#18: Preethi Kasireddy – How Investment Banker & a VC quit her job to became a Software Engineer

After excelling at Goldman Sachs and top venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Preethi Kasireddy decided she wanted to leave “the best job in the world” to become a software engineer. In her blog post called Why I Left the Best Job in the World, she talks about why she left VC to join Hack Reactor in order to learn how to code.

In this episode Preethi shares what motivated her to leave finance for tech, her incredible work ethic, her 5 am workout schedule, and the lessons she learned on her journey to becoming a software engineer.

ebook-cover

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Years in Tech1
Grew UpNew Jersey
Current JobSoftware Engineer
Date Recorded8/1/2016

Key Points:

  • If you want to build a tech company, learn some technical skill sets in order to build a solid foundation for the product.
  • Learning on your own is great but there’s nothing wrong with asking for mentorship or advice if you want to really accelerate and expedite your growth. It’s like having a personal trainer at the gym if you’ve never worked out before.
  • Whether you should jump into job search immediately after the bootcamp or instead hack on a side project. Side projects are great if you’re naturally driven and you know you can stay motivated.
  • Unless you’re a super genius, it’s impossible not to get rejected. If you hear no, It’s not because you’re stupid, it could be that this company is just not the right fit or you may have had a bad day.
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Show Notes (focus on the Stepping Stones):

[01:36] Preethi’s early years: Passion for math and taekwondo (she has a first degree black belt so don’t mess with her!)

[03:41] Finishing a degree in Industrial Engineering: Find out what industrial engineers do.

[04:11] Taking up a minor in business and how information sessions sparked her interest that led to a summer internship at Goldman Sachs and eventually a full time job

[05:54] The interview process at Goldman Sachs and its 6-week intensive training (spending 120 hours a week- wow!)

[08:16] Transitioning from banking to venture capital: Preethi landed a job at Andreessen Horowitz, also widely known as a16z

[10:03] Skill sets Preethi learned from Goldman that she got to apply at a16z

[10:58] Preethi’s role at a16z moving from a growth investment role to venture capital. a16z has a phenomenal growing network based on its core thesis of giving

[12:16] Why Preethi left a16z – Building a product and being technical as a highly important skill set to have if you want to have a technical company

[13:54] Learning how to code: Treehouse tutorials and the power of having a mentor

[17:33] Other options Preethi considered before coding: Self-learning versus attending a graduate program

[18:59] The power of feedback loop giving a sense of empowerment (It was when Preethi built her first web application that it hit her that this was something she wanted to do.)

[20:34] Factors for choosing a bootcamp: Referral + Research + Reviews

[22:11] – STEPPING STONE: Pieces of advice Preethi got from her friends to prepare for the interview process – Build a website > Open source libraries (ex. underscore.js)

[23:13] How Preethi prepared for the bootcamp: 80-hour pre-course work + tutorials + practicing coding

[24:41] While at Hack Reactor, Preethi kept a blog where she documented her bootcamp journey. This is probably one of the best blogs to figure what Hack Reactor is like and how you can build up your knowledge!

[26:27] What keeps Preethi sane everyday: Morning workouts are a commitment!

[27:52] Find out how Preethi approached the job search: Should you jump into the jobsearch bandwagon immediately?

[30:31] Practical problem versus algorithmic problem

[33:58] – STEPPING STONE: How to pick the companies you want to apply for: People + Caliber of the engineering team + Product

[35:02] What does Coinbase do?

[37:02] The Lightning Round

Imagine you were starting from scratch again. You’re dropped into a new city where you didn’t know anyone and you only had $100 and you were trying to start all over again. What would you do and how would you spend that $100?

  • Preethi would spend $50 for food and the other $50 on getting any kind of access to a computer and find her first job whether at a coffee shop or anything and then build herself up from there.

Let’s take it back to when you were thinking about a frustrating moment or when you were doubting yourself, was there a song that you listened to or a movie that you watched or somebody that you talked to, or a piece of art that you experienced that allowed you to break through that roadblock?

  • Clique by Kanye

Having gone through this journey of starting into finance then doing venture capital, breaking into startups by learning how to code, what is one piece of advice that you have for our listeners who are contemplating breaking into startups or starting on this journey?

  • If you want to do it, do it. Don’t be scared. It’s not that hard.

What is one thing that you fundamentally believed in going through this process that you changed your mind on now having finished it or at least being on the other side?

  • Preethi realized she can’t imagine going the rest of her career without this skill set and that this is exactly what she needed. Knowing how to program is the future and this is what she needed to build her career.

Articles Mentioned & Resources:

Learning Resources

Coinbase
GDAX
A16Z
Goldman Sachs
BuzzFeed
Optimizely
Facebook
Twitter
Lyft
Pinterest
Treehouse
Craigslist
Underscore.js
Cracking the Coding Interview book by Gayle Laakmann McDowell

Articles:

Why I Left the Best Job in the World
Preethi’s blog posts on Medium: https://medium.com/@preethikasireddy

Contact Information:

Preethi Kasireddy
Twitter: @iam_preethi

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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.

