Hack Reactor

Back in June, a friend of mine started a three-month software engineering training program in San Francisco. He talked with me about the program over the Memorial Day weekend, just before he started it, while we were both in Atlanta. I had been considering making some changes, because I was very unhappy in my job with Social Security. My friend persuaded me that I should at least apply to the same program, even though it has a very low acceptance rate—only 3% of applicants are accepted—and even though I had no formal training or experience in computer science or software development. I eventually did apply towards the end of June, and had a technical interview on July 4. The interviewer accepted me on the spot and invited me to attend the program in San Francisco beginning September 8. Therefore, I resigned my job at Social Security effective September 7. My last day at work was last Friday, August 29.

I’m enormously excited about this opportunity, but I am also immensely relieved to be no longer working for Social Security. While I adored my colleagues there and the relationships I’d formed with them, I had been very unhappy in that position for the last few years. The work was boring, there were no challenges, and management pushed quantity over quality. There was little opportunity for upward mobility for many, many years, and the work itself—reviewing medical records and drafting disability decisions—was very demoralizing. To top it off, it was a fundamentally dysfunctional workplace due to the influence of federal employee unions, the lack of merit-based promotion opportunities, and bureaucratic inertia. I will miss many of my colleagues there, but I will not miss the work.

For the next 13 weeks, starting Monday, I will be studying web engineering at Hack Reactor , the premiere software engineering “bootcamp.” The program is full-time (11 hours per day, six days per week) with a one-week break after the first six. Completing the program is more marketable in the tech industry than a four-year computer science degree, and only an eighth of the cost. 99.3% of graduates are employed within three months of finishing, with a mean starting salary of $105k.

I started programming computers when I was five years old, using our old Commodore 64. I remember copying BASIC programs out of library books and experimenting with changing them when I was eight. I remember a summer day camp that had me playing with Logo. In high school, I took a C++ course and wrote dozens of programs for my TI calculator. But I did not choose to study computer science in college because I did not want to be a “computer person” like the ones who ran the computer lab at my high school. I thought computers and the Internet were exciting and would change the world, but I wanted to make them tools for solving real problems, not ends in themselves. While I cannot claim that I was self-aware enough at the time to recognize that I needed different experiences and a broader perspective before making technology my central focus, I do remember making an explicit decision to go in a different direction after high school. I think the path I have taken here has given me the perspective, experience, and social and communication skills I need to succeed in this industry. All that remains is to hone my technical prowess, already steeled by a lifetime of self-taught practical problem solving.

I have not abandoned my law license. I will maintain active status in Ohio, and I am investigating the cost of preparing for the California bar exam. California offers no reciprocity with any other jurisdiction, but allows attorneys actively licensed in another state for at least four years to take an abbreviated exam. I do not know yet what sort of problems I’d like to solve with information technology, but I am interested—one might even say outraged—by the problems arising from the intersection of federal regulation, health information technology, and the medical profession. I am confident that my legal education and experience will remain relevant as I advance into this new career.

Tom G Varik