New Hobbies, Old Hobbies

I’ve been continuing to spend a lot of time outside of work not even thinking about programming. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing in the long run, but for my mental health and happiness, it’s been amazing. I’ve been cycling through old hobbies and trying out new things, but they’ve mostly been duds. Knitting was always big for me but since I moved to California it’s a little harder to delight in making beautiful woolen things to keep me warm when I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve even seen rain this year.

So I went searching, reaching back into the depths of things I enjoyed. What kept coming up was back in college when I spent four years studying Chinese and how much I regretted losing most of my knowledge over the last eight or so years ago. So I went back to skool, started taking a night class in beginning Chinese and it came back to me much quicker than I expected. I’m not amazing at it or anything but I’m really enjoying it.

That's how you all remember hanzi right?
That’s how you all remember hanzi right?

Now, circling the wagons, I’m reflecting on my hobbies again. When I first decided to try to find a job as a software engineer, I had the very real fear that taking programming from a hobby to a job would make me lose my love of it. In some ways, I have to admit it has. Actual software engineering work, when you don’t try to be the 10x asshole, can sometimes be a little boring, when it’s just helping out marketing or maybe doing the same thing in the same routine.

Other times though programming feels a bit like flying. Everything clicks and time melts away. I wish I knew how to make myself feel like that more but I think the secret might be that most of us feel that way. We don’t hear about us because we’re just there doing our job, not making waves, or keynoting conferences, or releasing yet another JavaScript framework.

Or maybe I’m just a slacker and should run off to China and teach English. Thoughts?

Engineering Block? – Having Time to Work on Your Own Projects Is a Privilege

Sleeping kitten breathing

Confession: I haven’t touched code outside of work in weeks. I’ve spent most of my free time recharging. Snuggling cats, hanging out with friends, being a slug on the couch and binge watching tv. All of these things lately have been much more exciting to me than poking at code that isn’t work related. I’m not the only one who feels this way. But I also know that I’m in the minority of people who don’t have a lot of extenuating circumstances surrounding their free time. I don’t have a family to take care of (unless you count my cats and my friends – which I do).

It seems to be that we as engineers are expected to code all the time. I myself used to want to “live and breathe code”, but that takes an awful lot of brain power and I’m not sure the type of person it makes me. You see, I am firmly in agreement that coding feels like a foreign language (side note: I don’t agree with the arguments that coding should count as a foreign language requirement, they definitely fill different niches in that regard). And spending your whole working life translating a foreign language is exhausting. Don’t get me wrong sometimes it’s AWESOME that I can think of something that would be useful for me to have and then I can go build it, but after I’ve spent at least 8 hours in at least one foreign language I just want to go home and let my brain thing in English for a while.

Oui kitten with beret

What’s especially hard (for me at least) is that I feel like I’m slacking if I just use technologies and frameworks I already know about in personal projects. If I’m going to be working on a personal project I should be learning something, right? So I get super sidetracked and slowed down learning all sorts of new things and then by the time I get back to the task at hand I’m exhausted and want no part of it.

I think probably the best way for me to handle this is to try to get back into it with just fun projects, projects that I don’t have to research, the just have to get built. But I also have to allow myself the possibility that personal projects might just not be for me. I can get my coding kicks outside of work by mentoring, attending conferences and even just reading about code.

I Don’t Have To Choose

My favorite story when I was trying to describe myself while looking for a job involved the fact that I had a very non-traditional path to Software Engineering. I wear it as a badge of honor that I am able to do all of this without a degree in Computer Science. I went to a boot camp, worked my butt off, and got my dream job at Udacity.

As I explain it, I came to a breaking point about a year and a half ago where I knew I wanted to be a software engineer but I had no background and not a lot of skill and as a woman, I wasn’t really feeling welcomed.

So I decided to do something drastic. I decided I needed to quit. But then what? I’d been taking CS classes at my local community college in hopes of maybe getting a Masters and I’d learned about these cool bootcamps in San Francisco. In fact I told my best friend about them and she’d just been accepted to one (of course, she already lived in the Bay Area).

I made my decision when I realized I didn’t have the patience or money to sit around for three years before maybe feeling like I could get a job. I wanted to go out and solve “real” problems and not get a meaningless job to get me (maybe) through a Masters in three years.

