Sudie

Sudie Roweton

Software Engineer Hill Air Force Base

Sudie Roweton works as a software engineer at Hill Air Force Base and is a graduate student at the University of Utah. Her journey into computer science started with a quarter-life crisis and a simple question: "Have you considered coding?".

Description

It was late at night when Sudie ran to her bus stop after a long day at work, just in time to see the bus pull away. And then it started raining. She took this moment to reflect on her life, and ask herself questions about her goals and her dreams, questions that led to her moving to Utah, getting a computer science degree, and working as a developer for the Air Force. She tells us how she made the career change and what she learned along the way.

Show Notes

Transcript

[00:00:00] SY: Okay, so we are all sold out of earlybird tickets to Codeland. But regular tickets are now available. They start at 99 bucks, and they get you talks, a workshop, great food, great people, all in New York City on July 22nd. Go to codelandconf.com for more info. Link is in your show notes.

[00:00:30] (Music) Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today, we’re talking about how to go from working with kids to being a developer.

[00:00:43] SY: Late one night.

[00:00:44] SR: Hi. I’m Sudie Roweton.

[00:00:46] SY: She was making her way to the bus stop after a long shift.

[00:00:49] SR: I just finished nannying. It was 11 o’clock at night. I had to be up for work the next morning at 4:15. So I’m hustling to the bus stop.

[00:00:58] SY: But just as she got there, the bus pulled away and then it started raining.

[00:01:04] SR: And I remembering hankering down in the bus stop in the little shelter.

[00:01:07] SY: She decided to take this opportunity to some self-reflection and made a huge change. She was moving out of the Bay moving into Utah and would start a new career.

[00:01:18] SR: I’m a software engineer and I work at Hill Air Force Base near Salt Lake City Utah.

[00:01:23] SY: She shares how she first got into code, the struggles she had along the way, and why her biggest priority was getting a computer science degree, after this.

[00:01:36] As you know, I’m a podcaster, and I love talking to people and hearing their stories, and I love it so much I actually host another podcast called Command Line Heroes. It’s produced by Red Hat. And in that show, I get to talk to tons of people doing incredible work in open source. But besides awesome interviews, it’s also got sound effects, background music, you know, creative audio stuff. So if you’re looking for some more awesome tech podcasts to fill your feed, check out Command Line Heroes. Go to redhat.com/commandlineheroes. Link is in your show notes.

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[00:02:46] SY: If you’re listening to this, you’re already on your way to changing your life through code. At Flatiron School, you might end up with a job, a promotion or a better salary. But that’s just the start of changing your career, your life, and the world. On campus or online, you’ll join a community of learners that are empowered to change their future in the rapidly growing tech field. A bold change begins with a single step. To take yours, go to flatironschool.com/codenewbie. Link is in your show notes.

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[00:03:44] SY: So you were not always a developer. How long have you been coding professionally for?

[00:03:50] SR: Professionally I’ve been coding for about a year and half.

[00:03:53] SY: Wow.

[00:03:54] SR: Yeah.

[00:03:56] SY: And how long have you been preparing to be a coder for?

[00:03:57] SR: Oh, since fall, I guess actually January of 2014, so about four years.

[00:04:03] SY: So it’s been about, what is that, like two and half years of preparing and leveling up in about before you got that first professional opportunity?

[00:04:11] SR: Yes. Yes.

[00:04:12] SY: Okay. So what were you doing before code even came into the picture?

[00:04:16] SR: That’s a very interesting story. So prior to coding, I was really heavily involved in early childhood development and just elementary school kids in general as well. I was working in California in the Bay Area and I did after-school program, I did summer camp, I was rocking some pretty awesome nannying gigs, and I was also a barista because it’s so expensive to live in the Bay Area.

[00:04:45] SY: Yup.

[00:04:47] SR: So I was working, I was doing a lot of jobs, I was really focused on educating kids. That was where my main focus was. It kind of came to a point, right before I turned 25, I feel like I had sort of a quarter-life crisis.

[00:04:59] SY: Aren’t those the best?

[00:05:01] SR: They are. It was really kind of pivoted.

[00:05:02] SY: Yeah.

[00:05:04] SR: So I was working a lot, a lot of hours trying to just really survive to pay rent and you know keep myself fed and clothed, and I remember really specifically one event that really changed my course. I just finished nannying. It was 11 o’clock at night. I had to be up for work the next morning at 4:15. So I was exhausted.

[00:05:27] SY: Wow!

[00:05:28] SR: And at the time I didn’t have a car. So I’m hustling to the bus stop. And right as I get there, I see the bus drive away.

[00:05:35] SY: Oh, no!

[00:05:36] SR: You know, the brake lights. Goodbye, bus, you know, my way home. And it was the time of night where the bus starts to go at greater intervals, so it would be an hour for the next one to come and I was really frustrated and exhausted. And I remember hunkering down in the bus stop in the little shelter, and like movie magic it started to rain, of course. You know, it was just like audibly up to the universe, like, “What is happening right now? What am I doing with my life?”

[00:06:07] SY: Yeah.

