How an effective portfolio landed Claire her first remote Junior Developer role

How an effective portfolio landed Claire her first remote Junior Developer role

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πŸŽ™ About the episode

Claire Ramming is a successful Scrimba student from New York City πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ, who recently got their first full-time developer job πŸŽ‰! Before learning to code, Claire studied Data Science and received mentorship on how to choose projects that standout and navigate the job market without a degree. Claire joins us today to share the tactics she learned and how specifically they helped her land this awesome new opportunity. Stay tuned for the end where Alex asks Claire a mock job interview question.

πŸ”— Connect with Claire

⏰ Timestamps

  • Introduction (0:00)
  • Claire's first lines of code (01:30)
  • Building a standout portfolio full of projects (03:55)
  • Can you use Scrimba projects in your portfolio? (05:23)
  • Changing companies without your boss knowing 🀫 (06:45)
  • Claire's clever idea to apply to Asana by cloning their app (08:50)
  • Finding success on Hired (09:07)
  • How to successfully answer "Tell us about yourself" (14:23)
  • Do. Your. Homework. (15:41)
  • How to answer "Do you like to work alone or as part of a team?" (16;08)
  • In-depth account of Claire's interview process and how long it took for them to get back Β (17:17)
  • What would Claire do differently if they did it again? (24:42)
  • Mock interview question: "What is the hardest thing you've ever done?" (26:35)

🧰 Resources mentioned

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πŸ’¬ Transcript

Alex Booker (00:01):
Hello, and welcome to the Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. In this episode, I'm talking with a recently successful Scrimba student from New York city, named Claire, about her job hunting playbook. You see, a few years ago before learning to code even, Claire participated in an expansive in-person bootcamp to become a data scientist. There, she got to pay for the privilege of learning from mentors and HR experts about how to prepare for a job interview.

Claire Ramming (00:36):
They asked me, "Tell us about yourself." And I just started talking about where I lived, my cat. Completely useless information.

Alex Booker (00:45):
Claire managed to find success back then, two or three years ago, and start her career in data. Now using much of the same advice, Claire's found success again with a company called Kevala, whose mission it is to decarbonize the electricity grid, hired her as a software and engineer level one. Claire joins us today to share everything she learned in that expensive bootcamp for free, and relate it to her brand new experiences interviewing as a developer. Let's get into it.
It looks like you studied electrical and computer engineering before enrolling in a data science bootcamp, and starting your career doing data analysis. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with coding and your journey up until this point?

Claire Ramming (01:30):
My original job outside of college, even though I did have an engineering degree, wasn't really engineering focused. It was more like glorified tech support. I had a little C++ experience before going into the job, but not much else. I did a little development there. But I mostly felt boxed in, a few years into my job, not really knowing where to go next. So I decided I wanted to do this data science bootcamp. It was called Springboard. It was much more expensive than Scrimba, but they had mentors that you spoke with every week. And it was also very project focused, like Scrimba is. The main focus was to get two capstone projects that you could then put on your resume that were either analyze focused, or machine learning focused.
And they would go through actual interviews with us. So they had an HR interview segment, a technical interview segment, and a more focused machine learning interview segment. And I remember going into the first HR interview and they asked me, "Tell us about yourself," which is the normal starting question you get in pretty much every interview. And I just started talking about where I lived, my cat. Completely useless information to an HR person. And they were, well you should really be focused. You should talk about where you started, where you want to go, how you've been trying to get there. And that's when it clicked for me how this whole process even works. And it worked out for me. I got my data analyst job.
A few years into that, I guess I started getting antsy again about where I was going to go. And I was doing more coding because I had that Python experience from the original bootcamp that I did. And I had started learning React through Scrimba to do a little internal side project. And I just fell in love with JavaScript and decided that's where I wanted to go. And the rest is history.

Alex Booker (03:46):
Just quickly. How did the bootcamp experience compare to Scrimba as a sort of cheaper, self-paced alternative?

Claire Ramming (03:55):
The mentorship program that they had, they assigned you a mentor that you spoke with over the phone I think once a week or every other week. And they helped you pick out your capstone projects, and made sure that you were on track. They were working data scientists so they had experience in the stuff that you were trying to accomplish. I really liked my mentor. He was really helpful. Whenever I had questions, he was very supportive.
I know Scrimba has study buddies. I talked to a few people because they saw me being active in the Discord. And they were wondering if it would work out if we could be study buddies or help each other. One of the people that I might have actually considered lived in South Africa. So it didn't quite work out timing wise for us to be study buddies. But if you don't have that motivation just by yourself to keep going, keep thinking of interesting things to do with your projects, just having someone to bounce ideas off of or ask advice, even if they're at the same level as you is really, really valuable.