Ruben: 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: Yeah so today, we’re recording our episode from Hack Reactor. It’s about 8 pm on a Monday and we’re actually sitting in the back room on one of the floors of the Hack Reactor building. We kind of literally broke in because we just went up the elevator, went into the conference room in the back and if we step outside the room, there’s people whiteboarding, talking about coding, they’re building apps, and we’re about to talk about how to break into startups. Artur, please introduce our guest.

Artur: Yeah, Today we have a very special guest, Preethi Kasireddy, who is an engineer at Coinbase. It’s a bitcoin startup, super hot. You guys should totally check it out. Preethi has a super interesting story of how she broke into tech. She started out in investment banking right out of school and then she joined Andreessen Horowitz which is at the top of the VC firms out here and you may have heard about her from her blog post called Why I Left the Best Job in the World, which talks about why she left VC to join Hack Reactor and learn how to code. Preethi, before we begin, can you take us back and tell us about where you’re from and what you were up to before you broke into tech.

Preethi: So I kind of loved all of the place when I was younger. I was born in Connecticut, moved to the Chicago, and then i lived in India for four years, moved to New Jersey. That change in pace forced me to continue to learn and make new friends and make new relationships. And I went to high school in New Jersey and the couple of things that I was dedicated to, one, were my grades. For some reason I had this instinct that I had to get really good grades to do whatever I wanted. Second was taekwondo. i did taekwondo from third grade until I graduated high school and I was first degree black belt.

Artur: So we shouldn’t mess with you.

Preethi: And I hope to continue actually and get back to it at some point. The other thing that I did was dance, Indian dance. So I performed in New Jersey at a bunch of different places and played basketball in high school. Those are my main things. In high school, the couple of things that I was really good at and I loved were math and physics. And people typically hate these subjects but I was in love with it. I took all the AP classes and I felt like… my teachers kept telling me that I have a talent of physics and math and they said, “When you go to college, you should look into those and pursue something related to those.” And when I got to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do yet. I kind of knew I was good at physics and math but I didn’t want to put my foot down and say this is what I want to do. I want to just explore for the first year. So I did that. I came undecided, took a bunch of engineering classes because I felt like that’s one thing I want to consider. But I also took a bunch of psychology classes, sociology classes, more like people-related subjects. And in the end, I decided to do engineering because it felt like it was a solid degree and I knew I was going to pay for my own college or I was paying for my own college. I was like, “If I’m going to pay this much money to go to USC, I might as well do a degree that feels like it’s worth a thing that much.

Timur: What type of engineering did you study?

Preethi: Industrial systems engineering.

Timur: And for our listeners, what do industrial engineers do?

Preethi: In short, what they do is they use math, physics, science, and engineering to optimize people, systems, and processes. So it’s very applicable to large manufacturing companies, large car companies to optimize their processes and stuff.

Ruben: Got it. Clearly, in the intro, Artur was talking about how you went from engineering. You have this well-rounded background in the arts, in fighting people and things like that. What led you to go the business route?

Preethi: It’s a good question so I ended up doing a minor in business because I felt like along with the engineering degree, it would be good to get the business part as well. I got pulled into a bunch of information sessions for banking and my friend said, “You should just come. I just need headcount there. I just need to drag you there because I need to bring at least 10 people.” And so I went to my first one. Something about it really sparked my interest then I kept going to them even though I was a junior and they weren’t really recruiting for juniors at that point.

Timur: What do you think drew you towards, I’m assuming, because it sounds like you’re very passionate about the sciences. What about those information sessions got your attention and your interest?

Preethi: I was one of those nerds who started going to career boots. When I was a freshmen in college, I had my resume all sparked up like freshmen year and people were impressed that I was a freshman and doing all this. And so I felt like unmotivated when I saw some of the… because in engineering, you kind of like, “Oh I’ll get a job. I’m not worried about getting a job. I’m an engineer.” And that’s fine because it’s true. You’re technical. You’ll get a job. Whereas the business people, they’re hunting for jobs like starting from freshman year because they said it’s very competitive and it’s the same roles for a lot of people and I fell into that competitive loop. Something about that really caught my interest and I felt like these people were just as motivated as me and I want to be a part of that. And so started looking into banking and I met a really solid group of friends that I was doing this whole recruiting process with, really, really smart people. And then I decided, I’m going to commit myself 100% to recruiting for banking for junior year and I ended up getting an offer at Goldman for summer internship junior year. So that’s what started it.

Ruben: How was the investment banking interview process?

Preethi: I got really lucky. I did a bunch of studying ahead of time and my first interview was  Goldman Sachs and I got it. So I didn’t go to that many interviews and I think they hired me just based on, because I was obviously not the most financially technical person. I didn’t do finance. I didn’t take any finance classes. But I think they hired me based on the potential to learn. If you’re an engineer, most people will just believe that if you can do engineering, you can do almost anything else. So that was kind of what they hired me on.

Ruben: So that makes a lot of sense. It’s definitely different than the traditional investment banking process. So you get in. And how was the training process? Was it hard? Did you learn a lot of things? Was it everything that you expected?

Preethi: To answer that question, I’ll go to the full time part because that’s where the training actually starts. So I got a full time offer and then I did that after senior year. It’s a 6-week training thing and so Goldman takes the training very seriously. They pretty much teach you from nuts and bolts, everything, and I thought it was really good. I got a little bit sick during that time and so I couldn’t take it as seriously as I wanted to. And then I started the job and it was as intense as anyone talks it up as…

Ruben: 8000-hour weeks.

