Hackbright Academy helped jumpstart me from a hobbyist to a web developer.

By Michelle Sun (Alum, Hackbright Academy)

2012 has been a huge year in terms of personal and professional growth. On the professional front, I progressed significantly in pursuing my passion in products, from defining and building a product from scratch and selling it to real customers, to getting hands on with code.

My Startup

Spotick was a company that I co-founded with two other partners. It uses receipts as a platform to promote marketing messages of merchants.

One thing I learned from my first entrepreneurial experience – to spend more time cultivating relationships. While I was actively making sales contacts for the project, I would place more emphasis in connecting with the startup community.

Due to lack of funding and full time commitment from more than one founder, I left the company after spending a year of work on the project. It was an extremely fun and enriching experience wearing many hats especially customer development, sales, lean product development and front end coding. Everything from dealing with customers, learning both software and hardware development technologies, to managing team expectations, exposed me to a myriad of situations that resulted in great personal growth.

I have always been passionate about building products, and having been in a startup and built my own, I have always felt half-blind when it comes to the technical side. During my time at Spotick, I had been doing some front-end coding and picked up Ruby on Rails on the weekends by reading Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial and Peter Cooper’s Beginning Ruby. After getting my first Twitter clone working, I was hooked.

Hackbright Academy

Hackbright Academy was a pivotal episode of my professional life that happened in the least expected moment; when I was checking my Twitter stream one morning in late May, a tweet from Women 2.0 came up about a program that teaches women to code. It just clicked.

Hackbright helped jumpstart me from a hobbyist to a web developer. The program teaches Python, Django, Javascript etc, but most importantly, it teaches me how to fish; I love the ability to create something I conceive of, knowing if I don’t know something yet I will be perfectly capable to figure it out. It is a very empowering feeling.

Aside from learning loads, I also appreciated the founders Christian Fernandez and David Phillips, my fellow Hackbright classmates, who are amazing and smart individuals that made the summer a fun, challenging one. From pair programming, to hackathons, to coding challenges, the 11 ladies and the founders have created the best environment to learn and explore. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of the inaugural class of this amazing program.

Bump Technologies

Since graduating from Hackbright, I have been working on data at Bump Technologies. With over 100 million downloads, it is an ideal playground for a data enthusiast. I spend most of the work days using Python, and libraries like numpy, pandas come in handy everyday. There are also wonderful tools like d3, Gephi that makes data visualization delightfully easy and elegant.

Having worked with data my whole career so far, it is an amazing feeling to use data to learn more about a product that I care about. That is definitely a combination of passion and skills, and I feel very blessed to be able to do so.

As I spend more time on exploring data, I also became more interested and involved in the user experience and strategy aspect of a product. A big part of data mining / data science relies on asking the right questions, and asking the right questions requires understanding the core values of the product. For example, when looking at retention, the value proposition of the product plays a significant role in deciding a goal to pursue. A social product may focus more on retention, as the network effect is sustained not only by user acquisition but also by active users, a utility application (like a Flash light app) may focus more on acquiring new users.

Goals for 2013

  • Blog: In the new year, I look forward to sharing more often on this blog. In particular, I focus on growth and product strategy.
  • Coding: I’d like to pick up a functional language, to stretch my programming muscles after an intense year of ramping up with Python and Ruby on Rails. I also want to invest more time on data visualization and user interface design.
  • Startups: A few friends have approached me to advise on their startups, and given my transition from Spotick to Hackbright and moving to California, I have put those on hold. I want to get involved in a project or two in the coming year.
  • Project: I plan to create a software product in the new year that produces an income stream.

A Personal Note

One special gift to myself this year as I turned 25 is to find the time to get certified as a yoga instructor. The 200-hour, 4-week teacher training was an intensive challenge and worthwhile pursuit. While I do not intend to teach professionally full time in the near future, the training has launched my fitness level, and my awareness of such, to a new high. That has definitely had a positive spillover effect on other aspects of my life.

This post was originally posted at Michelle Sun’s blog.

Women 2.0 readers: What did you learn from your 2012 in review? Let us know in the comments below.

About the guest blogger: Michelle Sun is an alum of Hackbright Academy. Prior to Hackbright, she worked at mobile startups as product marketing manager and founded a mobile loyalty startup. She began her career as an investment research analyst on the technology sector. When she is not busy coding away these days, she enjoys practicing vinyasa yoga and reading about psychology. She blogs at Hungry For Life. Follow her on Twitter at @michellelsun.