Episode 55 – How Leslie Chose The Right Code School

Leslie Pajuelo and Mentoring Developers with Arsalan Ahmed

You’ve finally made the biggest decision of your life. You want to plunge forward and get into software development. But where do you start? There are so many code schools out there. You could practically pick one at random and they’d let you in, but that’s not what you want. You want your introduction to software development to really mean something. For it to mean something, it can’t just be any dev boot camp. It needs to be a boot camp that you can afford, but one that is also selective. The more selective it is, the better. Yet, at the same time, are you good enough to jump through the hoops and pass the standards bar, yourself? That’s what our next guest did and she’s here to tell you all about it.

Meet Leslie Pajuelo! She comes from a background that combines computer science with geology. But Leslie wasn’t happy with her job. She wanted something more, something exciting, and something creative. She wanted to create software and realized that the fastest way to get there was through a code school or a coding boot camp. Nothing less than the best code school would do. This is her story.

Now that Leslie has graduated boot camp and is out in the tech industry, she is here to stay. In fact, she’s even preparing to give back to the community in an amazing way! Listen in to episode 55 and hear her story.

Leslie’s Bio:

Leslie Pajuelo began her career as a map geek for an Ag water district in rural California. That soon led to an opportunity to attend a Girl Develop It meetup, which changed Leslie’s course. Girl Develop It opened Leslie’s eyes to the world of software developing and she saw it as a step up. Instead of developing mapping software, Leslie now works on backend services for Walmart Labs. At night she is preparing to launch a new chapter of Women Who Code, which will be located in San Diego. Women Who Code is an organization that promotes the growth of women leadership in tech to inspire and provide a similar fulcrum point for other women in their careers.

Episode Highlights and Show Notes:

Arsalan: Hi everyone. Today my guest is Leslie Pajuelo. Leslie, how are you?

Leslie: I’m doing great.

Arsalan: Leslie, you have an interesting story. Tell us a little about how you came to the US and then you felt a certain way and then what happened?

Leslie: I moved to the US from Venezuela. Venezuela is one of the US. There’s a lot of great propaganda and there’s a lot of love between the countries. I moved here. When I was nine and it was a kind of a letdown. This is a land of opportunity and it feels like a lot of energy, but culturally, it doesn’t feel that way when you’re here until about 20 years later when I moved into software development. Then you have the energy and the opportunities and the community that really comes together to help each other out and it kind of felt like a fulfillment of the propaganda in this field.

Arsalan: So, when you started your life in the US, you were hoping that you would have a nice neighborhood with people coming over and a nice social setting like you will find in many other countries, especially in Venezuela. So, you are a little disappointed, but then you discovered software development and how people help each other. It’s amazing and it doesn’t happen in every industry. Yet you found yourself in the right place and at the right time. So, I congratulate you.

Leslie: Thank you.

Arsalan: Now you are working as a software engineer for a big company and were going to talk about all that. First I want to learn about Leslie. How do you describe yourself? Who is Leslie Pajuelo?

Leslie: in the last year. There’s been some transformation and when we talk about the opportunities that I’ve had, especially when I moved here, it is something that I am working to help create opportunities for others. I am energized right now and that is who I am.

Arsalan: If you live in sunny San Diego. You have a lot of opportunities to get out of the house. So how is San Diego?

Leslie: It’s great. I live three blocks away from the beach. There are a lot of outdoor opportunities. The quality of life is definitely high.

Arsalan: The rest of us are absolutely jealous right now.

Leslie: I was at the beach a couple of weeks ago.

Arsalan: That’s great. My experience in San Diego was not all that great, but I spent a day or two in the downtown area. I need to hang out at the beaches.

Arsalan: Now you are not someone who wanted to become a software developer. You are somebody who was probably trying to figure out what to do as you are getting older and going to high school, were you thinking about becoming a developer?

Leslie: Absolutely not. I wanted to be an astronaut. I originally went to college for aerospace engineering, but I dropped out. It wasn’t until much later that any software development came into my sphere.

Arsalan: So, why did you think about software development? Something that I have discovered when I’ve talked to a lot of my guests has been that they are just going down there paths and they are happy, but then all of a sudden they decide that they need to be doing software development. What’s your story?

Leslie: Sure, I was doing GIS which is database driven mapping. In a lot of the software that you work with, there are ways that you can automate things and you can do scripting. That’s something that I did for a few years, mostly for small water districts. That was all fine and good, but it was limiting. I thought I could become a GIS developer and help make these applications. It wasn’t until I went to a Girl Develop IT meet up that I realize that you don’t have to have a computer science degree, you can just develop it. You can just do it. From that meetup, I ended up finding Hack Reactor remote, which is one of the boot camps. I went through that and it really helped firm up my experience. Although I’ve done some database stuff, some scripting, and I had done some JavaScript maps on the front end with Jquery, hack reactor really gave me more breadth of experience and how to think about software development.

Arsalan: So, concerning your experience as a GIS database person, do you consider that as your first experience with programming? Or do you not consider it to be programming?