Preethi: I was spending more because I, this stuff was new to me so I was learning a lot of it on the job. Two, I got put on like an IPO right away and it was like the most important IPO for Goldman that year and I was 07:22 at that time and so I was spending 100-120 hours a week there, pretty much living there. Even thanksgiving I was in the office.

Ruben: It says a lot about your work ethic.

Preethi: It was intense. But I think I realized that while I like the people and I love the training, I was starting to feel like this is not what I want to do 2 or 3 years from now. I feel like I’m spending time on something, I’m learning stuff that I’m not really going to use that much because it’s not what I want to do. And I wanted to go back to my engineering roots. That’s where I felt the most spark and that’s where I felt the most interest. I’m a creator. I’m naturally very creative and I’m a builder and I want to go back and do that. So that’s when I decided that it’s time for me to look for other things to do.

Artur: And for our listeners, you mentioned that this is not what you wanted to do and what did you want to do three, four, five years down the line?

Preethi: I don’t think I had a solid idea at that point. I knew that I was going to do… I knew I was smart, I knew that I am driven. But I didn’t know exactly what I want to do and that’s why I was driven to venture capital because it’s kind of an area where you can literally hundreds, thousands of startups and just explore and learn the tech space overall and really choose what you like and what you don’t like.

Artur: Awesome. So what was your next move after Goldman?

Preethi: I had sent a cold email. I did a bunch of other interviews at private equity and hedge funds. Pretty quickly, I realized I didn’t want to do that either because it was going back to the finance side and it wasn’t moving towards the direction I wanted to go which was product. And so then one of my friends gave me an email to someone who worked at A16Z. She’s like, “Here, try emailing him. Maybe he’ll answer.” And I did cold email him and he answered. And then two months later and 8 interviews later, I got an offer there. And so that’s when I decided to leave Goldman and join A16Z.

Artur: And for our listeners who may not know what A16Z is, what is it? And tell us a little bit about the firm.

Preethi: They’re a venture capital based in Silicon Valley. They’re founded only 6 years ago but are doing phenomenal in terms of their performance in the VC landscape. They invest in tech companies primarily anywhere from C to series D stage. Pretty young but thriving company.

Timur: What are some of the companies that people may have heard about?

Preethi: BuzzFeed, Stock Exchange, Optimizely, Facebook was an investment. Twitter.

Timur: Lyft. Pinterest.

Ruben: In order to get into that position, was there anything that you learned? Any soft skills or hard skills that you learned at Goldman that helped you get into that position?

Preethi: Definitely. I think Goldman, as I said the training was incredible. Not only the formal training, the 6-week training, but also on-the-job. You become a nearly perfect employee. You learn how to send the perfect email. You’re like what? 22 at that age and you’re like very well-crafted. And that’s something that I felt like a lot of my peers were missing, that maturity and how to be a good employee. So I definitely got a lot.

Timur: And when you’re there 120 hours a week and you’re working in a very small team and you’re constantly getting feedback on your emails and everything that goes out has to be reviewed so you’d learn very quickly what to do and what not to do.

Preethi: Yeah, and you’re working three times or two times as much as your friends and so you get twice as much as experience in the same amount of time.

Timur: So at this point, you got the offer from Andreessen Horowitz, what was your role there and when you started there, did that meet your expectations?

Preethi: Of course, it beat my expectations. The A16Z was incredible and I joined initially as a growth investor along with another person name 11:12  and then eventually, over time, we’ve moved over to venture because I felt like that’s where I was more interested in. And the analysis of companies on the venture side is a lot more stimulating for me personally. And the thing about A16Z that’s phenomenal is the network that they have. It’s unbelievable. They continue to expand their network and I think that’s a thesis, one of the core theses that they have is, as a venture capital, we need to continue to build our network by giving and then not taking and then you receive what you give later at some point, But they’re always about giving. They’re always about helping an entrepreneur, helping a company or making connections. And so through that, I got a lot of exposure to people in the valley that I probably couldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Artur: Awesome. And you actually mentioned in your blog post that you left the best job in the world because you obviously were in love with what you were doing. So what motivated you to consider leaving this awesome opportunity where you’re learning a lot, you’re speaking with founders, you’re surrounded by amazing people?

Preethi: My job was obviously to meet with entrepreneurs every single day and learn about what they do, why they’re doing what they do. Over time, I quickly realized that I myself see an entrepreneur in myself and I really respected what they did, I envied what they did. I felt like being an entrepreneur. Because I didn’t know what I wanted to do after Goldman as I said, I wasn’t sure. I knew I was smart. I knew I worked hard but I didn’t know what to do with that. I felt like when I got to A16Z, it’s pretty clear that this is what I want to do. This is exactly what I would consider a perfect role, be an entrepreneur, going out and building something. But I felt that the one skill set that was missing was actually knowing how to build the product myself. A16Z particularly, we have a strong bias against professional CEO’s and we are always looking for technical founders because if you’re going to build a tech company and you’re not very technical, it’s hard to motivate engineers if you’re not technical. It’s hard to build a solid foundation for the product if you’re not very technical. And I felt like that’s the one skill set that I needed to have. And I felt like this is the time to do it and if I wait another year or two years or three years, it’s going to start to feel too late and I’m never going to do it if I don’t do it now. And so it was like an urgency that I had to get this done right now.

