Bekah is a mother of four who’s learning to code. But what’s incredible about her story isn’t just that she’s raising young children while finding 2-4 hours every day to code, it’s that she used coding as a form of therapy to get through a very tough time in her life. We’re also introducing a new segment called Tales from the Command Line, and in our first episode, we dig into coding and mental health.
[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.
[00:00:29] (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 being a mom and learning to code.
[00:00:43] (Music) Okay. So I’ve been a fan of Bekah’s for a while.
[00:00:46] BH: Hi, I’m Bekah Hawrot-Weigel, and I’m a freelance web designer and student at Flatiron School.
[00:00:52] SY: She’s learning to code. She’s a mom of four and she’s found a way to not just spend two to four hours a day coding but also sharing resources, teaching other people, coaching other people on their coding journey. Now, I’m not a mother myself, and whenever I think about all the parents out there who are learning to code while taking care of their kids, I literally don’t know how they do it. But Bekah’s story isn’t just about being a mom, it’s about how she used coding as therapy to get through a really tough time. She tells us what happened and how she got through it after this.
[00:01:32] 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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[00:02:43] 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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[00:03:41] SY: So you have been part of the CodeNewbie community. I feel like forever. I don’t remember exactly when you found out about us or when we were so lucky to have you, but I feel like you’ve been in our world for a really long time. I love your tweets. I look forward to talking to you on Wednesdays during the CodeNewbie Twitter chat. And what I find so inspiring about you is the fact that you are learning to code and you also have four kids. You’re a mom and you’re doing the darn thing. You’re really crushing it and it is so inspiring to me because I am not a parent, I don’t have kids, and I feel like I’m tired and working hard all the time. And so when I think about doing even a fraction of what I do on top of having to take care of other human beings that just blows my mind. So kudos to you for just being amazing.
[00:04:30] BH: Thank you so much.
[00:04:32] SY: Yeah. May I ask how old your kids are?
[00:04:34] BH: Yes. My oldest is nine and then I have a seven-year-old, a four-year-old, and a two-year-old.
[00:04:40] SY: Wow! So they like need Mom. They need your attention.
[00:04:44] BH: Yes.
[00:04:47] SY: Okay. So let’s start at the beginning. Before you got into coding, you were a screenwriter?
[00:04:53] BH: I was trying my hand at screenwriting, but I live in Ohio. So that’s a little bit difficult and I was an adjunct English professor for about 10 years.
[00:05:05] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:05:06] BH: So I was trying to mix like the creativity and the teaching together before I started learning to code.
[00:05:11] SY: So when you were doing the more I guess creative stuff, how did you find out about the coding stuff? Those seem maybe not really related.
[00:05:21] BH: Yeah, right. They don’t seem related initially, but I think the more that I dug into it the more that it made sense for me. So while I was teaching, my husband changed careers and he became a second career dev.
[00:05:37] SY: Oh, what was his first career?
[00:05:40] BH: Well, he kind of had multiple first careers, but he graduated with a business degree and he was a Burger King manager and then he was a high school religion teacher and then he started coding.
[00:05:52] SY: Neat.
[00:05:53] BH: So I found out about it through him. He encouraged me during like a really difficult time in my life to give coding a try as kind of a form of therapy and that’s how I started.
[00:06:06] SY: Interesting. And did it end up being therapeutic?
[00:06:09] BH: Absolutely. With the birth of my fourth daughter or my fourth child, who is a daughter, two of my organs ruptured and…
[00:06:17] SY: Oh my goodness!
[00:06:19] BH: The hospital told me I was fine and sent me home.
[00:06:21] SY: Wow! Meaning they didn’t know?
[00:06:23] BH: No, they didn’t know. They told me my symptoms were normal for a mother of four and they didn’t run any tests.
[00:06:29] SY: Holy crap!
[00:06:32] BH: And so a month later, I had this major surgery that kind of left me homebound. I could barely walk down the hall and it was months and I’m a really active person. I like to go, go, go all the time, and I had a new baby and three other kids. So I developed anxiety depression and PTSD. And the PTSD was the most difficult because the anxiety and depression, I went to talk therapy and I took antidepressants for and that seemed to help. But with PTSD, it was a constant cycling of everything that happened to me during that period of time and it just kind of took over my life. You know, I would be standing there and I might be talking to you, but that’s not what I was thinking. I was thinking about the doctor whose office I went to and she told me I wasn’t her problem anymore or waking up from that surgery and seeing this scar that ran halfway down my body for the first time. And what I found, my husband said like, “You should try coding,” and I thought to myself, “Are you kidding me? Like I don’t have enough going on? Great.” He kept saying it. I’m so angry about it. I’m like, “Fine. I’ll just do it. Just stop asking me about it.” And so I started with freeCodeCamp. And as I was doing it, I found that during that point of the day, those cycling thoughts stopped completely. And so it was a restful experience. For almost a year. I had no rest from that constant cycling and here I was like not only is this restful, but I’m learning something new. I’m interested in it. And I feel like I’m growing as a person. With that and then finding all of these amazing coding communities, I just really started to feel at home.
