August 17, 2017 - by Mahsa Tehrani

From Hackbright to Full-stack Software Engineer: Meet Michelle Berry

From Hackbright to Full-stack Software Engineer: Meet Michelle Berry

Alumna Michelle Berry discovered a love of software engineering in an unlikely place; her previous career as a biological researcher. One project required her to learn the language R, and Michelle found that she loved learning new technologies and writing reusable scripts.

Michelle made the choice to attend Hackbright, with a goal to learn web development, gain a solid foundation in software engineering principles, and build a professional network within tech. The hard work paid off, and today Michelle is a Full-stack Software Engineer at Checkr in San Francisco! 

In an interview with SwitchUp, Michelle talks more about her path to software engineering and her experience with Hackbright. Check out the interview below, and read more Hackbright Academy student stories and reviews on SwitchUp.

1.) Your academic background is in Human Biology and Earth Systems. How did you get started in programming?

I discovered programming during my previous career as a biological researcher. I had started working in genomics, and I needed a way to process and analyze large DNA datasets. Someone in my lab taught me a bit of bash scripting, and then I took some online tutorials to learn a language called R that's popular among data scientists.

2.) What made you decide to pursue a career as a Software Engineer?

At a certain point I realized that I enjoyed learning new technologies and writing reusable scripts that my lab-mates could use more than I enjoyed conducting basic research.

Working in research is exciting because you get to work on the frontier of a subject and touch data that's never been seen by anyone else. On the flip side, you are very removed from the downstream impact. Once you publish a paper, you never know what becomes of it and how it influences other people. I realized that I wanted to have a career working on applied problems with more tangible feedback loops. Software was the perfect fit, because I get to build new products and features, receive direct feedback from customers, and deliver improvements in quick cycles.

3.) How did you decide to attend Hackbright Academy? Considering you already had some programming experience under your belt, what were your goals for the program?

I decided to attend Hackbright after speaking with several alumni. I immediately associated with many of their prior career experiences and ambitions and felt strongly motivated by their success stories.

My goals for attending Hackbright were to learn web development, gain a solid foundation in software engineering principles, and build a professional network within tech. And I think all of those goals were met! I would not have had the same job opportunities or confidence to pursue a career in engineering without Hackbright.

4.) What were the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp?

Pros: The foundational knowledge you need to learn to be a web developer is consolidated for you in a compact and organized format. Hackbright has been adapting and tuning their curriculum for several years now, and I think they've come out with something that's very effective.

Another pro is having such a supportive community around you while you're trying to enter a new career. Everyone at Hackbright is a source of support - your instructors, peers, career coaches, and other administrative staff. This support doesn't end when you finish the program either. There is a great set of resources and community for alumni.

Cons: The price - a bootcamp is expensive! However, if you are committed to a career in software engineering, I think a bootcamp is a smart investment.

5.) Where are you working now? What is your day-to-day role like?

I work at a company called Checkr as a full-stack software engineer. Checkr is a background check company that is working to make background screens quicker, more accurate, and fairer to job applicants. Within Checkr, I work on a product-engineering team that is focused on building new features for our enterprise customers. I spend my days writing code to build these new features, meeting with our product manager and designer, and reviewing code for my teammates.

6.) How did Hackbright prepare you for life as a Software Engineer?

Hackbright gave me a solid foundation in web development that helped me land my first job as a software engineer. Hackbright focuses on teaching its students software concepts, not just implementation, so it's common for Hackbright alumnae to get jobs working in different languages and frameworks than they learned at bootcamp.

7.) What challenges did you overcome to get to where you are?

I think the biggest challenge was building the confidence in myself to start a new career. I thought it was too late for me to make a career switch. Seeing women from all different backgrounds and career stages be successful after Hackbright helped instill me with confidence to take risks and challenge myself.

8.) What are your goals and plans for the next 5 years?

I'm really excited about growing as an individual contributor over the next several years and expanding my technical knowledge.

9.) What advice do you have for people who are interested in attending a bootcamp?

Talk to bootcamp alumni before you apply. There are many bootcamps with different curriculum and instruction styles, so it's important to find a bootcamp that will fit your learning style. Also talk to alumni about their current roles. If you can envision yourself doing what they describe, then you should take the plunge!

To learn more about the Software Engineering Courses Hackbright Academy currently offers for women, click here.


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