switchup

Q&A with Grace Hopper Academy student Alex Polubiec

Alex Polubiec is currently attending the inaugural cohort of Grace Hopper Academy, the only women's coding school with no up-front tuition cost. Created in partnership with the renowned coding bootcamp Fullstack Academy, Grace Hopper Academy is based in New York City and teaches full-stack. We interviewed Alex to hear about her journey in programming and experience at Grace Hopper so far.

How/why did you decide to make the switch into software?

I started learning to program while freelance writing, thinking that HTML/CSS and some basic programming might open up more writing opportunities, as well as be an interesting topic to write about. I then became a technical writer at a network company, where I was interested in documenting programming languages and APIs, and was lucky to have the opportunity to start doing so pretty early in my career. I was fascinated by and enjoyed programming, but wasn't yet convinced I wanted to be a programmer myself. I was learning a lot of programming on the side, thinking it would help out with my technical writing, but mostly identifying as a writer. And then it just gradually sucked me in. One day, I basically woke up and realized I wanted to be a software engineer. It was a pretty big leap, and it took me a couple of years to build up my confidence and skills to where I felt ready to commit 100% to software engineering as a career - but I'm really glad I've decided to take that leap and attend Grace Hopper Academy.

What shocked you when you first attended your school?

I've been working with engineers for a couple of years now, and I just honestly didn't think I was very good at programming. These engineers were really skilled, and knew so much more than me. I really thought I was a complete amateur. With time, I discovered that I enjoyed programming so much, that I decided I didn't care if I was "good enough", I just had to pursue it. In that sense, the biggest surprise for me was that I have been picking up the material, especially at this rapid pace! There have definitely been challenges, but for the most part, I feel like I'm learning so much every moment, and I'm having a lot of fun in the process.

Now that you're in the middle of the program, what are you looking forward to in the second half?

I'm actually pretty nervous about the second half! I'm really looking forward to learning how to apply everything I've learned to real projects. I feel like I've learned absurd amounts of information and it's just floating around in my brain waiting to be used. So while I think it'll be new and scary to start doing more open-ended projects, I'm also really excited to see the results.

What type of prep work do you recommend prospective students complete before applying to schools?

There is a certain minimum of information that is good to have - knowing how to work with HTML/CSS, and also having basic knowledge of how to program are helpful. I would recommend reading all of Jon Duckett's HTML, CSS, JavaScript and jQuery Set. And if you happen to already know some Python, I personally found Learn Python the Hard Way was a great way to get exposure to some of the more difficult concepts will come up later in the program, as well as to become more comfortable with command line and debugging. But more than anything, I think you need to be pretty certain that this is the career you want to get into. I think the only way to do that is to do lots of programming on your own, and to get through the pain of learning how to debug. If you can get to the point where debugging feels more like an exciting puzzle, then you probably will enjoy being a programmer (I know, easier said than done!)

Words of advice for people in your age group who are considering a switch?

Honestly, I think anyone in any age group should consider a switch to a more technical field. There are a lot of misconceptions about what type of person makes a good programmer. I don't think it has anything to do with personality. Everyone has strengths they can bring to a programming project - it's a really multifaceted skill that involves analysis, creativity, strategy. I think if it sounds interesting and you enjoy programming, just go for it, whatever age you are!

What types of jobs are you interested in after the program?

At the moment, I'm really focusing on curriculum, so I don't have any definite plans for my job after the program. But I definitely have some ideas in the back of my head, and a growing list of companies I'm interested in. I'm especially interested in tech companies in the education, arts and video games spaces. But more than anything, I'd like to work at a small-to-medium sized company that's doing something new and interesting, where I can work with experienced engineers and continue to hone my craft.

Five years from now, where do you want to be?

That's a pretty tough question for me right now! This program is definitely going to change things for me a lot. But the honest truth is I don't care very much exactly where I am, as long as I have a job that I'm passionate about. In 5 years, I can imagine I might move more towards a freelance role with more flexibility, but it really depends on the opportunities I come across in the next few years, and how I decide I want to learn and grow moving forward.

How did you find out about your program? What was your research process? What about it was appealing to you?

For me, the research process was pretty grueling. I decided I wanted to go to a bootcamp almost 6 months ago, before Grace Hopper Academy had been announced. I applied to a lot of bootcamps (can't even remember how many). I had been accepted to a few, but none of them felt right. I knew I wanted a rigorous program, and that I needed a program that expected a certain level of experience, rather than one for pure beginners. When Grace Hopper Academy was announced, I literally filled out the application the day I saw it! It was just the exact right fit at the right time. I knew I wanted to learn full-stack JavaScript - and the GHA curriculum just looked like exactly what I wanted. I was particularly excited that it's an all-women's school (these are hard to find) Basically, once I found out about Grace Hopper Academy, I knew I had to go there. I'm really thrilled to be able to be a part of the first cohort!

What did your friends and family say when you told them you would attend a school?

My friends and family were really happy and supportive - especially my side of the family, who live in NY. I was really pleasantly surprised at how supportive my coworkers were as well, even though I was leaving my company after less than a year - I was certain I wanted to be in the first cohort of GHA, but the timing wasn't perfect. Everyone has been incredibly supportive and excited for me, including my husband, who is waiting for me back in the Bay Area. It's really a once in a lifetime opportunity, and while it's been tough uprooting everything for this, it's absolutely been the right call for me.


Student Bio

Hi. I'm Alexandra Polubiec - my friends call me Alex or Allie. I'm originally from New York City (Washington Heights) & Westchester County, NY. I went to Bennington College in Vermont, where I met a lot of awesome people, including my now-husband, Anthony, who is from Davis, CA. I currently live in Santa Clara, CA.

Two years ago, I entered the tech sector as a technical writer. I've worked at two network technology startups (A10 Networks & Shape Security). I love programming, and have decided to pursue a career as a web developer.

I'm attending Grace Hopper Academy's inaugural cohort in January 2016 in NYC.

My hobbies include: cats, board games, puzzles, video games, music, theatre, hanging out, and I guess just hobbies in general… Seriously, I collect hobbies.

Check out my blog!

mail icon