Written by Rory James
Photography by Isabel Step

Jehovany Cruz

“Coding is like speaking to yourself in a different language, when I speak in Spanish my head and mind pivot, when I’m coding it’s the same concept”


For Jehovany Cruz dual nationality is a core part of his identity. His right forearm displays a carefully inked Torogoz, the national bird of El Salvador, signifying family and unity. On his left, a man lifted by balloons cycles across the New York City skyline, the state where his parents settled in the 80s.

Jeho’s life today as a front-end software engineer in Los Angeles is far from the frontier of El Salvador and Honduras his parents left behind during the nation’s civil war. Their sacrifice ensured better opportunities for their unborn children, and Jeho, an accomplished React and Javascript coder, has not disappointed, recently taking his mother on a trip back to El Salvador for the first time in two decades.

“My family is from Monteca near the border. It’s all mountains, forest and dirt roads”, he says, a sharp contrast to his current home in LA’s intoxicating Koreatown. The trip to El Salvador came just before his 32nd birthday and after he relocated from New York, where he now works for Alma.

Alma is a therapy directory platform making mental healthcare in the US more accessible while providing therapists with better tools to help their patients.

“Alma’s mission resonated with me a lot”, Jeho says. “After college I wanted to find a therapist to help with anxiety and depression. I called my insurance company who sent me a huge PDF filled with information for all of the thousands of therapists in New York City. A platform like Alma would have helped me so much back then.”

Alma works across every state in the USA connecting people with one in over 9000 therapists specialising in specific areas of mental health, relevant to the patient’s needs. “It’s like Zocdoc but for therapists”, he explains, “you go to Alma and put in what type of insurance you have and your zip code and then Alma provides you with profiles of different therapists that you can reach out to alongside the issues they specialise in.

Alma also acts as a platform for the mental health providers themselves, offering a separate login page where therapists view their patient’s profiles, assessments and overall progress.

Jeho’s role is to build up this side of the platform, working in the quality enablement team on the patient assessment pages which visualise the progress of patients.

“I was offered two jobs when I was looking for work and I chose Alma because it’s focused on mental health and that’s important to me.” Alma’s mission to improve access to mental health stretches beyond services for patients and therapists he explains, the company also provides him with a monthly stipend of $120 towards his own therapy sessions, unlimited paid time off and “great insurance”.

What appears simple is very complex, creating one button on a page takes several different codes 

Technical and Ethical Considerations

Jeho’s work creating the therapists’ portals containing patient information and assessments came with several ethical and technical considerations that influenced his approach.

Technical Considerations

On the technical side of challenges was ‘how to measure mental health’. Insurance companies want information on how clients are progressing in their therapy, but mental health is hard to quantify with data, “it depends on how a patient is doing that particular day or that month.”

One route Jeho decided on was for the therapist to ascertain the patient’s overall goals for therapy early on and to chart the progress towards those goals instead, which can be assessed and quantified more accurately than the underlying mental health issue.

“So if you suffer depression or have anxiety, therapists might send you these assessments to complete before a session to gauge where you are at and how you’re progressing.” This information is then translated into data which Jeho visualises into clear charts for the provider, and insurance companies, to assess that patient’s progress. For this he uses the Javascript library Chart.js, “so that every graph doesn't need to be done from scratch.”

Chart.js was chosen because it is very compatible with React, simple in nature and highly customizable, allowing Jeho to unleash his creative side to “pad and beautify” the assessment pages.

While methods for assessing depression and anxiety - the two issues most patients currently seek therapy for - do exist, ways to quantify issues like stress are less clear. Despite this, insurance companies paying the therapists’ fees want to see clear data and rely on Alma to lead the way on what kind of data is useful to assess patients and to provide measurable results.

“That’s something I’m working on and it’s something more important than just working at a bank coding algorithms to make them more money.”

Building the tools to help the therapists with their client’s assessments and reassessments every six sessions or so “is a lot of fun” for Jeho, who prioritises accessibility and simplicity with consideration to the health providers interfacing with those pages. He predominantly works on React, the favoured framework of over 40% of developers, for its efficiency in building user interfaces.

