Applying to Ada: Tips + Tricks

05 Jun 2017

Note: This was originally posted as two seperate posts on my now defunct previous blog. It was previously published in January. I’m posting them as one since I feel they go better together (and I’m maybe a little lazy whoops). Also I’m now in my interview week at Ada! How crazy is that.

Getting into Ada: My Background

I am definitely one of those people who can be a bit obsessive about researching. When I first found Ada Developers Academy I scoured the internet for information, reading every student/alumni blog post I could find about the experience.

I remember in particular feeling very insecure about my background. So many women who got in seemed to have had an established career, or an extensive science background, or just in general seemed much more accomplished than me, a barista.

I wanted to make this post in part for anyone else going through the application process who is curious about the diversity in accepted students, or are wondering themselves in they have the background to get in (you might be surprised! I certainly was).

My background:

  • Education: I have a bachelors degree, specifically a BFA in studio arts. Ada however does not require a bachelors degree as far as I know.
  • Job Experience: This was definitely where I was most insecure. Besides one kind-of office job working in an entomology lab in college my only work experience was in food service or temp work. Directly before getting into Ada I was working as a barista.
  • Programming Experience: I actually had a decent amount of programming experience already, which maybe helped out. I had taken a smattering of intro classes in college in Java/C as well as studio art classes in creative coding. I then taught myself some HTML/CSS + Ruby to prepare myself for applying to schools. I would say I am solidly in beginner territory; I was comfortable with loops/arrays/iterators and could write basic programs.

I will say that I think my strongest point in applying to Ada was both extensively researching the school and the self teaching in programming I did in 2016 specifically to prepare for further education in coding. Prepare prepare prepare! I’ll write another post about what resources I found most useful. Until then, thanks for reading!

Getting into Ada: Resources + Tips

Hey all! I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last post. Things got pretty hectic pretty fast, which is probably a given seeing as I moved states only five days before classes started.

Ada has been great. Exhausting but great. It’s still a bit surreal that I’m even here two weeks in.

I’ve gotten messages about my experience applying to Ada as well as met some folk in Seattle who wanted to know more details, so here is finally a post on resources and tips for applying to Ada. This is based on my own experiences, but there are plenty of blogs floating around by other Adies and their own experiences applying, which I definitely recommend be read if you have the time.

Resume + Essay

Like I said in my last post, I felt personally that my lack of work experience was the weakest point in my application. I pretty much only had food service/temp work experience besides the one semi-official college job I had where I was pretty much a data entry person at an entomology lab for a summer. To mitigate this I spent a lot of time on my essay questions as well as beefing up my resume a bit.

  • For my resume, I added a cover letter. I don’t know if this was necessary and maybe was extraneous given the essay questions, but I think it was a nice touch to have a simple (keep it short and simple!) cover letter explaining my interest in programming and why I thought I was a good fit for Ada. I also added whatever programming language I had familiarity/beginning skills in.

  • The essay questions don’t have a length requirement (unless they changed it since I did my application). My essay questions were at most however a couple paragraphs long but again, this is my experience! My advice, and what I tried to do with my essay questions, is to keep it sincere and direct. Don’t try and portray yourself as what you feel Ada wants you to be, and don’t respond how you think they want you to respond. If you’re passionate about tech and diversity in tech then you already have a voice Ada is interested in hearing what you have to say.

The Dreaded Excel Challenge

At least, this was dreaded for me. If you’re already an Excel wizard than you probably won’t have issues with this challenge but my excel experience was already several years passed when I did this. I will say that filters and pivot tables were a great help in the challenge. Also, document every step you do and why you did it. Explain how you reached your conclusion, and why it made sense to you. It’s more about documenting how you work through problems then getting a set right answer.

Programming Resources

Here it is my time to shine. I love programming resources. I spent about 5 months diving into different ones to prepare for applying to Ada. Here is a small list of my favorite free resources for learning basic coding concepts.

  • Learn Ruby The Hard Way: When I was first learning Ruby this was the introductory text I used. It goes through the very basics of Ruby from setting it up on your computer through loops and conditionals to building your own website and game. For preparing for Ada you probably only need to go to chapter 38 or so. You can find it here.
  • Test-Ruby-First: I actually started doing this while applying to App Academy, as they wanted me to have more Ruby knowledge before applying again. It uses test driven development as a way to learn Ruby. Each exercise has a challenge, and you have to write code to pass the tests. This was incredibly helpful for learning Ruby and a lot of fun. You can find it here. The readme also has some great ruby resources.
  • Free Code Camp: Free Code Camp is a website that teaches you HTML/CSS and Javascript. Not necessarily useful for applying, but again very fun and helped me learn how to think like a programmer, especially when solving the algorithmic problems. I never made it past the front end part of it but enjoyed getting an introduction to front end programming. It also has projects to do such as building a portfolio and tribute page. You can find it here.

  • Not free but some books I really enjoyed about programming are: Think Like A Programmer, Code: The Hidden Language of Hardware and Software and Eloquent Javascript

More Resources

Liz Rush, who is an Ada graduate, has an absolutely stupendous collection of blog posts written by Adies relating to applying to Ada and beyond. Serious, check it out. And shout out to Liz for introducing me to ghost and this excellent theme through my creeping on her site.

If you have anymore questions, feel free to reach out to me. I can’t promise a particularly timely response unfortunately, but I will do my best to answer questions. Good luck if you end up applying!