Bootcamp Corner with Alice Yu

Alice Yu is an incoming Hack Reactor student and was previously the Director of Community at Meteor. She talks about her motivations to become a developer, advice on the Hack Reactor application process, and her experience with WeFinance.

Bootcamp Corner with WeFinance is a regular series that looks at coding bootcamp students, their experience, and the lessons they’ve learned.

Alice crowdfunded a loan to cover her Hack Reactor tuition and living expenses. You can see her campaign here.

Are you considering a bootcamp but worried about the tuition or living expenses? WeFinance for Bootcampers is the fastest way to crowdfund a personal loan.

You have a campaign to raise funds for Hack Reactor, can you tell us a bit more about the program and why you picked it?

Hack Reactor is a coding bootcamp in San Francisco that equips people to become professional software developers. I was motivated to do Hack Reactor because it has the strongest reputation in the industry; it’s very selective, fast-paced, and has a very strong track record.

Another reason I chose Hack Reactor is because they focus on JavaScript, which I’m most interested in learning, and which I think is the most promising skill set given where the industry is moving.

What were you doing before applying to Hack Reactor?

Before Hack Reactor, I was working at Meteor Development Group, the company behind the open-source Meteor.js platform. I spent 2.5 years there, starting off as a relatively junior Community Manager, and I had two major promotions during my time there (with a salary increase totaling 73%). I was Director of Community at the time I left.

How did you get involved with Meteor?

Before moving to San Francisco, I was working on a startup project of my own in Upstate New York. I was reading online that if I really wanted to start something, the place I needed to be was Silicon Valley. So I knew I wanted to move out here and get a job at a startup and learn as much as I could from founders who have done it before.

When I first got to San Francisco, I was staying in hacker houses and ended up helping to run them to get reduced rent — it was my first gig in San Francisco. I got introduced to Meteor by someone I worked with at one of the hacker houses; she was the first community person hired by Meteor and introduced me to the company.

Why do you think you’re a good investment?

I think I have really strong means to pay back the loan and really strong motivation to pay back the loan.

In terms of means to pay back the loan… Hack Reactor has a strong track record. Over 99% of graduates get a job within 3 months, with an average salary of $105k. From talking to a lot of Hack Reactor students, the program has the transparency and alumni confidence to back up the stats. Besides that, I have a really strong network in the Bay Area. I’ve been working here for 3 years, I’ve met a ton of people from my time at Meteor, and I have a lot of programmer friends.

In terms of my motivation to pay back the loan… the people who have backed me so far have been people who have played a really big role in my success in Silicon Valley — my reputation is tied to paying back the loan. I’m choosing to raise the loan through WeFinance (instead of a commercial lending partner) partly to strengthen these relationships and build new ones. Plus, since it’s automatic through WeFinance, everyone gets paid back from the same monthly repayment. This means that you can lean on the social proof from the people who have already backed me.

In terms of financial management, I’m a bit of a finance geek, and I have a lot of practice with budgeting and managing a limited budget through a major career transition. I’ve built a lot of safety margin into my targets. I’ve got great credit and a perfect repayment history.

What gave you the push to do a coding bootcamp and move from a community role to a development role?

I’ve been interested in coding for a while now. I’ve always been good at math, been analytical, and pretty nerdy… I taught myself to solve a Rubik’s cube in high school. So I knew software development was something I would want to try one day. Working for Meteor was inspiring too, since I got to see the community building really amazing apps, very quickly. Even people with very little experience were building great things.

The timing feels right, now. I’ve had a great run at Meteor, I’ve built up savings, and I’ve been teaching myself to code over the summer — it’s the perfect time to go for it.

Are you worried about burning out during the intense 12-week program?

I’m not super worried about burning out. It is a lot of hours, but I think burnout comes from doing something that you’re not necessarily motivated to do or having fun doing. I predict I’ll have a lot of fun!

It’ll be really intense, and it’ll be long hours, but I think that’s the exact environment I thrive in, where you shut everything out and just focus on one thing — being the best programmer I can be.

