Internships and Capstone

Long time no see. In the last two months a lot has happened. I interviewed at seven different tech companies for software engineering internships, I got an internship at Chef Software, I developed and deployed Lights on WA, my a capstone project, and I saw the grand canyon for the first time. So it’s been a great couple of months.

Internship Interviews

Ada Developers Academy has great selling points, but the two that definitely make it rise above the fray are the facts it is free and that there is a built in five month internship for those who go through the program. The internship is critical as it gives you real world experience at a local software company before you have to start the job application process. It also gives you the opportunity to apply and do technical interviews with the guarantee of a job at the other end before you have to do more high-stakes interviews which is amazing practice. We were all a little more than nervous for our week of seven technical interviews and knowing that at the end every person would get an internship made it a lot easier. I interviewed with a range  of different companies both small and large. Some of the interviews were purely technical, some situational, some just talking about why I was interested in coding. All of my interviews were positive experiences, even though I came down with a cold and was pretty ill and could barely speak or get the ringing out of my head at the beginning of the week. Technical interviews can be scary for people coming from different fields. In a lot of cases it’s basically someone asking you a logic puzzle and watching you speak and write on a whiteboard while they judge you on how and if you solve it. There’s a lot more to it than that but it can often feel like a quiz. It’s really about how you build trust and candor with the interviewer in a short amount of time and do so in order to solve a complex problem. Some people also just like to see how you react when you draw a blank — do you panic? do you pull through? So any situation in which panic is an option can be stressful.

I ended up appreciating the interviews and to my bemusement found that the ones with harder questions and interviewers that pushed me to think more deeply about efficient solutions were the interviews I enjoyed the most. I am happy to say Chef was one of those interviews.

In order to make interviews less daunting and more silly our cohort added some little traditions to the process. We all wrote each other notes to be opened before each interview and had a costume box where we dressed up after each interview and took disposable camera photos.

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About two weeks after our interviews were finished we found out our placement companies. I was overjoyed to find out I’d be interning at Chef. I had found their interview engaging and challenging, they are a remote company, they pair program, they are a DevOps company which is a deep area of interest for me, and they are Open Source.

Funny enough the morning I found out I’d be interning at Chef, I met up with one of the Adies who works there now for coffee. I am excited that two people from the program are already there as full time engineers and love the company. It has been hard to explain exactly what the company does to my family and non-tech friends (all my friends) but for most software people Chef is a leading name in DevOps or Development-Operations. They produce software for software companies that makes the deployment and configuration process easy and even fun. The only friend of mine I know in tech was very excited when I told him this is where I’d be interviewing as he handles the Chef recipes at his job. Chef is written in Ruby (yay!) and a functional programming language called Erlang. One of my goals and wishes for the next six months has been to learn a functional programming language so I’m excited for the challenge. Chef’s frontend will also be a challenge for me in learning Angular 2, which is brand new and daunting. I’ve already started to learn a little Erlang and transfer to the text-editor Vim over the last week and it’s a whole new world to me. Our cohort has three weeks starting tomorrow to “ramp up” before internships start in April. I’ll be using that time to dive into more Ruby, Chef Recipes, Erlang, and Angular before I start.

Note: I also found out last week that I was accepted as an Opportunity Scholar for Railsconf and will be attending in May! Chef is a sponsor so I hope I’ll get to see Chef employees from different parts of the country there.

Capstone Month: Lights on Washington

And all this brings us to Capstone Month. After interviews were done we quickly started working on our four-week individual projects. However daunting, capstone proved to be the most fun I’ve had at Ada (don’t get me wrong, it was all fun!) I have been incredibly impressed with all the ideas and deliveries that my cohort pulled together over these four weeks.

My project started with thinking about campaign finance in the Washington State. I wanted to make donations and candidates more transparent. So I decided to take the data from the Public Disclosure Commission, which controls campaign finance in our state, and make it more accessible and host it on my own site. Easy, right? Well, public data is a lot more complicated than that. My first big problem was that I didn’t have easy access to the data. A public records request I put it took 3.5 weeks to come through. I had to build a web scraper to get all the data from the site.

Once I got the data and had a basic front-end with the help of some amazing Javascript libraries, the main problem and majority of my time was spent figuring out how to get so much data into production. I dealt with a litany of memory leak and performance issues that we normally don’t see in our Ada projects because we are dealing with hundreds of rows of data (if even that much), not millions.

In interviews we talk a lot about space and time efficiency without any practical experience about when this might be applicable. We tend to think that it’s just for interviews that we need to know the run time of different sorting algorithms. Through working on Lights on WA I started to see the immense value in having a basic understanding of memory, space, efficiency, and algorithms. I talked some about this in the presentation I gave on our final day. The slides can be found below and the website at lightsonwa.com.


I was very proud of how Lights on WA turned out. I talked to some friends working in politics in Washington who were enthused to pass it around. I am also proud about the fact it is a civic hacking project and that I learned how to get information from the government when they are slow to deliver a public records request. I definitely want to stay connected to the open data world that I experienced a little slice of and would absolutely participate in more side projects that had to do with making our data more accessible. Finally I am proud of how much I learned about performance and data structures. I am proud that I used the resources available to me to finish and exceed my MVP. The whole process gave me a lot of confidence in my skills and made me excited to dive deeper into DevOps in the coming months.

