Edgar Pabon – Army Veteran turned Software Engineer

Edgar Pabon is a New York-native who, prior to his current position as a software engineer at Amazon Music, was a rapper, a communications degree graduate, and an active duty army officer. He knew that being a software engineer is what he has always wanted to do that even while he was deployed in Iraq, he was reading books about Steve Jobs and the tech industry. Edgar’s journey was not an easy one, having experienced police brutality, rigorous military training, dealing with the impostor syndrome, and overcoming rejections. Yet through it all, his discipline and perseverance was what has always kept his fire burning.

Years in Tech1
Grew UpBronx, NY
Current JobEngineer
Date Recorded7/17/2016

Key Points:

  • You are not alone. It’s very easy to feel a sense of Impostor Syndrome in a coding bootcamps where you begin to question whether you’re smart enough or good enough. Its super prevalent and most people experience the same doubts. Keep going.
  • Coding bootcamps are very rigorous so you also have to keep yourself physically fit to maintain your sanity.
  • The job process is tough for everyone regardless of your background. You gotta realize that not everyone is going to welcome you with open arms but you just have to keep plowing ahead anyway.
  • Practice whiteboarding and mock interviews to prepare for the job search process. You not only have to be prepared to solve problems but also be able to communicate with the interviewer, a skill set that is often overlooked.
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Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):

[1:44]The reason for joining the military – Looking for other options during his last year of college due to a financial hiccup and ended up joining the military

[2:47] His motivation for joining the military: Having an impact

[3:21] How it all started – Getting a degree in communications in college and his rapping experience that began back in high school, making music out of a boombox

[4:05] Experiencing police brutality and venting that frustration through writing poetry

[5:15] Edgar’s transition into the military

[6:02] His military journey – Transitioning from the reserves to active duty, getting into the Officer Candidates School, and getting a job in the Armor Branch working with tanks and scout units.

[6:59] Edgar’s job as a scout: gathering information and going out to enemy lines while trying to remain undetected and basically gathering information about enemy units

[8:01] Following tech while in the military– Reading books and following the tech industry, visiting TechCrunch and knowing he was going to become a software engineer that led him to pick up an idea and build an eCommerce website and getting it running using a platform called Shopify. He then realized the need to customize certain features that led him to leverage online resources and learn how to program.

[9:49] Choosing a coding bootcamp over a CS class – Bootcamps are a good avenue to achieve the goal of becoming an engineer without forfeiting 2 or 4 years to get another degree

[10:49] Applying and getting admitted to several bootcamps including Hack Reactor, Fullstack Academy (New York) and his thought process for choosing the Bay Area

[11:45] Comparing the admission process of different bootcamps.

[13:10] Getting financing was one of his biggest hurdles: GI bill not covering financing for bootcamps and ended up getting different loans – Pave, Lending Club (peer-to-peer type), and WeFinance (crowdfunding loan)

[15:24] Choices for considering what bootcamp to go to:

  • Edgar’s choices: Hack Reactor, App Academy, Fullstack Academy, Flatiron School.
  • Check out reviews: Quora or Course Report

[16:48] His first impression of his Hack Reactor experience: Feeling the sense of Impostor Syndrome but it’s a natural thing that everyone experiences – a humbling experience!

[20:05] Hack Reactor vs. military training: Focus and intense schedule

[22:10] Routines to keep Edgar fit and sane – 2-hour lunch break 3x a week to make use of time well (ex. Workout, walking, etc.)

[23:13] The job search process: 80 applications sent, 5 on-sites, and 3 offers plus several rejections – another humbling experience.

[24:46] Preparing for the job interviews – Studying for concepts (system design, data structures, etc.), whiteboard interview, and doing mock interviews.

[27:19] His stint at Amazon Music doing web application

[29:18] The Lightning Round:

If you had to start all over again, imagine you were dropped in a new city and you only had $100, what would you do?

  • Buy a book that is going to help learn more about a particular skill set like a coding book.

Was there a specific piece of music or a movie that you watched or a quote that was told to you that helped you get through that workout routine in the morning when you are like super depressed and feeling like you didn’t belong?

