Today's interview is with Laura Roudge, a former dancer who attended Holberton School, learned to code and now works as a developer with Deezer in Paris. At Holberton School Laura was able to learn how to become a developer safe in the knowledge she would only pay back her tuition once she was earning $40,000 and she didn't have to pay anything upfront. I spoke to her about how she got into coding, going from a student to a teacher at Holberton School, getting hired and dealing with imposter syndrome.
Hey everybody, and Pete! I am a French Software Engineer, currently living in Paris after a year in San Francisco where I learned how to code. I just started an internship at Deezer, as a Full-Stack Software Engineer, in the Tooling team! I have a very diverse background: I used to be a professional dancer and comedian, and before that I studied languages at university. About a year ago I decided to switch careers because I was struggling too much as an artist. And voilà, here I am!
So you learned to code at Holberton School. What got you interested in programming and change career from being a dancer?
My partner and I moved to San Francisco because he found a job as a Senior Software Engineer, and I was an artist with a boring day job in a supermarket, that I took to make ends meet. So when we got the opportunity to move to the US, I thought it was gonna be great for my career as an artist, but it turns out it didn’t change a thing. There were even less opportunities out here than in Paris where I was living and I started to feel so lost and not supported that I lost faith in dance.
At one point I was really depressed and was questioning the whole purpose of my life, and that’s when my partner suggested that I learn to code, just to try and to get out of this spiral I was in. So I started learning with online courses and I started feeling more confident again, I saw that I was able to actually produce something and not just sit there and feel sorry for myself.
As it was giving me a new sense of purpose, I looked at what my options were and it boiled down to several things. I couldn’t afford a 4-year college education because it was too much time and money I didn’t have, but I also didn’t want a three months bootcamp that cost $12,000, because it didn’t seem worth it. I also didn’t believe that a degree was necessary, because I know a lot of software engineers that don’t have any degree and they still find jobs.
My partner’s boss at the time recommended that I check out Holberton School because he knew the founders. So I went to an open house and really liked the curriculum they offered as well as the methodology! I applied online, went through the entire application and eventually got in, and so it began!
Although I only finished the Foundations year, it was a really awesome experience. This school is peer-learning, project-based, so there are no teachers you have to sit listening to for hours on end (which was perfect for me because traditional school was always so boring to me). The school staff has developed a multitude of projects that we had to complete every day, and they were graded automatically.
So the learning was really hands-on and we had to follow a framework when asking for help, which really gave us research skills as well as collaboration and teamwork skills. The curriculum is made so that we start from the very basics of programming with low-level and algorithm exercises, to then move on to higher-level languages and web development. We don’t really specialize in any hot languages or frameworks during the first year, but choosing to do the Specialization second year allows students to go deeper in a specific field they choose.
The other thing that I really enjoyed at Holberton was the sense of community. The support we were giving each other was uplifting and helping us get through each day. My cohort peers were like my family, and I believe I have made lifelong friends there!
I believe that half way through your program at Holberton you switched to teaching code there. Can you explain how that happened and what teaching students there was like?
So as I mentioned, there are no teachers at Holberton School. Still, each cohort gets a Teaching Assistant(TA) that is none other than a student from the previous cohort, to help them go through their first months in the curriculum, which are really hard. Since the beginning of the program, I realized how much I enjoyed helping my peers, so I asked the staff if I could become a TA, and they accepted!
Another one of my peers, Tu, also became a TA with me. When the students of the new cohort arrived, we were able to help them on technical topics but also non-technical topics. It was a great experience because it kept me on my toes on technical topics I had seen previously, and it made me learn a great deal! Being able to transmit knowledge you’ve been given is extremely rewarding and I enjoyed it a lot.
So when I was about 7 months in, during my third trimester, I knew I would be coming back to Paris after the end of the curriculum, because we had decided so with my partner. I had already applied to a couple internships/apprenticeships in the US but more as a training for real applications later than to actually land a job.
So I stopped doing that, knowing that I was not going back home, and I asked help from the staff at school, because a lot of them are French and have worked in France and I was worried that looking for a Software Engineer job in Paris would be really different from what the school had prepared us to (the job market in Silicon Valley).
The staff was really nice and gave me tips to succeed in France, as well as some contacts in cool companies and they also proposed to introduce me if I was interested in applying in one of these companies. But Deezer was not one of these companies, and I got my internship completely differently!
My partner saw a post on LinkedIn about that internship and tagged me in a comment. I saw the post and thought to myself that I was not qualified enough and was going to keep that for later, when I actively decide to seek a job. It turned out that the Tech Community Ambassador, Guillaume Grillat, saw my name in the comments and decided to contact me, asking if I was interested in this position. It was a great surprise for me as I didn’t expect to be contacted by a potential employer any time soon!
