In The Cohort: An Interview with Student Melissa Ho

A new software developer, with a biopharma past, emerges.

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Melissa Ho was already working in the technology industry but didn’t feel totally at home. As a product manager for Medrio, a Bay Area-based biopharmaceutical company, she worked with developers and QA testers on developing products that could help them do a better job at things such as drug analysis. But she always felt like she was out of the loop when it came to making decisions about how the product should actually be built. Living in San Francisco, she decided to pursue something her friends were already doing: life as a software developer.

“I had a couple friends who did App Academy and had great results. So App Academy was my first choice and I applied and got in,” she told us in an interview, in the middle of her tenth week of the full-time course at the San Francisco office. She also liked that App Academy had a deferred payment option, which confirmed to her a logical investment in a bootcamp student.

The need to become a software developer didn’t come because Melissa wanted full control of the product-making experience. Rather, it was because she thought she had valuable insight into solving product pain points that were going unused. Even after finishing App Academy, she says, she will likely work for some company that builds the best designed applications for people and companies.

We talked to her further about the projects she has built while at the bootcamp and her overall experience.  

10 weeks into the course, are you still excited about it? How are you feeling emotionally at this point?

I’m pretty tired by the end of day. It’s usually like a very long day for me. There’s just so much to learn. I think that my style of learning is that I like to learn one thing at a time and really nail it. However, with the bootcamp curriculum, it’s very fast-paced and you learn the general concept and basics and move on. And so for me, it was a little bit challenging because I did feel uncomfortable moving so quickly when I haven’t quite mastered it. So with these new projects, it’s very similar in that I’m learning to build a project quickly. And so I’m very excited. Once I finish the curriculum, I’ll be able to review the curriculum and fill in all the gaps I’ve missed.  

What was the moment that concretely made you feel that you were in the right place here at the Academy?

Okay, I would say it would be towards the end of the full stack project. So I created a clone of Hippycamp (below) and it was the first time where I worked on a solo project and I built an application I was proud to show my friends and family. I just sent it to my friends and family, the link, and show them like, “Hey, the past two months, this is what I’ve been working on.” And it was something that I was really proud of.

What the application does is where you can go on and = can book campsites. I chose to clone that website because I’m very outdoorsy and I like to go camping. So I thought it would be a natural fit for me to choose something I love to do and to choose a site I think is very pretty.

Tell us about the planning involved in this project.

There was a lot of planning involved. I created a wire frames, wrote drafts on the sample state, and created documents on how the routes will look like. So there was definitely a lot of planning involved but I guess I’ve learned that nothing goes exactly to plan. So there were changes that I made as I started building to features we wanted to hit. So for me, my first feature was authentication, making sure users are logged in… [that] they can create reviews, bookings, and then my second MVP was having listings so you can see all the campsites when you click on a campsite it shows more details  like information about the campsite.

My third MVP was being able to make a booking so users can choose a check-in or checkout date and book a campsite. And my last one was reviews. So users can create review update and delete the reviews and my approach was I would hit one MVP at a time. 

And how did how did your friends and family react?

They were really impressed, which is great because it’s always a great feeling when other people like your product. And it was very rewarding to see they’re supportive of what I do and they liked it and that they thought it looked pretty. And obviously there’s room for feedback, but they know that I’ve been working hard and it was something I’m definitely proud of and that they enjoyed.  

What is the biggest challenge you think you’ll have building the group project, which is the last thing you’re supposed to create in the course?

I wanted to build a subscription manager. The inspiration behind that idea was I noticed that in today’s society, the trend is to go towards a subscription economy. So everyone has an account like Spotify and Netflix and sometimes it’s hard to manage. Like, I don’t remember when my Spotify or my MealPal account [expires] and by the time I do, it’s already renewed another cycle. So I end up paying extra for it even though I might not need it. I wanted to create an app where a user can log in and see their apps and cancel their app subscription from there. It will notify the user if there has been an increase in subscription rate. However, due to research and constraints we decided we wouldn’t implement that idea.

And so our alternative is to set up a subscription manager. So let’s say I have an account to Spotify. I can go on the site, add that account, add the cost as well as the subscription renewal date. And I will get an email to remind me I need to renew or cancel my subscription.

This is a new technology stack, so it’s been pretty challenging to learn and build it at the same time. But fortunately we are doing a lot of peer programming. There’s two sets of eyes writing the code, two sets of eyes debugging, and based on the progress we’ve made so far, I feel pretty confident we can reach our MVP in time.  

Melissa’s subscription manager web app.

But why did you decide to do that product in the first place?

I guess the most exciting thing for me about this project is learning a new technology stack. I think  I still have a lot of learning to do in terms of programming and there’s so much information out there. It’s exciting. For me to be able to pick up technology quickly. I think that comes with a lot of experience, being able to read documentation and figuring out how to implement different technologies. I think that’s a very important skill to have, so I’m excited to foster those skills.

I chose this concept because I’ve had the idea for about a year, when I was doing product, and it’s very exciting to be able to turn it into into an actual app.

Are you looking forward to the career section of your time here?

Yes. It’s definitely very helpful to have this advice because the career section is applicable to not just a first job as a developer but career skills to have like networking, negotiating, how to interview, how to write cover letters, how to improve a resume. So it is very exciting. I think it has been hard to balance doing the career section as well as the flex (group) project but it’s worthwhile.

I feel like I’ve had pretty good experience with resumes, cover letters, and interviewing but I could use more experience with negotiation. I’ve only negotiated twice in my life. I think negotiation is a great skill to have, on-the-spot expressing your thoughts and communicating to a large group. I know that for me, personally, it’s a little bit tough to be able to write and talk at the same time. Usually, I would code and then explain the code, so being able to do both and make it look natural [is important]. I’m excited to have more practice on that.

Have you already begun thinking about which companies want to go?

I haven’t given too much thought about specific companies because I figured I would actually spend a couple weeks to review the curriculum before I start applying to polish my skills. I would want to work for a company whose product I’m excited about because I will be helping build [it]. I would also want to work for a company that has a product with a good UI and UX design because coming from a product background, I am very design-focused and want to make sure our product gives our customers a good experience and that they’re using our product effectively and solving problems.  

New Software Developer Postcript

After finishing the bootcamp recently, Melissa has gotten a job as a software developer at Guardant Health, one of the top biotech companies in the country. The company builds a non-invasive tool for accessing and sequencing tumor DNA and Guardant’s founders were recently named to Time’s Most Influential People in Healthcare list. It’s a great place for a person like Melissa, who is both skilled and forward-looking in her approach to work.

 

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