ALUMNI PROFILE: QUEENIE HO, SOFTWARE ENGINEER @ STARCITY

Queenie Ho

AGE: 31
INTERESTS: Rock climbing, hiking, and camping. Before I moved to the Bay Area I did salsa dancing, I want to get back into that.

Where are you from?

I was born in Miami and was raised in the Dominican Republic where I attended high school and college. After that, I went to a portfolio school in Miami. A portfolio school is a school where, for one or 2 years, you focus on building a creative portfolio. For creative positions, advertising agencies typically ask for a book that can showcase what kind of projects a person’s done, if your goal is to work as a creative in advertising you need a book.

I moved to NYC after school chasing my dreams to become an Art Director. I would say I became an adult in New York since I spent most of my twenties there and a lot of things that shaped who I am today is from my experience there. For a while I worked as a graphic designer at the Armani Exchange headquarters, I realized I wanted to do something more interesting, so I started looking for better opportunities and connected with a recruiter who told me about an opening for a Digital Art Director position. I started to work in pharma advertising where I worked with doctor-facing advertising (most people are familiar with the consumer-facing advertising of pharma with TV commercials). That’s when I got introduced to how to create digital products for our clients, such as interactive screens, websites, apps, animations and other interactive things.

What did you do before 42?

I was still working in pharma advertising. I had known for a while I wanted to do something more challenging and interesting. My work at the agency had started to feel very monotonous, the projects weren’t interesting anymore, product- and design-wise. During my time in advertising, I realized that what I enjoyed most about the creative process was thinking about the product we were building, negotiating with the rest of the team, and there was all of this back and forth, and it was about building a product. It seemed to me that going into tech would bring more of that kind of experience to my work life. Those were my aspirations, so when I heard about 42 and it was a no-brainer that this was an opportunity I had to take.

Did you have any programming experience before 42?

Not really, no. Well, when I was in 8th grade we had a computer teacher who taught us how to build websites in HTML, but that was the extent of my experience. I went into Basic Training not knowing any programming whatsoever; it was all new to me.

Basic Training was the hardest thing I ever did in my life…it was very eye-opening. Up to that time, everything I did came easily to me, and now I was encountering not knowing how to do things or not understanding things. I had to learn a lot about how I would deal with the learning process and how to deal with my own failures and overcome them.

How did you hear about 42?

I definitely saw a tweet about it and clicked on the press release and I read about it and was like, “what the heck, I’m going to apply and see what happens. The worst that can happen is that it doesn’t work out.”

What did you like best about your 42 experience?

Before 42, wanting to transition into tech was something I had on my mind for a few years. I had applied to jobs at different startups and always got turned down because I didn’t have any programming experience, so I needed to learn how to program. 42 was exactly the place where I could focus on the skill set that I needed to acquire to achieve the goal I had in mind. The fact that 42 is free allowed me to take that leap because I didn’t want to get in debt going back to a traditional school in order to do this.

I also really love the hands-on learning at 42: that is how I learn. When I look back at my academic records, the classes I did well in were hands-on. I learn from doing things, what I found out with time is that I can start coding something and I might not necessarily understand the entirety of it, but I end up figuring out how and why something works that way. It’s cool how at 42 you learn by doing.

How did 42 prepare you for the workplace?

42 gave me the realization that I am going to struggle with things and that it is okay for me to struggle. In order to be valuable, I need to be able to deal with challenges and overcome them. One of the things I have noticed between 42 students and people from other schools is that we have this stance where if we are given a challenge we are not familiar with, we Google information or ask someone to help us, we don’t just sit there and say we don’t know how to do it. That quality is something that managers and employers really appreciate.

Andres (my boyfriend who also went to 42) and I both started as interns in the same company, and our manager said that we set the bar really high for future interns, because we came in every day and did our work with minimal intervention from him or anyone else.

How did you get your foot in the door where you work?

I still say it was a lot of luck and our CTO deciding to take a leap of faith in trusting both me and Andres.

Last year we went to a hackathon and Andres encouraged me to get up and pitch an idea I had been thinking about. An engineer approached me and said he liked my idea…we ended up forming a team and working with him. At the time, we didn’t know he was the CTO of a startup. He seemed knowledgeable and willing to take 2 junior engineers under his wing and teach us what he could in 24 hours. The hackathon went by, everything went well, but we didn’t really stay in touch afterward.

