November 28, 2018 - by Tori Tsu

A Day in the Life of an Engineer: Meet Dena Mwangi

dena mwangiDena Mwangi graduated Hackbright in March 2017. Prior to her career in engineering, Dena worked in economics with a focus on international development. She worked as a data analyst supporting various think tanks deciphering surveys and piecing together narratives from streams of data concerning the lives of the poor. Now a Software Engineer at Sentry, she sat down with us to share her experience and day-to-day in her new career. 

A day in the life of Dena

What was your background prior to Hackbright?

My background is in economics and before Hackbright I worked as a research analyst for think tanks in Washington, DC. My last gig was with the World Bank working on a cool project evaluating the impact of improving roads in Rwanda.

What motivated you to learn to code / change your career?

A lot of my work at the World Bank was around data – coding out surveys, keeping track of what came in, checking that it was useful, e.t.c. I had a dope team that was open to new ways of how we approached work and entertained my ideas on what tools we could use. I started playing around with a Python-based data dashboard and got a taste for what was possible with just a little head banging and patient digging on Stack Overflow. After that I couldn’t help noticing all the opportunities for integrating tech to do what we did better and was drawn to projects that lived in the intersection of the two worlds – but didn’t quite have the skillset to execute what I dreamt up. So I changed that.

How did you get your job as a Software Engineer?

The very first Sentry employee I met was a Hackbright grad on demo night where we showcased our final projects to hiring partners. There was a little bit of luck involved because they had an opening for a software engineer on their growth team which just happened to meld aspects of what I’d done before HB with everything I wanted to learn as an engineer. I applied everywhere and leveraged any connections I had made in my 12 weeks in the Bay but after my onsite interview at Sentry I knew for sure this was the right fit for me.

What does your day-to-day look like as a Software Engineer?

7-9: My alarm goes off, I roll out of bed, caffeine it up and, a couple of days a week, study. Or not. Depends on the day. Sentry enrolled my team into a Growth course by Reforge so I do some prep for that.

9-9.30: Get ready for work

9:30-10ish: I do my bike, BART, bike dance from the East Bay over to the SoMA office while listening to a podcast (lately I’ve been into Syntax by Wes Bos and Scott Tolinski and Jesus and Jollof by Luvvie Ajayi and Yvonne Orji).

10ish-10:15: Grab coffee and breakfast at work. Sometimes yogurt, sometimes self-made avo toast like a proper Millennial with dreams of home ownership.

10:15-12:30: Hop onto Sentry to see if there are any bugs assigned to me or that I need to assign to myself (think: how do people survive without this...) then I check out Slack for anything important that I need to pay attention to (think: lol that cat meme, oops that dependency tripped someone’s dev environment up – definitely will look out for that). Lastly, before switching to GitHub life, I look through customer emails in my inbox and answer any questions that came up. Our growth team is the point of contact for all customers who start trial which is great and gives us a sense of pain points we need to address while people are getting started with the product. It helps inform what we need to work on while giving me a chance to chat with developers and learn about the cool things they’re building.

Then I head to GitHub and merge in any pull requests I didn’t want to merge at the end of the day yesterday and deploy. We have a pretty solid deploy system and ship multiple times a day – something I thought happened everywhere but learned definitely is not the case. If I shipped an experiment recently I’ll do a quick pulse check to make sure everything looks as expected (think: where’s my data?! Oh, there you are – just needed to tweak that SQL query). Next I’ll check for any new comments from PR’s I have up that I need to address or for any PRs I’m tagged in for review to add to my to do list for today.

Hop back onto Sentry to see if there are any new bugs from what I just shipped (think: seriously though, how do people survive without this...).

If it’s a Monday, my team and I do a weekly sync to go over what we did last week and what we’ll work on this week. Otherwise, maybe a quick team standup on Wednesday and Friday.

12:30-1:30: The Hanger starts to set in. Most days I’ll sit outside and soak up that 65 degree SF heat. Except for Friday aka Dog Day at Sentry (born out of a holiday present exchange, someone on the team got a hotdog toaster and has been making hot dogs for everyone every Friday for months. Just. Because. Hi Matt!).

1:30-2:50: Fight with dev environment (think: oh right someone mentioned that thing in that Slack channel), code, debug, stack overflow, debug, ask-on-Slack, answer-on-Slack, victory!, commit some code.

2:50: #getswole slack channel at work lights up with my reminder and a mostly lady crew meets up front and does pushups. Perfect time to catch up with everyone and then grab a snack.

3:15-6ish: Second wind kicks in, check Slack for anything important, code and debug, maybe pair on something. If I recently interviewed someone there might be an interview sync panel.

6:15ish Head home or check out a meetup nearby. My faves are wafflejs, nextplay, and write/speak/code.

How has your life changed since Hackbright?

Simply put, my life has more choice and there’s immense power in that. There are doors that are open to me now that were never open before and I worry less about whether I can get a job and more about finding the right job. Don’t get me wrong, finding a job is hard, and switching careers and finding your first job as a bootcamp grad takes grit and determination, but once you land that first one it gets much easier.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Switching gears into a brand new field is difficult but none of us are special and if we can do it, you can do it too. Key to my survival thus far has been finding my tribes – these are ever evolving and look different as my career (and me!) evolve. From fellow HB alums to lady engineers across the Valley, I’ve cultivated my tribes in all sorts of ways but perhaps the most impactful has been joining dev/color, a network for black software engineers that has given me access to more experienced devs who have been through what I’m walking through now and are generous with sharing their experiences. Find your tribes.

Also, it’s never too early to start giving back. You might not feel like you have anything to offer but there’s someone who is where you were 6 months ago that could benefit from learning what you have learned.

Thanks to Claire Schlessinger for helpful comments and edits.

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