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Hacker School Alum Answers 5 Questions About Applying

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Apply early and do your best on the application, but do not agonize over it. Also please don’t wait until the start of Hacker School to start building. Start now. If you want to go to Hacker School, just remember – keep building.

By Jane Wang (Hacker, Etsy)

I have received questions about Hacker School from the ladies at Women 2.0, members of NYTechWomen, and friends of friends through email introductions. I will do my best to address these below.

Question: How did you get a job at Etsy? Is it because hacker school was located/incubated at Etsy last season?

Immediately after Hacker School, I worked in Tokyo, Japan for a startup on a consulting basis. After my consulting work, I interviewed with several startups and tech companies. You are not entitled to a job at any company, because you’ve attended Hacker School.

That said, Hacker School is based at Etsy, and, if you want to work at Etsy, you have opportunities to show your interest and ability while you are attending Hacker School.

The same goes for getting a job at any company. If you have your heart set on a company, then take opportunities to make yourself a strong candidate. Etsy, like any other businesses, hires based a number of factors, and one of greatest is business need.

Question: What projects did you work on at Hacker School? What did you build?

I worked on several Node.js projects. One of those is an app called Instafun, using the Instagram API. It is a way for users to search through Instagram with keywords or tags. Another project that I am particularly fond of is a multi-player game over websockets called Icarus which is similar to Asteroids (won by object avoidance), using Express, Backbone.js, Socket.io, and Underscore.js.

I also worked on Python, built several small projects with Django and Flask, and contributed to BPython. Towards the end of Hacker School, I started using functional programming and learning Erlang.

Question: What programming skills did you have before hacker school? What was the delta in your experience at hacker school?

Before Hacker School, I was building a startup, Parkit Labs. The API and the desktop web version is built in Node.js, which is what I was working on. The frontend is an Android app. I wrote a little Java, though my co-founder has done most of the work for the app.

Coming into Hacker School, I was proficient in Node.js, including testing with the Mocha framework. In addition, I had extensive experience writing SQL queries and stored procedures as well as some C# experience from my previous work.

One of the delta at Hacker School is that building computationally intensive games taught me a lot about writing good, performant algorithms. Rewriting code a few times and a couple of different ways taught me to recognize good patterns. Working with and watching how different types of non-mainstream languages work showed me the power of languages. I also tinkered with a Raspberry Pi after seeing another Hacker Schooler had one.

I think my greatest takeaways from Hacker School were being able to work with something new and getting to proficiency quickly (i.e. learning about how to learn). I figured out a style of learning that seems to be working for me, which is to dive into the deep end, be confused, and be comfortable with that. Then, try to make connections until pieces begin to fall into place and a clearer picture emerges.

Question: After Hacker School, how did you prepare for technical interviews and what is the best way to prepare?

To me, the best way to prepare for interviews is to interview extensively, and to review your own performance each time. Every interview question you’d like to see, or a permutation of such, is typically available online.

If you want a job at a specific company, I would encourage building something with its API. You should have a good idea of what type of software development job you want, then focus on what they are asking for you to know. For startups, they may have limited resources for your ramp up, so they appreciate when you are familiar with the language, framework, and testing framework that they are working with.

If you don’t have a lot of experience, you need to know that the companies are taking risks on your behalf. The level of risk that they are willing to take is a function of your current strength as a developer, your ability to learn (your expected ability), other factors about you (i.e. fit), and their own resources.

I know some Hacker Schoolers prepared extensively for interviews. I took a different route and was more interested in going to hackathons sponsored at various companies. I participated in several competitions, including Node Knockout, Onswipe HTML5 Hackathon (winning entry), and Angel Hack.

Question: Do you have any advice about the application for Hacker School?

Yes, apply early and do your best on the application, but do not agonize over it. Also please don’t wait until the start of Hacker School to start building. Start now. If you want to go to Hacker School, just remember to keep building.

I hope this post helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions that I can help to answer.

This post was originally posted at Jane Wang’s blog.

Women 2.0 readers: Do you have further questions about applying to Hacker School? Let us know in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Jane Wang is a Hacker at Etsy. She was a hacker in the Summer 2012 batch of Hacker School and the founder of Parkit Labs. Formerly, she worked as a product manager at financial tech startup and an investment banker. She is a strong supporter of female hackers and entrepreneurs. In her free time, she makes things with brackets, numbers and paint. Follow her on Twitter at @janeylwang.