Alex Booker (05:08):
At the data science bootcamp, you mentioned you built a capstone project and maybe another. Is one of those projects the Airbnb fare finder you feature on your portfolio?

Claire Ramming (05:19):
It is, yes. I used that in both bootcamps.

Alex Booker (05:23):
Nice. And you also have a to do list. And I even noticed you have the Blackjack Game from the Scrimba front end career path in your portfolio. I also remember that somebody in the career advice Discord channel asked about if they complete projects in the front end career path, whether they can feature them in their portfolio. You gave a really thoughtful response, I thought.

Claire Ramming (05:44):
I believe I said something along the lines of, if you take the project from the career path and really make them your own, go beyond the finished project in the videos, add extra functionality, add your own twist to it, add your own style. Then I think it's a really great addition to your portfolio, because you can explain what you learned through Scrimba. And then you can also talk about what you learned just going off on your own, trying to add that extra functionality, the struggles you faced, where you found resources that helped you. Scrimba projects can be very valuable on your portfolio. But you do have to go that little extra mile to show that you weren't just going through a video series and copying code from there.

Alex Booker (06:35):
I mean, if nothing else, it will prove that you are very serious about web development. But also, you'll find the stories. And talking about your experience will just come so much more easily. Your portfolio is awesome, by the way, Claire. And you have a handful of solid projects. It seems like you must have thought they were quite important and worth focusing on when you started to look for developer jobs. What has your experience been like, now you started looking and actually found a job?

Claire Ramming (07:00):
Yeah, so my experience was interesting because I didn't want to mess with my LinkedIn, because I didn't want my boss to know that I was looking for other jobs.

Alex Booker (07:13):
In a totally different industry, no less.

Claire Ramming (07:16):
Exactly. In a totally different job type. Basically, I had been doing this internal project, building an internal tool for my company. And I had done it a bit in secret at first, teaching myself JavaScript through the free React course on Scrimba. And I eventually told my boss about the time that I had a proof of concept built. I honestly used that To-do app to build out the app that I made for my company. It had a surprising amount of overlap because it was a lot of moving data between tables. And so it was just like two to-do lists essentially. Once I had that project, I was like, okay, I think I can do this, but I really need to know that I have the good base knowledge to be an actual front end engineer, and not just someone who can build a small little app.
So once I had a few projects under my belt, and specifically two that I was happy to put on my resume that I could talk about in depth. One was the project that I did for my job. And the other was, I think, the To-do app is what I currently have on my resume, because I really upped to the design on it and added a lot of functionality that I thought was useful. And I actually designed it a lot based on this program called Asana, because I was hoping maybe that I could get a job at Asana.

Alex Booker (08:54):
[inaudible 00:08:54].

Claire Ramming (08:54):
I actually did apply there. But I got an email from them saying the position was already full or something by the time I had applied.

Alex Booker (09:03):
Oh, that's too bad. But I like the tactic, I like the idea a lot. Building something similar to their actual product sounds awesome.

Claire Ramming (09:07):
Yeah. And it just gave me a focus to build a project that had an end goal versus just messing around for fun. So I had my resume all set up. I actually did put my new resume and the link to my portfolio that I built with Scrimba on my LinkedIn. But you had to go to those links and click them. My resume was not a complete copy of my LinkedIn profile, which it more is now that I have my new job. But I was mostly just cold applying to any job that I found on LinkedIn that seemed interesting. And I was getting absolutely nowhere with that. I was getting rejection after rejection, after rejection. They weren't even having me do a phone interview.
But I had an old Hired account from when I was doing my last job search. I had a friend of mine that did a full blown front end bootcamp where she actually went to classes and paid a lot of money. And it was all on site, and they had career help and networking events and things like that. And she got her first job through Hired. So I thought I might as well give it a shot. I built up my resume on there. You build a profile pretty much you do in LinkedIn, but it's a little more focused on what kind of job you're looking for. And then employers look at your profile and will actually reach out to you for interviews.
Once my profile was up there, I had a few interview requests from there, but it was mostly data engineering positions because that was where my experience was, from my previous job. And some of them saw my JavaScript and React experience and were like, "Hey, maybe you could do both for us." One that was actually somewhat promising was, help us with our database, and then we will slowly move you over to working front end. I was really excited about that. I was like, great. This seems promising. And then I never heard from the guy again.