  • Jay-Z’s My 1st Song from the Black Album.
  • Eminem’s songs from the 8 Mile soundtrack (Lose Yourself, 8 Mile Road, Run Rabbit Run)

If you had to give advice to someone who’s about to start in this journey and let’s say like the coding journey, what is one piece of advice that you would want them to know now that you’ve gone through the process?

  • It’s definitely not an easy process and if you find yourself questioning whether you’re good enough, don’t worry about that. The thing to worry about is whether you have the will to keep going. So if you’re motivated and you like it enough, keep going because there are going to be plenty of roadblocks. It’s a game of perseverance.

What is one thing that you fundamentally believed in that you changed your mind on going through this process?

  • It’s easy to feel the “impostor syndrome” at different times but it always comes back to the thought that this is what Edgar wanted to be doing. He never really changed my mind fundamentally about what he believed about something.

Contact Information:

Edgar Pabon
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/edgar.c.pabon

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Full Transcript: 

Intro:  Growing up we’re told that in order to be successful, you have to be a banker, a doctor, or a lawyer. That’s what the gatekeepers want us to think. But we’re a part of something bigger. We’re part of a technological revolution. Either you’re at the table or on the table. Getting eaten. 10X.

Yo, yo, yo, this is Ruben here so I’m here with the homies Artur and Timur Meyster and this is the Breaking Into Startups Podcast. Timur, can you please tell the people what we’re doing today?

Timur: Yes. Today, we’re sitting at Telegraph Academy, with a very special guest. It’s Sunday morning so there’s a lot of people who are still waking up but we’re sitting here about how to break into startups. Artur, tell us about the guest?

Artur: Today, we have Edgar Pabon who is a software engineer at Amazon Music and he has a very interesting story of being in the military for six years and also being a rapper and he’s done a lot of interesting adventures along the way. So before we jump in Edgar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you got your start?

Edgar: Yeah, I’m originally from the Bronx in New York, pretty much born and raised there. Like you mentioned, I used to be a…well pretty much during college, I had for a time, tried to be a rapper for a number of years. I eventually went back to college, graduated, joined the military and served them a number of places over the years and pretty much after I got out, I decided that I wanted to become a software engineer and pretty much made that journey over the last…

Artur: Yeah, that’s awesome. So before we jump into the whole journey, tell a little bit more about what got you into the path to enroll into the military. Take us back to the moment and tell us what was the motivation there.

Edgar: I actually joined the military in my last year of college so at that time, when I first started looking into a… there was a semester where I had a financial aid, pretty much like hiccup and it looked like for a moment that I wasn’t going to be able to finish paying for college. And so at that time, I remember I started to do research into options for ways I could finish paying for school. Obviously, the military is one of those ways that that comes about. Now, at that time, the situation ended up working itself out but I’d started looking into the military because of that and around that same time, I had a number of friends that had already graduated from college. They had started working and I would just talk to them about their jobs and what was going on with their lives and everything and it just struck me that a lot of people were fairly unhappy with what they were doing after college. And it seemed like, I remember thinking, I didn’t want to end up graduating and go do a job that didn’t really have a lot of meaning to me.

And so when I started looking into the military, I thought I really just wanted to be a part of an organization that would have a lot of meaning, would allow me to have a chance to have an impact and to be a part of something that was larger than myself. I also remember thinking that I wanted to travel. I’d live in New York most of my life at that point and I definitely wanted to see different places in the world. So that was a big motivation for me as well.

Ruben: Got it. So related to that military decision and not doing what you wanted to do, what did you actually study in college. Take us to your childhood. What led you to be a rapper? What did you study? What were you passionate about in high school?

Edgar: I ended up getting a degree in communications. With rapping or songwriting, it was something that I started doing in high school. At that time, at least with the rapping, that was kind of like a joke thing. I had a really good friend of mine, we would record these songs. He had like a boombox at that time. It was one of those things where you could insert a cassette tape and he would have an instrumental or something and he would have a mic basically set up with his boom box and have like another cassette tape and another slide where he would record the song so he would start playing the thing and we would like record a song basically over this instrumental. We just used to do these fun songs every now and then. But it wasn’t anything I took seriously.