I still really want that Masters. Honestly, it’s something that I need for selfish reasons. To prove that I can do it. But also to feed that craving for more academic knowledge. So I applied to the Georgia Tech Online Masters Program. And last night I got my acceptance letter.

A year ago I had recently quit my stable job and left my nice apartment and the state I’d spent my entire life in to live on my friends couch and work myself to exhaustion 6 days a week at Hack Reactor. Now I have that nice apartment and an awesome job and I’m learning things all the time and at the same time I get to work on my Masters without fear of a dead-end job or a tuition bill I couldn’t pay.

So it’s time for a new Category! And a new iteration of numbered weekly posts! And lots more exciting learnings. Heck, maybe I’ll end up making the robot that starts the robot apocalypse. You’ll only find out by following my blog (or possibly the news, if I do end up making that robot).

6 Months Later – A Much Needed Recap

I’ve been at Udacity for over 6 months now. I’m also about a month a way from that fateful day when I started Hack Reactor. Life has been pretty kind actually. I feel like I’m growing as a person. Personally I’m still spending all my free time with friends and trying to do some knitting and and and…

Professionally, I’m enjoying my work more and more and more. I’m back to working on my first love, which is APIs and integrations and making the internal tools that our company needs. I love that part. Throughout my life I have said I always wanted to be the sidekick to the superhero. Some days I wish I could do that a little more literally, but building the tools that other people at Udacity can use to help educate is a pretty good consolation prize.

It’s also time for round two of Hackbright mentorship. I find out who I’m mentoring tomorrow and I’m really excited. I think I learned lessons from the first time around about how to help another person to learn (and I’ve used these lessons with some of my more nontechnical friends). I’m played the token woman in engineering a few times this summer, but I’m happy to do it if it furthers my world domination plans (because that’s obviously what would happen if we had more women engineers).

Last but certainly not least, I’ve gotten antsy to take some structured learning again. And what better way to continue learning that go back and get my masters right? It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, especially to have that extra knowledge actually focused on Computer Science. So I’ve applied and have my fingers and toes crossed and am holding my breath and all that fun stuff. Wish me luck.

Home – For Now

The updates got away from me. Life has just been flowing one day to the next. A mix of sun and California and coding. Days will go by where I forget how I got here. It feels like I’ve always been here and then I see or hear something so stereotypically Bay Area-ish that I have to shake my head and realize I don’t know if I ever want to be completely sucked into this candy coated, rose-colored-glasses kinda world.

Life is pretty amazing now. I’m happy and working and finally have my cats and my car. I could never live in San Francisco proper for the sheer joy I get in sitting in my car, driving on a long stretch of road with my music blaring. I drove from Portland home to Burlingame and the views were breathtaking and I felt so much at peace as I curved around the mountains of Northern California.

Oh yeah, cats:

I was terrified they would hate it here and then I’d be the horrible person who drove them 14 hours away from Oregon. I haven’t lived with my cats for 7 months and it’s been excruciating. Thankfully they seem to be enjoying themselves. There are windows that I can actually keep open all the time and floors to stretch out on in the warm, warm sun. And of course I’m here to know Isaac really likes his head scratched and Jack likes to hold your hand with his paw. So yeah, I’m pretty happy. I do have more nerdery and tech blogging to do (I’m trying to learn Swift! and hopefully tech mentoring! and maybe even public speaking?!) and I plan to get to it, but I first had to get the reintroduction out of the way.

Also, this post (and maybe many posts to come) has a theme song:

Week 4/5: #FAIL

Life has been awesome, so awesome in fact that I have had no time to put words to “paper”. I’m finishing projects and starting new ones at work. I’m having fun with friends on weekends. I even signed up for online dating, but that’s a hilarious post all by itself.

I also managed to do the age old terror inducing thing that most programmers do at least once in their lifetime. I broke our website. It was fast, over before most people noticed and totally my fault. The silver lining was that I was able to also fix my own mess without much assistance and in less than an hour. Still I felt like an idiot for the rest of the day.

The next day though we were on to the next feature, the next quirk, and I was able to breathe again because I’m slowly realizing that none of this will ever be the end of the world. Just like I don’t believe any one thing can “disrupt” the way we do things (and I hate that most startups think that they will), I believe that we can all help to shape something. That we each contribute our own little parts and my contributions also don’t have to be perfect. We have code reviews and tech leads and lots and lots of awesome mentoring opportunities to fill in our lack of knowledge.