[00:08:24] SY: Wow! Oh my goodness! When you first told me that your husband suggested it as, you know, almost therapy, my reaction was your reaction like, “What? Coding isn’t therapeutic. Coding is a lot of thinking.” When I think of therapy I think it’s something that’s cathartic, I guess, or at least relaxing and I don’t think I would describe coding as either one of those.
[00:08:46] BH: My mom’s a therapist and I was talking to her about it this morning and I said, “I would love to see a study done where like we could get an MRI of the brain of someone that, you know, has PTSD and then get an fMRI of them while they’re coding and I would love to be able to see what that is.” Because, I mean, at least for me and I’ve talked to at least a handful of other people who have felt the same way about coding and how it helped them overcome these traumatic events in their life because of the required focus.
[00:09:18] SY: So do you think that it was purely the fact that coding requires… it demands your entire attention, you really, you know, maybe you could play some background music, but you can’t really multitask when you’re coding especially when you’re learning to code. Is it purely the amount of focus or is there something about the activity itself that you found so helpful?
[00:10:40] BH: I think it’s a little bit of both of those things. Yeah, it does require this intense focus when you’re learning a new skill. It also helped to build up my self-confidence because I was at a really low point thinking like, “What am I going to do with the rest of my life in the state that I’m in?” And then I started… you know, you see things produced on the screen and it’s a little bit like, you know, writing poetry or a novel or something because you have these tiny pieces that are all fitting together. And when you’re coding, you’re telling a story. So all of those little poems or methods that you’re writing, they work to create this bigger thing that someone can experience when they’re sitting down in front of your program or your site or whatever. So I think that, you know, it allowed me to engage this logical part of my brain that was so overwhelmed with the emotion of what I had gone through with this trauma. And so it’s like, “Hey, look, you need to refocus,” and my brain was able to do that but then also still fulfill that creative aspect that I loved so much from my past career.
[00:10:50] SY: When I was learning to code, I was also very surprised at how creative it was. It really is a beautiful outlet to create, well, beautiful things and it’s not… I don’t think that’s the reputation that coding gets, you know, from the outside looking in it looks like… well, looks like another language, but you don’t really get to appreciate how creative it can be I think until you really do it.
[00:11:11] BH: Yeah, absolutely, and there’s so much. I mean, it doesn’t just have to be front-end stuff that is creative or beautiful.
[00:11:18] SY: Right. Yeah.
[00:11:21] BH: I mean when you’re really delving into it, it is like another language, but it’s something that speaks to you in a new way and I find that that like also opens my mind to all of these possibilities that I didn’t know existed and I feel like too that’s the beauty of science-fiction novels. You read them, you’re like, “Wow, I never would have thought that,” and as I delve more and more into code, I feel the same way.
[00:11:44] SY: Yeah. Absolutely. So at what point when you were learning to code as therapy did you think, “Oh, wait a minute, maybe I can make a career out of this”?
[00:11:55] BH: That’s a hard one. It both came on slowly and really quickly and I think there are some communities that really kind of helps me to find my place. So I joined MomsCanCode and I was able to find other moms who are learning to do the same thing and to see like, “Okay, these women are doing this as careers and they have children, so maybe this is something that I could do.” And then, you know, I found Flatiron School last December actually and I started getting involved in their free boot camp and I think their dean and co-founder Avi has been an amazing support in the beginning of my journey. And I remember he like kind of tweeted positive support in the beginning and I’m like, “Oh my gosh! Look, a coding celebrity just tweeted at me.” And then I like gained this confidence until finally I hit this point where I was co-working with some of the other MomsCanCode members. And my boss, as I was teaching these English classes, sent me an email and said, “Hey, what classes do you want to teach next semester? These are the two I’d like you to teach.” And I thought, “I can’t do this anymore because it’s not fulfilling me in the way that I need and it’s not good for my family either.” So I said, “You know what? I’m going to pursue something else. I’m ready to be able to find a career that’s meaningful and where I can build my knowledge and where I can grow in that position.” And that was really the moment when I quit my job, but I thought, “Well, I have to do it now,” right?
[00:13:39] SY: Wow! So when you were deciding, “Okay, I’m going to quit my job, I’m going to transition to this coding thing,” did you have a sense of exactly what you wanted to do with the code stuff you were learning? Like did you have a position or a company in mind?