Pretty much, this is sort of a longer story here but when I was in my first year at college, the summer right before my sophomore year, I had a run in with the police where, to make a very long story short, I ended up getting run out of a neighborhood that was predominantly white. My friends and I simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or whatever, by a couple cops and the entire incident, I remember rubbed me in completely the wrong way. And I really didn’t feel like I had a good outlet to voice that frustration over time. And then it was really at that moment that I started. One night I just picked up a pen and I just had to write it down and I started writing it down and I ended up writing this slam poetry piece and really from that, I started writing a lot more and started moving into rap seriously.

Ruben: Got it. So that kind of led into your interest in communications. It sounds like you did maybe some poetry stuff while you were in high school and things like that?

Edgar: Yeah.

Ruben: How was the experience in the military? Was it everything that you wanted to do or what you wanted to be? How did that transition happen?

Edgar: The transition to the military was initially rough. It certainly isn’t easy. I did ROTC in the last year of my college as well and I think that helped prepare me for just going into active duty and going into basic training. So I did a year of ROTC and I did it before going to basic training. I went to basic training right after I graduated from college. Going into an environment where suddenly everything is taken away from you. You have no real privileges anymore and you’re just pretty much like on lockdown 24/7 and you just have to obey or face the consequences. It’s a hell of a transition to go through.

Ruben: I know you graduated from college, do you do you communications while you were in the military? Did you apply to any communications jobs? It sounds like…

Edgar: No, not exactly. I originally entered the military and on the enlistment item was a truck driver. I did that in the reserves actually for about two and half years. Pretty much after that point, I decided that I wanted to go active duty and become an officer and so I got transitioned to active duty. I got accepted to Officer Candidates School and went to Officer Candidates School. I ended up getting a job specialty in the Armor Branch which pretty much means that as an Armor Officer, you end up working with tanks or with scout units. So you’re trained basically in both specialties. So I ended up working with both types of units over my time in active duty.

Ruben: Got it. And so what led you to want to go from communications to armor, things in the military to wanting to get into tech?

Edgar: I don’t know if communications had a direct relation to what I wanted to do in the military but I just was fascinated honestly by tanks and armor in particular. So I really love the idea of being a scout and by that I mean… the job of the scout is basically to gather information and so your main job is to go out onto enemy lines. Try to remain undetected and basically gathering information about enemy units or about anything along the way that might be useful for following one’s forces to know about. That could even be just minor things like road conditions and how many vehicles can fit through a certain path or things like that. You’re basically just gathering information. I sort of like that aspect when I was thinking about which job specialty I could do.

Artur: Awesome. So you’re in the military, when you’re coming to the end of your service, were you considering tech seriously or what led you to considering that as a serious career option once you finished service?

Edgar: I was really interested in the tech industry for a long time. Even while i was in, I would always really be reading books and following the industry as much as I could. Even back then, I used to have visited sites like TechCrunch all the time and things like that. I remember distinctly in one of my training schools in the military and reading the Steve Jobs biography while everybody else was reading about military history or something. I was the one guy just sitting off reading about Steve Jobs or computers or whatever. I pretty much knew towards the end of my time that I was going to become a software engineer or at least I knew that I wanted to get into tech in some kind of way eventually once I had transitioned out.

In my last year, I had this idea for a website to build like an eCommerce site targeted to military personnel. This was a thing that I decided to get up and running. I didn’t really know much about programming and so I ended up getting the site running using a platform called Shopify, which makes it really easy to get an eCommerce site set up. And I did that and while running the site, I basically realized that I wanted to increasingly keep customizing certain features on the site but to do that, you had to know more about programming and things like that. So that’s what eventually led me to start looking into online resources and trying to figure out how to program and learn more about that.

Artur: That sounds like an awesome experience how you actually applied… you’re interested in tank. You picked an idea. You built a website and then you were customizing it yourself. When you were figuring out the next path, did you consider going back to a four-year degree Major in Computer Science or do like some boot camps or something else?

