27 open office sessions later

reflections from holding office hours for juniors and career-changers.

here's my original post on linkedin.


i'm a software engineer now, but in progression from a complete outsider to software development to now, i often felt a severe lack of mentorship.

each step, from tech outsider to bootcamp attendee,
from bootcamp grad to first-time dev,
and from junior dev to mid-level engineer with tech lead responsibilities,

felt like leaps i made without really knowing what the other side held.
most of the time, i felt i had to rely on myself, books, and carefully parsed advice from the internet to make the best decisions.
despite that, i had moments when people lent me some time and hard-earned advice from their own personal experience. so i definitely wanted to pay that back for anyone out there!


the overwhelming majority of people who reached out to me looked like me

i had worked as the only female software engineer on my teams in the past 3 years, but so many women (nearly all of them complete strangers) reached out to me! to me, it spoke to how deep the craving URMs in tech have for guidance and affirmation.

the interview process is confusing

a lot of folks wanted to know my study plan.
i'll record it here, but i don't believe it's that helpful in itself. the real question people were asking might be "what do they expect from me in interviews and how can i deliver?"
sadly, the best answer for that is: it can vary tremendously by company and even by interviewer. luckily, most places that have their shit together will be consistent in explaining what they expect and in judging for that.

for example, to prepare for bootcamp, i looked up what they said to study on their blog. i only used the resources they outlined to benchmark my performance and then apply.
it's the same for google. i paid close attention to what the recruiter sent me, and youtube videos they had describing their philosophy as a guide.

here's my study plan:

- i made sure i projected confidence. this surprised folks because it's not the advice they expected.
find a way to build trust in yourself, call a friend or your mom before interviewing, yell affirmations, sing your favorite song, do anything to feel good about yourself and your abilities. it's critical.
interviewers might not really know if you have the technical chops after an entire hour, but they will smell that you don't believe in yourself within 50 milliseconds.

- i used cracking the coding interview and leetcode following the "interview circuit training" style described here.

- i used pramp.com to practice explaining to interviewers. this is a separate skill from solving problems and needs practice.

- i watched cs101 lectures on topics like networking, scaling, and graph traversal. understanding core concepts will pay off much more than memorizing the solution to that one dp problem.

"what is typical? is this what's expected?"

nobody asked me this directly, but i heard this as a common theme running across many sessions.

people often expressed confusion and uncertainty about whether the experiences and questions they had were normal. this ranged from everything from ds&algo problem solving ability, feeling ready for interviews, getting a first job, knowing whether a workplace was supportive or actually toxic, etc.

i didn't feel this was "impostor syndrome" as much as truly lacking a frame of reference. they hadn't seen or heard enough from others about the things they were going through to place their own situation in context. and if they did hear about comparisons, it was from cs grads or white men or the very stereotype of a coder.

that's what the power of community should provide. when people with similar experiences listen to each other, they can find validation and give a name to the emotions they're feeling.

unfortunately for folks like me, we need to be proactive and seek out these conversations because the community isn't conveniently "just here" around us.


if you want to try holding hours:

  • use calend.ly! it made it so easy to manage.
  • don't allow folks to schedule more than 2 weeks in advance. people often forgot they had signed up, even if they received reminder emails.
  • become an empathetic active listener

if you're visiting someone for office hours:

  • let them know why you reached out to them or what you want to know. this is so critical in making the most of the little time you share.
  • think of the the person you reached out to as a starting node. use each conversation to get recommendations for the next people who'd be great to meet (i use this all the time in life and at work).