[00:13:55] BH: No. And I feel like I still don’t have that way. The more I learn, the more I get excited about it. And I think for me after everything that I went through, it’s really important for me to be able to help other people. And one of the reasons why I love technology and I love coding is because you can help people on such a larger scale than anything that I’ve ever been used to before. So for me I would love to be part of a company that is able to help people using technology and to find ways for people to heal.
[00:14:38] SY: Well, I hope you find that too and any company would be lucky to have you. So I’m excited for that to happen as well.
[00:14:42] BH: Thank you.
[00:14:45] SY: You mentioned earlier that it was really inspiring to see other women who also had kids who were coding and had tech careers and all the stuff and that was a really big deal to you. Tell me a little bit more about why. Why was seeing those examples so important to you?
[00:15:04] BH: So it’s really challenging to be a mom and do other things. I am amazed by women who hold full-time jobs and have kids and run them and do all of those things or men, other parents. But there are so many challenges that most of the moms I know face, especially moms with young kids that kind of makes it hard for you to even see that there are opportunities out there for you. And you know a lot of that is we need flexibility when it comes to things. Moms are frequently responsible for things like doctor’s appointments or field trips. And those are things that I want to be able to take care of for my kids and that’s important to me and also to see it’s okay to struggle whether it’s in your coding or motherhood because there are times that are really difficult and to have a community around you that says like, “Oh, yeah, I had the same thing happen to me last week,” or, “I know what you’re feeling, what can I do to support you,” feels absolutely amazing.
[00:16:17] SY: Coming up next, we talked about the unique challenges that mothers face when learning to code and what we can all do to help support them. But being a mom also comes with some advantages. We talk about what those are and how they come into play when looking for a job. And after the break, we’re introducing a brand-new segment called Tales from the Command Line and it’s really good. It’s up next after this.
[00:16:45] 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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[00:19:28] SY: We’re adding a brand-new segment to the podcast called Tales from the Command Line. (Music) It gives us a chance to dig into one particular part of the episode and hear a different perspective from a really experienced developer in the field, Scott McCarty.
[00:19:42] SM: (Music) Yeah. My name is Scott McCarty. I am a principal product manager and I focus on containers, like all the technology within containers that enables Red Hat Enterprise Linux and OpenShift.
[00:19:55] SY: Let’s begin. So Bekah talks about using coding as a form of therapy and as a way for her to manage, to deal with the PTSD that she was diagnosed with, and that sounds like a beautiful idea to me, you know, that technology can be a way to take care of yourself and to, you know, relieve stress, to deal with mental health issues. But depending on the role you have, it can kind of go the other way too, where being technical and the job that you have in tech can actually cause PTSD or at least cause a very, very high stress situation and not be very healthy. And I understand you have some experience with that.
[00:20:37] SM: Yeah. So like when I first started coding, you know, I was back in college and it was fun. Like I would do side projects, like I programmed a Pacman game and it was super fun. And I could work it on 11 hours and I didn’t care, right? And I was super into it and it was therapeutic. But then as you kind of like slowly but surely progress into your career like one day you wake up and you’re like, “Wow, I’m really stressed out and I’ve got like these deadlines and this and that, and worse, I ended up in the operations for a long time. And when you’re in operations, you have to do things like… I remember, you know, plenty of stories where I would be out with my friends Saturday night, it’s 1 A.M. we’d been drinking and like a server goes down or like actually a whole service would go down and you wouldn’t know what’s going on and you’re like literally going, you know, on your phone. I’d have a command line. I’d have an SSH, you know, client and I’d literally be typing commands on my phone and like in a remote server on a live server like troubleshooting some network problem.
[00:21:30] SY: Wow!
[00:21:31] SM: I mean, I remember a time on Valentine’s Day I did this, like in the middle of dinner. I had to do it because it was like a really a critical service that we had down and it was a customer that was paying us a lot of money.
[00:21:39] SY: Oh, man!
[00:21:40] SM: And I did that for four years, four and a half years straight. I was on call with basically no break. I think I took maybe one two-week vacation in there, and it was during a period in time when my dad passed away.
[00:21:51] SY: Oh, no!
[00:21:52] SM: So like it was just a really… and I was going to school three classes and working probably 50-ish hours a week 50, 55 hours a week, plus taking three classes.
[00:22:01] SY: Wow!
[00:22:02] SM: I mean, it was just a long. Yeah, you can definitely end up in a… I didn’t have diagnosed PTSD, but like I think I definitely had some baggage from that for a long time, like it took a while to unwind from that.
[00:22:12] SY: And when you talk about being on call, just to paint a picture of what that looks like, what does that mean? What does that look like when you’re on call?