Leslie: I make the joke often that scripting and automation are the gateway drugs to programming because it’s sort of related but it’s not the same thing. I consider software development to include building a whole system.  The scripting and automation can help you learn the language, but that’s kind of like going to another country and learning how to say hello. It’s very limited. You don’t have a full grasp of the language to build out systems.

Arsalan: Right, when you decided to go to a code camp. You picked Hack Reactor. Some of my listeners might not be familiar with it. I just wonder why you picked that particular code school versus others because I know there are others in your area.

Leslie: I picked Hack Reactor because it was very hard to get into. They set a very low acceptance rate. Boot camps are unregulated. I had considered going to boot camp in Utah. They offered housing and a lot of other things for about $10,000. But when I talk to them, they said, “Yeah, sure, come on over.” I thought that was too easy. You need. I wanted someone to tell me no and that I needed to be better. I think it was the imposter syndrome speaking up to me and telling me that I needed to pass some sort of bar or standard. Hack Reactor touted their low acceptance rate and there were a lot of things on Quora about how hard it was and how people had gotten rejected. So I thought that if I go there and they tell me that I’m not good enough then I’ll go to the other one.

Leslie: So, I went for the interview and they told me that I was good enough and then they told me that there was this deferral so that I would have to pay them right away, not upfront. Then I realized that I could go to one of the better coding boot camps. I didn’t have to be a value shopper. I found that mostly people complained about them because they were unable to get in.

Arsalan: So, you needed someone to push you. And if they have a low acceptance rate that could mean that their quality is higher.

Leslie: I think the implication is that they are not taking just anyone; it’s not just for the money. They are not just growing to grow. They are not taking anyone just because you can pay them. It also gives you an idea of who else is going to be in your cohort because everyone else had to pass the bar. While in the group, there are a lot of differences in that level, but you don’t end up working with someone who is a complete beginner or four to six months behind you. You have people who have passed the bar.

Arsalan: Based on our conversation, I don’t know if you considered yourself a beginner. How did you know that you would pass?

Leslie: I didn’t. One of the first things I learned was from the stuff that they sent me for the interview prep. I learned concepts about the JavaScript language. I didn’t think I would pass the bar. I felt strong in the database things and I knew what variables were. So I had some familiarity with that and with the terminal from the scripting.

Arsalan: Tell me, how much does that cost? You don’t have to give me an exact figure. If you don’t want to, but I want to understand how these top ranked dev schools cost. I think people would love to know that.

Leslie: For the on-site program in San Francisco, they just raise the price and I think it is around $20,000. I did the remote campus from home and it was $17,780. So, it was sticker shock.

Arsalan: That is huge. So it is remote? What does that even mean? How can you have a cohort that is remote?

Leslie: There are a lot of great technologies. There is videoconferencing. Basically you work with a partner through Google hangouts the whole time. You have access to teachers much like how you were doing this interview. You have one-on-one appointments and you’re working just as hard. Just that the person is not sitting right next to you. You just have your headphones on all day. So you need to get a good pair.

Arsalan: That’s why when we started the interview I noticed that you had a good pair of headset, and now I know why. So, that’s very interesting. That’s a considerable amount of money. Obviously, a lot of people would not be able to pay that, but you said you were able to pay later after you got a job. Is that the kind of deal?

Leslie: Yes, and now they have scholarships.

Arsalan: Okay, that sounds promising. So, if you’re someone who’s looking to get into Hack Reactor, and if you’re listening to this podcast right now, even if you can’t afford it, you may want to talk to them because they may be able to work something out for you. So, that’s good to know.

Arsalan: Yet, you didn’t study computer programming and a formal learning environment. You did something else. You did go to college for an Associate’s degree. What was that all about?

Leslie: The associate’s degree was in computer science, but my bachelor’s degree was in geology. That’s how I ended up working in GIS. That was one of the requirements to do the GIS class and I received an internship. So that’s how that got started back in 2007. It wasn’t that I was looking to be a programmer. I was looking to be an IT person. I thought that seems more reasonable put for me.

Arsalan: So, you went through two years of computer science, and that’s pretty good. That happened before you went to Hack Reactor, right?

Leslie: Yes. At the junior college, we did things, and Java, and C, but it wasn’t very interesting or productive. It was not interesting.

Arsalan: It was not interesting because there were no projects to do?

Leslie: There were projects, but they ended up being more command lines. So, we never made a product. We would solve algorithmic problems or math problems. I never made a thing that I could show my mom or something. There was no end result. So it was unsatisfying in that way.

Arsalan: I think this is a problem with computer science education in general. The goal of college education and computer science is not to teach you how to build a product or how to do a real-world application. The goal is to give you the tools so that you can use it to do something interesting with that, or to work on other types of activities and tasks that are not product related. A lot of people who graduated with computer science degrees don’t do actual products. They just solve problems in a very targeted set of circumstances. They might be working on algorithms or concepts or the theory behind natural language processing. They might be doing a lot of different things. So, it’s not necessary that you build products, but if that’s what you want to do, then they are not going to teach you to do that. They are not even trying to.

Leslie: No, they’re not. That’s something that I didn’t think about at the time. I guess I didn’t have a perspective to realize that it was just a general training, and they were trying to teach me how to learn and not how to build a thing.

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