Timur: And something you mentioned in our pre interview was that you started to learn how to code but then you realized that in order to do this right, you had to fully commit to it? Can you talk a little bit about your process of discovering coding and then how did you figure out what to do next?

Preethi: I guess I discovered it, it was like a trial and error thing. I tried multiple times, failed multiple times and it was very frustrating. I think a lot of people go through this. When I wrote the blog post, so many people identified with, “Oh I keep trying but I keep falling off. I don’t think it’s for me.” And then when they heard that I felt the same way and then in the end it clicked, people related to that. So I went through that process myself, a bunch of roller coasters and then finally when it clicked, I knew that this is what I’ve been looking for. It kept me so engaged and so motivated. It didn’t feel like a job. It didn’t feel like work.

Ruben: Were there any people that you consulted or that you talked to during this process that either supported or encouraged you not to go on that direction?

Preethi: Obviously, there were a few people that were like, why would she go in this direction? Most people go from engineering to business, not from business to engineering. No one really does this. I felt like I did get that a little bit, that kind of criticism, but I was like, they’re not living my life. I don’t want to feel guilty the rest of my life for not having this skill set. I’m 25  or I was 25 and it felt like I have so much time go back to business. I can spend at least 5 years doing this and then see where it takes me.

Artur: Do you remember what that moment was when you said that it clicked for you? Do you remember what happened to make you feel that way?

Preethi: I went through this tutorial on Treehouse for like three days.

Artur: Shout out Treehouse.

Preethi: Basically, I just copied what they did. but still. I remember making every line change and refreshing the page, line change and refreshing the page and you set the background color, the color changes. You set the textcolor, the text changes. You set the CSS. All of a sudden, it looks nice. It was incredibly amazing and it totally hit me that one project and then after that, I forced myself to do another project and this time, my strategy for not… like a lot of people say they try to do projects on their own but then they fall off or it’s too hard or they get stuck and they don’t know where to go. I went to that process as well but this time what I did differently was I went on this platform and just hired a tutor for $50 an hour. I would meet with him twice a week and it just kept me going because even when I got stuck, I knew that I would have an hour in two days to talk to this dude who could help me through this. And I was just paying him $50 an hour.

Artur: That’s awesome. We actually had some guest on our podcast before who also hired a tutor. Do you remember what platform you used to find a tutor.

Preethi: I forgot. And it was like nothing special.

Ruben: Like Craigslist?

Preethi: Pretty much like Craigslist, yeah.

Artur: And for our listeners too. I think it’s important to realize that a lot of people learn their own but if you want to accelerate and expedite that growth, there’s nothing wrong with asking for mentorship and advice especially if people who either taught themselves or people who have been doing it for a few years. I know for myself, I started coding twice and I quit both times until actually I met someone who has been coding and he mentored me through the first couple of weeks. And those are usually the times when you either make it or break it. So it sounds like you did something smart. You went out of your way to say, “Hey, I want to have a mentor.” I guess a good analogy would also be like a personal trainer at the gym if you never worked out before. You need someone to show you the tools, best practices, and get you on your way.

Preethi: Yeah, exactly. And it was nice to have him being someone I didn’t know. I wasn’t embarrassed. I was like I’m going to go to him with all my problems and he’s going to help me through this. It was cool.

Ruben: That’s awesome. Before diving deep into coding, what were the alternatives that you were considering.

Preethi: Interesting. I was obviously considering different roles at A16Z itself. Obviously, they have different teams and so  I was like, maybe I can try being on another team like the market development team or executive talent or something. It was one thing I considered. And another thing was like going and do my own thing right away without the technical skills but I was really hesitant to do that because I knew that if I came to A16Z for an investment or even me, when I analyze companies, if the founder wasn’t technical, it was hard for me to….

Timur: Trust their vision.

Preethi: Trust, yeah. And so that was already out of the picture for me. So my options were like, I want to do this and that’s it.

Timur: Did you consider doing graduate school or getting a masters?

Preethi: Oh yeah, that’s what I did consider. I definitely considered that. There’s two ways to get technical chops. You can either just learn it on your own or you can go and get a degree. I definitely considered the degree approach because I was like, maybe I wanted a PhD. I was like, what am I good at? I knew I was really good at school. I got straight A+’s. I got a 4.0. I was like maybe I am meant to be an academic or something. And so I was like, let me look into PhD programs and I looked into a bunch of them. I talked to a bunch of PhD people and the PhD people looked at me and they were like, you’re not the PhD type of person. You should not do this. Don’t waste 4 years of your life doing this. And I was like, okay, but I want to. And I like really heavily look into data science because it was like a growing field, machine learning. And I was like, something about it just didn’t click. I took a bunch of classes in data science and I wasn’t sparked. I think it was finally when I built my first web application that it hit me. This is what I want to do. It was just automatically yes.

Artur: Yeah, there’s something about the feedback loop how you could make a change in code and then you refresh your page and then all of a sudden you’re like, oh now I have this new button or this new feature. And there’s something empowering about being able to envision it, sketch it out, and then create it with code and then within a few minutes, you’ll know exactly what it looks like.

