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While studying broadcast journalism, this grad landed on a love for software engineering

Hack Reactor

Eddie Keller Hack Reactor grad

Years before becoming a software engineer, Hack Reactor graduate Eddie Keller earned a master’s degree in broadcast communication with the goal of becoming a broadcast journalist. In this Q&A, read how his love for software engineering began during that master’s program, how he decided to make a career shift after graduating with that degree, and how he gained valuable experience working for Amazon Web Services before landing his new job as a Sr. Software Engineer at Snap. 

How did you find your way to software engineering?

Originally, my educational background had nothing to do with software engineering at all. I got my bachelor's degree in communication, and then I went to get my master's degree in broadcast communication with the intent of being a broadcast journalist, like a news anchor. While in my master's program, we had a little mini class on super basic HTML/CSS, putting together a webpage to publish articles we wrote. We touched on JavaScript ever so slightly, and that was enough for me. I got really interested in it and started looking into it more. 

I started self-learning different things to do with coding. I played around with mobile app development. I played around with Python and Java. And then, after I graduated from the program, I realized that this stuff was way more interesting, and way more fun for me, than what I went to school for. So I just decided to try and make a change and hop into the software engineering industry instead. 

What led you to the Hack Reactor program in particular? 

After I had decided to make the switch into the industry, I started doing some research on what this is actually going to take. What's it going to take for me to get a job at one of these big software companies? And so, the first response that I saw was to get a computer science degree.

So I went to my local university, Arizona State University, and I inquired, "What would this look like for me if I went back to get a second bachelor's degree in computer science?" They told me that, essentially, none of my credits from my previous bachelor's degree would actually transfer over. And so, it would be a full four-year commitment all over again.

I started looking into alternatives. And I heard about coding bootcamps, and I was like, "Okay, maybe this is a good idea." I started asking around online and on Reddit, and Hack Reactor was the name that came up more than anything else. I looked on LinkedIn and saw graduates had jobs at Google, at Amazon, at SpaceX, all sorts of places. And I saw that they had audits being run by third parties to verify these employment numbers.

I applied, and thankfully, passed the interview to get in. Honestly, it was just straight up the best decision I ever made in my life - totally changed my life.

What Hack Reactor campus did you attend and how did attending this program work?

I chose to take the in-person 12-week bootcamp at the Los Angeles campus because it was, at the time, the closest location to where I was living in Arizona. And I had lived in Los Angeles for four years prior when I was going through my bachelor's program, so I was familiar with it. I quit my job, took everything I had, hopped over to an apartment in Los Angeles, and just grinded away for 11 hours a day for three months straight. Even though it was so much work and such a big commitment, it never felt like work. It never felt draining to me. It was just fun. And I looked forward to it every day.

What did you get out of the program that you were able to apply to the job search and your career?

The first thing that comes to mind is the ability to effectively self-teach. When I was there, the format of my 12-week program was that you get introduced to new concepts, and you get a high-level overview of them. Then you get an assignment that really forces you to do a lot of your own research and do a lot of your own teaching to dig deep into the details to figure out how this stuff works.

Developing that skill becomes even more important the higher up you are on the software engineering ladder. When you start somewhere as a junior engineer, things are usually a little bit more clear. You have your requirements for a project, you have to do X, Y, and Z, and it's really laid out for you. But when you start getting into mid-level engineering, senior engineering, and you start taking on more complex and vague projects, that skill comes into play, where you have to approach something that's totally unknown. 

I think the other big thing was that Hack Reactor gave me a sense of self-confidence, which stems from that same self-teaching skill. Nothing is that scary for me anymore. Instead, I have more of a sense of excitement about the unknown. I love taking on these new challenges now, and I long for projects and experiences that are dealing with the unknown.

After Hack Reactor, you got a job at Amazon Web Services. What did you do there and what did you like about it? 