Edgar: Right.I started really thinking about going back to school and studying Computer Science. It was something that certainly interested in me but it didn’t seem very practical to suddenly go back to school and maybe get a second Bachelor’s degree and spend another 2-4 years in school and not working and then try to get a job after that. So when I found out about coding boot camps, it seemed like a pretty good way to achieve this goal of becoming an engineer but at the same time, it wasn’t like you had to forfeit 2 or 4 years or anywhere between that time to get another degree just to be able to do this thing.

Timur: It sounds like, and from our pre-interview, you mentioned that before each stage that you went on, you’ve done a lot of research. When you knew you wanted to become a software engineer, what kind of research did you do to decide which boot camp you wanted to do and then also, which location you wanted to be in? You could have been in New York. You could have been in San Francisco. How did you make up that decision?

Edgar: I applied to a lot of boot camps actually and had admissions into many. And these were in different locations and I seriously considered for a time, doing a boot camp in New York. Eventually, I decided…

Ruben: Which boot camp was that?

Edgar: That was Fullstack Academy. And so was like the other JavaScript school at that time. I decided that I wanted to go out to San Francisco in particular just because I knew that the Bay Area was really the place to be for tech. So even if I didn’t eventually stay there, I sort of figured in my mind that I had to at least come out to the Bay Area and see what this industry was like out here before even deciding to go back. I just had to experience it.

Timur: Nice. And while you were deciding in which boot camp, can you compare the interview process for Fullstack or Hack Reactor or any other boot camps that you applied to?

Edgar: The interview process is fairly similar across many boot camps. Usually, there is some sort of process where you submit some information about yourself and eventually, you’re going to have typically, some kind of interview to let you know whether you can be accepted or not. In Hack Reactor‘s case, what they do is you do an admissions challenge first on their website and once you pass that, then you can schedule a technical interview. Once you schedule the technical interview, you can either go in person or you can have a Skype session. It lasts about an hour and they just grill you on all of these advanced technical concepts and you just hope to God that you did well enough to get accepted. But a lot of other schools have a similar thing. So I know App Academy in particular, they do a number of technical screens where you have to get past their problems before being admitted. Other schools that don’t expect you to be as advanced when you start might have a less rigorous tech screen process but there usually is some kind of challenge that you have to figure out at some point in order to gain admissions to one of these schools.

Ruben: Before going into how you prepared for those interviews, we talked a little bit about this earlier before the podcast. Can you talk a little bit more about how you thought about the financing process across boot camps and how you went about that?

Edgar: This was very difficult. This was actually one of the biggest hurdles I had into deciding to do this because I knew I wanted to do it and unfortunately, I have the GI bill through the military but the GI bill did not cover any of the financing for these coding boot camps. I think to date, maybe there’s only one coding boot camp that even can accept it and I’m not even totally sure about that. So at that time, it pretty much was saying, well I have to find a way to come up with anywhere between say, $11,000 and $18,000 in the case of Hack Reactor. And that’s not as easy thing to come buy it. A lot of schools fortunately have lending partners that they work directly with. At that time, Hack Reactor didn’t really have direct lending partners so there wasn’t any sort of deal that was set up in advance where because I got into Hack Reactor, I could just borrow this set amount of money and just have that 14:00 So I got more than one loan. I went through more than one provider and basically just tried to explain my situation to any lender that was willing to hear the story and willing to give me a shot.

Ruben: It was more like the traditional lending partners or can you talk about some of the lending partners that exist now?

Edgar: Most of the financing I got actually went through a company called Pave. Pave is actually one of the new type of lenders that do a lot of loans I think to people going to coding boot camps. It’s something that they’re at least aware of. And so Pave is a pretty good platform. I was lucky to go through them and I also ended up getting a loan from Lending Club as well, another pretty well known peer-to-peer lending type of network.

Ruben: One of our room mates actually works for Lending Club.

Edgar: And one more thing because I have three sources now because I had to take a lot of money to do this, to live in San Francisco basically while even as I’m in this program, WeFinance. So I have to give a shout out to them as well. It’s basically like crowdfunding loans. I got a loan through them as well and that was really helpful.

Artur: That’s awesome. So now that you applied to several boot camps, you got offers. What was your decision process like in picking the boot camp that’s going to be the best for positioning you to become a software engineer?