Ruben: And so you made this decision to go full time and you’re considering all these different options including graduate school but somebody told you not to go the academic route. And so, how did you pursue where you wanted to go next and then was there other people that you talked to about where you wanted to go next?

Preethi: I talked to a lot of people at A16Z. They were older than me and my mentors. And they’re very supportive of me doing my PhD. My manager, Frank Chan was like, “If you wanted to do that, I can help you.” Like the right connections and everything. In the end, when I started learning on my own, I was like, I don’t think I need a PhD to do this. And I don’t want to be 28 and starting to do this. I want to be a year of now in trying to do this. And I felt like I wanted to do the slight risk and just do this on my own and not spend so much time going to school. Not only that, but you have to spend at least a year doing studying for, getting into PhD and picking a professor. It’s a lot of time and unless I’m going to be an academic, it didn’t feel like the right way.

Ruben: How did you choose the bootcamp that you went to and how did you hear about them in the first place?

Preethi: My friend, Emily Dong, she did the bootcamp so that’s when I first heard of it two years ago and then I did a bunch of research like most people, I read all the Yelp reviews and all the review online. By far, Hack Reactor was the best reviewed and everyone had amazing things to say. I literally did not find one bad thing. And this can’t be real until I hit up a few, including Artur and Timur. I hit them up. I remember, it was after I got in. But I was still doing my diligence.

Timur: Yeah, we met I think maybe a week after you got in or something like that?

Preethi: Yeah, and I was like, is this legit? What did you learn? Was it worth it? And I talked to at least 7 or 8 people. I just randomly reached out to them and then they all said, 100% totally worth it. I was like, this is totally worth it. And I had my boyfriend on the other hand, he was like, “Don’t do that. It’s so stupid. It’s as gimmicky as hell. You’re not going to go to a bootcamp.”

Timur: It was like another Trump university. Get rich quick.

Preethi: That’s what he said.

Timur: I was actually concerned about that as well but one thing that did it for me was, I was like, I can’t really trust the reviews because people could hire someone else to do fake accounts. I was like I’m going to go to LinkedIn and look up HR alumni and then see where they work now. And once I started seeing that, because we’re typing Hack Reactor into the search bar, you start seeing, “Oh there’s an engineer at Google. There’s an engineer at Facebook. There’s an engineer at this startup.” And you’re like, well these people are able to jobs and I found more than 20 that were able to do it. I was like, alright then it’s got to be real.

Ruben: So how’s the actual process to get into the bootcamp once you made that decision?

Preethi: Their interview process you mean?

Ruben: Yeah.

Preethi: They’ll give you some guidelines in an email saying this is what you should know. And I reached out to a few friends and like, “What should I know?” And they gave me some advice. I studied that hardcore for a month.

Ruben: What did they tell you?

Preethi: They said, build something from scratch. Don’t just follow tutorials. And actually go build a website to put them into a few open source libraries and learn how these actually work. Learn how to implement these functions.

Timur: Do you remember which open source libraries they recommended?

Preethi: Those Underscore.js. And then I did that and then I don’t know how I got in the first time but I got in on the first try. It was a no-brainer that I’m going to go at that point.

Timur: Nice. So at this point, you know that you already got accepted to Hack Reactor. Did you take any steps to prepare for the curriculum? What did you do in the meantime before the bootcamp actually started?

Preethi: As you might know, Hack Reactor gives us massive pre-course work. It’s like 80 hours depending on how quick that you can finish it. After I got it, I got that packet and so they give it to you exactly a month before it starts. So you only have four weeks to finish and so I just worked on that right away.

Ruben: Were you still at A16Z while you’re doing this?

Preethi: Yeah. I was doing it at nights. I’d word in the day and do these at nights. I finished it in a week and a half or two weeks so it wasn’t horrible.

Ruben: And you’re used to those 120-hour weeks and 80 hours is nothing.

Preethi: Yeah, and then I have like two weeks left to do my own thing. So I just started following tutorials again, building another website, just doing as much coding as I can just to get warmed up before the program.

Artur: It sounds like you did your preparation. You took your preparation very carefully. Once you started at Hack Reactor, what was your first impression of the school, of the students, of what you were learning?

Preethi: I was actually very impressed for how big they’ve gotten. They’ve been able to maintain the quality pretty high and I love their attitude of always asking for feedback and always improving. That was the number one thing that keeps them alive, that keeps them the number one school is they’re always, every week, we had feedback sessions and they’d say, “Can you improve? How can we improve this? What can we do better?” They’d continue to A/B test different curriculum-type stuff.

Timur: And something else you did while you were doing the program was keep a blog and I remember even though I’ve gone through Hack Reactor, you would post. Every single week, you documented. You took your notes and you consolidated into this one comprehensive piece that talked about the curriculum, takeaways. By the way, if you guys are listening and interested in what Hack Reactor is like, this is probably one of the best blogs to check out. Preethi, what’s the name of the blog? How can people find it?

Preethi: It’s just on Medium, if you just search my name, you’ll find it.

Timur: Awesome. We’ll include in the show notes.

