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First Month At The Graide Network

It’s been almost a month since I started as a software engineer at The Graide Network and life still feels like a dream sometimes. I get to wake up and go into work and code all day? How amazing is that! It took a tremendous amount of hard work, courage and trust in myself to get here, but it was all worth it.

In the beginning of 2018, I quit my job and left Seattle to move in to my grandparent’s basement in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I woke up every day and taught myself JavaScript using what felt like every online resource imaginable for four months. In April I applied and was accepted to Fullstack Academy in Chicago. By that summer I had moved to the city and was pair programming the days away with my cohort, learning Sequelize, Node, React and Redux.

Fullstack Introduction Video

My Fullstack Academy introduction video, filmed in my grandparent's basement. 😂

I graduated at the end of August and was selected for a teaching fellowship, so I stayed on campus for three additional months mentoring students, conducting admissions interviews and assisting the instructors. In December I was officially done and looking for my first full-time software engineering role in Chicago.

It took me five weeks to accept my job at The Graide Network, and in total I had eight phone screens, three code challenges and five onsites. Christmas was not the most ideal time to job hunt because many people were out of the office for the holidays so my inbox was pretty quiet that week. I only sent out about two dozen job applications - I knew what type of role I was looking for so I didn’t use the spray-and-pray approach of LinkedIn Easy Apply.

I was looking for a startup that had a mission I believed in. I wanted to work on a team that operated with integrity, was inclusive, and where I wouldn’t be the only woman. For my first role it was also very important that I would have excellent mentorship because there’s still an incredible amount I have to learn! I’m happy to say that I found all of that at The Graide Network, a startup that matches K-12 schools with teaching assistants for enhanced feedback on student writing.

Karl Hughes had done a talk at Fullstack while I was in the senior phase of the program and I was very distracted by my teams capstone project, an ed-tech app called Q&A. I liked the talk but did not introduce myself at the time because I was so focused on getting back to coding. In early January he reached out and after an informational phone interview I did an onsite interview, where we pair programmed and then I met with three other members of the team.

I had a week between our phone screen and initial interview and I spent it teaching myself everything I could about Angular, Typescript and NgRx. None of the tech stack The Graide Network uses was what I had learned at Fullstack so there was a lot to learn. For our onsite interview we were going to be pair programming on an issue from rubric-creator, an open source project the company created for educators to use to create and share scoring rubrics for grading papers. I spent an entire day familiarizing myself with the codebase by looking through all the code and writing down what every file did.

One of the open issues for rubric-creator was to check and improve screen reader accessibility, which is a topic I’m interested in - during my teaching fellowship I did a talk on improving accessibility in React apps. I used the Mac VoiceOver screen reader to go over all the functionality in the rubric-creator app and opened a pull request with improvements. I had never done an open source pull request before and the changes I was making felt tiny, but I really loved what I had learned about The Graide Network and I wanted to show initiative.

For our onsite I picked creating a feature where users could save rubrics to favorites. I worked through the issue ahead of time on my own and wrote down all of the steps that were needed so I would be prepared. I had only spent a few days learning this new framework so I wasn’t fully comfortable programming in it yet and wanted to make sure I wouldn’t get lost in the codebase. I get severe anxiety in high-pressure whiteboarding interviews, but this experience was totally different - it felt like what a normal day at work would be like.

My first day at The Graide Network everyone on the team was very friendly and I immediately felt welcome. I joined as the seventh employee (we’re now a team of nine) and the second engineering hire after Karl, who is the CTO. I had heard some horror stories from previous bootcamp students about why not to join a startup for your first job, but I’ve had an amazing experience here so far.

Staircase painted to look like books at the Literacenter

Is it a stack of books, or is it a staircase...? 😍

My first week I did several onboarding tasks such as getting my local environment set up, reviewing our engineering documentation and going through the process of becoming a Graider and a teacher on our platform. In the first month I’ve increased our code coverage by writing unit tests, gotten familiar with our codebase by fixing linting issues and bugs, written SQL queries for our Metabase dashboards and migrated some of our modules to NgRx store.

I appreciate that I’m being given so many guided opportunities to learn. Karl has created a rubric based off of Medium’s engineering Snowflake framework that I can use to understand where I’m at in four main areas (Competency, Passion, Initiative, Reliability) and how I can continue to improve. We do a daily standup about what we’re working on that day, a weekly meeting to plan the upcoming week and reflect, and we give each other feedback about what we’re doing well and how we can improve. Feedback is important.

I was homeschooled and I spent most of my childhood reading as many books as I could check out from our local library. I loved to write, but in high school it was often difficult to get detailed, actionable feedback on my work because I was in such large classrooms. At The Graide Network, I’m now helping build a platform that reimagines how middle and high school teachers spend their time, how students experience feedback, and how college education programs prepare aspiring teachers - and that feels pretty great.

Published 20 Feb 2019