How did you hear about Hack Reactor?

I heard about Hack Reactor through meeting people who were in the process of doing Hack Reactor, or people who recently finished the program.

In my community role at Meteor, I would run the monthly events, and we would get a lot of Hack Reactor students at the events because they were interested in the platform, after playing with it in Hack Reactor.

When I started considering doing a bootcamp myself, I read a lot of blog posts and testimonials to weigh different bootcamps against each other.

What was the application process like?

The application process does change over time but, for me, you would first submit a coding challenge online… there was a website where you would go and pass a coding test. The material was fairly basic and just there to ensure that you’ve learned a bit of JavaScript on your own.

After that, there’s an in-person technical interview that involves a pair programming exercise and different challenges where you have to walk through your thought process. The technical interview is a lot harder, and you can expect to spend a decent amount of time preparing for it, if you don’t already have JavaScript experience.

Another good thing to know is that you can try the technical interview more than once. I actually got in on my third attempt and it’s pretty common for people to not get in on the first try.

Any tips for other Hack Reactor applicants?

I think my main tip is to be persistent and to always do a little bit everyday to prepare. When I started teaching myself to code during the summer, what I did was commit to myself that I would write a bit of code or study programming for at least 15 minutes a day. On good days, I would do more. On bad days, I would still do at least 15 minutes. I think this is a good way to keep you focused on your goal and keep momentum. I would actually track how many consecutive days I had done my study goal and build up a streak. Whenever I skipped a day, my streak would reset to 0.

Another tip is to find a study buddy. My roommate’s brother was applying to Hack Reactor around the same time, so we prepared for the interviews together, and we were able to do mock interviews with each other. The interview isn’t just your knowledge of the content, but also how able you are to explain your thought process. Working on programming challenges and explaining my thinking to another person, and not getting tripped up when something was tricky, definitely helped a lot.

What do you look for when considering financial products?

I mostly look at the simplicity, ease of use, and attractive terms.

For example, if it’s a credit card or a bank, it’s important to me that it has a decent web interface for me to manage my account. Also, it’s important that they don’t have minimum balances or little things that can complicate the finances or might lead me to make a mistake.

How has your experience with creating a WeFinance campaign been? How did you pick your interest rate and deferral period?

It’s been a good experience. Before I knew about WeFinance, I was already planning to raise money from friends and family — I was planning to borrow money with interest, write up a contract, and move money around with Venmo. Finding WeFinance was nice since it did what I planned to do, but it just made it simpler since the contract is standardized and the payments are automatic (meaning I didn’t have to coordinate Venmo transactions manually!).

In terms of picking my interest rate and deferral period, I picked the deferral period based on when I could be really confident that I would have an income. By the time my repayment starts, I should have been collecting an income for at least a month.

For the interest rate, I picked 4%. For me, 4% was walking the tightrope where it was attractive for my lenders – or at least reasonable – and also an attractive rate for me. I would’ve been able to get a loan for 6% or so from one of Hack Reactor’s lending partners.

Any tips or tricks for creating a campaign?

I think my main advice would be to focus on the reach out. You can’t necessarily rely on random strangers on the internet to back your campaign, so the core strength of the campaign is going to be pledges from people who know you. I would encourage people to not stress out too much about what the campaign says, but to think pretty carefully about the reach out. Write down a list of people you think are in a good position to lend you money and how much they might lend you (using your best guess based on their relationship to you and their likely financial situation). Craft a personalized outreach to each of these people.

I’d also recommend asking for a specific amount of money. I know that’s uncomfortable for some people, but I think it helps a lot if you can anchor what you’re hoping for, either directly or indirectly. To ask indirectly, sometimes instead of going right out and asking for $5000, I would just ask if they were interested in investing in my campaign. But then, when explaining the terms, I would say: “For example, a $5000 loan would earn $5290 under these terms.” Make the number a little on the high end of what they are likely to give you — make it slightly uncomfortable.

I haven’t personally focused on endorsements. For some people, that might be a good idea but I didn’t really emphasize it that much.