Artur: Yeah, we’ll include in the show notes. But I highly recommend it because even gone being through that experience, just by following her experience, I was able to relive a lot of these moments and you pretty much covered data structures, D3, jQuery, all the frameworks. So it’s not only like an interesting view into Hack reactor, it’s also very good introduction to a lot of these cutting edge JavaScript tools as well.

Preethi: Yeah, I want to show how you can build up this knowledge, where you start and then where you end up.

Timur: How did you manage to do that? Just curious, because you’re at Hack Reactor six days a week for over 12 hours a day?

Preethi: Because on Saturdays, we finish a little bit earlier at 5 so instead of going and eating with everyone or mingling or getting drunk or something, I’d spend like three hours at Hack Reactor. I just draft in the blog and then on Sunday, I’d edit it for like an hour and then I’d post it on Monday.

Ruben: Awesome. So you had a routine that helps you solidify your thoughts/

Preethi: Yeah, I think I’ve never been as routine as I was at Hack Reactor. I’m pretty routine like I’m very strict about certain things but Hack Reactor was like wake up at this time, do this at this time, go to sleep at this time.

Artur: Can you tell our listeners about your routine because you told us your routine in the pre-interview and it’s pretty amazing.

Preethi: The one thing that keeps me sane is I workout everyday at 4:30.

Timur: Seven days a week.

Preethi: Seven days a week.

Ruben: That’s impressive. What time do you go to sleep?

Preethi: I’ve been trying to go to sleep around 10:30.

Ruben: But sometimes you go to sleep later and still get up by 4:30.

Preethi: Yeah, I have to.

Ruben: I respect it.

Preethi: If I don’t do that, I just feel insane.

Artur: What do you think about waking up so early keeps you motivated?

Preethi: Yeah, it started this freshmen year of college and I made a commitment to wake up early and workout because I used to workout later in the day. And when I first started it, it was magical. Something about morning workout just was amazing.

Ruben: It’s peaceful.

Preethi: Right now, that feeling kind of numbed down. I’m so used to it that’s it’s not the same feeling but it was like you feel like you’re awake before anyone else in the world  is and you’re living the world before anyone else is.

Timur: You gain that extra three hours a day.

Preethi: Yeah, you start the day way ahead of anyone else and you’ve already done so much by the time people are waking up.

Ruben: I fully agree with that. Did you ever workout with anybody else? In Hack Reactor, did anybody else adopt your philosophy?

Preethi: Most people fell off at workout.

Timur: Most people woke up at 7 or 8 am right before class.

Ruben: After she had just written a three-hour blog post. Awesome. And so you finished the bootcamp process, you go through all the hoops, you write about it. Talk about how you approached the job search.

Preethi: Hack Reactor strongly encourages that after you graduate, you go and you start recruiting right away. They actually make you recruit the last week that you’re there. For me, I didn’t want to do that. I felt like I still want more time to soak the stuff it, to contribute to open source, to build my own stuff, build my portfolio, and I was in no rush to get a job honestly. And I was like, I’ll just push my recruiting process off by a couple of months and I’ll do the things I want to do. I’ll build those things that I want to build and that’s what I did and Hack Reactor wasn’t very happy with that but I felt like that’s the not the right thing for me. And so that’s what I did, I left and I started building a side project.

Luckily, I got reached out by one open source contributor and he asked me to work on a project with him. That was probably the best project I could have had after Hack Reactor. It was very intense, like system level stuff where I learned to compel my own libraries and learned to use dock, hover heavily, learned to use VM and spin up VMs and SSH into VMs. This is all stuff that you don’t learn at Hack Reactor and I got that experience and so I did that for a month. And then after that, I finally started looking for jobs. And I felt like that month helped me significantly in terms of my knowledge and skill set because I had an extra month to soak things in.

Artur: What advice would you have for our listeners who are either applying to bootcamps or about to graduate bootcamps in terms of approaching the job search? Should they jump into the job search right away or should they pick an open source project or find some interesting technical challenge to tackle?

Preethi: That’s a tough one because sometimes you don’t have the money or you can’t afford to do that and it really depends on your personality. I’m naturally just very driven. I’m really good at keeping a schedule. I’m making commitments. Some people are not. If they say, I’m just going to do an open source. That never happens. So it really depends on your personality. That’s why I love people to the bootcamps. You sit there and try to learn on your own and you just can’t. You need someone to actually put that in front of you and give you a schedule and tell you what to do. So it really depends on your personality. If you are good at managing your own schedule, and you think that you can stay motivated and contribute to open source, I think that’s a great way to go because then you get experience under your belt, you can talk about it in your interviews. Like me talking about my projects in interviews was incredibly valuable. They were like, “Wow! You can do this with three months of coding? What can you do in a year from now?” But if you feel like or you can’t afford it or you think that you might not be as diligent about doing all this work as much as you want to then you should probably just recruit right away.

Timur: Nice. What advice in general do you have for people who are going through interviews? Did you practice algorithms? Any resources that you used to get yourself up to speed?

Preethi: Yeah, I hated. Before I recruited, I was so hesitant to continue my algorithm studying. I was just like this can’t be the way that interviewing is done today but once I did a few interviews I was like wow this is all what interviews is. You literally have to learn that stuff inside and out. And so that’s when i took the Cracking the Coding Interview book very seriously. I literally went through it two or three times, and not like every problem but I went through them 31:05 and it helped me tremendously. Of course, there were some companies that were very practical. They didn’t involve any algorithms. They were more like, “Here’s the project. Build it.” It was 50-50, I’d say. Some were very algorithmic, some were not.

