Two weeks ago, I quit my job in investment banking at one of Wall Street’s most prestigious firms – something that thousands of kids would kill for. In doing so, I turned down opportunities to interview with the world’s largest hedge funds and private equity shops that can offer over $300,000 per year in compensation.
For what reason? To join a 12-week intensive program at one of the world’s top coding bootcamps and ultimately become a software engineer.
Why I Quit Investment Banking
Well, I suppose I should start with how I ended up in investment banking in the first place. In thinking back on when I made the leap from small-town girl to eager-eyed college freshman, what was top of mind was equalizing the education process so that other kids similar to my background would have the same opportunities as those that went to top prep schools.
I thought that social impact === nonprofit, so I tried that route and got discouraged by how people focused on missions rather than outcomes (i.e., “This organization donates to breast cancer research!” vs. “This organization donates to breast cancer research that is in X phase/trial or provided Y result.”). I felt like it made sense to apply more business-oriented principles to nonprofits. Investors look through public filings before investing in a publicly traded company, and lately there’s been a lot of positive press around high-growth startups that disclose their cash burn rates. So I decided to study business (at large public schools these are often considered prestigious and connect students to jobs at top banks/consulting firms/consumer product goods companies).
In business school, I ended up selecting investment banking because others considered it prestigious and difficult to get into, and people wouldn’t see me – the girl who spent time teaching at a nursery school in Tanzania and working at a microfinance organization in Honduras – as an investment banker, and I wanted to prove them wrong. Additionally, I just didn’t have anything that I was dying to do right out of college. I felt that I needed to ‘build a skillset’ first before doing what I really loved.
Unsurprisingly, upon starting this job I became a pretty sad human. I was chained to checking my email every 15 minutes, responding to each email within 15 minutes, always being available to go to the office or log onto a computer to complete work, doing work that could keep me in the office until 4am or all weekend with a smile on my face, being paranoid about leaving the office before 10pm, and despite all of this work never feeling quite like I’m adequate enough – because I forgot a period in a footnote, or didn’t physically enter the office for a weekend. It’s a thankless job, needless to say.
The scariest part, though, was how far away I was from my value system and the people that have those same values. What many of my coworkers cared about were multi-billion dollar deals, job placements into top hedge funds, going out to swanky Meatpacking clubs. People weren’t thinking about eradicating homelessness, unemployment, illiteracy, problems that affect billions in the most intimate matters of their lives. In retrospect, the best thing investment banking provided me was the drive to work toward these goals immediately – who has time to waste when poverty must be alleviated?
Why I Want to Learn to Code
How did I go from the realms of Excel and finance into software engineering and technology – seen by many as the antithesis of Wall Street? Well, it’s a large jump but lots of others are taking that same leap, as seen here and here. Why work 80+ hours per week with no guaranteed time off and demanding bosses when you can work at a tech company that provides a similar salary with free beers in the fridge and endless kindness?
But that’s not the reason why I’m drawn into becoming a junior developer. Well, the kindness bit is a part of it.
Technology has helped solve some of the world’s greatest resource and information gaps. A couple examples include mobile banking and telemedicine. But even with these great strides, there are still so many problems in the world that I want to fix. One idea off the top of my head are aggregating non-profit financial and social outcome metrics for users to search and share with others. When I think of ideas like these, I want to be able to build them myself to test out their viability rather than relying on someone else.
From a professional development perspective, there were quite a few reasons why software engineering makes sense for me. For one, being around people that want to mentor – which is all that I’ve seen in asking for help from friends and strangers alike in my journey to learn the basics of programming – is critical for someone like me that’s just launching their career. Additionally, learning fundamental logic that can be universally applied to solve problems – rather than focusing on the very niche world of financial valuation – is a huge draw.
In looking at the available options for becoming a software engineer, a coding bootcamp made the most sense to me. It would not only give me the constant intellectual challenge I wanted but also immerse me in the tech community out here in the Bay Area. After countless hours scouring Quora, student blog posts, and whatever other sources I could find, I ultimately decided that a school called Hack Reactor was the best choice for me.
Why Hack Reactor?