[00:06:08] SR: So I take that moment as a really pivotal moment where I started to think about, “I’m not really enjoying. I’m not living the life that I want. And what does that look for me, look like for me? What do I need to change to live the life that I want, and not only that, what is the life that I want? What are the things?” And so since I had an hour to sit in the rain, I started thinking about things. “What are my priorities?” So I came up with a couple of things. The first is that I really wanted to get back to having balance in my life: work, family, social, spiritual, physical, the whole thing. I wanted to have balance. That was really important to me. The second thing, I wanted to be able to take care of myself better and that means like I work for a normal eight hours or so. I’m able to pay my rent and provide for myself financially. At that moment, like I don’t want an obscene amount of money, I just want enough. I want enough to survive and have a balanced life. And the third thing is I want to spend my time doing interesting meaningful work.

[00:07:10] So I had that going for me. I was doing meaningful work, working with children, but the other two just was not working out. So at that moment I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to change, I’ve got to make a difference, and I need a support system to do that” because living where I lived, it was very, very difficult to just afford rent. I couldn’t drop everything and go back to school. And so I made the choice to move closer to home but not quite home. So at that time I decided to move to Utah. I’m originally from Colorado. And I have family in Utah, my support system, my grandparents live here, I have an aunt and uncle, and I have my stepmom lives here. So I had a lot of good family support and also it’s close to home, close to Colorado but not so close, right? So I can go home and visit, but I can still have a new adventure or something. You know, try something new and Utah is so gorgeous and beautiful.

[00:08:08] SY: Yeah.

[00:08:09] SR: There are so many great things to do and it’s much, much more affordable.

[00:08:14] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So the questions that you asked yourself when you said, you know, “What do I want? What’s important to me? What are my goals?” Is it that you hadn’t asked yourself those questions yet? Or is it that what you wanted changed and you didn’t realize it, or what was going on?

[00:08:34] SR: I think honestly I didn’t really stop to think, “What do I want?” I was just so focused on this idea of, “I’m going to save the world and all the children in it,” you know?

[00:08:45] SY: Yeah.

[00:08:46] SR: When I got out into the world and I was working and I was trying to make a real difference that way and I didn’t stop to think that’s it’s really important to take care of yourself too, to really know what you want so that you can make a difference that way. So, no, I hadn’t. I know that sounds kind of absurd, but I hadn’t really made that connection yet, like what do I want out of life and what do I need to do to make it happen.

[00:09:09] SY: Yeah.

[00:09:10] SR: So yeah. That was definitely a pivotal moment in the rain for me for sure.

[00:09:15] SY: I love that scene so much. It’s such a great scene. Hopefully you didn’t like get sick or anything by being in the rain but for story purposes it was beautiful. It was beautiful. Okay. So you are back at Utah and when you decided to make this move, because this is a pretty significant move, right, even though you had family in Utah, you hadn’t lived there before, right?

[00:09:35] SR: No, I hadn’t, but it’s all brand new.

[00:09:37] SY: Yeah. That seems like a really big move. Did you have any idea what you were going to do once you actually got there?

[00:09:43] SR: Here’s what I knew. I knew a personal goal of mine was to get a college education. That’s always been kind of a goal of mine. And so I knew that if I was able to get into that support system I would be able to focus on school, find a career path that would align with my goals and my values. I didn’t know what that looked like yet, but I knew that what I was doing right now was not working and of course you can go to school and choose something that’s not really marketable and you might as well not have gone to school. 

[00:10:15] SY: Yup.

[00:10:16] SR: But I really thought that school was a good choice for me. I wanted to do it anyway and I thought, “This is the time to do it now, get established in a career, and just launch form there.” So I knew I was going back to school. I didn’t know what going to study. So I just thought, “Well, let’s just keep this train rolling,” like, “Take your general eds because you need to take your general eds and go from there.” So that was kind of my idea. I knew where I going to live, I knew that I was going to school. And since I had a background in early childhood, I was able to get a job really quickly teaching preschool. So I was able to do that and support myself, but not quite to the crazy hours that I was working in Palo Alto.

[00:10:55] SY: Oh, nice! That’s great. So at that point, when you said, “Okay, I’m going to school, I’m going to move, I have a place to go to, I have a place to stay,” did you plan on staying within the field, the industry that you knew within this early development world or were you trying to get far away from that in terms of a next career?

[00:11:15] SR: I wasn’t quite sure to start out with. I thought, “Okay, well, I could take what I know and apply it and become an elementary school teacher where the pay is okay, you get summers off, that’s awesome.” But also there is something inside of me that wanted something different, a new change. I’ve always had this wanderlust for travel anyway and it seemed like I wanted to pivot, I wanted to take the skill set that I learned from working with children and pivot to something completely different and try something new. And surprisingly, in software, the skills that I learned as a preschool teacher they transfer very well.

[00:11:51] SY: Really? Interesting. Okay. We’re going to that in a second. How did you end up picking computer science?