After internships interviews and capstone were complete, I got the opportunity to visit my family in Arizona and see the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was so beautiful I was breathless (and not only because of the 12 mile steep hike). I got to see sunset and sunrise over the canyon with my best friend, and take a second to breathe without thinking about runtimes or Travis failures. I return this week with a new sense of learning and optimism, which I’m really going to need as I go cold turkey off Sublime in my switch to VI.
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I signed up for the Seattle half-marathon!

I have never liked running until this year. It has always been something my family loves to do, but I’ve never really been into it. To this day, I still have not run more than five miles in a row.

I just signed up for the Seattle Half-Marathon in November and for a long-distance running class throughout the early fall (and just gave away all my Saturdays to volunteer for said marathon and class to pay for the scholarship, ha!) I feel oddly accomplished even though I haven’t done anything yet… and nervous. Hey… I’m an adult!Colbert-report

Community Support && Mentorship Everywhere

I have been writing a lot lately. Not in terms of productive or technical writing but just scribbles here and there about little things, some poetry, some tangential prose. I’m reading sections of The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader lately and Anzaldúa speaks often to the power of writing. Example:

Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me […] I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger […] To become more intimate with myself and you.

Anzaldúa writes beautifully and compellingly, but it isn’t just from pure talent. It’s from a praxis in the way she held herself in the world and held others to be in the world. But that praxis includes a regimen of writing about personal and societal issues and using the writing as a way to stay accountable to yourself and others.

This week I decided to write thank you notes to all the people who have been so supportive of me this last year, especially to my mentors in my chosen switch from economics and international development to coding, programming, and tech. There are many people involved beyond my support network in Seattle as well. My online communities, specifically CodeNewbies, The Odin Project, and Free Code Camp have been great resources for me to feel welcome and easy into the language and culture of tech.

I have been particularly struck and humbled by the way women in this field build and cultivate community and are so welcoming of others into it. From what I’ve seen in the community so far, part of the reason this is true is because it takes a lot of support to make it as a woman developer. I have been so blessed to find amazing communities in Girl Develop It meetups, talking to women at community events, and all the great online groups for women. Let me just tell you, there are definitely women in tech. They are doing amazing work and often get overshadowed by the entire conversation about diversity. While there is still work to be done, sometimes I think that highlighting the work of those already there is also key to inspiring a new generation of women to study/stay in STEM.

Beyond all the direct support from family, friends, and my new community of women in tech here in Seattle, I’ve been surprised and taken aback by how many people have approached me since I put up this blog to give advice or connect me with someone who also codes. I have been struck by how much I get back by putting myself out there. I won’t lie, this past month since I graduated has been a little nerve-racking. I graduated from college with a degree in economics, I should be doing something besides washing dishes at a Jesuit house and staring at my computer, right? But here’s the thing: I love coding. I love the problem solving and that I actually get to build tools that will do awesome things with data. And I have the privilege and space given to me by a full-ride to college and a supportive and loving community of friends to keep at this and make something out of it. So I have to do that. It’s that thought, and writing, that keeps me coding.

Code on, and have a fantastic 4th of July weekend.

However! While your celebrating “independence” please remember that independence was not granted to everyone 239 years ago and the full rights and privileges of that independence are still not extended to everyone today. Some fun listening for this holiday weekend:

Howard Zinn & Democracy Now on Independence Day 

Sunny Saturdays

So I didn’t write a single line of code today. I originally had planned to write a lot. However, I decided to take a self-care day and push my body instead of my mind. I went on a long bike ride through Seattle with my friend Liv. We are both new to biking longer distances so it was fun to have an equally n00b riding partner. Here is us getting lost near Seward Park, trying to find our way back to the top of a huge hill.

Liv and I on our bikes lost somewhere near Seward Park.
Liv and I on our bikes lost somewhere near Seward Park.

At the end of our ride I felt exhausted in all the best ways and also realizing that my friend Max is right and I need to get clip-ons. However, most of the day was also gone, meaning I missed an opportunity to code.

Liv is currently studying for the LSATs and we talked about logic problems, trading study knowledge. I realized that I study best for longer periods of time and in the mornings. I am going to have to adjust my schedule for that over the next couple of months in order to get the most out of this time I have to concentrate on programming and getting into coding camps. I think I’ll have to try to set aside mornings. Also, self-care exercise is going to be really helpful with my dish-washing job. Usually, I am so tired after working lifting things and moving dishes and generally being on my feet, that my brain gets tired too. However, the better shape I’m in the more I’m able to turn that physical activity into motivation for my brain, not exhaustion. Liv and I are going to try to work out together. She’s an athlete (*makes fantastic mr. fox hand motion*) so she promised to help me get started training.

Also, I bought a pair of v. serious running shoes today. I have started running more regularly and I want to pick a 10k or half-maration in the coming months to tackle. I’m really excited about getting into better running shape and my stamina already feels much better.

So there it is! A long day of self-caring without much code, but still feels great.