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Rithm School Scholarship Winner Interview: Michelle Huynh August 08, 2017

This past spring, Rithm School offered our first ever Diversity Scholarship to our community of aspiring web developers. We received many impressive applications, and after careful consideration, Michelle Huynh was awarded a full scholarship to our web development training program in San Francisco. Here, Michelle tells us more about her background and journey in web development, how she has set herself up for success in the field, and what she hopes to do next.

Michelle Huynh Headshot

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Aspiring pre-med student turned linguist turned IT support technician turned web designer. More holistically, I’m a lover of all things discovering, learning, building, and creating, as evidenced by some of my non-physical hobbies: science, cooking, crafts, writing, and, of course, coding. You can also find me pummeling heavy bags (and occasionally other people, just more gently) as I slowly work toward my next level in krav maga, trying to reach my next squat and deadlift PR, squeezing in as much travel as I can afford (whether it is a low-key weekend camping trip or a gluttonous gastronomic adventure somewhere more grand and far away), or lazing about with my cat while surfing Reddit.

Can you talk about your background in programming and what made you want to become a professional web developer?

Back when Xanga was still a thing, I took great pleasure in editing site layouts to customize the colors of scroll bars, links, and other things, even if I did not know what HTML or CSS were. In college, after going from steadfast pre-med to an undecided major student, I was frantic for something to latch onto, which led me to sign up for my first computer science class on a whim despite not knowing what “computer science” actually entailed (thanks, Wikipedia). Personal hardships made me unable to stay in college longer to complete a computer science degree along with the linguistics degree that I was already working on. However, programming continued to intrigue me, and I longed to revisit it.

Since then, I've taken self-paced online courses on HTML, CSS, Javascript, Ruby, Python, and C, and I’ve participated in more coding tasks at my job, working with C#, Razor, .NET, and Android. I found programming drawing me back time and again, exciting me, and kindling a new passion within me. Having many different and unrelated interests, I’ve yet to find another profession that is as flexible. It is applicable cross-industry, allowing one to contribute to any cause, initiative, or product one cares about; it allows the freedom to work almost anywhere, on-site or remote/freelance; it has influenced, if not led, the movement of unconventional education, the emergence of a largely merit-based industry, and the dissipation of the idea that only traditional higher education will lead to opportunities, allowing more people from many different backgrounds a chance to learn and improve. I particularly love that web development will encourage me to always keep learning, staying current with the new technologies. I see myself working with this for the rest of my life and enjoying it!

What helped you decide to attend a coding bootcamp?

Opportunities to change your career path can be difficult to come by. I initially tried online classes, but learning alone every night after a full-time job is isolating and challenging. The online courses I took never made me feel that I mastered the material. To supplement depth of learning, I read programming books, but there are only so many hours in a day and mental capacity to work, do courses, and read on top of that. I finally realized that for maximum efficiency, I needed to dedicate all of my time to learning. I wanted something that would go deeper than a surface level understanding of concepts and technologies, so I spent some time exploring my options. Being a non-STEM undergrad limits local graduate school options. Going back for another 4-year degree would have given me the fundamental knowledge (like algorithms and data structures) that I wanted, but is time-consuming and expensive. Bootcamps seemed to offer a happy medium, with a shorter time commitment and promises of making you career-ready, but through chats with numerous graduates from popular bootcamps at the time it seemed more like flashy marketing and too good to be true.

With newfound awareness of my options, I resumed studying on my own because none of them were ideal. However, inconsistency, lack of time, and lack of peer support due to isolation led me to the point of resonating strongly with this saying: “To get results you’ve never had, do what you’ve never done.” One day, I found out about Rithm School through a workshop I found on Eventbrite. The curriculum and overall philosophy seemed to encompass everything I was looking for. In conclusion, the discovery of Rithm School gave me the final push in deciding to attend a bootcamp. Not just any bootcamp, but specifically Rithm School.

What excites you most about a career in web development?

I’m excited about being able to contribute to any product or cause that concerns me in a career that allows me to really flex my problem-solving and creative chops daily. That’s when I feel most alive.

If you could build any product, what would it be?

Tough question! It’s difficult to narrow it down to a specific, single product, but I would love to contribute to anything that promotes accessible education, or something that provides and promotes scientifically accurate and easily digestible information on nutrition, health, and exercise.

Being a fan of languages, it would be great to have a conversation partner for every language I tried to learn in order to improve my fluency. I wish I could make a bot that could carry on a conversation with me in any language, correct my grammar or pronunciation, and match my level of vocabulary and grammatical complexity. This would also allow me to utilize my linguistics degree, en vogue with the recent NLP renaissance.

Also, if I could create a biotech wearable that allowed me to download books directly into my brain, that would be fantastic.

Do you have any advice for aspiring women web developers?

Don’t give importance to any comment from anyone that undermines your ability or intelligence, especially the ones from yourself. More often than not, the worst things I’ve heard are from my own inner voice. People often say “don’t listen to the naysayers” or “ignore them,” which I personally find unrealistic. I’m going to suggest a different approach. Instead of avoiding and ignoring negative comments, listen to them, face them. Take those negative comments and turn them into dares and challenges. Get angry. Then, redirect that energy into motivation towards focusing and putting in the work to achieve your goals.

Like everything, reaching a solid understanding of web development and then moving on to mastery takes time; dedicate yourself fully to the process and be consistent. If you can’t find the strength from within, don’t underestimate the value of external support from people who care about you, or from others with similar goals through meetups and communities (Women Who Code is a fantastic group and resource). Surround yourself with positive people who are entirely on board with your goals to hold you accountable for them.

What would you share with someone considering attending Rithm School?

Even before thinking specifically of Rithm School, educate yourself as much as possible about what schools are out there, what they teach, and what people think of them. Everyone’s experience will be different, but pay attention to what people emphasize as the pros and cons, and ask yourself honestly if you’d accept that in the best and worst case scenarios. Identify what helps you learn and have clear goals. Do your research, calibrate yourself, and make well-informed decisions. If you’re considering attending Rithm School, just apply already! You have nothing to lose, and you can always decide to take more time to prepare if you need it. In any case, be sure to read through Rithm School’s entire website or attend one of their workshops to get a feel for what they’re all about.

Written by Rithm Rithm

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