Artur: Can you give our listeners maybe a little of example of what a practical problem is versus what an algorithm problem looks like?

Preethi: For example, one interview was basically five whiteboarding interviews in a row and the person walks in, he or she, and he’s like , “Here’s an algorithmic problem, solve it.” And you are in front of a whiteboard solving it for 45 minutes and you either get it or not. And you just have to explain your thought process and all that. The practical one is maybe someone emails you because you applied for them, like, “Hey, we like your resume. Here’s a project. Here’s Step 1 which is a small project that will take you a day to build. Send it to us when you’re done and then we’ll go the next steps.” Next step is usually just less technical and more like high level systems-type questions and then they give you an offer or they don’t give you an offer.

Ruben: Cool. And so after you went through all this process or as you were going through this process, did you get rejected at all after the open source?

Preethi: Of course. Unless you’re a super genius, it’s impossible not to get rejected. It’s not just that you don’t know your stuff, it’s the fit sometimes doesn’t work out. There are so many other factors that come into it. Maybe you’re just having a bad day and you literally did not. Even though they gave you a problem you’ve heard before, you actually just totally fuck up. That happened to me once. I had an off day and I knew how to go through this but I didn’t get through it. So yes, I’ve gotten rejections and I think that really hardened me up the first couple of weeks. This was way harder than I thought it was going to be. it was not a piece of cake and I knew that I had to work really hard to get through this.

Ruben: Right. Leaving the best job in the world and having a network like the one that you had, did you feel like that was going to be a lot easier or when you did get this cold splash of water in the face, did it kind of like… I don’t know how you thought about it going in?

Preethi: I think one of the things Hack Reactor kept saying is I have a very impressive background but don’t bring it up too much. Because it’s not going to help me in the process. And I was like, no, that can’t be true. And it was partially true. Even though I have a really cool background, it’s not really what I would do day-to-day. So if they ask me, yes, I’ll brag about it but if they don’t, then don’t bring it up. The way you have to do this is explain to them why you’re good technically and why you’ll be good for this job, not what you did in the past because that’s not going to help your case at all in the interview. So yes, I think that’s something that I was not sure of. I was like, would people care that I worked at A16Z? Or will it not matter? Sometimes you put there that’s really cool and they’d ask me questions, sometimes they were just like irrelevant, like this doesn’t matter for this job.

Timur: And for our listeners, can you walk them through the process that you used to pick these companies? Because you’ve mentioned in the pre-interview that you knew exactly the type of teams you wanted to join. What did you base it on?

Preethi: It’s kind of like the investing theory at A16Z. It was very similar. The things that you look for, number one are people. Are they technically strong? Are they just really smart people that you want to work with? So people was number one. It’s the same thing at A16Z. If you don’t believe in the people that are building a company, you’re not going to invest in the company. So same thing with me, I wasn’t going to invest my time in a company that I didn’t believe in.

Two was the caliber of the engineering team. I always want to be the most junior or one of the most junior people on the team because that’s when you’re challenged the most. You’ll learn the most. You might fuck up a lot but there’s so much room to grow. You never get bored.

Three was like I believe in the product. And I felt like Coinbase had all three. It was one of the ones that had all three surprisingly.

Artur: Can you tell our listeners in a nutshell. What does Coinbase do?

Preethi: We build a platform to buy and sell bitcoin and ethereum, so digital currencies and we have a wallet where you can buy and store and sell and trade, send and request bitcoin and ethereum. We also have a GDAX platform which is more for like bigger clients and enterprise customers to do more high volume trading of ethereum and cryptocurrencies, which during the early phases, we’re building a strong foundation because obviously in the crypto world, there’s a lot of fraud, a lot of bad stuff happening, people using it for the wrong stuff and we are building a foundation to… we’re probably the only bitcoin company that hasn’t been hacked in like 6 years. So that’s pretty impressive already.

Timur: And you guys have huge credibility in the community too. First, you have Andreessen Horowitz backing the company which already gives that sense of safety. I personally own a few bitcoins.

Ruben: We all do.

Timur: We all do. And we use Coinbase for that. And the primary reason is that you can actually trust those guys that they’re not going to lose your money. Knock on wood.

Ruben: Can you take part of your salary in bitcoin?

Preethi: Yeah. We can take whatever percentage, even 100% if you want.

Ruben: That’s awesome. Cool. Well, what’s next for you?

Preethi: What’s next? That’s a good question. I feel I want to keep doing this for at least, I don’t know how long, maybe a year or two years, five years. I have no idea yet because I’m learning so much every single day that it’s impossible to get bored. But I know that I won’t be an engineer forever. I know I have other skill sets I want to use particularly starting my own company. But I’m not entirely sure when that will be. It might be in two years, it might be in three. So I think I’m going to take, I’m so new to Coinbase. I’m still new to this job that I don’t want to think too far ahead of myself yet. I think I’m going to take this first year as it goes and then evaluate. What do I feel right now? Do I feel like doing this for much longer or do I think it’s time for me to go and do my own thing?