[00:22:22] SM: On call is like, you know, you’ve set up some kind of monitoring system, typically you’ll set up another computer system, which is even funny because that’s another thing that can fail, which is even scarier when that thing fails. But it’s a thing that basically monitors the other computers and then it will typically be connected to either an email system or a text messaging system and it will be able to shoot at, you know, nowadays it’s almost all text messages. Back in the day it would page people. But now, you know, it will send you a text message and it’ll say, “Hey, service X, Y, Z is down.” You’d essentially write these little tests that would basically run every minute or two minutes and then essentially this monitoring system would run these tests and some of the tests, depending on how sophisticated they are, you could embed some of the information from it in the text message and then basically you’re on call. So when you’re on call, you’re essentially the person that is responsible for answering those text messages. So there might be three or four people that get those text messages. So, you know, like your boss is getting them and they’re like, “Hey, is Scott answering this text message? What’s going on?” So you’d like respond to the text message, acknowledge it say, “Okay, I’m looking at the problem,” which is almost like checking the problem out of GIT and then now you own the problem and now you’re like logged into a server and you’re basically troubleshooting it and that could happen anytime 24 hours a day. It doesn’t matter if you were asleep, you know, awake, it’s like you’re on, you know?
[00:23:41] SY: Yeah.
[00:23:42] SM: And typically companies will have people be on call for like 24 or 48 hours or maybe three days. But like when you’re in a small company, you’re just on call all day every day, like Saturday, Sunday, Monday, it doesn’t matter, you’re always on call 24 hours a day. It’s like you kind of live with this hovering over your head knowing that any moment you could get paged.
[00:24:01] SY: Yeah. I was going to say, how does that change your plans? Is that mean that you’re always carrying a laptop with you? You can’t go to remote destinations where you don’t have internet connection? You know, it feels like something that could really impact the way you live? How did it affect your life for those four and a half years?
[00:24:18] SM: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you’re dead-on, like I think it does affect your life and you don’t even realize it. Typically like sysadmins will carry it like a badge of honor, like “I’m tough,” like you kind of end up getting into this kind of macho thing where you’re like, “I can handle this,” and you start to think, “Oh, I carry my laptop everywhere.” It’s like carrying your tools, you know, or something. But the problem is and like talking about self-care and like therapy and all these things, like you end up letting your physical, you know, attributes go, typically you don’t like… it’s not like you’re going to go on a five-hour hike on a mountain with, you know, your laptop and it’s not like you’ll have internet access. So you’re right, subconsciously, probably. I think during that time I probably gained more weight than I had ever gained, not that I gained a lot but I gained a bit and I was doing less physical activity. It wasn’t until I was not on call anymore that I started to like really dedicate a lot of my life to physical activity and like really get into it. But yeah, like taking even a two-hour break felt, you know, strange, even a one hour, even to go in a gym where you might have good internet connectivity and run for an hour was like kind of hard, like it would weigh on your mind because you’re like, “Oh, man, if I get paged while I’m running and then I don’t have my laptop and I’m sweaty and I can’t do this.” Yeah, like there’s definitely a subconscious element of that.
[00:25:30] SY: Tell me about that Valentine’s Day. How did your date feel about you troubleshooting on your phone in the middle of dinner? How did that go?
[00:25:39] SM: Oh, yeah, that was always great. I mean like your significant other would be used to the fact that have to do this, but they’re still annoyed.
[00:25:47] SY: Yeah.
[00:25:48] SM: So like I remember I was at like my… I think we’re at my favorite restaurant, which was sad. It’s a chain restaurant, but it’s Red Robin, and we were sitting there and eating and like literally we’re in the middle of like I had a sandwich in my hand and, you know, like my phone vibrates, and I’m like, “Oh,” kind of the PTSD kicks in and you’re like, “Oh, I got to like check the page,” it was a smartphone at the time, but like check the text message and then look down and I’m like, “Oh, it’s down,” that has all these different… I knew exactly the criticality of it. And so then I was like, “Hey, sorry, I got to like log in to the server,” and she was like, “All right, whatever,” like annoyed. Like, “Okay, do your thing.” And I was like, “All right!” I got it done in like, you know, sub 5 minutes.
[00:26:32] SY: Oh, that’s not bad. That’s pretty good. But it totally killed the vibe, didn’t it?
[00:26:35] SM: It does kill the vibe.
[00:26:36] SY: Yeah.
[00:26:37] SM: And I had spent and invested a tremendous amount of time in our monitoring system to make sure… like when I first got hired at that company, we would get paged 30 times a day and it was crazy and we were just… so what happens? You would be desensitized. You’re like, “This isn’t real,” like there would be all these false pages that weren’t real and you’d be like… and literally the tradition at that time was, “Well, give it another five minutes and see what happens, it will come back up.” And you’re like, “Okay, that’s not the right way to design a fault system, like, you know, something that detects faults in another system.”
