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Meet Houston Flatiron School alum and Jr. Software Engineer at Baylor Genetics, Olivia Auzenne!
Olivia started her career as an admin for various tech startups in Denver. Inspired by the work of Software Engineers she launched her own marketing agency and learned to design websites for her clients. That’s when she decided to take her career to the next level and learn how to code. While pregnant with her first baby, Olivia taught herself the basics of code for a few months and then applied and got into Flatiron School. She graduated from the Software Engineering program and landed a job working at Baylor Genetics right in the middle of finals week! Today Olivia has financial stability, a brand new home in a neighborhood she loves, and a community of code newbies who are inspired by her journey every day. Here she tells her fascinating story:
What is your background and experience, and what led you to Flatiron School? What did you do before FIS?
When I was 21 years old I decided to take a little sabbatical to Colorado. I moved to Denver, which if you don’t know, has become a mini Silicon Valley with a ton of really amazing and awesome tech startups. So, I dropped out of college and went on this huge adventure to play around in the mountains and ski and hike and do all the things.
I started to work in admin and backend operations for various tech startups in Denver. That’s where I learned about the world of tech. I became really impressed by the culture of the tech industry, how they treated their employees, and it just seemed like a really fun environment. I noticed not only the culture of these startups but also the passion of the Engineers there, the software Engineers — they loved what they did which really excited me, to say the least.
So, I moved back to Houston and started a Marketing company helping small businesses with their branding and advertising. I began designing websites using website builders, which I absolutely loved and started offering this as part of my marketing packages. I realized, “Whoa, I absolutely love this but I can only go so far with what I’m building”. That’s when everything came full circle and I truly realized why Software Engineers are so passionate. I was doing what they do on a small scale and decided to take it to the next level by learning how to code.
That’s when I decided to look at my options. I could’ve gone back to school to get a computer science degree but when I found out about coding bootcamps I said to myself, “Dude, I’m all about hacking the system. This is a hack to life! I can go to this bootcamp for three months and come out of it as an Engineer - sign me up!”. So while I was pregnant with my first baby I studied my butt off during the bootcamp prep, learned how to code for a few months, and then applied and got into Flatiron School!
What made you choose Flatiron School rather than going back to college or teaching yourself?
This is a very simple answer -- Flatiron School is the best. I did a ton of research and time and time again, it kept circling back to Flatiron School. They’re the best and my thing is, if I want to do something or go somewhere I want it to be the best. Flatiron School fit that bill. I looked online and the reviews were great. I searched Youtube and at that time there weren't a lot of helpful videos so that’s why I decided to start my Youtube channel. I talk about Flatiron School and software Engineering all the time. I am Flatiron School’s biggest cheerleader — I’m always wearing Flatiron School shirts in my videos and I’m pretty sure I’m at a point where people are like, “Does Flatiron sponsor you?” Because I’m just always singing you guys’ praises because this program truly did change my life.
I also loved that there was an in-person campus in my hometown Houston just 15-20 minutes away from where I lived — seriously perfect. I loved that the campus was absolutely beautiful — it was what I’d like to call “an Instagram-able campus”. When I went to visit everyone was super nice, it seemed very organized, structured, and it was literally just the best bootcamp across the board. I really liked the idea that I could go in-person because that was a better fit for my learning style. I can be a little ADHD so teaching myself and staying on track would have been a bit difficult; learning online is just not my thing. I actually attended Flatiron School when I was 3 months postpartum and still breast pumping - which was interesting. They had an absolutely beautiful mother’s room and everyone was so accommodating. Going back to college would have taken so much more time and the online learning wouldn’t necessarily have been the best fit for me.
What advice do you have for other people thinking about making a career change and attending a bootcamp?
I speak about this a lot on my YouTube channel. People ask me all of the time “Is it hard?” and “Don't you have to be really smart?” I'm not your average person that you would think of would be a Software Engineer, which I think is why a lot of people feel called to my YouTube channel actually. I was and am just a regular girl. I didn't code when I was 10 years old in a dark room. I'm not a gamer. I was your next-door party girl in college and I am truly a relatable programmer.
But as far as advice what I like to tell people is that you have to be willing to put the work in. Yeah, there's going to be people that are smarter than you, that have more experience, those who can pull out a book just before the class and start reading. And then there's people like me, where you have to wake up early, put in the extra hours, and stay up late. I truly had to work for my graduation and put my blood, sweat, and tears into that. My point is that you don't have to be a genius to know how to code. You just have to be willing to put the work in. You may have to quit your job. You may have to go part-time with your job. You may have to tell your friends that you're not going to be able to hang out with them for a few months. You may have to put in a few months of work before you even get into the program. But you don't have to be a genius to learn how to do anything.
Do you have any tips for anyone applying to a bootcamp?
My biggest piece of advice for anyone applying to bootcamp is to take the bootcamp prep. I know it can be difficult to have to work on such a long program but it really is a necessity when it comes to being accepted. There is the technical interview that's involved that you have to pass in order to get into the program. But most importantly you have to know that if it's something you can see yourself doing full-time as a career. So that's my biggest piece of advice.I really tried to put my all into the application and I was actually told that my application was one of the best to come through. But again, I just believe in doing things the best way that I possibly can and really showing up for myself in that way. The cultural interview went well and the technical interview was extremely nerve-wracking but the person that interviewed me was really nice and gave me a ton of hints. I was so nervous, but she just was really great. She made me feel comfortable and helped me out a bit too.
What was the learning experience like at Flatiron School?