[00:11:56] SR: I was taking classes, just general eds, I guess I was a couple years in, and it was Thanksgiving around 2014, I believe. I was in Park City with my family, so my dad and my sister and my niece and then my stepmom and my stepbrothers, that’s Pat, who is a brilliant coder by the way, a brilliant software engineer, and we were just hanging around, Pat and I, we were just doing nothing and chatting and I remember lamenting about my directionless path that I was on, like, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I know that I want to do something cool.” And he just out of the blue suggested, “Hey, have you ever considered coding?” And it took me aback because I was like… I have never even considered that and I’m not sure why.

[00:12:43] SY: Yeah.

[00:12:44] SR: It had never even come up, not once. And that’s kind of a sidebar too which I quite interesting. I’m not sure why that wasn’t brought up in high school when I have this aptitude for mathematics and logic, you know?

[00:12:56] SY: Yes, same! Yeah. It never came up, yeah.

[00:12:57] SR: Why wasn’t it brought up?

[00:12:58] SY: Uh-hmm.

[00:13:04] SR: Yeah. So it was kind of like, “Whoa, I’m 25,” and I had never even once considered that even though I demonstrated the ability to solve problems and think in a logical level, that kind of thing. So it was really interesting. So he was like, “Well, why don’t you try this site that I know of. It’s called TryRuby and they have little toy projects, little tutorials that you can do.” And I thought, “Hey, this is pretty cool, you know? I like this.” And so at that time, I was registering for classes for the next semester. So I thought, “Well, I need some electives anyway, I’ll just take a stab in the dark and try to enter the programming class and see what happens,” like there is no loss if I don’t like it and I’ll still be able move forward with my degree and there is a benefit to learning new things. So I signed up and I just fell in love with the process.

[00:14:02] SY: So when you were doing TryRuby, you have this feeling like, “Oh, I really like this, this is a great fit,” and you took a couple of classes and that feeling kind of kept continuing?

[00:14:11] SR: Yes.

[00:14:12] SY: Was there ever a point in this journey of discovery when your figuring out computers science and that, you know, might something you want to do, was there ever a point where it didn’t click? Was there ever a point where you said, “Uh-oh, wait a minute, maybe this is harder than I thought or maybe I underestimated this”?

[00:14:30] SR: Yes, definitely. No. I’m laughing because… oh, yeah. Okay. So data structures and algorithms, which is just gobbledygook. It’s theory, right? So I like mathematics, it was too much, it was a lot, it was really, really hard. I remember it was not the fun like, “Oh, I’m creating this cool thing.” It was like, “How can you make it way better and reduce the complexity and all this?” It was just really difficult. So yeah, that class in particular was definitely difficult and I had my second thoughts, it’s like, “I don’t know if I can do this.” And then I thought, “You know what? It’s hard, but hard problems are interesting, right?”

[00:15:17] SY: That is true.

[00:15:18] SR: Like I can be doing something boring that’s super easy, but if you’re given a hard problem, if you’re given something difficult, that’s engaging, and it may be difficult but the way that you approach it can make all the difference in the world. So yeah, no, there were more than one. I’m currently taking the grad school level of that class and I’m having the same feeling, like, “What is happening? What am I doing?”

[00:15:40] SY: Yeah. Yeah. So when you were taking this, even when you were doing the TryRuby online course, which we’ll link to the show notes as well, did you have any idea what you were going to do with it? You know, was it obvious like, “Okay, now I’m going to be a Ruby developer”? Or did that connection happen right away?

[00:16:00] SR: No. it really didn’t. I think as I was beginning this journey, I was very aware of the huge amount of opportunities that were available as far as what you could specialize in. I didn’t really wanted to just hold on to one thing and go for it. I wanted to see what was out there and get kind of more well-rounded like, “Oh, let’s explore this part, let’s explore mobile development, let’s explore, you know, Java Enterprise Development, let’s explore these side languages, let’s see if I can learn all of the languages I can and just explore it,” because I wasn’t sure at the time. Even when I first began, I wasn’t like, “Oh, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life and that’s locked and loaded.” I just knew that were a lot of opportunities and if I could learn as much as I could, then I would be valuable and I would be marketable and I could get a job. So that was important.

[00:16:50] SY: Okay. So how did you get this job? You finished the computer science degree?

[00:16:55] SR: I did.

[00:16:56] SY: Was it undergrad or masters?

[00:16:58] SR: It was undergrad.

[00:17:00] SY: It was undergrad. Okay. So undergrad, that’s interesting because that’s a four-year degree, right?

[00:17:03] SR: It is.

[00:17:04] SY: How did you feel about those four years? Because that’s kind of a long time, right? When you’re thinking about making a career change, you know, going back to school and investing four years in a totally new thing is a big commitment. How did you feel about that?

[00:17:19] SR: I guess I felt like I was going to land. I just had like this confidence that I was going to land somewhere, I don’t know, I guess I didn’t really even think about it. I wasn’t really worried about it. I can go back to, “I wanted a degree anyway.” I’m very aware that you can become a software engineer without any college at all. I understand that. Like you need the experience, you need the skill, that’s what you need to do. So you can become a software engineer in a variety of different ways. I just knew that I wanted a degree. So that’s what I wanted to invest in, I guess, if that answers your question.