I agreed to a Skype call, during which I met my soon to be supervisor, Mathieu Potier, and it went really well. They asked if I could show them what I was working on at school, so I sent them my current project repository. Then, they offered to do a little technical interview, during which I got to meet another Lead Developer of the Team, Romain Lods.
The technical interview went super well and I got a really good feeling about it! I followed up saying that it was a pleasure to do this interview, and a few days later, I got an email saying that I convinced them and that they would be happy to hire me for the internship when I was available. I finished school on November 8th, and started two weeks later!
Can you tell us what an average day looks like for you just now? What are you working on and what is your lifestyle like?
I am working in the Tooling team, that builds tools to improve the company’s engineering effectiveness, so I don’t really work on the product itself. Here’s what a day usually looks like for me:
I go to work at around 9.30 am, then we have our daily stand-up meeting where everyone in the team talks about what they worked on the day before, what they’re going to do today and if they’re blocked on something. Then I work a little and at 12.30 I go grab lunch with my coworkers, and we usually go back to work at 2pm (yes, big lunch breaks are super French, please don’t judge us!). Sometimes I have meetings in the afternoon, depending on the week, and I’ll usually leave at around 6pm. I also have the possibility to work remote, which gives me flexibility and I really appreciate it.
Currently, I just do one or two bug fixes/little features on projects my coworkers are working on, just to get acquainted with the technologies that they use and the scope of these projects. Everything is still very new to me and I struggle a lot, but my team is really nice and takes the time to answer any question I might have.
In January, I am going to be working on my own project: a tool to automate the production of gift codes. The employees that have to make them have told our team that they need a faster and more efficient way to produce them, so I am going to find a solution and implement it. I am really excited about this, as it gives me the opportunity to work on a project from start to finish!
Aside from work, Parisian life is just great and really busy! I missed my friends very much, and I find myself going out at night much more than back in SF. I try to keep a Yoga routine but it’s not easy, especially since the 5th of December with the national transportation strike, that blocks all the subways and buses in Paris! But I am really happy to be back home and to start my career in a cool company like Deezer. 😀
My partner Valentin has always tried to get me into coding, but I always told him computers were not my thing. But when I was depressed and had nothing to lose, I saw through Valentin what a career in Software Engineer could bring me: stability, intellectual challenge, freedom in where I could live, etc…
So when I gave it a try, I quickly realized coding was not so much about computers as it was about logic and problem solving, and it just clicked. The more I was learning, the more I wanted to learn. In fact, I ended up loving computer science topics I never thought could be interesting!
It’s funny because I feel like it’s both one of the hardest and most rewarding things I have done in my life. The more you struggle with a problem, the more you start hating the software, but once you solve it, the rush of dopamine is just the best thing in the world! Sometimes, I surprise myself having dreams about code and software. So in a way, learning to code has re-wired my brain!
What advice do you have for someone who wants to get into programming but they don’t have the time or money for a CS degree?
I would advise them to carefully choose what type of teaching they want. Some people learn better on their own, some people learn better under the supervision of a teacher, and some people learn better when they have deadlines. All bootcamps and schools are different and before investing time and money in one of them, students should be honest with themselves and clearly identify their needs.
Holberton worked for me because there was enough pressure and deadlines to keep me focused, but also the lack of teachers really made me feel like I was owning my progress (and I also have problems with authority…). I know for a fact that an online course would not have worked for me because I need accountability to be efficient.
Oh yes, that pesky imposter syndrome! I think I felt it the strongest when I was about to start my internship at Deezer, and I still feel it at least once a week! One trick I have learned from Abby Kearns, Executive Director for Cloud Foundry Foundation, is to give your impostor syndrome a name, and treat it like a different person. It allows you to detach yourself from it and not let it guide your actions.
Other than that, know your worth, stay humble and be okay with failure because there is going to be a lot of it, and don’t assume you need to know everything. Bring what you have to the table because it’s always contributing to something, whatever you might think! Also, I have been told by many seniors that seniority is also a state of mind. It doesn’t matter if you’re a noob in your job, as long as you’re senior in your head and act professionally and responsibly.
For the near future I would say that my top priority is getting good at what I am doing. I really want to be at that level where what you do is just second nature. Then, maybe I’ll want to move to a managing position, like Project Manager. But I know myself and I have changed careers two times in the last 6 years, so I might completely change again in a couple years, who knows?
In general, I hate the feeling of being stuck somewhere, and that’s why I love traveling. So the only thing I can tell you right now is that it’s unlikely that I stay in the same company or in the same city for longer than 2-3 years! But again, life is full of surprises and I want to keep an open mind for what comes my way. 😀