Alex Booker (11:17):
Oh, no.

Claire Ramming (11:19):
Hired actually, they'll reach out to you to see how it's going, how your interviews are going, if you need any help. And I was like, "Look, I don't know what I can do more to get the jobs that I actually want. I'm getting interviews, but they're not for the position that I want." And they were basically like, "Well, I don't know. Just try putting front end more places in your profile." And that very day I got my interview request from Kevala. And that is how I got my current job. Somehow it was like kismet. It was for a software engineering position for the salary I wanted.
And the interview process, it all took place maybe over two and a half, three weeks. It was very, very fast. But it was really great. I had a phone interview where I talked to HR just about my background, what I was looking for, what they were looking for. And then I was sent on to my first technical interview. And that was really where I was like, okay, I got here. I just have to take it from here. I just have to succeed in this technical interview. And then I think I can actually get a job in this field.

Alex Booker (12:36):
I remember working with somebody at a previous startup who was hired through And a few weeks later they sent them a big box with Hired swag and a water bottle and jumpers and things. Maybe I'm exposing them. If you haven't got one yet, then that's a problem.

Claire Ramming (12:51):
I have not gotten a swag box from Hired yet.

Alex Booker (12:56):
No. Suffice to say, they seem pretty legit. We can put a link to that in the show notes. And just to clarify quickly, you added front end engineer, the keywords, to more places on your profile. And around that same time, your current company reached out to you? Or was it just a coincidence?

Claire Ramming (13:10):
Honestly, might have been a coincidence. I'm not hundred percent sure. Because I think I literally put it in one place, was the difference.

Alex Booker (13:20):
Claire, I understand completely. When you're looking for a job and you're sort of micro-optimizing so many things. It's really hard to draw a correlation from the causation kind of thing. You can never be a hundred percent sure of what works. So I wouldn't ask you to speculate on that. But good to know nonetheless.
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I know that during the bootcamp you got asked, tell us a little bit about yourself. I'm assuming you just nailed that this time because you've done it before, and learned from your mistakes. What else did they talk about in that first phone call?

Claire Ramming (14:23):
The first interview was, I think more just figuring out if you, as a person and your work style, fit in with the company. So I was asked how best I worked, in a team or solo. If I was okay working fully remote since they were based in San Francisco and I'm in New York. They asked basically just a rundown of my resume, what I was interested in doing, what experience I had that I thought crossed over with what they were looking for. So I was actually able to pull my experience with mapping tools because my old company was real estate. So they mapped out where certain leases and sales were. My current company maps the electrical grid, and they actually used the same mapping software as my previous company. So I think that gave me a little leg up.

Alex Booker (15:23):
Is it Mapbox by chance?

Claire Ramming (15:23):
It is Mapbox. Yes.

Alex Booker (15:24):
Everything's Mapbox. Don't worry.

Claire Ramming (15:25):
Well, previously they had used Leaflet, which I guess is what Mapbox is technically built on. But they were in the process of moving over to Mapbox.

Alex Booker (15:35):
I really like that you managed to almost parlay your previous experience to help position yourself for this new one. I think that's really smart.

Claire Ramming (15:41):
Yeah. I think of something that I learned in the previous bootcamp that I did was, if you actually get that first interview, before you hop on even the phone interview, just learn as much as you can about the company and what they do and how they do it, just so if you can pull anything from your previous experience that might cross over. They really like to hear that you have somewhat tailored experience to what they're looking for.

Alex Booker (16:06):
And those questions about working style. How did you sort of prepare to answer them? I guess you couldn't have known and they were coming, but you might have suspected they might ask a little bit about how you like to work and things. What was your approach?

Claire Ramming (16:18):
I just tried to answer as honestly as possible because, even if you know what their perfect answer is, if that's not your work style, then you're not going to be happy at that company.

Alex Booker (16:29):
Good point. Very good point.

Claire Ramming (16:30):
So I actually did have a moment when I answered that question of, oh, I hope that they don't want me to really love working in a team or something, because I basically said I liked owning my own projects, working on my own. And I had that moment of, oh, I hope that they're not looking for more, I don't know, 'team players'. I don't know even if that is the right word for it. Because I think if you're working solo, you can still very much be part of a team. But luckily my work style did match up with what the team setup is now. It's very project oriented, work on what you want to be working on. Grab tickets as you want, as you see them come in. So it's worked out really well. Honesty is the best policy when it comes to answering questions like that.

