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Career Growth

How One Self-Taught Developer Transitioned into Tech Using HackerRank Community

Written By Jannelle Sanchez | December 5, 2019
HackerRank Community

Self-taught coding, moving states, and HackerRank Community. These are the three factors that helped Jessica Byrne make a career change into tech to become a software developer.

“When I moved from Denver to Portland, I put the query “engineer” into Indeed. Almost all of the job listings were for software engineers,” said Jessica, “I realized that the market was clamoring for more developers.”.

After graduating from college, Jessica was set on finding a job in mechanical engineering - after all, it was the field she studied in school. For a moment she was seriously considering pursuing a career in modeling prosthetics.

It was her first internship as a systems engineer where Jessica started to teach herself how to code. During that four-month internship, Jessica built a dashboard that tallies and presents product issues that customers report. In order to build that dashboard, Jessica learned SQL to retrieve the information out of the database, Python to aggregate the data, and experimented with different UIs to display the data. By the end of her internship, Jessica had a love for solving new problems and enough confidence to explore a different career path.

“I enjoyed the fact that every day there was a new problem, and I appreciated that there were communities online to help answer tricky questions,” Jessica said, “It wasn’t about solving homework questions; these were real-world applications that I was trying to riddle through.”

Why Jessica decided to become a software developer

Near the end of her internship, Jessica was preparing to move from Colorado to the West Coast. After realizing that Portland had a large software developer market, Jessica decided to bet on her coding skills and start applying for software engineering jobs. Once she started landing a steady stream of interviews, Jessica discovered a trend. A lot of the companies she applied to were using HackerRank for Work to interview candidates. So she decided that she should become more familiar with the platform.

“After going through some interviews, I started solving problems through HackerRank for practice. It forced me to think about different test scenarios and how to optimize my solution.”

During her job hunt, Jessica would spend an hour or two every day studying up on coding with resources like Cracking the Coding Interview and practicing on HackerRank Community. Eventually, the studying paid off and Jessica landed her first software developer job. Today, Jessica is a software developer at Walmart Labs, where she is satisfied and challenged designing solutions for their large scale eCommerce platform.

“Hundreds of thousands of people interact with software that I have a hand in creating, which is a very rewarding experience,” says Jessica.

If you want to make a career change into engineering, but you don’t have a background in coding, scroll down to see how HackerRank Community helped Jessica change careers.

How Jessica used HackerRank Community to land a software engineering role

HackerRank (HR): In your blog, you share all the different resources you used to study computer science and prepare for technical interviews. You listed HackerRank as a resource. How did HackerRank help you prepare for technical interviews?

Jessica Byrne (JB): Tackling problems on HackerRank helps exercise the critical thinking muscles you need in a technical interview.

HR: Are there any challenges in the HackerRank Community that you found particularly helpful?

JB: One of the most helpful learning exercises for me was to attempt a HackerRank problem and then look up how others solved it. I slowly dissected other solutions to try to optimize mine and make it cleaner and more efficient.

HR: What advice about using HackerRank would you give to someone who is trying to learn to code for the first time?

JB: Try to solve one problem every day. It can feel overwhelming at first, but over time you get better at approaching problems. HackerRank also has difficulty levels that make it easy to get started and then work your way up to more difficult solutions.

HR: What advice would you give to someone who is currently in a non-tech field, but wants to break into the developer world?

JB: Coding can be frustrating. You can spend days wrestling with problems that feel like they will never be solved. However, the joy is when the knot slowly unravels and you get to the solution. My advice is to be prepared for the frustration. Even engineers that have been in the field for 20 years are still learning something new.

Practice, practice, practice, and you will start to find the patterns that will make you a great developer.

What it’s like on the other side

After working at Walmart Labs for almost 2 years, Jessica is now on the other side of HackerRank for Work assessments. Instead of taking assessments she’s reviewing them. Here’s Jessica’s experience with using HackerRank to find the right candidates for roles at her company. She also has some advice for candidates who are preparing to take a HackerRank assessments in an upcoming interview.

HR: Today you’re on the other side of the HackerRank interview process and are sending out assessments to candidates. What’s that like?

JB: It’s been eye-opening to see how many different ways there are to solve problems. I have to forget how I would solve it, and watch the process someone else goes through.

HR: How has HackerRank helped you and Walmart Labs find the right developers for your company?

JB: HackerRank helps us do some assessment upfront on a candidate’s coding ability. It’s a time-saver for both the candidate and the hiring team.

HR: What advice would you give to someone who is about to take a HackerRank interview assessment?

JB: I would encourage them to get used to how HackerRank works, how to debug if something isn’t working for them as expected, and to consider different test scenarios. Like any coding environment, there are things you may have to get used to before taking an assessment for an interview, so do some practice problems before starting.

HR: What advice would you give to engineering managers that use HackerRank as a part of their hiring process?

JB: HackerRank provides a handy assessment summary, which I usually take a look at before a candidate’s interview. If a candidate struggled, it is a good opportunity to talk about solutions and their thought process. We can follow up to talk about optimizations or what they would do if we changed the constraints.

What's next for Jessica

HackerRank Community

HR: Are there any other ways HackerRank has helped you move forward in your personal life?

JB: I appreciate HackerRank’s support for initiatives like Women Who Code and Veterans Who Code. It’s important that resources like HackerRank are available to underrepresented people who are interested in making an industry switch.

HR: What’s next in your career journey?

JB: I get up every day excited to get better at what I do. However, besides working to be a better developer, I also want to look behind me and help junior engineers work their way to being better developers as well. I know what it’s like to be nervous and unsure where to start. One of the best ways for a junior engineer to improve is to have a place to ask questions. I hope I can be a mentor to engineers trying to break into the software industry

In addition to creating new software, Jessica is also passionate about helping others switch careers and attain financial independence. Visit her blog Financial Mechanic to learn more about her career change and her journey to financial freedom.

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