How This Software Engineer “Bootcamped” Into a New Career

Handshaker Zoë Gonzales shares her path from a web development bootcamp into a fulfilling job.

Hi everyone, my name is Hetal Shah and I lead engineering recruiting here at Handshake. In this month’s installment of our “Explore Engineering” series, which features team members in different roles throughout our engineering organization, we’re highlighting Zoë Gonzales. Zoë joined Team Handshake as a Software Engineer in early 2020 after completing a web development bootcamp and feeling inspired by Handshake’s mission. I had a great time learning about her onboarding experience during a special Q&A session with her, which you can read below.

From liberal arts to engineering

Handshake (HS): Can you share a little bit more about your background, transitioning from liberal arts to software engineering?

Zoë Gonzales (ZG): In school, I didn’t consider pursuing Computer Science or Web Development, but was drawn to liberal arts and majored in English and French. It wasn’t until I got a job at a startup that I realized that Web Development could be a possible career path. That was around the time that bootcamps were starting to gain popularity. A couple of years later, I decided to go for it and enrolled in the University of Denver Web Development bootcamp. It was a busy six months, but overall it was a good starting point for making a career transition. A few months after finishing my bootcamp, I attended the Denver Startup Week job fair, where I discovered Handshake.

An organized onboarding

HS: How was your experience with onboarding at Handshake?

ZG: Handshake struck me right away with its hiring process, and later onboarding. I was really impressed by how much had been thought out for the day of the interview, as well as the first weeks of onboarding. For instance, after signing my offer letter, I was invited to Sapling, an app that eventually became a checklist for all of my onboarding items. So from the very beginning I knew where to go for information about onboarding.

I was also amazed by how friendly everyone is at Handshake. When I received my offer, nearly everyone I had interviewed with reached out to congratulate me, which is something I had never experienced before. Of course, when you onboard at Handshake everyone is just as welcoming and available if you have questions.

Since this is my first web development role, I was worried about whether or not I would be able to learn the tech stack and contribute to the team. One thing that really helped was having an onboarding buddy to pair with while I was ramping up, who shared knowledge about the technologies we use and the business decisions that have shaped how our app is built. Without that key role and the support of many others on my team, I would not have been able to ramp up and feel comfortable working on various projects.

Finding a work community amid a pandemic

HS: The stay-at-home order in March happened about a month after you joined. How did that impact your onboarding?

ZG: At that point, I had completed the initial onboarding but was still really new to a lot of the technologies that Handshake uses. I needed to pair with other engineers on a regular basis to understand our codebase and was continuously developing a working knowledge of those technologies. My teammates were incredibly supportive during that time by being available to pair program when needed. I felt comfortable reaching out for help sooner rather than later because of the welcoming environment on my team as well as other teams at Handshake.

HS: What employee resource groups (ERGs) have you joined since starting?

ZG: As of now, I’ve joined Women at Handshake. We have a lot of different ERGs for employees to join including those for people of color, parents, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and more. There are many ways to find a community at Handshake.

Tips for success

HS: What tips do you have from your onboarding experience that other managers can use to make a great experience for their new team members?

ZG: Compared to other onboarding processes I’ve completed, Handshake’s really stood out to me for how well documented and structured it was. Of course, not everything went as planned since I turned out to be sick on the week I was supposed to start and everything had to shift back a week. Not only was my manager super understanding about that, but having a blueprint of what to do made me feel like I had a plan once I was well enough to start. Since I already had access to the onboarding app, I was even able to complete some of my paperwork while I was recovering.

Once I was in the office, many of the onboarding tasks involved taking the time to focus entirely on learning about the Handshake product, the tech stacks I’d be using, and getting to know my colleagues. While nothing replaces working on projects directly in the code, this made me feel less overwhelmed when I did start contributing to our sprints and made my onboarding feel much more productive.

HS: As a new hire, how can you make the most of your onboarding experience?

ZG: One of my onboarding tasks was to meet 1:1 with team members across Employer Engineering, Design, and Product. These were pretty quick meetings, around 20 to 30 minutes over coffee or a walk. That’s not something I typically did when I started a new job, but it made me feel a lot more connected to the larger Employer Engineering/Product team, and more comfortable reaching out to people who I wouldn’t necessarily interact with every day. If you can do this with even just the people on your immediate team when starting a new job, I think it makes a huge difference in your experience as a new hire.

Motivated by our mission

HS: How did you find out about Handshake?

ZG: I discovered Handshake through the Denver Startup Week job fair in 2019. The mission was one that I could personally relate to, as making a career change is a lot like being a recent grad searching for your first job. Not to mention that I had once been a recent grad searching for my first job and can personally relate to how overwhelming that experience can be.

I reached out a few days after the fair and didn’t get a response. A few months went by and I was still looking for a job, so I decided to follow up on my first email. It was then that I got a response, and my interview process began.

HS: What excites you about your work?

ZG: In general, I love working on a variety of projects, especially when it involves learning something new. Handshake is a huge app with a lot of moving parts, so it’s super satisfying when you start to feel comfortable in an area that was previously unfamiliar.

As a bootcamp grad, I’m also really excited about Handshake’s growth in the area of bootcamps and professional development programs. One of the hesitations I think people have about these programs is doubt that they will find a job afterwards that uses the skills they learned. I would love for our work to give people access to more opportunities so that they can confidently pursue additional training and find careers that are rewarding to them.