[00:27:11] SY: Yeah.
[00:27:12] SM: Because you want to know that the faults are real and it’s not coming back up. So I spent probably the first year and a half, eighteen months like designing everything so that when we got a page, it was real 98 percent of the time. So by the end we got paged way less. We would get paged like once a week, once every two weeks, but when it got paged, you knew it was real, like you’re like, “Okay, this thing is really broken.” And so we got really good at writing the tests so that they would detect actual failure not like partial failure. And then we designed a system where some of these things would log things. So in the morning we’d check the logs and we’re like, “Oh, there was like sort of this partial failure last night, let’s go figure out what caused that,” but it wasn’t enough to take it out all the way so we didn’t worry about it and we had to kind of decide our risk tolerance. So by the time that Valentine’s Day episode happened, I knew it was real, I had to login, I had to figure out what it was because it was going to be something real.
[00:28:02] SY: Well better to be interrupted with a real issue than a false alarm.
[00:28:05] SM: True. Absolutely.
[00:28:09] SY: Yeah. So if anyone is going to be on call or has a job that involves an on-call component, what advice do you have for people to make that as stressless, is that a word, as unstressful, there we go, as possible? How do we manage our stress in those on-call situations?
[00:28:27] SM: Number one is make sure that there’s what they call an on-call rotation, so that there are different people that are responsible at different times so that you’re not the only person on-call. I did it. Again, I would maybe pride in the fact that we didn’t have another sysadmin for like a year and a half. So like I was just on call all day, every day for definitely a solid two and a half years. But make sure you have other people that are on call, that are the primary person responsible. That’s probably number one. Number two is to my other story, you know, make sure you absolutely tune the fault monitoring system so that you’re only getting text messages or pages for real problems because you will get burned out if you get paged 30 times a day, like that will just absolutely burn you out. And then if you’re looking at a place that you’d want to work, make sure that they have a good system of how to get people up to speed. Like I’ve heard horror stories of like, you know, the first day you start you’re on call and then you’re like trying to troubleshoot some system that you don’t know anything about.
[00:29:26] SY: Yeah.
[00:29:27] SM: That’s a nightmare, like you got to have almost like… you got to have like a wingman, like where you kind of come up to speed and learn how to be part of the group and learn how all the systems work, like that definitely is part of it. I think most people know that, but like I would definitely say that’s a red flag. If you interview somewhere, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, you’re going to be on call the first week, how do you feel about that?” You’re like, “I don’t really feel good about that.”
[00:29:50] SY: (Music) Yeah. Yeah. And now back to the interview. I can imagine and assume how time-consuming and difficult it is to juggle raising, you know, any amount of children let alone four kids with something as, you know, demanding and consuming as learning to code. But tell me a little bit more about what that actually looks like. How does that balance that juggling? How does it play out on a on a day-to-day basis?
[00:30:18] BH: Yeah. I think it’s Jim Gaffigan, the comedian, that has a quote that someone asked him what it’s like to have five kids and he said, “Well, imagine you’re drowning and then someone throws you a kid,” and it’s definitely like that. So, you know, you’re just doing what you can to make every day work. And for me before having kids, I was very focused on control and schedule and for as long as I can remember, probably since high school or junior high age I had everything in my day scheduled. And when you have kids that’s not possible.
[00:30:58] SY: Oh, man!
[00:31:00] BH: They want to wake up in the middle of the night or like have parties. So there’s always something that you have to be flexible with and in many ways I’ve definitely grown as a person because I’ve had kids, because it’s forced me to come out of my comfort zone, to do things that make me nervous. But I know that in the day I have to take care of my kids. I have to get them to school. I have to make them their meals and 75 snacks, but I also have to have time for myself. Because if I don’t take that time for myself, I’m definitely not nearly as good a parent. So I mean time is always the challenge and there’s always different creative ways to try and find that time when you have kids that do need you all the time.
[00:32:00] SY: And that’s one thing that I really appreciated about something you tweeted recently where you said, “When I started coding a year ago, I did 20 to 30 minutes at a time and that was an accomplishment. As I fell in love with coding, I overcame the impossible and found two to four hours a day to code,” which is definitely an accomplishment. I’ve always been a believer that we have more time than we think that we do, you know, like if we are super disciplined and have schedules and move things around and rethink things, I think we can squeeze a little bit more out of our day than it might initially seem possible. So for you, 20, 30 minutes to 2 to 4 hours is a pretty big job. How did you do it?