The assessment pages use self explanatory buttons like send now, view details and every six sessions. However, what appears simple onscreen is actually complex code, he explains.

“When you click one button a modal opens up, and just to get a single modal to open takes different codes. For example, the moment a therapist clicks one of those links I want to begin a workflow for them to complete, one that updates their assessment preference for that specific patient.

“When they click the every six sessions link, a modal pops up with the option to unenroll in automatic assessments. If they click this, it starts a chain reaction in the code to send an API request to the back-end to unenroll them from the assessments and be saved in our database.

“On the front-end, the modal closes once an action is complete and we have a confirmation message that shows on the screen "unenroll successful" to let users know that the changes chosen in the modal were completed. So it’s a lot of logic and code to make that happen!”

Ethical Considerations

Given the sensitive nature of working with people’s personal medical information there were ethical considerations taken into account when working with Alma. The company provided Jeho and the other software engineers with HIPAA training (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

“They set this course up for me in my first week at Alma. The crux of the training is to make sure you never share any personal medical information about a person”, but more broadly it gave him the requisite understanding of how to work ethically with people’s private medical data.

Another of the ethical questions for Jeho and fellow engineers was how to anonymise patient data and profile pages on Alma, so that their sensitive information is kept secure. For this Jeho and other engineers “sanitised the code”, so that they were working within parameters defined by HIPAA, hence the unique patient ID codes used between front and back-end engineers. Jeho also uses template patient pages of people that don’t exist when showing the assessment pages he has built.

“It makes a lot of sense. If it were my information I wouldn’t want people looking at it and seeing my mental health history or what I’m currently going through. It’s also important today given how technology and databases are used to sell people’s phone numbers and email addresses for companies to profit with. If it were people’s medical information being misused it would be a lot worse.”

“ A lot of tech companies don’t expect a new software engineer to start being productive until three months into the job ”

Jeho’s First Coding Job

Jeho’s Alma was not where Jeho first began working as a software engineer, but Arcadia, a renewable energies tech company. He worked there for two years after finishing his training at Codesmith. Much like Alma, the mission oriented aspect of the job, fighting climate change, was important to Jeho.

“ A lot of tech companies don’t expect a new software engineer to start being productive until three months into the job ”

He credits Arcadia with teaching him a lot more about working on React, Javascript “and even in back-end, Ruby”, the Japanese language known for its accessible syntax and flexibility, which he didn’t know to begin with, but fortunately Codesmith had taught him “to be a resilient engineer and to learn new languages.”

Jeho didn’t start as a senior software engineer, but engineer one. “It was a great way to get my feet wet. A lot of tech companies don’t expect a new software engineer to start being productive until three months into the job.

“Eventually, I was promoted to software engineer two and started getting more complex tickets, tougher tasks and occasionally leading on some things.”

Life as a software engineer at Arcadia was working out well, the remote aspect of the job even allowing him to relocate from New York to Los Angeles. However, one day waking up in his new apartment (a little later than his colleagues on the east coast) he saw a stream of panicked, sad and angry messages on the work Slack channel. He messaged a colleague and old Codesmith classmate who told him the bad news.

“Investors in Arcadia, looking for ways to cut costs and maximise profits, had done a big round of layoffs, specifically affecting engineers, one of them being me.”

Just as in his marketing days his company was a victim of corporate manoeuvres. Suddenly, he was two weeks into a new contract on an apartment in a new city and without a job.

Journey Into Coding

As soon as he finished high school Jeho was awarded a full scholarship to New York University as part of an opportunity program. He double majored in politics and urban design and architecture, which he enjoyed, but he didn’t see himself going into politics or architecture.

Life in New York suited him perfectly however. “Growing up I was always a starry eyed city boy, I always wanted to move away from Long Island to the city.”

At NYU he was part of a fellowship called New York Needs You, for first generation college students. It included weekly workshops on how to write a resume, how to do an elevator pitch, “basically stuff that our parents don't know because we, their children, are the first ones to go to college”.