Hack Reactor’s mission is to bring people “from 20 to 120 rather than 0 to 60,” and this’ll give me a great start in getting up to speed on the technical skills needed for the task at hand. The grads I’ve spoken with and read blogs of and LinkedIn stalked have gotten into all kinds of amazing companies like Facebook and Google… and also all those super cool startups people haven’t heard of just yet unless they’re in tech.
Every single person I talked to continually emphasized that the educational experience at Hack Reactor was unparalleled to their expectations–or anywhere else, for that matter. I’m the kind of person that likes to be continually pushed to higher limits and expectations, so that aligned well with my value system. And on top of that, if I were to invest months of time and income, I wanted to go to a program where I knew there was both intellectual stimulation during and success after the program.
As an added bonus, because I got into the program, I was able to apply for an internship and scholarship at Optimizely… and ultimately became one of the recipients!
A Software Engineering Job Offer Before Learning How to Be a Software Engineer…?
With plans for Hack Reactor solidified months earlier, I was pleasantly surprised to come across Optimizely’s newly developed I/Own It program for aspiring female engineers that go through Hack Reactor’s program. I figured it might be a shot in the dark, but why not give it a go?
As I learned more about Optimizely to prepare for my application, I realized it’d be a great fit for me personally. They’re still a startup yet established enough where I can learn from more senior engineers and get exposure to a variety of teams (theirs range from their core A/B product to mobile to personalization to security and beyond). Additionally, their products are of particular interest to me. I’m very passionate about actively measuring social impact, and the idea of helping others test their own hypotheses is great in that it’s personally rewarding and a product that can help me learn more about product development and management (aspects I’m very interested in learning more about).
I reached out to two HR alums, Andrew from the security team and Lauren from the mobile team, currently working at Optimizely to learn more about their experiences. Both were immensely helpful in walking through what Optimizely values as a company and how the engineering teams work. I knew I had my work cut out for me to give myself the greatest chance possible at working for such a cool place.
Given my eagerness, I may have been a bit of a fangirl in my application. I built a website that had a video about why I’m interested in Optimizely, testimonials from mentors on why I could be a good candidate, and short write ups on my prior experience and what I want to build. I wanted to make sure that if all else fails, people at Optimizely knew how much I’d appreciate the opportunity and that I was willing to work hard for it.
My interview was with an engineer named Dana, and we basically fell in love over Skype. Given that she was a coding bootcamp grad too (App Academy, another great school!) we naturally clicked talking about the transition into engineering. Most of the interview focused on why I want to code and which aspects of code interested me. After the interview I realized that what was originally a “throw an application for fun and see what sticks” process was becoming something that I wanted, BADLY. I checked email multiple times daily over the next week, eager for a response.
And a week from that interview, I got an email saying that I was one of the recipients! I could not have been happier with how everything fell into place over the course of a couple months.
I’m so excited to join Optimizely this January. In recognizing the gender gap in tech they didn’t just pay lip service about diversity recruiting efforts – they took change into their own hands! Male and female engineers alike developed this partnership with Hack Reactor to provide women scholarships and mentorship for the program, and a three-month internship once completing the program. Given how inclusive they’ve been toward me so far even before I’ve started (all of the one-on-ones I have planned with current engineers, congratulatory emails/words of advice, countless invitations to have lunch at the office, etc.), I can only imagine how welcoming they’ll be once I officially join the company!
Now that I’ve been fortunate enough to join such a fantastic group of people, I’m making it my #1 priority to learn as much about coding world as humanly possible over the course of the next 4 months.
What Lies Ahead
Before Hack Reactor begins, I have around a month and a half to be a funemployed free spirit in the Bay Area. So far I’ve joined dozens of meetups for aspiring female coders, activist groups, international development organizations, the education sector, book clubs, poetry readings… the list goes on and on. Trying to make up for all that lost time that was spent in spreadsheets and embrace how beautiful this world can be.
So, I’m now a free woman! With the exception of a few lunch/drink dates scheduled, my schedule is pretty clear. If you’re an aspiring coder, staunch feminist, lover of all things social impact/activism, or otherwise fun & kind person… feel free to get a hold of me on Twitter @HaleyParty 🙂