[00:32:41] BH: Yeah. So I think, you know, part of it is definitely you have to fall in love with what you’re doing because if you would have told me a year ago, “Oh, you could find three hours to do this every day,” I probably would have been really angry and like just get out of my face.
[00:32:57] SY: Yeah.
[00:32:58] BH: But then as I grew to love it, I don’t know, maybe kind of like a new relationship, like you want to be with that person more and more and you find ways to be with them and the same thing for coding. So for me, I’m really disciplined about getting up early in the morning. So recently I’ve been pushing to get up at 4:30.
[00:33:19] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:33:20] BH: Yeah. I code until 6:30 when I get the kids up for school. And then if there’s nap time or if the kids have done their chores they have time for TV, then that’s usually the time that I’m spending coding whenever I have five or ten minutes, my computer is there and I’m coding or I’m reading about code.
[00:33:45] SY: Wow! What do your kids think about this? Are they aware? Are they able to appreciate that Mom’s doing this coding thing?
[00:33:54] BH: Yeah. So it’s funny. My two-year-old said to me recently, I was on the computer, she goes, “Are you coding? Good job.”
[00:34:00] SY: Oh my God! It’s precious!
[00:34:03] BH: Yeah. And this morning, my four-year-old, I don’t know what he needed, he needed something and he went in and got his dad and said, “Well, I can’t get Mama, she’s coding right now.”
[00:34:15] SY: That’s right.
[00:34:16] BH: So they know that’s like my precious time to be coding. And my nine-year-old, we started a coding club at his school, my friend and I. So we’re teaching fourth through sixth graders how to code and he loves it because he loves video games and the idea that maybe one day he can program his own video game and…
[00:34:34] SY: That’s right.
[00:34:35] BH: My seven-year-old likes the women coders on Instagram because she’s a fan girl.
[00:34:45] SY: So what does your husband think about all this? This is kind of his idea and it’s been a year, a little more than a year since you started. What does he think about what you’re up to in your progress?
[00:34:56] BH: Yeah. I think that he’s pretty proud of me and it’s amazing to kind of see where he’s grown as a coder and also how much more I can understand him now.
[00:35:06] SY: Yes.
[00:35:09] BH: So I get his journey that, you know, when he was learning to code, I was so frustrated like, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” And now I’m like, “Okay, I’m doing the same thing. I get it.”
[00:35:21] SY: Yeah. I had a similar experience with my husband. He’s an engineer and he’s been in tech, you know, since he was a kid, since he was two, and when I learned to code, five, six years ago now it was awesome how much better our conversations were. We always have good communication, but like now I could talk about the stuff he could talk about, you know, and it was… and I said to him, I said, “What did we ever talk about before I knew about code?” But now like tech is kind of the main thing that we geek out about together. So I like to think it’s brought us closer together. So when you’re talking about being a mom and having four kids and just time management and scheduling and all these things and also the PTSD and the depression anxiety you talked about, I can tell that you’re obviously a very strong and capable person to get through all of that and to be where you are today. But I also assume that you’ve had support along the way to kind of get you to this position and I’m wondering, how do you leverage community or the people around you to help you be the best person you can be and to help you overcome some of these challenges?
[00:36:28] BH: Yeah, that’s such a great question. And I think the most important part for me has been honesty and vulnerability. Generally speaking, I’m an introvert when it comes to emotions. I have a really hard time talking about it. But after going through a trauma where I was stuck on a couch and I couldn’t do anything for myself, I was forced into this space where I had to ask for help and it really helped me to grow as a person and to tell people like, “This is what I need” or “I’m stuck” or “I’m feeling really bad about the way things are going right now.” So for those online communities, it’s been an amazing support because I found other people who feel the same way and I feel like there’s this constant community around me that has rallied to support me or to offer me words of encouragement. And sometimes when you’re having a bad day as a code newbie, all you need is someone to say like, “Hey, I think you’re doing a good job,” or, “You’re being too hard on yourself.” And so, you know, tweets like that, I love Twitter because there has been that great community and I’ve met some amazing developers on Twitter who have just offered me so many things whether it’s been work or advice or words of encouragement that have kept me going and you know the same thing with the CodeNewbie Community. I look forward to that every week. So it’s kind of like this push like, “Hey, I’ve got these people here and I’ve been talking to them for the last year and I want to be there as part of this group,” and the same thing with MomsCanCode and they all kind of address different parts of what I need and, you know, that’s life and coding and motherhood and trying to be the best that I can be at all of those things.
[00:38:31] SY: I love what you said about how different communities can play different roles and fulfill different needs. I really don’t think that anyone will ever find one community or one person to take care of everything. But if you can pull support on the coding front from this community and then get support from just being a mom doing something new, you know, in this other thing and you can kind of pull them all together, then you’ll have a great system to cover all your needs.