I was at Amazon for just under 3 years. I originally got hired on by the Alexa music team. The nice part about Amazon is they make it really easy to change teams to anywhere else in the company once you're in. That was good for me because I wanted to make a switch over to AWS, where I worked on the SageMaker console team for two years. SageMaker is the AWS machine learning and artificial intelligence cloud platform, and I was doing frontend engineering work on that console.

Our biggest customers are other large companies and data scientists who leverage our resources to do their machine learning workflows in the cloud. And so, right when I joined the team, they were putting together this brand new project called SageMaker Studio. I got to work and lead a lot of the development on the SageMaker Studio console. 

That project ended up being a keynote release at the AWS re:Invent conference in 2019. After that, I got to have a large hand in a lot of the bigger feature developments. We went through redesigns and added tons of new features. A lot of that feature work is now being used by customers all over the world who are working on a global scale, which is really cool. It was a pretty fantastic experience. 

Is there anything from your time studying communications that you’ve been able to use in your new career in software? 

Actually, yes. I think there are two ways that my experience in communication studies has come in handy.

First is the interviews. The software engineering interview process is typically a recruiter phone call, and then a technical phone screen, and then on-sites. A big part of all of these interviews is communication, being able to answer different questions about your experience, and being able to answer different technical questions. But also even during the coding parts of these interviews, the interviewers want to know your thought process. They want to know what you're thinking. They want to know how you're approaching the problem. And so, being able to speak clearly, and to succinctly explain the concepts, is a skill.

Second, after you get the job, software engineering is not a silo. You're not working by yourself. You're working with a team of other people. And not just with other engineers, but I'm constantly working with product managers, UX designers, people on the business side, and different stakeholders that cover all the different aspects of a product. 

Oftentimes, you need to explain technical concepts to these people, including what is or isn't possible, what you can or can't do, and so on. In this way, communication becomes increasingly important. Again, the higher you go on this software engineering ladder, the less heads down in the code you tend to be, and you’re more involved with other people and other aspects of the business. So it's surprising, but my former study has definitely come in handy, even though it seems on the surface that they might not be related at all. 

What advice do you have for someone who might be considering a bootcamp as a next step? 

First of all, make sure you have an interest in coding. A lot of people know about software engineering and the doors that it can open. A lot of people look at this industry and think, "Oh, this is just going to be a great way to make some easy money." And it's true that you can make good money doing it, but it's definitely not easy. So you have to have some level of enjoyment doing it, whether it’s that you enjoy the technical stuff, or maybe you just enjoy the problem-solving involved. So if you have some level of enjoyment with it, then I say jump into it. 

If you like diving into the unknown, if you like challenging yourself and pushing yourself to grow, and if you like working with other people that are going through the same thing, where you can build each other up, and help each other out, then this will be a great experience. It was by far the best decision I ever made. It totally changed my life and changed my career path. If you're considering it, I say go for it.

Is there anything else you want to add before we wrap up?

I’d just add something about the relationships and connections I made with my cohort. We all really helped each other out, and we all really went through the struggle together. I think that was one of the biggest benefits that came out of the overall experience. Now I have this group of people who I still message occasionally, and especially when it comes to jobs and career changes. I was able to build this ring of people where I can connect and get referrals to different companies and we can help each other out. 

You just got a new job as a Sr. Engineer at Snap. What can you tell us about your new role? 

I will be starting at the end of November, and I’m very excited. Snap has earned a solid reputation for having smart, strong engineers, and that is something every software engineer should be looking for in a company. The best way to keep growing and developing your skills is to work with people who can provide new viewpoints and approaches to problems. I can’t share too much about the work I’ll be doing, since I’m not there yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. And, I just found out that one of my buddies from my Hack Reactor cohort, Zander Jardini, also recently joined Snap, so it’s going to be great to see him again, too!

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Want to read about more Hack Reactor alumni? Learn more about Shay Rosner, Hack Reactor graduate who's now in charge of our Telegraph Track program, which was designed to address the challenges faced by underrepresented students in tech and engineering.