[HackR Diary] Weeks 11-12: And Beyond!

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Now We Boogie

The Flash suggests rhythmic celebration – Image by Yale Stewart of JL8 Comic

The events discussed in this blog post occurred in December 2013 and January 2014 because a blogging hiatus caused a bit of a delay. Plus, I’ve just been lazy with blogging recently.

Recap of Events

My “final” two weeks at Hack Reactor weren’t really final. As explained in a Quora post of mine, I continued going to Hack Reactor for additional lectures and learning exercises AFTER graduation.

Weeks 11 and 12 were all about preparing for job hunting and prepping for hiring day by practicing presentations. These are definitely the least intense weeks of the program. Some students were motivated enough to start new projects. Some students (like me) spent some time to refactor code from our Hack Reactor projects from weeks 6-10. Throughout the final two weeks, we received a wide variety of lectures on how to find a job, on how to approach whiteboarding, and on a few different tech topics too. Most of these lectures were only an hour, and many of them didn’t have tightly associated classwork (which is unlike the first half of the program).

One thing I found odd was the emphasis that staff put on downplaying Hack Reactor when job hunting. I’m not the only one to feel funny about it. The reason is that you don’t want employers to frame their perspective of you within the confines of “recent student.” I can understand that, but I didn’t bother editing my blog to avoid “exposing” myself as a recent graduate of a training program.

Unfortunately, the final stages of the Hack Reactor curriculum ran into issues. Fortunately, Hack Reactor managed to pull together the resources to compensate. I explain later in this blog post.

Pamela Fox Discusses Engineering Culture

One of my favorite guest speakers during my time at Hack Reactor was Pamela Fox. Pamela already gave a talk at Hack Reactor, but it was a more technical talk about Backbone. This time around, she gave a talk about the culture of professional software engineering. It was a great presentation that discussed what commonalities and differences you can expect to see when comparing engineering teams. A lot of what she said ended up influencing the questions I ask employers when searching for a job.

Consultant Surveys the Students

For the first time in Hack Reactor history, a consultant was brought in specifically to give a 2-day workshop on job search prep. The consultant, David Daniels, did all the usual stuff like resume review (which would make him the 5th person to review our resumes during the job search prep portion of Hack Reactor), but he also conducted exercises on networking and personality testing. Plus, he gave a lecture about what companies like Microsoft look at when evaluating candidates.

Networking Practice

“Tell me about yourself” is such a common opener for job interviews (especially in the phone screen stages), but it’s funny how hard it can be to come up with a coherent answer without any practice. Therefore, David had us all practice giving quick, autobiographical pitches that would not ony sound concise (no rambling!), but also provide all the relevant info that recruiters want to hear (what you’ve been working on, what specific skills you have, what you look for in a new job, etc).

Students were also instructed to practice giving “pitches” on why they want to work for company XYZ in response to the frequently asked question of “Why do you want to work here?” Admittedly, this is something I did not give much attention to after graduation, and I regret that. It’s definitely important to practice answering that question for all the different companies you apply to.

Strengths Finder Personality Test

The other major activity conducted by David was post-survey analysis. What survey? The Strengths Finder survey. It’s a personality test that focuses on your “strengths” in a way that is supposed to help you inspect your personality in a way that is relevant to professional/work life.

My Results

Here are my top 5 (paraphrased) strengths according to the test:

  • Input: Craving to know more. “Input” folks like to collect and archive all kinds of info.
  • Analytical: Tendancy to search for reasons and causes. “Analytical” folks think about all the factors that might affect a situation.
  • Responsibility: Taking ownership psychological of what they say they will do. “Responsibility” folks are committed to stable values such as honesty and loyalty.
  • Restorative: Strong problem solving. “Restorative” folks figure out what is wrong and resolving it.
  • Intellection: Characterized by intellectual activity. “Intellection” folks are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.

My results put me in the “typical” engineer group. Together, with the fellow students with similar strengths, we built a Google Spreadsheet to further analyze our results and find out who was most similar to whom. Damn. We nerdy.