[00:38:58] BH: Yeah, absolutely. And I think -- I was talking to my dad this morning about online communities and how important I think they are because I’m from a really small town. There’s not that many people doing tech. There are fewer women changing careers to go into tech and so it can feel really isolating. But when you have these communities of people and to know them online for me is just as important as knowing someone in person. There’s this unique aspect of knowing that I can tweet something at three o’clock in the morning when I’m up with my kid and somebody else is out there to provide me some support. It’s just, you know, this comfort blanket or something. So there’s always that connection to make with other people.
[00:39:55] SY: You have a repo that you created called Moms Learn Tech. And in that repo, it’s a bunch of really amazing resources and challenges and organizations, and scholarships, and conferences, and all kinds of things to help moms who are looking to level up and get more technical. Tell me about why you created that repo specifically for moms.
[00:40:19] BH: So we all know that there’s a challenge that women face coming into tech or staying in the tech. The numbers for women in tech are really low, but I don’t think there’s a really good breakdown of how many moms there are in tech, but…
[00:40:33] SY: That’s true. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:40:35] BH: It’s got to be low because there are a lot of challenges that women are facing. We don’t want to have to choose between being a mom and having a career. We want to be able to have it all and I think that that’s absolutely doable. But you have to change some perception of what it is to work hard and to be a mom in tech. And so some of those things revolve around work flexibility which we often need to be able to get our kids to school on time or if a kid is sick, but also things like paid returnships, moms coming back from after raising their children for years.
[00:41:21] SY: Returnships. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before. Tell me more about that. What is that?
[00:41:27] BH: So the idea is a person is returning to work after taking some time off to do something. And so a lot of this we find with moms because we’ve taken time off to do things with our kids and that doesn’t mean we were sitting at home doing nothing the entire time, right? And so I think that’s one of the motivations behind this repo is also to say, “Look, we have these skills and we haven’t just dropped our lives for the last five or ten or twenty years and done nothing. We’ve advanced ourselves. We’ve learned new skills. We’ve developed skills that we couldn’t have if we weren’t parenting our children. Now we deserve opportunities.” And some of those opportunities do require things like childcare or flexibility or health care benefits. And also, you know, one of the biggest things I find, I would love to go to meetups or to conferences, but that’s really difficult to do as the primary caretaker of my children.
[00:42:33] SY: Yeah.
[00:42:35] BH: So one, is there a travel stipend? Are there diversity tickets? Is there childcare? Are there online versions of things? That’s why I love MomsCanCode because their conference, the last two conferences they put on were online and they were recorded. So if you want to attend you can and it’s okay if your kids are yelling in the background, right? You can still gain that knowledge or go back and re-watch things. So all of these things I think can encourage people who have this very unique perspective and I’m all for diversity in the workplace because I think that it will only help to make things better. So when we have this unique perspective that we’re not accommodating, then you definitely lose something in the business side of things.
[00:43:26] SY: What can the tech industry or I guess maybe not even the whole industry just everyday developers who are not moms, what can we do to be more helpful?
[00:43:38] BH: I think supporting moms in their journey is the biggest thing that you can do and supporting organizations that support moms as well. So knowing that it might not be a traditional path that they’re taking but championing that path that these moms are doing, support what they’re doing, offering them words of encouragement sometimes can be the best thing because if we’re talking about Impostor syndrome, I think moms face it a lot because of all of those extra challenges that they see every day. And absolutely showing support and value for women and moms specifically in the workplace and their needs is the number one way that I think we can help moms really find a place in the tech industry.
[00:44:28] SY: We’ve talked a bunch about the things that make it hard to learn to code while being a mom, but I also assume there are a lot of benefits to the experience of raising four other human beings and, you know, creating products and building code for the rest of the world. What are some of the strengths, the pros of being a mom and learning how to code?
[00:44:51] BH: I sat in on this webinar a handful of months ago and the person that was being interviewed runs a boot camp and he said that some of his strongest workers are moms. And I think that’s fairly accurate because one of the things we do really well is time management because we don’t have time to waste, it’s now or never today. And so when you’re forced to see that goal in front of you, you’re not going to waste your opportunities, you’re going to take it and run with it. And so because of that I think that we’re also really driven and we know what our worth is.
[00:45:36] SY: I also feel like it’s a bigger price for you to take time away from your kids, like that’s expensive for you. You know, that’s emotionally expensive for you, that’s time expend. In every way, it’s a huge ask. So I can imagine you thinking, “Okay, well, if you want me to, you know, get a babysitter or not see my kids for X hours a day, well then it needs to be worth it.”