Alex Booker (17:17):
And when that phone call finished, did you have to wait a little bit for them to get back to you? And once you did hear back from them, what did they want to do next?

Claire Ramming (17:24):
So the interview process went speedy quick, which I really appreciated. Because sometimes you are just waiting a week or more for just even that first call to let you know that you made it to the next round after the phone interview, which sometimes is just here, talk with someone. And it's the same questions, just a little more technical. My last question in any interview is, when can I expect to hear from you next? Because I want to know when I should follow up. I don't like the whole immediately after interviews, send them a thank you. That's a very personal preference. I just don't like doing that. I think it's annoying. So I try to wait a day. And if I know I'm going to be waiting a week or so to hear from them, I will maybe send a follow up in three days just to make sure that I stay on their radar.
I think that I did the interview on a Wednesday. And I heard from them either that Friday or Monday. It wasn't a long wait. And the next interview was actually the first technical interview. The whole interview process was HR interview, first technical interview with a team member, second technical interview with your manager, and then a project presentation where you walked them through a technical project that you've done. And that was to a panel of people. So I think I talked to three people with that one. And that was also, I believe, something that I talked about in the first interview.
I don't know if I asked, but I think it is a good, especially if you are optimistic and think that you might go on to the next round, just asking what the interview process is like. I actually got to choose what my technical interview would be on, whether it was JavaScript or Python, because they knew I had experience with both. But since I was more focused on getting a front end role, which was probably definitely the right way to go, I chose JavaScript. I was like, "Oh, I don't know which one I should do. I think I want to do JavaScript." And I think just my inability to pick led her to even give me more information about it. She was like, "The Python one is algorithmic based. The JavaScript one is more debugging based." And I was like, "Okay, yes. Give me that JavaScript one."

Alex Booker (19:49):
I would think the same thing. If I had that, I'd be like, "Oh JavaScript, please."

Claire Ramming (19:52):
Yes. To prepare for that one. I used a program that was recommended in the Scrimba career section, Code IO maybe, or something like that, where they give you questions from Google interviews, Yahoo interviews, Amazon interviews. It's honestly a lot algorithmic based. I didn't end up actually really needing much of that kind of coding. But I think just going through those problems helped me get back into that mindset of problem solving and give me the confidence of, whatever they throw at me, I can probably handle.

Alex Booker (20:38):
It's a high pressure situation, isn't it, going into a job interview compared to coding by yourself? Even though doing some online challenges won't be as much pressure, it's still something, right? It helps you feel more comfortable and maybe give you the confidence that if you just take a breath and don't overthink it, you probably know the answer anyway. A lot of us fall victim to that where we overthink it and panic a little bit, but actually the answer's in there somewhere. Exactly.

Claire Ramming (21:01):
And yeah, I think the Scrimba career sections, where it goes through just having you record yourself talking about JavaScript techniques, helped me a lot. Just having those answers at the tip of my mind, just in case they came up. And one of them actually did in my second technical interview.

Alex Booker (21:01):
Which topic?

Claire Ramming (21:25):
I had to explain deconstructing an object.

Alex Booker (21:28):
Mm. Okay.

Claire Ramming (21:30):
It wasn't a question that he was just going through a list to see how much JavaScript I knew. It was the stuff that I had to do in the interview, I guess I can go back to talking about that really quick. The first technical interview was all live coding. So we were on CodePen, and there was code there and there was an issue with it, and I just had to fix it. And she said it was one line of code. And luckily I managed to figure it out pretty quickly, what the issue was.

Alex Booker (22:00):
What was the problem?

Claire Ramming (22:03):
Some data in Mapbox was trying to get mapped. It was a bunch of data points, but only one data point was showing up on the map. And it was because they hadn't passed in a distinct ID to, I think, the layer or something like that. After I fixed that little one line of code, she basically was like, "Okay, what else would you do to this code to just make it better? How would you refactor it?" And I basically just live refactored this little snippet of code. I did a lot of changing for loops into the map function. I think I might have used filter a little. I pulled out some repetitive code into its own function. I talked about some things where I knew that I could make the code shorter, but I didn't think it was worth doing that for readability purposes. And I think that got me some points.

Alex Booker (22:58):
Great. Nice.

