Raymond Luong is a Hack Reactor graduate and a developer at GlassLab Games. He crowdfunded a loan for living expenses during the program. We got to catch up with Raymond to discuss his time at Hack Reactor, moving to San Francisco from Hawaii, and using WeFinance.
Bootcamp Corner with WeFinance is a regular series that looks at coding bootcamp students, their experience, and the lessons they’ve learned.
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What was your experience with Hack Reactor?
It was really awesome and intense but I think it’s the only way to do it. In order to be successful with “languages” you have to be fully immersed. For a lot of people, it’s easier to learn a foreign language by throwing yourself into it.
One of the reasons why I love Hack Reactor is because they really care about education. I like that they’re really putting their heart and mind into creating something of value. The culture and environment of Hack Reactor is amazing.
What were you doing before Hack Reactor?
I was a bank teller but it was a tide over job. Before that, I was a volunteer in Malaysia for an education consulting firm that was trying to retool the entire education system.
The government was trying to ‘catch up’ so they implemented restrictions on minimum test scores. That put a strain on the whole system — students, teachers, and principals. It wasn’t just the students who were graded; teachers and principals were graded on the performance of their class and school respectively. They soon realized that the pressure had negative side effects. The consulting firm started by helping the teachers understand how to care for the students and then went to political leaders to lobby for change. They taught the students basic things like being harmonious with other people, how to work collaboratively, and basic values like respect and trust. Once that was established, the test scores automatically had positive results.
The goal was to change the philosophy of the education system to focus on the more important things of life. The leaders of the change had the mindset of “If the students aren’t performing, it’s not their fault at all, as adults and leaders we must reflect on ourselves, are we being good enough examples for the next generation? We must change ourselves, before we seek to change the next generation.” This mindset trickled down into the system and really caused positive changes in many lives and this is what really inspired me.
When I came back to America, I was wondering how to translate this. I knew that technology was the best distribution channel for change, so I tried learning how to code on my own.
How did you hear about Hack Reactor?
A friend and I started coding up random RPG games after I came back from Malaysia — we were really big gamers. We started learning coding, looking at the source code, and were super confused but slowly started teaching ourselves.
We wanted to expedite our learning and Hack Reactor seemed like the best fit after reading a lot of online reviews on their program and culture. We worked really hard to get to the level where Hack Reactor would accept us.
Was it hard to adapt to the developer mindset?
It wasn’t hard to adapt to the developer mindset because I was actually passionate about it — it was fun! I really wanted to develop my systematic thinking because I knew I needed it to reach my goals of helping out our education system.
What are you working on post-Hack Reactor?
I actually just started with GlassLab Games, a non-profit that does education technology (EdTech) for underserved kids. WeFinance helped me fund my dream of using technology to augment education. I couldn’t be happier.
You mentioned your passion for education and that you were a huge gamer. Did you always know you would end up in EdTech?
I think games are one of the best educational tools available. When I was younger, I played a lot of role-playing games that had historical myths and literature embedded into their quests. When I was in history classes, I actually knew what was going on because I had learned it through the games.
From that point, I knew that games and interactive media definitely have educational value; it’s just that most games and media don’t provide valuable information. If a game was fun, but had educational values, it wouldn’t be considered a waste of time but be considered learning.
Do you have any tips for someone considering Hack Reactor?
If you want to be happy, don’t do it for the money, do it for a passion. Chase a passion that really benefits society.
You moved from Honolulu to San Francisco. Was the transition difficult?
It was hard to transition because I was unfamiliar with the cost of living and I was not always wise with my spending. The city just eats up your money. In Hawaii, it’s expensive, but it’s a slow pace and relaxed. I’m still adjusting and learning to be wise with my money. I love the people though — they’re some of the smartest, most open-minded, and good people I’ve ever met.
Plus, there are lots of cold nights for a Hawaiian.
I’ve heard that Hack Reactor has an amazing alumni community. What do they do that’s awesome?
One of the best things about Hack Reactor is the community. You have a community who is always there for you.
Hack Reactor holds annual events, continued training, and interview prep for past students. I couldn’t be happier.
One of the most powerful things is their Slack. There are channels for jobs, meetups, hackathons, career advice, and coding problems. One of the scariest things as a developer is when you’re stuck on a problem and you don’t have people to ask. The Hack Reactor alumni network is really good because you can get instant feedback or help from your peers. Even if they don’t know the answer, they’ll help you think through it and point you in the right direction.
Do a lot of Hack Reactor students move to San Francisco? Any tips?
A lot of students move to San Francisco to attend Hack Reactor, so I’ll try to give a few tips.
Don’t lose track of your goals and passions. Remember why you went to Hack Reactor. The city can be really fun and it’s easy to lose yourself.
Don’t expect to “plug and play” when you move here, there’s an adjustment period. It’s like moving a plant from one pot to another; it’ll wither temporarily before it blossoms. Give yourself that time.
What was your experience with WeFinance?
I love the amazing customer service. It’s not like a giant bank where I’m just an input in the machine. I also love that the team is sincere and treat people as the top focus. For me, it’s always about the people.
I also love underdogs and small startups trying to make things happen. I have that same desire so I can feel the difficulty. It’s nice to support smaller institutions and businesses.
Do you have any tips for creating a campaign?
Just be honest with yourself and be sincere. With crowdfunding, you’re dealing with other people who can feel your honesty and sincerity.
Would you lend to other Hack Reactor students?
Definitely! I think it’s an amazing way to give back to the community and help new students while making a fair return for both the lenders and the borrowers.
My focus isn’t on the money; it’s on helping others.