“I had a mentor, who I still talk to, to help me find internships for the summer.” But after around 20 failed interviews Jeho realised he “sucks at interviews”. However, another opportunity arose, setting the course for the next seven years of his life. One of his mentor’s connections was the CEO of a baby products company and provided an internship there for the summer.

“I was imagining a conveyor belt of people making baby dolls or something, just to give an idea of what I thought of the US workforce back then, but it was actually a marketing position.”

Jeho excelled so much that the company offered him a full time job before he had even graduated from NYU. Certain aspects of this job foreshadowed the enjoyment and satisfaction he now gets from seeing his code in action.

He loved the “product management aspect of the job, being the conduit for the sales and creative teams”, similarly to how he now works between the product designer, creating mockups of the pages to be built on Figma, and the senior engineering manager at Alma to bring the ideas to life on time.

He also worked with design studios building custom booths for trade shows, doing the marketing materials for shows, and the logistics of shipping. “I really loved corralling everyone to finish projects on time. It’s a job that’s helped me with my coding, because there’s a lot of behind the scenes work, but when it’s time to run I get to see the end product that I helped create.”

The good times were coming to an end, however. In a move that would portend his fate at Arcadia as a software engineer years later, the CEO “made a classic founder mistake” and sold a majority stake in the company to investors. “They fired lots of my close friends and the CEO, when she became vocal about the direction of the company. I became miserable.”

He began applying for other jobs hoping to bring together his interest in tech and his background in marketing. “The interviews gave me flashbacks of my interviews for the internships. I was getting to all these final stages, then failing because they hired someone with a tech background.”

A friend of his told him about a bootcamp at Codesmith where graduates were landing fantastic jobs and great salaries just months after graduating. Jeho was sceptical at first, but his friend went ahead and did the course, disappearing for ten hours a day, six days a week for three months. He got a job four months after graduating.

“I helped him move into his new apartment, and when I saw it I was shocked at how nice it was. He’d been living with his mum in the Bronx before.” Codesmith even helped negotiate his friend’s salary. Jeho was convinced to start preparing for this course.

At the end of 2019 he decided to aim for the May 2020 cohort. “In January, I did the JavaScript for beginners and the CS Prep courses Codesmith offers, as well as the free learning on Codesmith’s CSX platform and the free workshops they had every Thursday called JavaScript: The Hard Parts.

He got in on his second try, all while having a full time job, and when he got the call telling him he had got into Codesmith he “started crying” with relief. “With the depression I was suffering and being so miserable at my job, I just teared up.”

He graduated in January 2021 and started his first coding job hunt. It would only be a few months until he got first job at Arcadia, and although it didn’t end well, there was one huge positive.

“I got three months severance pay and, in my final week of severance, I got offered my job at Alma.”

Jeho’s Work Set Up

“The first thing I use a lot is these”, says Jeho tearing a pair of bulky headphones off his head. “They are HD 58X Jubilee Seinheisers. I love working with these everyday, I’ll put my music on while I work, but not too loud. They are open air foam sided, so I can hear outside as well.”

“Something I’ve been working on recently that I just finished with is this”, he says, lifting up a teal coloured custom keyboard, embellished with several swirling koi fish on the Space Bar, Backspace and Escape keys.

“It’s a Keychron mechanical keyboard that’s really nice to type on. It’s not something you need, but it’s great if you like keyboards. Teal is my favourite colour and when I was shopping for custom keycaps I saw these koi fish keys on Etsy and thought how serene they look.

“There is no meaning behind them, I just always loved those minimal koi fish tattoos, where two circle one another, and looking at them gives me peace. They were probably the most expensive part as the artist makes them out of resin.”

He even shared his completed design on an Alma Slack channel called Alma Makes where employees share hobbies and things that they make, “everyone commented on how cool it was and is asking me for suggestions on how they could start off building their own mechanical keyboards.

“It’s pretty easy to start, but it depends how deep you want to go. I’m just at the surface level now. There are different switch options, meaning you can have a loud snicking action when you type, like a old typewriter, or a modern smooth motion preferred by gamers.”