I’m not a fan of personality tests. Any one who has taken an intro psych class knows that personality tests are often flawed by the wording of the questions, the limited options provided by multiple-choice formats, etc. On top of that, I don’t like the effect that personality tests have. There’s a lot of confirmation bias. Test takers tend to allow the results to define them as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people learn of other people’s test results, they might end up pigeonholing each other. “Oh that test said you have a tendency to over-analyze situations? I should call you out on it whenever you offer criticism.” (Ok that last hypothetical example is a bit melodramatic, but it’s the type of crap that starts happening on conscious and subconscious levels)

Perhaps what I despise most is that personality tests can solidify self-perceptions and stifle personal change as a result. I believe people can change. They change all the time. This is not optimism. I believe people change for the better and the worse all the time. My point is that some fools take personality tests and believe the results always involve immutable properties. Such belief is more ridiculous than using programming jargon to discuss psychology concepts ;)


There was booze, dancing, food, funny photos, and good times :D

Overtime Support

The day after graduation (which was in late December), my cohort returned for a follow-up. The follow-up included asking us not to reveal too many of Hack Reactor’s trade secrets, asking us for feedback about the course, and some extra heartfelt moments.

Then we parted ways. Some flew back home, never to return. Most of us went home for the winter holidays and returned in January for post-graduation job search help. This included mock interviews conducted by Hack Reactor staff (more specifically, Cameron Boehmer, an awesomely nice guy who created Squirt.io). It also included practicing whiteboarding with peers, lots of mentoring, and a few additional lectures about stuff like user authentication and SEO.

Presentation by Gayle Laakmann

The author of the mucho famous book, Cracking the Coding Interview, gave a talk at Hack Reactor in January. She gave a ton of great advice. I will regurgitate much of it in a future blog post. For now, I just want to share the most interesting tidbit.

Gayle mentioned that you will suck at surmising your own interview success. Apparently, surveys have been conducted, and they reveal zero correlation between how well a candidate thinks they did versus how the candidate’s interviewer thinks they did. You may think you aced an interview, but you actually said something that’s a deal-breaker. Or you may think you bombed, but you actually did better than all the other candidates.

Hiring Day

Unique to my cohort, hiring day was hosted at Hack Reactor after graduation. We presented group projects in front of an audience of 15 or so companies. We then went into a mini-interview marathon akin to speed dating. Each Hack Reactor student got a chance to speak with about 7 or 8 companies based on preferences submitted to Hack Reactor staff beforehand. After the crazy “speed dating”, there was an open networking session (basically a happy hour). There was a lot of stress leading up to this day, but ya know what? It really wasn’t that bad.

I would say about 1/3 or 1/2 of my peers who participated actually got hired by the companies that showed up. For me, hiring day was just the beginning of a nearly-3-month-long search.

I should (re-)mention that about a third of my cohort didn’t actually participate in hiring day because they weren’t interested in starting a new job soon or they had joined Hack Reactor’s Hacker-in-Residence program.

Job Searching

As you can imagine, I have a lot to talk about with regards to job searching. I’m excited to blog in detail about the ups and downs of the search. To cut to the chase, let me mention that I am fully employed. I’m a professional software engineer working on a web app that uses full-stack JavaScript. I don’t mean to brag (much), but the gig is pretty friggin’ sweet. Hack Reactor was a success!

What I Learned

I learned so much about job hunting. I will go into details in a future blog post, but for now, I will outline some of what I picked up when searching for a job:

  • Job Sites
    • What different job sites to use
    • How to use them differently
    • Which sites are more effective
  • Job interviews
    • What kinds of questions to ask
    • What kinds of questions I will be asked
    • How to communicate for an interview
    • The role of good/back luck
  • Regrets
    • I should’ve used more Hack Reactor connections
    • I should’ve taken more action sooner
    • I should’ve actively shown more enthusiasm for each company I visited
  • General
    • What recruiters are really like
    • How employers evaluate you before any interview

What’s Next for Hack Reactor?

Yesterday, I went to my cohort’s “3-month” reunion hosted by Hack Reactor. It’s actually been closer to 5 months since graduation, but whatever. At the reuinion, the founders of Hack Reactor did a Q&A panel where they provided career advice and asked us how things were going at our new jobs. After the panel, we were told that Hack Reactor HQ is expanding. It’s already expanded once since my cohort ended by using a second floor of the building. That expansion increased the size of Hack Reactor cohorts. More staff have been hired too.

A third floor will be opening in June. It will mostly be used as offices for the newly augmented staff, but it will also have a new lounge area for alumni to use! Niiice. Wheels have been set in motion to organize alumni events and general activity. For example, there are plans to use the alumni network as an avenue for project collaboration (e.g., Feel like starting a random side project? Get ideas and possibly form a team with alumni).