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The Starter League, founded in 2011, is a small school in Chicago that teaches Rails, Ruby, HTML/CSS, and User Experience Design. The classes are intensive, three months long, one to three days a week, and taught in person.

Starter League Alumni Spotlight: Hannah Basil

By Mike McGee on June 10, 2015

Hannah Basil in Paris

Last week, I caught up with Hannah Basil, a Starter League Web Development alumnus, to see what she's been up to since graduating.

When did your interest in technology start?

It's hard to say when I first became interested in technology. In high school, I took a programming class and hated it. (Sorry Mr. Solin) I liked my teacher but could not understand C++ for the life of me. Heck, I'm not even sure what language we learned. I think it was C++. I went to college thinking tech's not for me. While I was away at college in Galesburg, IL, I started to miss big city Chicago life (where I lived since birth) and got excited when Chicago was featured in national news stories. I started noticing a trend in articles covering the growing tech scene in Chicago.

After my sophomore year, I worked at an environmental non-profit in Chicago for the summer and after studying abroad in London my junior year I decided I wanted to check out this tech scene for myself. I interned at a Chicago tech startup company. I was on the business development side of things and didn't know anything about coding. One day, I heard the developers talking about an API and I stared back in awe. I thought these developers sounded so cool! So again, it's hard to say when my interest started, but sometime around 2010.

Entering college, what was your mindset? Did you know what you wanted to do or were you open to different subjects?

I went to a liberal arts college and wasn't sure what I wanted to study. I was excited to take classes in a wide variety of disciplines. I enjoyed math, science and economics classes in high school and started on the Pre-Med track at Knox. I enjoyed general chemistry, biology, and genetics. I ended the Pre-Med path when I got to organic chemistry. I started taking economics courses again and loved them. I ended up majoring in Economics and minoring in Business and Management. I spent my junior year at the London School of Economics and pursued year-long courses in social psychology, environmental economics, marketing, and finance- 4 topics I love. I didn't know what I wanted to do post-grad, but I knew it would change. I cite the statistic often that my generation will have, on average, 15 jobs and seven careers in their lifetime. To be successful, I knew I had to be a lifelong learner.

How did you decide to go into banking after college?

After returning to Knox my senior year (and after completing my summer internship at the startup) I had to make a difficult decision. I liked working at the startup, but I wasn't sure of the risk of starting my career in the field. A mentor explained it was easier to go from big to small, but not the other way around (referring to company size). I did not decide to be a banker. Rather I saw the opportunity of the commercial training program as a great way to add to my financial toolbox and observe a large corporate culture. I assumed I would be there longer than I was, but I learned so many important things at the bank. I learned how to analyze industries and companies to project growth and cash flow, observed which factors affect debt and equity markets, learned the keys of financial modeling, and started to understand the political and human complexities of a 20,000+ person organization.

At what moment did you realize that banking wasn't for you?

After nine months of working at the bank, I helped underwrite a deal that conflicted with my values. I supported a leveraged lending team that was analyzing an opportunity in the Bakken shale. The company supplied equipment to hydraulic fracturing companies, and I had concerns about the environmental risk of the deal and industry. I took various environmental science classes in college (both stateside and abroad) and know there is intense debate over the safety of the fracking process and impacts on groundwater quality. There was real regulatory risk in this deal. I communicated this risk to the team and my ideas were not accepted. Personally it was hard to overlook the environmental risk of this deal and continue closing it. There were more deals after this that required me to set aside my beliefs to get the deal done. I did it for awhile because I was learning a lot, but you get to a point where you want to work on things that are meaningful to you. After 15 months I knew I must leave the bank.

How did you hear about The Starter League?

I heard about the Starter League through a family friend and mentor, Andrew Razeghi, who is very active in Chicago's tech community. Before I started looking at immersive tech classes, I applied to sales jobs at two large tech companies with teams in Chicago. I was originally too scared to learn to code but figured I should at least get into the tech industry and go from there. The rejections were blessings in disguise.