The central feature of Jeho’s workstation is a large monitor and off to the right an M2 MacBook Pro 13 inch, courtesy of Alma. “I have one LG HD monitor here, it’s really big which I like. This is where I do all my coding, all my front-end engineering work.”

Next to the green customised keyboard is an Apple Magic Trackpad without the monochrome colours that so often betray the brand.

“I got a skin for it to make it more colourful”, he says, before indicating a silver laptop stand on which his laptop rests, “I didn’t want another monitor as it would be too much clutter, so I use my laptop as a second screen for Slack and for video calls.”

Jeho’s software setup is divided into communication and coding programs. He explains how almost all communications at Alma are on Slack, with some interactions taking place on Github.

“We have a team Slack channel with front-end engineers like me, the lead product manager, who maps out what our team will work on long term, the engineering manager, the product designer making the mockups on Figma, and the content writer doing wireframes and writing for the pages we create.”

Figma is the starting point for a new product at Alma. It’s where the product designer does the digital equivalent of a drawing on a napkin. “I look at this before even starting to code.”

Here the designer mocks out all the different states that the software engineers need to consider, for example, if there are no responses to a patient assessment it produces a certain outcome. Figma is what Alma uses to make the different tickets, to “break up the design of the product into small components” with different engineers taking on responsibility for different parts.

Asana, a work management platform, is what Alma uses to organise and divide the work among the software engineers. “We make the tickets from the blueprint of what needs to be created, seen on Figma, and then each ticket contains the information on the logic that needs to be done and the link to the Figma overall design.”

Like most coders, Jeho works on Visual Studio Code. He describes it as the behind the scenes area where he creates Alma’s patient assessment pages, where the progress of patients is visualised in charts. “It’s awesome when all the components come together to make the final product, that’s the creative part of front-end that I enjoy. Back-end developers like to handle data and usually aren’t interested in padding and moving parts around to beautify the space, but for me that’s the fun part.”

“The last thing he uses is GitHub, for version control of the master code. “This is where the codebase is and where all the engineers like me get the master codebase. When I build a new feature, I build it on a branch off of the main codebase.

Some communications are also run through GitHub directly. “The Senior Engineer gives me feedback through Github, on something like renaming a component for example. Once I get his feedback I go back to my branch, incorporate the feedback and push up the new changes in GitHub. Once it gets approved there's a button to merge it into the main code base.”

Seemingly miscellaneous objects dotted about in his workspace break up the tech-heavy landscape and serve as reminders for chapters in Jeho’s life before software engineering. A baseball from a Minnesota Twins game from a past trade event, a nondescript chunk of rock just below his monitor.

“I fidget a lot so I keep a lot of things here to fidget with”, he says picking up the baseball first, then the fragment of rock, “this is from the Washington Square Park arch. I got to go inside when I visited as an NYU architecture student and they had all of these pieces of brick from the arch, and I took one home with me.”

Another program that Jeho is always running while coding is Spotify. “I’m really enjoying the Spotify DJ feature. There's AI that knows what type of music you like, based on what you listen to, and it just creates a radio set with an actual guy talking to you in between tracks.”

He pulls up the feature and shows a playlist filled with chart-topping cross border artists like Peso Pluma and Bad Bunny, successful on both sides of the border and often making music in Spanish and English. This leads him to reflect on how his linguistic identity informs his work as a coder.

I was always a starry eyed city boy that wanted to move away from Long Island to the city 

Coding, Language and Creativity

Growing up among the Salvadoran diaspora on Long Island, speaking Spanish at home and English at school has helped Jeho in coding, giving him the ability to “think differently.”

“Coding is like speaking to yourself in a different language. When I speak in Spanish, my head and mind pivot, activating the Spanish section. When I’m coding it’s the same concept. It helps me to be able to compartmentalise like that. There is also syntax in coding, so the same as the logic that goes into constructing sentences is that which goes into building code.”

But the concept of coding and language that resonates more with him is music. “I played viola in the select orchestra in high school and read music, which has really helped with coding.” He explains how his cohort at Codesmith was well stocked with musicians, and one in particular, a conductor, excelled remarkably quickly.