[00:17:53] SY: Yeah. So once you decided, you know, you took a couple of classes, you said, “Okay, I definitely want to do this computer science thing,” did you know that at that point that you didn’t have to do the degree? Was it ever a question of like, “Okay, now I want to go into software development, maybe I can do a boot camp instead or learn on my own”? Did those options ever come up or were you set on getting that degree?

[00:18:15] SR: I guess I was set in getting that degree, but I wasn’t set on that being the only way that I was going to be learning, if that make sense.

[00:18:23] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:18:24] SR: You can’t be good at anything unless you’re practicing constantly. So yeah, I definitely wanted to self-teach myself and learn new things on the side, but I did not ever consider stopping the progress on my degree to do that. Because like I said before, it wasn’t necessarily about getting the job from the degree. I wanted to get the degree and then find a job that would help my work life balance, you know, line up with my values. So yeah.

[00:18:56] SY: Yeah, that makes sense. So when you graduated college, how did you get that first job?

[00:19:05] SR: The summer before I graduated, I graduated in December of 2016. The summer before, I got an internship at a sales and marketing company. They had us doing some data base work, building reports and dashboards. So that’s what I did and it was pretty interesting. I liked it. And they hired me on there full-time, so I worked there for a little while until I graduated. At that point, it was cool, but it wasn’t meeting that this is meaningful and interesting to me because it was like, “Cool, I can makea  dashboard that helps that salesman meet his numbers, like super.”

[00:19:46] SY: I can feel the enthusiasm.

[00:19:48] SR: Yeah. Like, “Oh, cool! She met her numbers today. Awesome!”

[00:19:51] SY: Yup.

[00:19:52] SR: So. I liked the experience, but I knew that I wanted to do something that I could get behind a little bit more and that would feel more meaningful to me. I was working there. And in January, I got a call from Hill Air Force Base, from a recruiter. They received my resume because they had come to the university I was at and they offered me this opportunity to work on base for the air force in software and it was a great program. It’s called the Scientist and Engineering PALACE Acquire Program and it focuses on recruiting STEM graduates, not just software and computer science but also mechanical engineers and all of that. So it offers you the chance to get on the job training, like you get a job and then the second year that you’re there they send you to grad school and you get to go to school, they pay for it, they pay your full salary while you’re going to school and you don’t have to go to work, which is so awesome by the way.

[00:20:50] SY: That’s nice. Yeah.

[00:20:52] SR: And then you come back and work for them for two more years.

[00:20:55] SY: That is not a bad deal.

[00:20:56] SR: it didn’t. I was like, “What’s the catch here?” You know?

[00:20:57] SY: Yeah.

[00:20:59] SR: I remember going home and calling my dad because I always just call him about everything like that and I’m like, “Dad, I’m in a very emotional spot right now. It seems too good to be true. I need you to bring it down and think about this with me.” But he’s like, “The only thing is you have to give them two years afterwards. So that doesn’t seem like that unreasonable.”

[00:21:18] SY: Yeah. Yeah, that seems fair.

[00:21:19] SR: Yeah. So they offered me that and I definitely accepted it. It took about four months before I could get into that program because there was the hiring freeze, the government hiring freeze during that time which is perfect timing. But then I started in April and went to work for the first year and then now I’m in grad school.

[00:21:42] SY: Wow! What kind of work do you or I guess did you do when you were working there full-time?

[00:21:47] SR: I am on the data reduction team, which is gobbledygook for… we get flight test data. So the jets, the F-16 Fighter Jets and the A-10, they have data that’s recorded on them and we take that data and we make sense of it. We build a tool that makes sense of it for engineers to test and troubleshoot and debug. So yeah, I work on a team that develops tools to support the F-16 and the A-10 as they are further upgrading their software because those are really old jets. And the government has software engineers to take those jets and keep them up-to-date, you know, and upgrade them. So we build tools and support tools that support that effort.

[00:22:32] SY: For something like that which sounds on the one hand you’re kind of working as you said with older stuff, older equipment, older technology, but it’s also really powerful and kind of important.

[00:22:45] SR: Exactly.

[00:22:46] SY: How do you learn how to do that? I’m assuming they are not using Ruby to do this type of work.

[00:22:53] SR: No.

[00:22:54] SY: How do you do that? What’s your developer tool kit?

[00:22:59] SR: It’s very unique team. So there are other teams that work in very old languages like Ada and JOVIAL, which is very, very old, old languages because that’s what those components use. Our tool is Java. So we use Java and we make a desktop application, that’s what it is. So because of the security and everything, we have to just keep it off the internet.

[00:23:25] SY: Wow! Yeah.

[00:23:27] SR: Yeah. So we use Java, we use NetBeans. It’s definitely older and we have to like put in a request to get new access to new tools because it has to go through the security scan and everything.

[00:23:36] SY: Yeah.