Edgar: Right. The thing that became pretty clear to me when I was doing my research on different boot camps was that there were a few that were more well known at that time than others and highly regarded at that. And so, there were a couple on this listed. I was really looking seriously at Hack Reactor, App Academy, Fullstack Academy, Flatiron School. There were just the number of these schools that were just considered to be top level. And Hack Reactor in particular stood out to me because I could not find a single negative review at that time about Hack Reactor. Now, I know that that’s changed and I think that happens with time. But at the same time, when I was at least looking into it, it just struck me that so many people had so many positive things to say about it and I would read these reviews. They were very detailed reviews that you would find on places like Quora or Course Report or any of these types of sources where you would have to do research on this stuff. But the outcome just seemed unreal. People were very happy with what they’ve learned, what they were able to do with that information afterwards, they were very happy with the outcome support from Hack Reactor and so it just seemed like the school I pretty much knew at some point. If I got into Hack Reactor, I was going to go to Hack Reactor.

Artur: Nice. It sounds like you did get into Hack Reactor. You accepted their offer and then you show up there on the first day. What was you initial impression of your classmates, of the whole experience?

Edgar: I remember thinking that my classmates were just incredibly brilliant. It’s rare to be in an environment where you’re surrounded by so many people who are just overwhelmingly smart. To give you an example of this, there was a guy in our class who was 19 at that time. He actually turned 20 during the program. He had done one semester of college and was studying Computer Science and he dropped out because in his words, it was too slow. He felt like everything was just moving too slow in college and he just wanted to accelerate that. He’s this brilliant engineer who had already taught himself HaaS school, had already apps in the Apps Store on iOs. Incredible engineer and he’s going to Hack Reactor alongside me and I’m thinking here’s this boy genius and I barely know what I’m doing.

Ruben:  How did that make you feel?

Edgar: It’s very easy to feel a sense of Impostor Syndrome and I know people sort of talk about this. I think if you look up a lot of blogs about people that go through boot camps, it’s a very common theme to feel like there are so many people around me who are so smart and seem to know what they’re doing and I feel like I’m just faking it and I don’t really know that much. So you get this feeling like, you start wondering. Am I good enough? Am I going to make it? Do I really have what it takes? Did they make a mistake in letting me in? I don’t know. So you just start to just keep going through it I guess.

Timur: Yeah, I remember one of the first lectures of Hack Reactor. They specifically covered the Impostor Syndrome to let everyone know that this is a natural thing that everyone experiences. You may think that you’re the only one who’s going through it but in reality, it’s a common phenomena and I don’t think I’ve ever heard Impostor Syndrome before actually getting into Hack Reactor. I was feeling it but I didn’t know what it was called. But then once we discussed it in one of our lectures then after that it became a lot easier to deal with it.

Edgar: I agree. Certainly. That was the interesting part about it. I know that I went through this in various periods where I would be very unsure about myself in what I was really doing there and whether that was the right decision. But it really helped to know that my other classmates were going through that as well and so there were a number of classmates in particular who I was closer to and we would talk about these things and because I knew that they were going through it, at least I knew that I wasn’t alone. And that really helped me to realize that maybe I was doing better than I thought I was, which turned out that I was.

Artur: I can definitely relate going through App Academy. It’s definitely a humbling experience when you’re always in the process of learning something new but then you’re questioning yourself like am I keeping up with the pace of the program. Even after you graduate, you go out into the job search then you’re supposed to call yourself a software engineer but at the back of your head, you’re like am I actually a software engineer? So you’d have to kind of fake it until you make it. It sounds like you went through the same process. One thing that I did want to ask you about is your case is very unique because you’ve gone through basic training in the military and then you’ve also gone through training at Hack Reactor. From your experience, do you see any similarities, any differences? How would you compare the two?

Edgar: I think they’re similar and we talked a little bit about this in the pre-interview but I think they’re very similar in the sense that you’re focusing on one thing very intensely for a singular period of time in both cases. So when you’re in boot camp, you’re thinking about everything army and learning how to be a soldier and you’re just trying to do that and trying to become the best soldier you can be within ten weeks, And you’re just focused on that and only that.