“He was just a savant at coding. I asked him if he had done it before as he took to it so naturally. But he hadn’t. The skills he’d learnt as a musician, like reading music, just translated very well to thinking in code.

The crossover of creativity and coding doesn’t stop there, with performers also joining Codesmith’s coding course to open up career options as Covid closed down so many productions.

“One friend and classmate was a Broadway actor who actually invited us to a special screening of Wicked the musical when he was performing after the pandemic eased up. He works at MongoDB now and is doing really well in the software engineering space.”

Talking again of how creativity and code come together well, Jeho emphasises how a satisfying aesthetic of his work is important to him as a front-end engineer. Similarly to when he worked in marketing and trade shows and events would visually reflect his efforts behind the scenes.

“I really connect my love of trade shows to my love for front-end coding. In front-end you see the visual representation of the code you have worked on, similarly in trade shows, I would work in the shadows on all the different elements and be proud of the output I created.”

He was a creative student in school, mastering Photoshop and creating a lot of artwork for competitions. One in particular is a piece he created at NYU while participating in the society Latinos Unidos Con Honor y Amistad (Latinos United Through Honour and Friendship). It is a striking collage of all the leaders of Latin American countries, and seeing it again after some years opens up a new conversation about identity within the coding community.

“There’s a Latino coding community that’s pretty strong. I joined a Slack channel called Techqueria”, a channel for Latinx people in the tech industry. “It’s all about the Latino community helping each other out, whether that’s through help with resume writing, posting or finding and applying for jobs, negotiating salaries, etc.”

Jeho joined Techqueria when he got out of Codesmith and was looking for a community that spoke to him as a Latino in tech and one that could potentially help him find jobs in coding. The organisation has over 12,000 Latino members and a broader network of 18,000 allies.

“It’s remote and so huge so it can be hard to know where to start off, but I joined and got involved through the introduce yourself channel and spoke to some other Latino coders there. But there’s also Pride in Tech, BlackTECH and a Latinas in Tech that serve the other communities in the coding sphere.”

Side Projects

Jeho now also works at Codesmith part time after work as a prep mentor for other students and he always tells them his story.

“If I'm able to succeed with no background in tech, you can too. Many assume other students have done professional coding before starting Codesmith. But, 80% of my cohort had no coding experience before Codesmith. Most of us were just looking for a career pivot. We were all in the same place.”

He tells a story of a terrible coding job interview he had, one he often tells Codesmith students to assure them it’s not all plain sailinzg, and even he had some awkward setbacks.

“So Codesmith taught us just to start applying for jobs all the time as you get the most experience just by doing and failing. It’s good because if you fall on your face the first few months you're getting real interview practice.

“One of the first interviews I did was a full stack job. It was back-end, which I didn’t want to do, but I wanted to get my foot in the door. In Codesmith we learned Node.js, a back-end language, still Javascript but using a different logic to front-end.

“So, in the technical assessment for this job they told me to grab some data from Notepad, bring it into the code in Node and use a particular algorithm from there. The guy running the interview assumed I knew how to extract and import the data from Notepad. But I had no idea how to do it. So I asked him if I could Google it. He said yes, but seemed unsure of me by then. I found the answer, Codesmith always taught us to be resourceful and find the answers to problems we’re facing, but by that time it was already 30 minutes into a one hour interview. The guy just said “look I know we have another 30 minutes but I’m just going to cut it short here, and made some mumbling excuse about being pulled into a meeting.”

Fortunately, Codesmith encourages students to apply, interview and even fail, while still studying, immunise them somewhat to the ruthlessness of the job industry they will face upon graduating.

“Another thing I’m working on is building a videogame with my old roommate from New York. Most games are made with languages like C Plus, C Sharp, Unreal Engine, you know, but I found this site called ReactJam, where people create games with React and Javascript and put them onto this site.

So now I’m building a game that I want to enter into the 2024 ReactJam competition. I really love React and Javascript, and honestly I’m not quite ready to learn another deeper language right now, so this is my goal at the moment.”

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