The learning experience at Flatiron School was absolutely amazing. I worked with Josh, our instructor at the Houston campus. He was not only extremely smart but also really invested in our learning and growth, always willing to put in the extra hours. I remember times where he'd stay late to help us out and you could tell that he really was passionate about helping us learn and cared about our success. I remember one time we talked about cookies, like computer cookies, and he actually brought in homemade cookies. And that wasn't the only time he cooked. For our graduation he had a gettogether at his home and it was just super sweet.
Everyone was always really helpful. As far as the TA’s you know, we did kind of have a revolving door of TA’s so that was kind of a little frustrating. We would meet someone, fall in love with them, and then their contract would be up but overall I would say they were very helpful. One important note is that they do not baby you. They will not necessarily sit down and go over code line by line with you. At the time it may seem frustrating but ultimately it really helps you grow because once you're in the workplace, you're not going to have someone that'll sit next to you. It's more of a “we're going to give you this information and it's your job to do what you have to do to understand the material”.
What were some of your favorite projects that you built while in the program?
I love this question! I think it was in the second or third module. I can’t remember specifically but I was on a team full of girls. We had this girl power idea of creating a gratitude journal where you can journal about the things that you're grateful for. It was a ton of fun and my thought process about philosophy, the world, peace, love, positivity, and spreading joy were in alignment - I absolutely love that project. My final project was my absolute favorite. At the time I was three months postpartum and still breast pumping. I'd be at the campus so late that I would get massive mastestitus, but again, you got to be willing to put in that hard work dedication. I did experience 100% mom guilt, and that's another thing too, you know. I made sacrifices and I knew that I was doing that for my son. So that's what really pushed me through.
I built a breastfeeding app for moms and really focused on the UX/UI. I got a ton of compliments on my front end design and the branding - it was a minimal pink and gold mobile application. You could track how much milk you’ve pumped for the day and then you would get a notification “Good job Mama, keep going!”. The app also had another feature for meditation. This was one of my favorite projects.
How did you land your current role?
So my story was a little unique because I actually had a job offer one week before graduation. Throughout the program (I talk a lot about this on my YouTube channel) I really focused on branding myself as a programmer and put my projects out there to let people know that I was studying how to code. To warm up my current network I let them know that this is something that I'm doing and that I'd be graduating soon with a new skill set. It actually worked out in my favor because I had a friend reach out to me and say “Hey, you know how to code now?” I said, “ Heck yeah, I'm graduating soon.” And she replied “Wow, there's a Junior Software Engineer position open at Baylor Genetics”. “How convenient!”, I thought. So I submitted my resume, had a 3-hour long interview, and got the job pretty much the very next day right in the middle of finals week. It was just a really crazy busy time.
One of the best moments of my life was seeing how everyone was rooting for me during this job interview. There was such a strong community aspect with my cohort and we still text each other today and hang out. It was such a specially curated group of people who cared. The second I got off the phone and said, “Guys, I got the job!” everyone just went up and cheered and congratulated me.
Have you found your previous professional background useful in your new job? What was the transition like?
I would say that my background in Administration and Operations really helped me when it came to project management. I know how to ask the right questions and formulate a plan. With coding you really have to understand the problem and write it out.
The second biggest advantage for me was being a full-time entrepreneur and understanding how to be a self-starter. Coding takes a lot of self-motivation. I would listen to Tony Robbins and people like him to learn how to fail forward. Because you’re going to fail - in coding everyone does - but it’s important to know how to use that failure as leverage and not allow it to hold you back. As long as you're failing that means you're doing and as long as you're doing that means you'll get there.
What would you say was the biggest challenge in your journey of learning to code?
I would say the biggest challenge, especially initially when I was learning how to code, was being a new mother and also learning a very difficult skill set. To balance that I had to put in extra work in order to learn. When my mom guilt was eating away, another mom in my cohort really helped to encourage me. I had to make sacrifices in order to succeed in this program. I didn't hang out with my friends. I really had to put my life on the back burner, but it was all worth it in the end. So I would say that starting from zero was probably my biggest challenge. I really had to scratch and climb to get through this.
Are you using any programming languages you learned at Flatiron School?
Anything last thoughts you’d like to share?
I'm going to try and not get emotional here but Flatiron School completely changed the trajectory of my life. I have financial stability like I've never thought I would have before. I knew that I was always going somewhere in life, I just didn't know how I would actually get there. So for me to find an avenue to actually get there - I can't even put it in words. I bought my dream house in a fantastic neighborhood that’s safe and has great schools - that alone is priceless. I can feel safe in my home. I can feel safe going for bike rides at night time -- it makes me emotional to think about the life that I live today.
All it really took was 6 months of my life, three months of the boot camp prep and three months of going to the actual program, and my life completely changed. That's why I'm Flatiron School’s biggest cheerleader because if it wasn't for Flatiron School and I would not be here. I just wouldn't have. I am so proud of my career. I am so proud to call myself an Engineer. I'm so proud to represent for Black Americans. I'm so proud to represent women in technology. I have a sense of pride when people ask me what I do and I can say yeah, I’m an Engineer and people are like “Whoa” and super impressed.
I will continue to champion Flatiron School and I will continue to talk about it and encourage people to go there. That’s what I do on my YouTube channel, trying to encourage people even when they feel discouraged and ask questions like “Am I smart enough to be an Engineer?” I wasn't always this person, this nerd, if you will. I get messages every single day that tell me that if it wasn't for them finding my videos, they would have never gone into this program or they would have never graduated from this program. They didn't even know that bootcamps are a possibility. Now I've garnered tens of thousands of views on my YouTube channel and have encouraged so many people to start and graduate from the program and land their dream jobs. That's priceless. It's the whole idea of This Little Light of Mine - it takes one person to light up an entire room of candles. And so I just have to say thank you to you guys for being so awesome.
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