Kathryn, Olivia, and Tina share their journeys to IGNITE, our engineering apprenticeship for coders of all backgrounds

Tina Le (left), Olivia Ho (right)

Everyone’s path to becoming a software engineer is a little different. Some start coding in middle school, while others begin to dabble in high school or college — and some discover development as their true career calling when they least expect it.

That’s why we’ve developed IGNITE, a six-month Dropbox apprenticeship program geared towards professionals with non-traditional software engineering backgrounds who are looking to start or re-start their professional career. For several years, budding engineers from all different backgrounds have made their way through the program and back out into a new career.

One of our most recent graduates is Tina Le, who started her professional journey as perhaps the polar opposite of a software engineer: an art historian.

Tina Le

“I finished my PhD in art history in 2018 and was about to go on the academic job market. I wanted to build myself a custom portfolio website, so I started learning some code to do that. Over time I found myself staying up late to code rather than write about art and ended up going to Hack Reactor (a popular coding bootcamp). I had not taken a STEM class since I was 18, so a part of me wanted to prove that just because I had a humanities degree didn’t mean that I didn’t have the potential to work a very technical role in tech. Everything happened really quickly after that — I interviewed for IGNITE a week after finishing Hack Reactor and am still at Dropbox today.”

Just like Tina, Olivia Ho was bitten by the coding bug well after she graduated college. As an information systems analyst working with a HR system, she found that she didn’t just want to be the person using the product — she wanted to be the person developing the product, so she could help to eliminate pain points for users like herself. After a year of self-studying and attending Rithm School, she brought her past experience to Dropbox — and learned some new lessons during IGNITE as well.

Olivia Ho

“I came in with the ability to articulate technical problems to non-technical people. This has helped me to effectively collaborate with our product and design teams. At Dropbox, I have been focused on building products that run natively on users’ computers, which comes with a different set of challenges from the web product development I focused on at my bootcamp. I’ve learned about threading, metric reporting, and a lot of other engineering concepts in my time at Dropbox. I’ve also learned not to rush my planning process — I think as a new engineer you’re really motivated to code and you want to get your hands dirty, but don’t rush the process of planning, because redoing your work sucks.”

The ability to carry skills learned from past professional experiences with them into Dropbox is one of the things that makes our IGNITE alumni so special. Tina also finds that her background has, perhaps unexpectedly, really maximized her ability to succeed at Dropbox.

“As an art historian, I did a lot of research and writing. This background has really helped me as a software engineer since I’m able to independently research and to figure stuff out on my own, which I had to do a lot when I was conducting archival research in foreign countries. I also studied a couple of languages in grad school, so I’m very comfortable onboarding onto new teams and learning different ‘languages’ as needed. When I started at Dropbox, I only knew JavaScript, but my team worked in Fullstack TypeScript. As I moved teams, I had to learn Python too. I would have a couple days to onboard and then I would be pushing code in a language that I just started learning.”

And the learning never stops at Dropbox. Work here is challenging, not hard — and our software engineers know that better than anyone else. They’re always experimenting and innovating to create the solutions that the world needs to work better, which means nonstop learning. Kathryn Chew, who started out her professional career as an archaeologist, graduated from IGNITE nearly two years ago. While working as a full time engineer at Dropbox since then, she has only found her experiences magnified with time.

“IGNITE does a really good job of prepping people for their full career — anybody who is coming into software engineering from college usually has a certain amount of professionalization training that comes from internships or networking, which is a completely different skillset from coding. And that’s the huge advantage of doing IGNITE: you have to learn to code, but you also have to learn to be an engineer and be on a team and debug things and work on a huge codebase, and that’s not something you can get through a bootcamp or on your own. You get all of that professional training that is so important. Coming out of that, you’re ready to hit the ground running.”

And like many of our programs, ERGs, and other organizations at Dropbox, the community built through IGNITE is a support system that can carry alumni throughout their career here. Many of our IGNITE graduates who stay on with us also retain the special relationships they’ve built across the company.

As Kathryn said, “I think one of the benefits of a program like IGNITE is that you stay embedded in the same team, so you don’t lose continuity. I was able to keep working on the same projects, and people were already familiar with my background and knowledge. My relationships to my team members didn’t change; even now, two years later, I continue to meet with one of my mentors from IGNITE on a weekly basis.”

As Dropbox is transitioning to a Virtual First work environment, so is IGNITE.

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