A few months later, when we were looking for internships. Andres insisted on reaching out to our CTO, so I reluctantly did. He ended up inviting us out for lunch so that we could catch up. When we met up we mentioned we were applying for internships at a bunch of places, by the end of our lunch he told us he could use some interns, but he needed to check with the team to see if it was possible. A few days later we got invited to come in for interviews, we had a regular in-person interview, a cultural interview, and a technical interview. They offered us both internships with no guarantees for a job at the end of our 3 months. Luckily the company got funded at the end of the internships, and the team liked us so they hired us. The luck aspect was being in the right spot at the right time, but it was a good decision on their end to take a leap of faith.

Describe what you do:

I am a Software Engineer at Starcity. I do full stack development, so I touch both front end and back end. I work with the dashboard that is used by both our clients and employees. My first project was adding a feature that allowed us to create and manage offerings, and allowing members to order these through our dashboard. I was part of a 2-person team that made it all possible.

We are constantly working on improving processes, and adding features that can make our team more efficient and our clients happier. I recently made a feature improvement that saved 50% of the team’s time using the old feature.

What does your typical workday look like?

I typically get to work before 9:30 am..it kind of fluctuates, if I wake up early, I’m in earlier. At 9:30 am we have our daily standup where we have a meeting with the team and you tell everyone what you worked on the day before, what you are doing today, and if there are any blockers. For example, if I need someone to review some code I worked on previously so that I can continue working on it today I mention that during standup. Sometimes after a standup, we have half an hour where we can request a lesson, for example, if someone is working on the database for the first time, someone who’s more familiar with it can talk about it. It becomes a process of reinforcing our knowledge, then we split up and get to work. At around noon we have lunch, we usually invite other coworkers to join us, that’s usually the time we get to interact with non-engineers. Most days at around 5 pm everyone is packing up and going home. If we are working more than 40 hours a week we are really really busy.

What have other interns/co-workers at your work or in your program found difficult that you found easy?

I guess the design stuff. We have a designer, but she focuses on bigger projects. For some additions where we don’t need a whole design overhaul and just want to add a new feature to our product, that is something that I do a lot. I will wireframe things or sketch it out, and propose it to our CTO. So having a background in design is definitely a strength that I have and have been told was one of the things that made me appealing to the team.

Have you been involved in any tech outreach?

I am a GDG (Google Developer Groups) organizer for the chapters of San Francisco and Fremont, what that means is I volunteer to help put together meetups maybe once a month or every 2 months for people who are interested in technology. As GDG organizers we also host 2 small local conferences every year.

Jamie (Corporate Relations Manager at 42) really encouraged me to get involved with GDG. I was offered this opportunity while I was volunteering at the GDG North America Summit. I met all of these organizers from across North America and they said they didn’t have one in the East Bay and they needed someone to step in and create GDG Fremont. When I spoke with Jamie she said ‘you have to do it!’ That’s how I ended up meeting the organizers in San Francisco. When we moved to San Francisco we were invited to join their chapter too.

One of the things I found really rewarding is when we had our International Women’s Day conference. We didn’t know this but San Francisco, being the tech hub it is, hadn’t had a women in tech conference in years, and we had people coming up and thanking us for organizing it. We were building this safe environment for people who are learning about new technologies and want to share it and connect with other people. Organizing a conference, even a small one day conference, is quite a bit of work and not everyone wants to put the time into it.

Would you recommend the 42 program and if so, why?

I have had a few people ask me about 42, it was a great thing for me but what I would say is that you have to be prepared to work your ass off. I would definitely recommend it to most people but I am frank about it: you don’t have a teacher but if you go in with the mindset of I am going to work and I am going to work towards this goal, then you should totally do it. The investment that you have to put in, besides your time, is so minimal compared to the potential outcome.

Do you have any advice for 42 students when it comes to securing an internship or job?

What I tell our friends who are still at 42 is, just go out there, go to hackathons, meetups, talk to people. Also, when I was there we would flock to hackathons as the 42 herd, but I made a point to join a team with no 42 students to meet other people. Go to hackathons and try to join teams with other engineers, with a senior engineer who can teach you something and you can connect with in the future. Go to meetups, just go and talk to them, most people want to help you, there are a lot of people out there willing to help you but they need to know that you exist and the only way they know that is to meet you.

Also one thing someone told me from GDG, if you see a job that you want, apply to it, let them decide to say no, don’t say no to yourself. Don’t hesitate, don’t think you need to learn this technology before doing it, go to the interviews, they do get better, they get easier. We have a friend who learned through interviewing how to use different technologies to get the job that he has now. So definitely start doing that.

A fabulous photo of Queenie:

Interview by: Stacey Faucett
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