team leveraged React Native to build a mobile app called Product Guardian to allow users to scan the barcodes on packaged foods while shopping to learn if they contain a defined list of ingredients the user wants to avoid.
When it came time to find a job, Sheena’s resume reflected her Hack Reactor experience, and her Github portfolio showcased the application she developed during her thesis. She was surprised how quickly things moved after that. A recruiter reached out to her for a contract role at Fitch Solutions, she met with the hiring manager and she was working by October 2017.
In her job at Fitch Solutions Sheena is excited to continue learning about tech and has added experience with Vue and GraphQL to her skill set. The projects in her role at Fitch Solutions use Vue as the front-end framework with some Backbone, and she uses GraphQL on the backend to build out services for a Web app that analyzes financial data. Hack Reactor taught Sheena how best to adopt new tools quickly, so even though she hadn’t worked with this tech before, Sheena was excited to expand her learning and enjoys the new tech challenge:
“Vue is very lightweight and reminds me in certain ways of React, but actually prefer Vue to React; I’ve just found it really intuitive,” Sheena shared. “I love GraphQL because it’s been helpful for transforming complex data sets into something that’s much easier to work with. Instead of taking raw data from APIs and trying to parse it in a million different ways, we’re setting up services through GraphQL that do the hard work for us and I think that’s super cool.”
With the bootcamp behind her, and the next chapter of her life ahead, she has proven to herself, family, friends, and industry, that she has both earned and defined her own career success.