Timur: Awesome. Great responses Preethi. So at this point in our interview we do The Lightning Round and this is where Artur, Ruben, and I will ask you a series of questions and try to provide short answers but include tactics, strategies, any resources that you use to get to the point where you are today. So with that said, Artur, take it away.

Artur: This question takes it back to the basics. Imagine you were starting from scratch again. You’re dropped into a new city where you didn’t know anyone and you only had $100 and you were trying to start all over again. What would you do and how would you spend that $100?

Preethi: Wow! $100. Obviously I can’t get an apartment so I’d probably try to make a friend and find somewhere on a couch or on the floor or something and then I wouldn’t buy anything because it’s not much to buy. Say probably $50 for food and then the other $50 I’d spend on getting any kind of access to a computer, sort of finding my first job whether at a coffee shop or anything and then build myself up from there.

Ruben: I like it. So let’s take it back to when you were thinking about a frustrating moment or when you were doubting yourself, was there a song that you listened to or a movie that you watched or somebody that you talked to, or a piece of art that you experienced that allowed you to break through that roadblock? What song by Kanye?

Preethi: Tired. Probably Clique.

Ruben: I like that.

Artur: Nice. So another question we’d like to ask is having gone through this journey of starting into finance then doing venture capital, breaking into startups by learning how to code, what is one piece of advice that you have for our listeners who are contemplating breaking into startups or starting on this journey?

Preethi: If you want to do it, do it. Don’t be scared. It’s not that hard.

Timur: Awesome. You got it straight from Preethi. It’s not that hard.

Ruben: It’s not that hard.

Artur: Yeah, and we also like to ask what is one thing that you fundamentally believed in going through this process that you changed your mind on now having finished it or at least being on the other side?

Preethi: I would say if anything, I am more happy that I chose… Looking back now, a year ago, I can’t imagine going the rest of my career which is well like 40 years, without this skill set. That’s the number one thing I realized. This is exactly what I needed and this is the future and this is what I needed to build my career.

Ruben: It’s good answer. And you mentioned a lot of really awesome online resources that helped you get to this point. Can you share one or a few online resources that people can go to or books that people can read if they were going to start from scratch to get up to at least the bootcamp level?

Preethi: I would say, start with Codecademy, the 10-hour course. Once you’re done with that, once you’ve got some juice flowing then go to Treehouse. Treehouse has so many amazing courses and it’s like video-based so I loved it. Then once you go through that, then get off the videos and watching and start doing. Find places where you can find easy practice problems. I forgot some of the websites but we can put in the show notes.

Timur: Coderbyte or Codewars.

Preethi: Yeah Coderbyte, exactly. That stuff is incredibly challenging but that’s how you learn. It was tough. I hated going to those sites because I always felt demotivated. I was like, I can’t do this. This is too hard. And then I realize that’s the only I learn really.

Ruben: Any time you feel that demotivation, play Clique by Kanye. And the whole, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album and we’ll get through it.

Artur: And one topic we didn’t cover here but I’m curious, how does your family feel about this journey seeing you leave one of the best jobs in the world, taking complete rest and learning how to code and now you came out on the other side. What did your parents think throughout the whole process?

Preethi: My mom thinks I’m absolutely nuts. She’s like, “First of all, why would you leave Goldman.” And I love Goldman and finally settled. And then she’s like, “Why would you leave A16Z?” And she’s like “Why would you do engineering? Engineers don’t make any money.” She thinks I should just be a doctor. She’s a very traditional Indian and I get her side because doctors do save lives and she’s always wanted me to become an actor. She thinks I’m crazy but she knows I’ll figure it out. So in the end, she’s supportive.

Timur: And to build on what Artur asked, when you told your co-workers at Andreessen Horowitz that you were leaving that job, how did they feel about that?

Preethi: Surprisingly, everyone was spper supportive, including the general partners, Mark, Ben. Chris Dixon, I was pretty close with Chris Dixon. They were all like gung-ho about me doing this. I was shocked. I felt like they’d think I was crazy for doing this. But they liked it.

Timur: And you mentioned in your pre-interview that you inspired your little sister to consider learning how to code.

Preethi: That was surprising because she read all my blog posts that I wrote and I sent her the one on computers like how do computers work or how did the web work. And she’s like, “Wow this is actually really interesting.” And then she started reading more and then now, she’s just started the bootcamp for 6 months.

Ruben: What’s the name of the bootcamp?

Preethi: I don’t know. It’s at 42:11 Rockers. So it’s within the school itself.

Ruben: And what does she study?

Preethi: She was a Psychology major.

Ruben: Very cool.

Timur: Awesome. Well, you dropped a lot of gems during this interview. What is the best way for our listeners to get in touch with you? Are you on any social media, email?

Preethi: Twitter.

Timur: What’s your Twitter handle.

Preethi: I am @iam_preethi.

Timur: Awesome. We’ll include that in the show notes. And yeah, thanks for being on our podcast. We’re super excited about watching how your journey unfolds and stay in touch.

Ruben: And we’ll have your sister on next time.

Timur: And maybe you can come in and interview her.

Ruben: Yeah, I like that plan. It sounds good.

Preethi: Let’s do it. Thank you.

Timur: Thanks a lot Preethi.


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