[00:23:37] SR: But yeah. So yeah, we just use Java and we build the tool and it’s a lot of on-the-job training as well, definitely. There’s things that you can’t learn anywhere else, right? You have to be on the job and learning it and that’s part of the reason the government likes you to be there for a year before, like learn your workload, go to school, see what you can bring back and then let’s work some more.

[00:23:58] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So when you were learning this stuff, how much of it were you coming into the job already knowing how to do and how much of it were you learning just by being there?

[00:24:10] SR: I was definitely proficient in Java before going there. So that was definitely a benefit. I think it was mostly the domain knowledge that I was lacking, like how to understand this data that’s coming through, how to make sense of it, those kind of things, is what I had to learn, but I came into it with a good tool kit. I knew Java, I had experience with Git. So I knew version control. So I had a lot of the check boxes that they liked already. And not only that, when you work with software, you constantly have to learn new things anyway. It’s not like everything just stays the same. So if you’re able to demonstrate that you can, you know, pick up new things, and that’s really valuable to anybody. So it was mostly the domain specific knowledge that I lacked, but since they were working in Java anyway, I knew that, I came to that with proficiency.

[00:25:03] SY: Nice. One thing I didn’t think about until you said it a bit earlier is that it is different, I guess, to work on software that is military software that has more security considerations and I’m wondering how that affects your product development, like I’m thinking, you know, if I have an issue with something and I see an error message, I can just Google it, you know, and have an answer pretty quickly and try a bunch of things and push it, you know, whenever I want. You know, I have a lot of options in terms of troubleshooting and trying things out, but I imagine you may not have all of those in that type of work.

[00:25:41] SR: You can definitely troubleshoot, right, but everything moves at a much slower pace and that’s okay because we’re working on sensitive stuff. So the fact that I just can’t go online and download a tool that I think would be helpful.

[00:25:56] SY: Is a good thing.

[00:25:58] SR: Which is actually a quite nice to do outside of the government. I didn’t realize like, yeah, I can’t just do that, it has to go through a six-month process, you know, like I really have to want that software, that tool or whatever support it is. So yeah, it slows things down and you have to be a little bit creative and you have to depend on the expertise of people that are there, that have worked on it, that have come before, I guess so to speak. So yeah, it’s definitely slows thing down, but it’s for good reason.

[00:26:26] SY: Yeah.

[00:26:28] SR: I think that would be with any place that there is a security concern that things would be slowed down quite a bit.

[00:26:34] SY: Yeah. Yeah. No, that makes a ton of sense. So now that you are a developer, is it everything you hoped it would be?

[00:26:44] SR: Actually yes and more. I hate to sound cliché.

[00:26:46] SY: No, it’s great. That’s awesome. Yeah.

[00:26:48] SR: I absolutely love it. It’s hard, it’s definitely difficult. I’m not going to say that it’s not difficult. It is hard. But I get to go to work and I get to do meaningful. So it goes to my values, right? I get to do meaningful, interesting work, and I have a work life balance now and I have a paycheck now and I don’t have to work like 18 hours a day. It’s great. It’s cool. It’s interesting. And I’m not saying that every day is like fantastic and the best day ever, but now it’s interesting. I get to do cool stuff and I get to support our war fighters and I get to help with national defense and it’s really cool. It’s really cool when I get to step back. So sometimes when I’m having a rough day or I’m having a hard time with a problem, I just have to step back and be like, “Hey, remember that one day when you were standing in the rain waiting for your bus and everything was falling apart, look what happened, look where you are.”

[00:27:42] SY: (Music) Coming up next, we talk about how important her support system was in helping her make the career switch and how working with kids helped her learn to code. She also shares her thoughts on how to decide whether or not you should go back to school to get that computer science degree, after this.

[00:28:02] We’ve talked about open source a bunch of times on this podcast, but frankly, open source is so big and complex and fascinating that it needs its own show, and it has one. It’s called Command Line Heroes. It’s produced by Red Hat and it’s hosted by me. That’s right. I’ve got another tech podcast talking to incredible people about all things open source. We talk about the history of open source, the introduction of DevOps and then DevSecOps, and we even do an interview with the CTO of NASA. And that’s just the beginning. We also dig into cloud and serverless and big data and all those important tech terms you’ve heard of, and we get to explore. If you’re looking for more tech stories to listen to, check it out at redhat.com/commandlineheroes. Link is in your show notes.

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[00:30:45] SY: So now that you are in the position that you are, you’re a developer and now you’re getting your masters?

[00:30:51] SR: Yes, I am.

[00:30:52] SY: That’s very, very exciting. If you look back on the decisions that you made, especially the decision to get the CS degree, do you feel like that was the right decision for you? Do you have any regrets or thoughts, reflections on getting that computer science degree?

[00:31:08] SR: I absolutely think it was the right decision for me. This job that I have right now I couldn’t have without a degree. I mean, the reason that I’m where I’m at right now is because of that piece of paper and I know that isn’t everything for sure, but there are some jobs that you are limited, you know?

[00:31:24] SY: Oh, yeah, absolutely.

