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The unique, hands-on learning environment of the Product College attracts students from all over the world. Some come straight out of high school, others transfer from four-year and two-year colleges. But that’s not how Leslie Kim found her way to the Product College campus in San Francisco. She had a much more roundabout journey to the world of tech.
“I went to high school for math and science, but I was always in art classes,” Leslie explained, “so when it came time to figure out what I wanted to study in college, I went to art school. After a year I realized that art was more of a hobby for me, not a profession. So then I got a bachelor’s in business with a minor in film.
Film brought me out to Los Angeles and a comedy club where I started running the website and working with outsourced programmers. That’s how I found programming.”
In addition to LA, Leslie has lived in Washington DC, Savannah, New York City, Seoul, and San Francisco. She has also worked in film production, property management, and taught both art and English. “My career and physical moves were always in search of finding what I truly enjoyed doing, which I finally found in the tech industry as an engineer.”
When Leslie discovered her love of programming, she thought that a boot camp made the most sense, but a friend recommended that she speak to Jeremy Rossmann, the co-founder of Make School, about what made the Product College a better option. Leslie said, “Forty-five minutes into the call, Jeremy had convinced me that I should attend Product College instead of a boot camp. I wanted to spend some time really getting into software engineering, learning how to develop in the real world, working in teams and building useful industry skills, and I could do all of that at the Product College.”
When she arrived, Leslie immediately took to Make School’s practical approach to learning. “I thought the free form of the learning environment was helpful―we would build products instead of memorizing methods and spitting them out for exams like we did in college. We were encouraged to use all our resources, like an actual programmer.” Leslie added, “I enjoyed that I was able to work on actual products instead of building things that I'd never use again. It was exciting to build things that solved actual problems.”
During her time at the Product College, Leslie had the unique opportunity to work on a project in conjunction with The White House. “Susan Nesbitt [Head of Business Development and Partnerships at Make School] had a contact in the Obama administration, and they were looking for people to help with their ConnectAll Initiative, which was a proposal to provide Internet access to all Americans,” Leslie noted. “I was drawn to the project because I have enjoyed volunteering ever since high school. I applied and was one of four people chosen.”
“Our team of Make School students did research to figure out how to best support this initiative, and the staff mentored us to help get us into the right mindset. Ultimately, my team and I decided to build a platform to help those who have never used the Internet or who were new to technology. We built a web app called Go Digital with Us to provide a catalog of tutorial content.”
Another real-world problem that Leslie actively dedicates her time to is the lack of diversity in the tech world. While Make School has made gains in increasing the diversity of its students - a third of the current class comes from underrepresented backgrounds in tech, greater than the industry average - getting to that point has been a process. And the goal of reaching gender parity is still one that Make School is trying to meet.
“I was one of a handful of female students at the beginning of my year, and by the end of the first semester, I was the only female student left,” Leslie recalled. “When I started interviewing for my summer internship, the only females I spoke to throughout the interview process were at an all-female startup and at Lever.” Leslie ended up taking an internship at Lever, where diversity and inclusion are a big part of the company culture.
Leslie went on, “Even though I was no stranger to being the only woman in a room, the level of sexism, discrimination, and unprofessionalism I experienced during my interviews shocked me. It didn't feel great, and it's not easy to discuss those sorts of issues with male classmates.”
To help address this serious problem, Adam Braus asked Leslie to speak with the female students that were applying to be part of the next year’s class. “I immediately said yes without realizing that it was because I wanted to make sure that we could build a female community at Make School, a place to find support and be able to discuss issues that affect us in the tech workspace. This eventually became a monthly dinner or event that I would host with all the female students to build that community. I wanted to be another resource the female students could come to.” Leslie’s efforts have become an integral part of Make School’s goal to reach gender parity at the Product College - a goal that gets closer and closer every year.
Today, Leslie is working as a full stack software engineer at Lever. She said, “I started here for my six-month internship, which is baked into the two-year program. I really liked the company and decided I wanted to work here full time, so halfway through my internship I talked to a manager, and the next week I had a job offer.”
Leslie noted that the whole team at Product College is adept at helping students achieve their career goals. “At Make School we had a demo night in the winter and another in the spring where industry people came to see our projects. Make School got us well prepared with pitches and workshops on resumes, interview prep, whiteboarding, and all sorts of classes on how to get a job.”
Leslie recalls, “For the most part, if there was a company that you wanted to work at, the biggest hurdle was the initial introduction, and someone at Make School almost always knew someone to make an introduction. All we had to do was ask.”