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Alumni Spotlight: Orlando Wong January 28, 2020

Before joining us for Rithm’s 11th cohort, Orlando worked in research at the UCSF Cytogenetic Lab after getting his BS in Environmental Toxicology from UC Davis. He had the opportunity to use Python and R while working in the lab, which set off his interest in learning to code. Orlando decided to study Python and Java at CCSF, where he met his future cohort-mate Aaron and ended up joining Rithm School. Orlando took some time to discuss his student experience, job search, and advice he has for anyone looking to get into software engineering: 


1) What got you interested in coding and deciding to pursue a career as a Software Engineer?

I learned how to run Python, R and some shell scripts on the command line for some data analysis for research at a genetics lab. I learned how to modify some of them and they rarely worked as I intended. But it was so fun, and I actually spent more time on the computers instead of on the lab bench. That was a strong indicator for me to go become a Software Engineer.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

2)  Tell us about the environment and curriculum at Rithm School. What made it the right fit for you?

The Rithm team refines their curriculum every cohort. It includes Python and Javascript, and both front-end and backend frameworks. Rithm prepares you really well for full-stack engineering roles. My work project’s backend is written in Python and our frontend in React, React Native and SQL (SQLite), all taught at Rithm! Jacques and Aaron are two other Rithm alumni from my cohort that work at the same company. Jacques helped his teammate with Express, and Aaron wrote tests (taught in the curriculum) and helped his team out of the same exact nasty bug that we bumped into in our project. 


3) What were the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp?


  • “Soft” engineering skills! For example, from pair programming, you learn how other people can approach the same problem differently. (This is a core principle in software engineering I think)
  •  From company projects with a partner and a team, you get used to reading other people’s code and discussing each other’s code and solutions to problems.
  • You learn how to communicate your ideas and problems to another engineer both verbally and in your written code.
  • You can help other students that are struggling, so you learn how to convey your own understanding to another person, which helps solidify your own understanding. They can help you back with your weak points too.


  • It’s only four months. The short timespan could be a potential risk for burnout/exhaustion from coding. Remember to take breaks and help each other out.


4) Do you have a favorite learning memory from your time here?

A big advantage of the small class size is that I have a learning memory for each of them. I find that associating it with a friend helps with memory retention:

  • Matt showed me why the base in logarithms didn’t matter for analyzing time complexity.

  • Alissa showed me `calc(100vh – 50px)` to get a background that covers the full screen with a navbar (50px in size) for my Jobly app.

  • Tim taught me about hashmap collisions, minimax, and the inverted index.

Everyone has their own set of strengths, and Rithm brought together 16 other awesome engineers for me to learn something from:

  • Billy and Spencer have awesome design chops and creative intelligence, and I liked peeking at their side projects (Scrabble, Sweet Finder).

  • Jason loved `.reduce`. During a lab together, we worked on using reduce to solve as many problems as we could. It was his swiss army knife of coding, and showed me several of his tricks.

  • Haley worked on Python with me and I remember we tried to do a ton of problems in a single line with list comprehension. It’s very impractical, but it’s a nice brainteaser and a good way to get comfortable with them.

  • Kristina taught me a clever way to combine absolute positioning with transform/rotate to create an illusion of a stack. 

  • Olivia architects code on the desk whiteboard before jumping in code, which carried us during our company project whenever I was lost.  Jacques and I referred to it as “Olivia-style”, and I used it successfully on onsite interviews!  

  • Steve debugged an absolute/relative path bug in Flask that we were stuck in for a long time during our Warbler project – I will never make that mistake again.

  • Nate was the one who figured out how to get the token to worked in HTTP requests for the Petfinder API, which is a memory forever attached when I deal with authentication tokens! 

  • Austin got a cool connect four dropping animation, and it was the first time I learned about css animations. 

  • Parco loves using stacks to solve many problems and shared a lot of his Leetcode solutions when I had no idea it could be used like that. 

  • Aaron often built 2D grids for solving problems (tabulation/bottom-up) and shared it with us. We called Aaron the “2D Array Master”.

  • Chris showed me how to use matrix multiplication to solve certain recurrence relations (Fibonacci, and a word cycling problem). 

  • Jacques’ brilliant solution to the ‘moving zeroes’ problem that he came up on his own! Not going to spoil the solution, but he keeps a tracker.

  • Daniel had a pretty cool solution for three sum problem with sorting, made me realize how many problems that can be simplified when things are sorted.

  • Ricky loved SQL. I learned some SQL optimization querying from him (which I applied to one of my functions at work!)

  • Kwame had inspiring work ethic, and he was lightning fast with React. I learned a big chunk of my React while pairing with him in labs.


5) What company are you working at now, and what do you do there?

I’m a software engineer at doc.ai. The main project I’m working on is an internal software development kit (SDK) in React Native for browsing and analyzing human genetic data. It’s for seeing what risks a certain person has for carrying or passing down a disease/trait and analyzing their ancestry using statistical approaches/machine learning. The other project I recently got added onto is a software platform for clinicians, patients, AI/healthcare developers to help aid doctor visits and diagnoses. I have no clue what I’m doing most of the time, and the ancestry algorithm still hurts my brain but I found out that’s OK.


6) Tell me about the process of briefly being unemployed while job searching, and how that process went.

Job search is the least fun part of the process. We set up a study spot on Chinatown CCSF library conference room called the Sandwich Club. We would whiteboard each other, apply to jobs, and complain about rejections.

I was lucky I had the support of sandwich club. Zach (career coach) and Sandy (legendary Rithm alumni!!)  helped me with behavioral interviews. I remember Olivia helping me with my cover letter, Austin reinstilling my confidence, Elie talking me through my decisions. Wow, I had a ton of support. I think every Rithm graduate will too.  Isn’t that awesome?!?

I felt prepared for our take home assessments thanks to Rithm’s lab/weekend assessments. Some onsite interviews  involved debugging or pair programming and we’ve been practicing it all this time. In one of my interviews, the interviewer asked me to do a code review. I just regurgitated everything that was said to me when I received a code review from Alissa.  (It worked out really well). 


7) What advice do you have for people who are interested in attending a bootcamp?

Software engineering is collaborative, so I’d recommend finding a bootcamp with a small size and cool instructor team. Learn from your classmates, and share what you’ve learned from others too. Struggling is a good sign; it means you’re challenging yourself and that's the only way to grow. Good luck!

Written by Angelina

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