[00:31:25] SR: If you don’t have the piece of paper, I mean it means something, but really what’s more important is you have the skill set and you can do it, right? But yeah, I wouldn’t be where I am without that piece of paper and it really does open up different opportunities. I’m not saying that it’s better or worse, but just different. So there are certain jobs that you cannot get without a degree. That’s just the way it is, unfortunately. So yeah, it was definitely worth it. And I completed something that was difficult and I was really proud of that.

[00:31:53] SY: Yeah.

[00:31:54] SR: And it felt good. I can look back and I did something hard, I can do other hard things.

[00:31:58] SY: Yeah.

[00:31:59] SR: You know, look what you did. You got that hard piece of paper, a very expensive hard piece of paper. You can do hard things. So yeah, I definitely don’t regret it, but I know that that’s not the only way to do it for sure and I respect all paths.

[00:32:16] SY: So I know there are a bunch of people listening who are in that place that you were that night, you know, waiting for -- or just missed the bus and raining and kind of saying, “Okay, let’s take this opportunity to reflect on my life,” and who are trying to figure out, “Okay, what do I do next?” And whether it’s with TryRuby or something else, they stumble upon code and they’re trying to figure out, “Do I do that CS degree? Do I do that boot camp? Do I try going at it on my own?” And for you getting the degree, some degree, whatever it was, was an important part of that process. But now that you have gone through the journey, you kind of crossed over to the other side, I’m wondering what advice do you have for people who are trying to figure out how to change their lives and how to break into tech and be successful the way that you are?

[00:33:05] SR: I guess I would say that there are a lot of different ways to do it. And I think the primary thing that you need to focus on in the immediate is knowing what you want, like really focusing on your whys, like what do I want out of life, and is it worth it to invest six weeks, eight weeks, a year in trying this new thing to see if it’s worth it or not. Sometimes it’s not. And to look at all of the options because like you said, you could pick it up doing free code camp online or you could go to an actual code camp or you could take college classes or you could get involved in a community of developers and just, you know, pay a programmer and work with them and find a mentor. So there’s a lot of different ways to do it. So I would say first of all figure out what you want in life in general, like what does that look like for you. And if this path could even provide some of that to you, it’s worth the try, number one because tech is everywhere. 

[00:34:07] SY: Yeah.

[00:34:07] SR: It’s in every single domain. If you spend a year or even two years learning how to code and you’re like, “That’s not worth it, I don’t want to do that anymore,” you have a great valuable skill set that you can pass on to whatever it is that you do do, if that makes sense.

[00:34:22] SY: Very true. Yeah.

[00:34:23] SR: So it’s worth it. Whatever you chose to do it’s worth it.

[00:34:25] SY: So, hearing your story, it sounds like it really worked out for you. It sounds like you’ve been, you know, just going through the process and just nailing it and absolutely crushing it. But you also mentioned earlier, you know, in the beginning of the story that a big reason why you left the Bay and you moved to Utah was because you knew you needed a support system in order to make this change, to make this transition.

[00:34:50] SR: Yes.

[00:34:51] SY: So how did that support system affect or play a role in you being where you are today?

[00:34:55] SR: I definitely would not be where I’m at right now without the support that I got. My grandparents took me in and let me live them and not pay rent at all, which was fabulous, and they supported me and encouraged me, so I had that, I had my stepmom Laurie step in and take me in. My parents of course were like rah-rah for me, cheering me along and supportive. They’ve always done that. They kind of allowed me to learn my own, make my mistakes and learn from them and they were definitely supportive. And I know, I couldn’t have been where I am right now without their support, without their encouragement and really like bare bones, I needed some place to live. That’s simple.

[00:35:36] SY: Yeah. That’s huge.

[00:35:37] SR: I need a place to live, I needed someone to help with that because it’s really difficult to have to worry about that hierarchy of need of just taking care of yourself just like having shelter, having clothes, having food to eat, right? We need to take care of those things first before we can move on and be creative and learn new things and go after our dreams. So yeah, my support system was really, really important to me.

[00:36:02] SY: Yeah. It’s interesting because having that support system can come in so many different ways. It can be like you mention very tangible, I guess, ways, very physical ways, like food, shelter, but even just having someone who understands the journey, who’s supportive, who’s encouraging, you know, who may not be able, you know, take care of you in a physical way, but that emotional support system is absolutely huge and it sounds like you got the whole package.

[00:36:27] SR: I do. And let’s be honest, I wouldn’t be here without Pat, just like asking the question. 

[00:36:32] SY: That’s true. Yeah, just that one question.

[00:36:34] SR: “Have you considered coding?” I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be here without that simple question. So yeah.

[00:36:40] SY: Absolutely. So you mentioned earlier that having this expertise and all these years in early education has helped you and has influenced the way you code and in your career as a developer. Tell me a little more about that. How has that played a role or impacted your career right now?

[00:36:57] SR: Kids are so awesome, especially the little guys, the really little guys, they’re just like taking life end and they don’t care.

[00:37:08] SY: They really don’t care. It’s amazing.