When you’re going to Hack Reactor, now you’re spending three months where you’re just focused on becoming a software engineer and that’s all you really focus on during that time. To put people into an environment where you just have a single point of concentration and you’re just focusing on that, it makes it a very similar experience. So Hack Reactor is also very intense in terms of schedule and I think schedule-wise, there are similarities though not all the way. The military, you get up a lot earlier and you might finish a lot later. But in Hack Reactor, you’re going 6 days a week. You’re going from 9am in the morning to 8pm at night and those are just the minimum required hours. And oftentimes, you would find people staying a lot later and working till 10, 11, midnight, just because they wanted to be there because they were so interested in the problem that they were currently working on.

And I think that was actually the huge difference that I would put between the two. In basic training, once you’re there, you can’t really get out. It’s never like you’re really choosing to be there at any point. Whereas in Hack Reactor, the people that are staying past like 8pm, you’re there because you choose to be there. You’re there because you want to be in because you’re so engaged in it, which makes it that much more compelling of an experience really.

Ruben:  That makes a lot of sense. Related to training and things like that, we talked a lot about routines. Were there any routines that you followed to keep yourself mentally fit, physically fit, emotionally fit during the boot camp process to keep yourself sane?

Edgar: Yes. Hack Reactor does a really good job with this in terms of scheduling. What they do is, and I don’t know if they still set this up exactly like this, but what they would do at that time is they would set aside a couple hours every week during the lunch break. So for three days a week, your lunch break would be not the standard hour. It would actually be 2 hours long and so during those times, they would encourage you to go workout or take a walk or do anything else other than being in the school and coding. That turned out to be really important and the tell you that you should really focus on really make use of that time because it really is the only time during the day that you have to yourself and to get yourself fit and to maintain every thing. So during that time at least, I would go and workout every single time and I felt like that kept me pretty much okay overall.

Ruben: Got it. You finished at the boot camp. You made it. You graduated. How did you approach the job search? How many applications did you set out? Did you deal with any rejection?

Edgar: Yeah, I think everybody deals with rejections. The job process I think is tough for everyone and I think that it’s tough regardless of the background that you had before coming to a school like Hack Reactor. So it was normal. What I found interesting is that a lot of people struggled during the job process so even if they had had work experience in technical areas before, even if they had worked as a developer or a contractor or something like that, they still had a tough time, if they had even studied Computer Science or had an engineering background of some sort. I think you just face rejection and that’s part of the process in general. So I sent out a total of about 80 applications and out of that, I ended up with three offers and I did five onsites of those 80. So there were certainly a lot of rejections obviously within that as well where people tell you just flat out when you send them the application, a flat no. They would never consider you or you might go through like a technical screen or something and then they might decide that you weren’t good enough. It’s definitely an adjustment and it’s another humbling experience. You’ve already gone through this humbling experience of going through boot camp and now you’re going through this humbling experience of trying to actually make it as a software engineer and realizing that not everyone is going to welcome you with open arms but you just have to keep plowing your head anyway.

Artur: While you were going through the interviews, can you talk a little bit about the specific questions or do you feel like Hack Reactor prepared you for those types of interviews? If so, what are some examples of things that they were asking you that you either already covered before or you had to kind of improvise on the spot?

Edgar: Hack Reactor did a great job of preparing us for a lot of the technical interviews. Now, there are still a lot of stuff that is left off the table and I think there is always going to be if you have a three-month programming, you just don’t have enough time to learn really everything. So there were some gaps that I had to fill in during the process where I had to study up on concepts like system design and study a little bit more about data structures in-depth to be able to do better on the technical interviews. But for the most part, they did a really great job at preparing us not just conceptually like how to actually handle these questions but they did a great job in training us like for how to actually interview.

What I think a lot of people don’t really realize when they’re starting this process is that when you actually go for a software engineering job, it’s not going to be you just talking about your projects that you did before someone hires you. Typically, you’re going to have to do what’s called like a white boarding interview where an interviewer is going to give you a problem to solve and you’re going to go up on a whiteboard and basically just write out a marker what you think a solution would be and oftentimes, you have to end up writing the actual code on the board for that problem. And you just have to be prepared to be able to solve that problem but also be able to communicate with the interviewer. And that’s a skill set that is often overlooked and I think Hack Reactor did this amazing job of preparing us for that particular element.