Also, FYI, I’m including my Twitter feed to the right for now because I update it more than it might this blog.

Week 3: Giving Back

Week 3 ended a few days back (sorry y’all I had a busy weekend) and it was awesome. I’m learning new intricacies of our systems and learning to be more confident in myself when I know I know it (or maybe even think I do! Being wrong isn’t the end of the world!). My favorite part of this week though was the weekend.

On Saturday I got to volunteer at an all girl (10-17) JavaScript intro class with CoderDojo. I was a tech mentor, but I didn’t have to do a lot . I was super impressed with the girls! And I got to teach a couple of them that docs are super helpful! They were all so creative and awesome and I hope a lot of them decide that programming is as awesome as I think it is. For a short write-up (and to see what some of the girls made!) check out the write up for the event here.

Also, as an aside, can I just take a moment to say that I think Pamela Fox is amazeballs? She spoke at Hack Reactor during my time there and I’ve been following her on Twitter for a while, but I fan-girled hard when I realized she was the instructor for the class. She is such a smart, funny presenter and she was amazing with the girls. I aspire to be more like her when I “grow up”.

I could see myself filling my weekends with tech mentoring/hanging out at places like Women Who Code, Girl Develop It, and PyLadies. It’s something that I’m super passionate about (it’s why I wanted to work at Udacity so badly). I think mainly because it’s something I wish I had when I was growing up. I wish I could have seen women being awesome programmers, making a career out of it, and how much fun it could be. I never thought I would be one of those people who didn’t just have a “job” they had a calling, but I’m positive I’ve found me.




Week 1: I Feel Like I’ve Been Here Before

First week of work is over and it felt a lot like a less intense week of Hack Reactor. I still can’t believe this is what I’m actually doing with my life. I still definitely have lots and lots of impostor syndrome but I also deployed live things my first week! And learned a few of my coworkers names! And did a two minute all staff demonstration on how to knit!

I also got exactly what I wanted. I’m working full stack in JavaScript and Python in non startup-y startup (e.g., we’re not out to make lots and lots of money or making a product we don’t believe in for the money) doing things that I feel are making a tangibly good contribution. We have a gong that gets rung when a person graduates a class. That small bit right there proved that I was exactly where I wanted to be.

And yes, I’m still terrified some days that I’m too slow or too newb or just not cut out for this, but here’s a secret, I don’t think that will ever go away. Maybe it’s a good thing or maybe it’s just human nature, but I just need to learn to live in my own skin I think and take the impostor syndrome as a mark of being human, of caring about my work and wanting to always get better.

And a minor update: Selma is no longer in the house, I got the balls to move her outside finally.

Not Working is Worse

So first off, mad props to those of my cohort who have jobs now too! And major hearts to those still looking, because y’all are amazing. And a special shout out to my platonic soul mate Ava who starts at SurveyMonkey in a week!

I have had two weeks of quiet reflection (read scrambling to get an apartment, utilities and furniture in my pad) and it sucked. While I definitely don’t want to go back to the terrifying job finding phase anytime soon, at least I felt like I was doing things (and I got to code once in a while). Now I’m just sitting around waiting for utility services to call me back or deliver my stuff or de-spidering my apartment (mostly dead, the one that’s alive I’m naming Selma, because I’m a giant crippling softie who can’t even kill bugs).

I start work on Monday and I’m nervous-excited-terrified-ecstatic. I’m already on the email lists and I love the few random all-staff conversations I’ve read. I think the culture here will be awesome. My zen today though has been putting together IKEA:

Made Bed

RED Couch

Blurry Table

And a super special thank you to Ava for being awesome and watching TV with me and putting together my table:

Ava Puts Together A Table

Confirm my eccentricities

I have discovered a new sense of zen since I got my job offer. I’ve also discovered amusing things about myself. The biggest and most noticeable change is in my music choices. When I was stressed and scared and about to go to an interview I would want nothing more than to listen to a couple of songs over and over again. Bravado was one, Problem, Wrecking Ball, and Dark Horse were my staples. I needed strong songs sung by women that I knew by heart. I listen to basically nothing else. Now I’m still listening to them, but I’ve added back in old favorites and non-female vocals like We Fought Monsters, I Hear the Bells, and Madness. It feels awesome emotionally and physically. Music is a huge factor in my moods and it’s awesome to be able to experience the full range of it again.