[00:37:10] SR: They don’t. And they don’t have filters, they just like, “I feel and I need everybody to know it,” right? And by the same token when they’re learning something, when they’re trying to experience something new, it’s like, “I’m in,” right? “I’m approaching with curiosity and exploration. I’m just going to get it until I get it.” Being around that is really, really powerful because it reminds you as you’re adult where you kind of lose that, that just dive in and let’s explore and be curious, because the adult self of, “Oh, I’ve got to pay bills and I got to get this done,” and all of that kind of dampens that.

[00:37:45] SY: Yeah.

[00:37:46] SR: But to really embrace that curiosity and the exploration to solve problems is huge. So yeah, whenever I’m like face with a difficult problem or a task, I think like, “What would the four-year-olds do?” Right? Like how would they approach it?

[00:38:01] SY: That’s amazing. Yeah.

[00:38:02] SR: Because they don’t care that they’re making messes. They don’t even care that they’re… Well, this is typically. There are some kids that do. They don’t care that they’re making mistakes, they’re just doing it. And so I think that definitely can transfer to software development because it’s all about being creative and solving problems and being curious and learning more.

[00:38:22] SY: Yeah. Did you ever worry that not having coded since you were two was going to be a problem or an issue, especially when I’m thinking about computer science degrees, I know so many stories of people who were really excited when they got there and then they kind of look around and they realize, “Oh, I’m the only person here who doesn’t already know this stuff.” You know? And that can be really painful. Did you ever confront that as something you have to deal with?

[00:38:51] SR: I definitely did. Before I started coding, I had this image in my mind of basement, covered in Cheeto dust, to like smelly boys coding along, which I know that’s totally wrong obviously.

[00:39:03] SY: Yeah.

[00:39:04] SR: So yeah. When I was taking my first college level computer, I mean that was my first time. So yeah, that was definitely intimidating. I looked around and I was just like, “These guys know what they’re doing,” and I say guys because it was like me, one female to like forty-five males or whatever it was, you know, it was ridiculous, but yeah. They know what they’re talking about. They’re saying words I have no idea what they mean. So yeah, it was definitely intimidating and I just tried to every time that happened just write down the words and then try to figure it out.

[00:39:36] SY: Yeah. Yup. That’s the way to do it.

[00:39:40] SR: Yeah. You’re not going to learn until you learn, right? You’re not birthed knowing how to code.

[00:39:42] SY: You’re not though.

[00:39:43] SR: Or knowing the inner workings of the computer and can hobnob with the computer science majors. Yeah, I couldn’t. But I knew if I work hard enough and I just kept at it, I’d be fine. So yeah. No, that was a very real, real thing I had to deal with.

[00:40:00] SY: Well, it definitely makes me personally feel better to hear that. I’m sorry that it was, you know, hard for you but also thank you. It made me feel better.

[00:40:09] SR: Yeah. No, it is, it’s scary.

[00:40:10] SY: All right. So know let’s move on to some fill in the blanks. Are you ready?

[00:40:14] SR: Sure. I am ready.

[00:40:15] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:40:19] SR: Don’t ask questions.

[00:40:22] SY: Who told you that? That is terrible advice.

[00:40:23] SR: I know. Isn’t that awful?

[00:40:27] SY: What?

[00:40:28] SR: As I was thinking about this, this was really hard because I feel like I get a lot of great advice. I have a lot of good advisors, right? But this happened, it was in a religious context when I was younger and I remember -- and it wasn’t directed at me but at a group of people like, “Don’t ask questions.” To be fair, I think what he was trying to say was just have faith in the process, but that statement really was the turning point for me where I was like, “Oh, I don’t know about that because that’s anti-everything that I believe.”

[00:40:59] SY: Yeah.

[00:41:01] SR: Yeah, I think it’s important to ask questions, to question yourself, to question what you’re doing, to ask why. So that was really, really bad advice and I did not take it, and that was like the first step out of that environment.

[00:41:12] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting because usually when I ask that question, the bad advice is, you know, subjectively bad, where it’s like, “Well depending on…” but this one is bad-bad.

[00:41:23] SR: Legit bad. Yeah.

[00:41:27] SY: Yeah, this is legit bad. Number two, my first coding project was about?

[00:41:30] SR: Keeping a classroom of special ed students on task.

[00:41:31] SY: Oh, that’s a big project. That’s a very big first project.

[00:41:32] SR: It’s the same.

[00:41:33] SY: Yeah. Tell me about.

[00:41:38] SR: So. First project in the sense of my first real project, I’m putting air quotes there, you can’t see them obviously.

[00:41:45] SY: I felt them.

[00:41:46] SR: But yeah. You felt them. I guess I was two semesters in school and I was talking to one of my friends, she’s a special ed teacher, and she was just kind of talking about how she was frustrated because her class, they were having a hard time staying focused for the time blocks of time, you know, there is like reading time and math time. They were having a hard time staying focused during those chunks of time. And she was like, “Wouldn’t it be great if I had a random interval timer? I could select the numbers of interruptions I wanted in a half-an-hour period, like let’s say I want three interruptions, but I don’t want to have them evenly spaced so that the kids don’t know they’re coming. So we can create this game where if you’re on task during the timer, awesome. And if you’re all on task during all three timers in this period, then there is going to be a reward system,” right? It was a way to keep them extrinsically motivated.