So what they would do is every Thursday, they would have what’s called mock interviews. So typically, you have one group of students that are like the junior students going through at that time and then you have another class that’s six weeks ahead. And so they’re the seniors of the program. They’re about to graduate pretty soon. And the seniors will basically pick out an interview question, typically one of the more typical ones that people tend to be asked, and they will interview you. They will give you the question and you will just whiteboard it out. At the end of the session, this is a one-hour thing every Thursday, and then they’ll give you feedback on how you did and what you could do better and you can just keep scheduling even in your off-time more like mock interviews and so pretty much when you get out into the job search process, it’s a lot easier to handle that because you’ve been more prepared for that type of interview at least.

Timur: Tell us about what you’re up to now? You ended up joining Amazon music, right? Tell us about what you do day-to-day and did that accomplish your initial dream of becoming a software engineer?

Edgar: Yeah, it definitely did. I’m incredibly humbled to being given the opportunity to work for Amazon as a software engineer. It’s just been unbelievable. It was something that I don’t think would have happened without Hack Reactor. So I give Hack Reactor a lot of credit because to end up at a company like that, to be an engineer, to work on something that actually does have impact that people see everyday is a pretty incredible thing. So right now, I work at Amazon. I work specifically for the Amazon Music web application. And I work on basically the front end, and by that I mean pretty much anything that has to deal with anything that the customer actually sees on the website and their actual interactions with the website itself. I’ve been there for about three months now and it’s been amazing. It’s been hard. There’s a lot to learn so it’s not like you go through a boot camp. Or I don’t even think even if you had a degree that you’re fully prepared for going into the first full time engineering job. I mean it’s just something that once you get there, you just realize you have so much to learn. And that just comes with years of experience of actually doing it.

Ruben:  We talked about communications, your experience with police brutality, your passion for music, have you been able to tie all those experiences while you’re there given all the recent events in the media?

Edgar: Not in my day-to-day engineering job. That’s something that I wish we could talk more about that on a day-to-day basis but it’s not really the focus for right now. So I haven’t really been able to tie in a lot of my background experiences into what I do on a day-to-day basis but I think in terms of how I relate to my co-workers and what we talk about and things like that, obviously, my background shapes who I am and so that shapes those conversations in what we do and don’t talk about.

Timur: Great. So it’s actually time for the Lightning Round. The Lightning Round is when Artur, Ruben, and I will ask you several questions. We’re looking for short responses but we’d love for you to tell us about strategies, tactics, and your resources that you’ve used to go through the journey of learning how to code, joining the military, just basic life advice. So with that said Artur, take it away.

Artur: If you had to start all over again, imagine you were dropped in a new city and you only had $100, what would you do?

Edgar: What would I do if I were in a city with only $100?

Artur: And you had to start all over again to get to where you are now?

Edgar: Well, I think at the very least, I would probably try to see if I had a friend in that city, somebody that I could at least call, reach out to, and say, “Hey, I’m in the city. I have nothing going on right now. Can I stay on your couch?” Something. But I think I probably would just look at what sort of resources, what sort of not just like obviously buying food or shelter or anything with $100, but I would look at specifically what sort of resources I could get with that money if that could buy me like a book that is going to help me to learn more about a particular skill set. I would probably look at something like that and what can I actually clean off of that. Yeah, I’d probably buy coding book.

Ruben: So throughout this process, throughout the struggles that you went through in basic training in the military and in the boot camp, was there a specific piece of music or a movie that you watched or a quote that was told to you that helped you get through that workout routine in the morning when you are like super depressed and feeling like you didn’t belong?

Edgar: Oh man! Obviously, I listen to a lot of rap. But there are a couple songs that I always go to for inspiration, just like pump me up. This may sound like an unusual list here. So Jay-Z. He has this one song from Black Album called My 1st Song.

Ruben: Treat my first like my last, my last like my first, it’s my life.

Edgar: And so it’s this great song about just staying hungry and continuing to stay motivated throughout everything you do because every moment could be the last and you just always want to treat it like the first and even like your first moments, you always want to treat it like you’re just about to do it for the last time ever, which is amazing. And Eminem. He has a couple of songs from the 8 Mile soundtrack in particular. Not just like Lose Yourself, but 8 Mile Road and Rabbit Run I believe it’s called. Just incredible songs that can just pump you up right in that moment.