I knew I had to leave the bank and decided why not try coding. I found a three-month class that focused on UI/UX. I shared this idea with Andrew who encouraged me to check out The Starter League which he explained is the best immersive coding program in Chicago.

What made you take the leap and join the Web Development program?

I was ready to try something new. I reviewed the Starter League website and was interested in the three-month Web Dev program and nine-month Starter School program. I had a great conversation with you to learn more about both options. It was a whirlwind of a week: after identifying a UI/UX class Tuesday, talking to Andrew Wednesday morning, talking with you Wednesday afternoon, applying to Web Dev Thursday afternoon, being accepted later that night, I resigned from the bank on Friday morning.

Sometimes I joke that I moved through the decision process too fast to even understand the risks of what I was doing. Resigning was one of the most exhilarating things I've ever done. It was a gut feeling, and I knew this was the right decision.

Can you remember how you were feeling on the first day of class?

I was excited! I love first days of school. I couldn't wait to wear jeans to class, a luxury I couldn't have in the corporate setting. I trudged through the cold and snowy sidewalks and met my new classmates. I had a huge smile on my face all day and loved meeting the rest of TSL staff and instructors.

Hannah Basil in Paris
Hannah showing off her Starter League backpack after the first day of class.

How was the overall experience of the program?

The program was top notch. I learned an incredible amount of new information in the 11-week period. I love how we jumped right in and didn't waste a lot of time with theory. I wasn't used to that in past classes. I was immediately learning to open Terminal, Sublime and starting to code. The feeling of seeing my first HTML page on Google Chrome was amazing. I loved the workspace, pair programming and pushing the limits of what I knew. Raghu, my instructor, did a great job explaining complex ideas into simple ones that I was able to grasp. Databases fascinated me, and I was stunned when I learned most web apps are 98% the same (on the backend at least). I thought our assignments were fun and interesting. I loved meeting and working with my mentor, Ben Block. You realize how amazing TSL community is, and I was continually reaffirming my leap.

What's Charlie and how did you get connected with them?

Charlie helps you make a killer impression in your meetings. Think of Charlie as a personal assistant that syncs with your calendar and sends you one-page briefings on people one hour before you meet with them. It curates data from tens of thousands of sources and gives you the most important information before your meeting. Charlie was founded by Aaron Frazin in 2012, and has grown to 12 people. We closed a seed funding round last October.

I had lunch with Caity Moran and was picking her brain about what to do next after TSL. I mentioned my involvement with the social group I founded at my church and she already knew that. I asked how she knew, and she explained her Charlie briefing told her. About a week later I saw a posting on Built in Chicago for a spring internship at Charlie and thought it was a great opportunity.

What is your role at Charlie?

My core responsibility is to help manage the development of our iOS app that launches on June 4. Charlie is a web application, but we are building this app to provide more convenient insights and universal calendar support. I help bridge the gap between the business side of Charlie and the technical side.

While I'm not actively coding, I communicate with the CTO and developers on a daily basis. I could not be successful in my job if I didn't take the Web Development class. As of last week, I started working in the code base to revise our Press and FAQ pages. It was awesome to be back in the code and use my hybrid skill set. I can't wait to see how launch goes later this week!

Hannah and the rest of Team Charlie
Hannah and the rest of Team Charlie.

You've experienced tremendous change over the past six months, have there been any guiding principles or people that have helped you?

Haha, you can say that again! I've had incredible support from family, friends, boyfriend and mentors. I could not have done this alone. One quote that sticks with me is actually from Neal Sales-Griffin, the CEO and co-founder of The Starter League. I heard him speak at a Tech Cocktail event in 2012 when I worked at the startup. I saw the same quote again when I was researching TSL. "All you need is the conviction to trust yourself, decide quickly, and never quit." That's been a guiding principle for me ever since.

Right after my chat with Hannah, Charlie launched their iOS app! If you have meetings, this app will help them suck less.