[00:42:37] SY: Oh, interesting.

[00:42:42] SR: Like, “Oh, I better be on task because I don’t know when that timer is going to happen.”

[00:42:45] SY: Oh, my goodness! That is brilliant. I should use that for myself.

[00:42:44] SR: Yeah.

[00:42:45] SY: I get a cookie if I’m focused.

[00:43:47] SR: Yeah.

[00:42:59] SY: Interesting.

[00:42:55] SR: Yeah. So that I was like, “Hey, I could probably build that for you. I can try.”

[00:42:58] SY: Yeah.

[00:42:59] SR: And I took this on because it was definitely a low pressure environment. There wasn’t a lot of pressure. It was, “I can make something cool and real, use what I’m learning in class and then make some sort of a little difference going back to my values,” right? And that was such a cool project. I mean, it’s very, very simple, right? It’s a basic Java desktop application that takes in a time frame and takes in the number of interruptions you want and then it will sound a timer at those interval points. So it’s very, very simple, but the process of going through it was really cool and I learned a lot because I had to gather requirements from the user and I had to spend time in design like how did I want this to work, how does this meet up with their needs, with her needs, I guess. And then I had to start executing and I had deal with that thing called scope creep, which is just the pilling on of new requirements, right? Like, “Oh, that’s cool but… or and,” you know.

[00:44:01] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:44:03] SR: So it was really good learning experience and we did a couple of different releases so I felt really cool, right? Like, “Yeah, you can change the sounds now.” So it was really cool. That was my first real project and she still uses it and it was really helpful and I learned a lot. And little did I know there is like a class in Java that does all that for you, but I just attacked it from scratch just to learn it how it happens. Anyway, yeah, that was it.

[00:44:31] SY: That is such a great first project.

[00:44:33] SR: I think so too. It was way cool.

[00:44:34] SY: Yeah. And I love this requirement of it being low pressure but good, you know, like real, good, low pressure, because it’s the kind of thing where if it works wonderful, right, it’s a great, it helps your friend out, you can really do some good. But if doesn’t, that’s cool. You know, it’s totally fine, you can still focus on the learning. And wow, that’s a really great… that’s really great. I like that.

[00:44:58] SR: I would suggest to anybody in this situation, like if you’re learning to code really actively seek out those opportunities. I didn’t ask for that, it just kind of organically happened. But hey friend, like what’s a problem that you’re having or what’s something that you think would be cool? And let me try this for you, but in a low-pressure environment. So I think those are really valuable experiences that you don’t really learn in the classroom. You kind of have to just dive in and do it. So yeah.

[00:45:28] SY: Yeah, absolutely. Number three, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:45:35] SR: It’s okay not to know everything.

[00:45:38] SY: Good one. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:45:40] SR: I think that goes back to our earlier conversation about it being intimidating when you first start, when you feel like everybody knows everything and you’re just like, “Oh, I have no idea what’s happening.” I remember feeling when I first started really, really intimidated that I didn’t know all the buzzwords and all the jargon and I wasn’t familiar with all the concepts and it felt overwhelming, I went to a conference pretty early on. It was an agile conference. I didn’t even know what agile meant, right? It’s just like, “What’s happening here?”

[00:46:12] SY: But you still went. I love it.

[00:46:13] SR: I did. So yeah, it felt uncomfortable and I would like shrink back from that and go into class, like I had said, all these classmates they knew what they were talking about, they knew what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it for years and I just didn’t.

[00:46:25] SY: Yeah.

[00:46:26] SR: But I think it’s really important to embrace that beginner’s mind and that novice mind of, “Yeah, I don’t know everything,” but that’s okay.

[00:46:34] SY: That’s all right.

[00:46:36] SR: Like let’s go back to the conversation about learning from young children. Let’s just attack that with curiosity instead of panic, instead of, “I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m never going to learn all of this.” It’s okay. Write it down, learn it, and explore it, be curious about it, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. It can be scary to do that, but in general I think people are really excited to help. You know, like, “Oh, yeah, let me show you what I did. Let’s work on this together.” The people that I’ve asked it’s just been like, “Yeah, of course, let’s do this.”

[00:47:10] SY: Yeah. Oh, it’s great.

[00:47:11] SR: So yeah, it’s okay not to know everything and you won’t know everything. You know, it’s a continual learning process.

[00:47:18] SY: Yup, and the sooner you internalize that, the easier things would be.

[00:47:21] SR: Exactly, exactly.

[00:47:23] SY: Well, thank you so much for being on the show and telling us your story. I think it’s super inspirational and I think our audience got a lot out of it. Do you want to say goodbye?

[00:47:32] SR: Thank you so much for having me I appreciate it. This is a way fun.

[00:47:34] SY: And that’s the end of the episode. Let me know what you think. Tweet me at CodeNewbies or send me an email, hello@codenewbie.org. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast and join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. Thanks for listening. See you next week.


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