Timur: The next question is if you had to give advice to someone who’s about to start in this journey and let’s say like the coding journey, what is one piece of advice that you would want them to know now that you’ve gone through the process?

Edgar:  I would definitely want to emphasize that it takes a longer time than I think people will sort of acknowledge. It’s definitely not an easy process and if you find yourself questioning whether you’re good enough, don’t worry about that. The thing to worry about is whether you have the will to keep going. So if you’re motivated and you like it enough, keep going because there are going to be plenty of roadblocks. There are going to be plenty of times when you’re trying to figure out some sort of code or some concept and it just seems impossible to figure out and you wonder, if you’re ever going to be good enough. But if you keep putting your head down and you just stick with the problem, eventually, what I’ve always found out is that you’ll figure it out. And then you’ll get a little bit better and then you move onto the next thing. Even when somebody tells you no, that they don’t think you’re ready to be a software engineer, they don’t think you’re good enough. Okay, let me go back to the drawing board. Let me study a couple more problems and let me prepare for the next technical interview. So it’s pretty much like this game of perseverance.

Timur: Yeah, and I think just throughout what you just said, whenever you get rejections during the job search or when you’re trying to put yourself out there as a software engineer, a lot of the time, the rejection, it’s not a reflection of you never being an engineer. It’s just a sign that maybe you haven’t grasped certain concepts well enough but it doesn’t mean that you can’t go back to the drawing board and get good at those concepts and keep going further, right? So I think that’s a very important piece of information that you can get better. You just have to realize what are your weak spots and get better at that.

Edgar: Right, exactly. It’s just a process of continuously picking up information. So even when you get the job, you’re still going to be learning an insane amount of information every single day so it never really stops. You’re always going to be learning and you’re always going to hit roadblocks and frustrations. It’s just always going to be there. But it’s worth it. And so you just have to keep going.

Artur:  What is one thing that you fundamentally believed in that you changed your mind on going through this process?

Edgar: I don’t know if there is anything that I completely changed my mind on as I was going through the process. I think pretty much I thought no matter what happens in this journey, I thought to myself, I’m going to finish Hack Reactor. I’m going to see where this takes me. I’m going to try to find a job in the Bay Area and hopefully, everything just works out. I don’t know if there is… I certainly question a lot of things as I mentioned, it’s very easy to feel impostor syndrome at different times and get caught up in that and just think that maybe I should go do something else. But at the end of the day, I would always come back to this thought that this is what I wanted to be doing. I never really changed my mind fundamentally about what I believed about something.

Ruben: And the last question, can you share any online resources that you took that helped you prepare to get into these programs?

Edgar: Absolutely. Codecademy is great. That’s such a great source for at least learning a lot of the initial syntax of a language and then learning some initial concepts for a lot of languages and just like the initial steps of putting together an application. Code School is also great for doing a number of different courses and diving a little bit deeper into certain concepts. So I use Code School, Codecademy, Coderbyte to practice problems. These days, I would probably recommend LeetCode as well. I think that’s a great resource for just practicing problems especially when you’re getting ready to go on software engineering interviews and definitely problems on that site helps a lot. Let’s see. I’m missing one other thing here. So Code School, Codecademy, CoderbyteCodewars. That’s another big one too. So that’s cool.

Artur: We’ll include in the show notes. And so for our listeners, what’s the best way to get in touch with you?

Edgar: Yeah, people can obviously look me up. Feel free to send me request on Facebook I supposed. So my name is Edgar Pabon. You can also feel free to send me an email especially if you have questions about, if you’re thinking about doing a coding boot camp and trying to become an engineer in particular, definitely reach out. I’m always willing to talk about that process and give any sort of advice that I can. My email is edgar.pabon@gmail.com. So feel free to reach out.

Timur: Nice.

Ruben: Awesome. We’ll include that in the show notes and thanks for spending the time with us.

Timur: We’re going to have you on again in a few months. Thanks.

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1 comment

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