Claire Ramming (22:59):
Yeah. Because it's so often you'll go into a code base and you'll see this ridiculous one liner that's doing something very important, and it's just like, what is this line doing? It's so unclear. There are no comments. And if they had just broken it up just a bit, it would've been so much clearer. And then pretty much the rest of it was just refactoring until I was happy with it. And she kept asking, is there anything else you want to do? And at some point, I was just like, "I think that this is the best that I can make it at this point." And she was like, "Yeah, sure. I agree."
I think there was one other point where she pointed me into, I was like, "Oh, I'm not really sure what else I can do here." And she was like, "Oh, maybe focus on this aspect of it." I think it was something like performance space. She was like, "This can be simplified for slightly better performance, if you can figure out how." And I was honest, I was like, it was Mapbox stuff. And I only had very brief, I looked at some Mapbox code once. So I was like, "I don't have the most experience with this." And she was like, "Okay, well this might be able to be simplified. You can have multiple of these, but not multiple of that." I'm like, "Oh, okay, cool." And then I pieced it together.
So I think mostly what they're looking for in a technical interview is that you want to be doing it. You can do it up to a point. And if you need help, you're willing to ask for it instead of just spinning your wheels and getting angry and saying, "I can't possibly do this."

Alex Booker (24:42):
What would you do differently if you would do the whole process again?

Claire Ramming (24:45):
Oh gosh. I probably would focus less on the algorithmic coding exercises and probably more on general JavaScript knowledge. I knew I was interviewing on JavaScript and not React. They used FELT actually, which came up a little in my second technical interview. But you didn't really need to know FELT to do the interview. And I think I just focused more on making sure you know the JavaScript basics and how to talk about them versus figuring out how to solve crazy problems in arrays and objects and things.

Alex Booker (25:30):
And is there anything about the job hunting process itself you would fine tune?

Claire Ramming (25:34):
Maybe I would've just tweaked my LinkedIn, just threw caution to the wind and just did it. My boss, when I told him I was leaving was actually very supportive. I don't think that anything bad would've actually happened if I had changed my LinkedIn, and he would've found out earlier than I wanted him to.
Something that I did in my last job search that I didn't do as much of in this one, but probably would've benefited a little from it is, and it's the same thing as focusing on the JavaScript programs, just focusing on those HR questions like, what's the hardest thing you've ever done? What is a time when you faced criticism? And how did you handle it? I think my last interview process I went through and they had a big list of questions like that. And I just wrote out a bunch of answers to them and just practiced saying them over and over. And so when I ran into those questions in interviews, I just had them ready to go. And I didn't actually run into a lot of those questions in my interview process.

Alex Booker (26:35):
Don't worry, don't worry. I can be a bit cheeky and ask you, go on then, Claire, what's the hardest thing you've ever done?

Claire Ramming (26:40):
No. Well, if it's not work experience, it is hiking up the Grand Canyon from the bottom back up to the top. That's by far the hardest thing that I've ever done in my life.

Alex Booker (26:55):
Good answer.

Claire Ramming (26:56):
If it's work related, probably just knowing that I could do something a certain way, and specifically with a Python script, and just running into a wall where my company, our tech team didn't want me doing it that way because they didn't trust that I knew what I was doing. And just getting over that hurdle of working it through them, finding a solution that worked for both of us. That was definitely the most frustrating thing I've ever run into. Just hitting those walls where you know you can do this thing and you just can't. But to get over that, just having those discussions of, "Hey, how can this work for both of us? You don't want to be responsible for fixing this, and I want to do it in as safe as possible way. So how can we make that happen?"

Alex Booker (27:51):
Okay. You're hired. It's not an easy question to answer. But if I can put a little tiny bit of pressure on you here, I think it's awesome for anybody listening to see how well you can handle it, and how they could too. Well, we're running out of time, just a few minutes to go. Are there any other resources you care to share with anybody listening that have helped you learn to code or get your first job, developer job?

Claire Ramming (28:13):
I'd say just go on the Scrimba Discord. I think it's really helpful just to see what other problems other people are facing, what other projects people are doing, how they're tweaking things, how their portfolios are set up. I really liked the, I got hired channel and their career help channel. I thought those were just really invaluable resources just for motivational purposes, and for finding those extra resources that might not be super apparent or available just from going through the Scrimba videos. So yeah. Use your community. It's very, very invaluable. That would be my biggest recommendation.

Alex Booker (28:54):
Claire Ramming, thank you so much.

Claire Ramming (28:56):
Thank you, Alex. It was great talking to you.

Alex Booker (28:59):
That was Claire Ramming, a recently successful Scrimba student who just got their first developer job. This episode was edited by Jan Osinovic. And I'm your host, Alex Booker. You can follow me on Twitter @bookercodes, where I share highlights from the podcast and other news by Scrimba. See you next week.