[00:46:02] BH: Absolutely. I mean, you have to figure out what your time is worth. That’s so important. And childcare, if you -- I’m so lucky to have parents that are giving and live near me because child care is so expensive and so to try and balance the costs of that, but you’re right, being away from your kids, it has to be worth it, both in the short-term and the long-term. There’s no time to waste when you have a family.
[00:46:33] Yeah. What advice do you have for moms who are listening or maybe people who are looking forward to being a parent soon and are thinking about jumping into code and trying to, you know, be developers? What advice do you have for them?
[00:46:47] BH: I would say it’s okay to take it slow. Find a good community that can understand what you’re going through on both sides of things, both parenthood and coding, because you face really unique challenges in both, and then also be really gentle with yourself during your journey because it’s not going to look like anybody else’s and that’s just not a healthy attitude to have. It’s focus on what my journey is here and where I want to be. So I love setting goals. I set my goals every Monday on Twitter just so I have some accountability and then compare where you are to where you think you’re going to be. And you might look back in one week, two months or one year, and really realize, “Wow, I’ve learned so much over that time,” but you wouldn’t realize that if you’re comparing yourself to somebody else. So, you know, focus on your journey and what’s best for you and your family.
[00:47:54] SY: Yeah. Well, that was beautiful. Next, you want to do some fill in the blanks?
[00:47:58] BH: Absolutely.
[00:48:01] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:48:02] BH: Bekah, you’re not going to change the world.
[00:48:05] SY: Oh, wow! Who said that? Okay, let’s not call them that.
[00:48:06] BH: I can’t say who said it. I was in college and I wanted to be an international human rights lawyer and this adult in my life was troubled by the fact that I thought that I could go out and do all of these great big things. And I think maybe she was trying to set me up to not feel like I was failing at things, but I don’t think that that’s true. I think that you can change the world by talking to one person who didn’t expect you to talk to them or by providing words of encouragement or just sharing your story and listening to someone else’s story is a very basic and easy way to change the world.
[00:48:57] SY: Number two, my first coding project was about?
[00:49:00] BH: When I had my first time full-time job I was a community organizer in a really tiny nonprofit and I went in on I think Thursday for my first day and my boss said, “Go home and learn HTML and CSS over the weekend.”
[00:49:18] SY: Wow! Okay.
[00:49:19] BH: And I said, “Well, okay.” And at the time I was 21, my husband and I were engaged at the time and he knew some computer stuff. So I drove to his parents’ house. And I said, “Okay, you’re going to have to teach me HTML and CSS.” And so I learned enough over the weekend to be able to use Dreamweaver on Monday to update our website.
[00:49:39] SY: Yeah. Nice! Well done. How did it feel when you did that?
[00:49:42] BH: I was really proud of myself. And even looking back on it now, I’m even more proud of myself because to tell someone to learn HTML and CSS over the weekend is really not that reasonable.
[00:49:56] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Number three, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:50:01] BH: Your journey is so much of who you are and I’ve kind of talked about that, but it’s important to not compare yourself to others but also to be able to ask questions when you need help.
[00:50:17] SY: Yeah. I love that a lot. Oh, I think so many people in our community and people who are just getting into this field are I think a little too focused on trying to look like they know everything and it doesn’t work and it doesn’t help either.
[00:50:33] BH: Yeah.
[00:50:34] SY: So yeah, I think the more open we can be and the more honest we can be, sometimes even just with ourselves of where we are and where we need to be and what we need to work on I think the better.
[00:50:44] BH: Yeah. And I have mixed feelings. I feel like I want everybody to know I’m a code newbie and I had someone ask me to mentor them and I thought, “I’m really not in a stage where I feel comfortable in mentoring someone.” So, you know, being honest with that too even if you want to help somebody. It’s okay to say, “I would love to help you, but I’m just not in that position where I can right now.”
[00:51:08] SY: Yeah. Yeah. It’s this interesting place of being honest and transparent but also not selling yourself short as well, I guess the other extreme of it, right, is saying like, “Oh, I’m not…” you know, coding for two, three years and thinking like, “Oh, I’m not ready to apply for a job,” when you might actually be ready and you just don’t feel like it. So yeah, having that balance of being honest about your skills, but also making sure to push yourself and not selling yourself short is it’s hard, it’s hard to find that line.
[00:51:37] BH: Yeah.
[00:51:38] SY: Well, thank you Bekah so, so much for telling us your story and being so open and honest with us. I mean like I said, I’ve always been very in awe of you online and now I’m even more impressed and blown away. So thank you so much for spending time with us. You want to say goodbye?
[00:51:52] BH: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. This is a dream come true.
[00:51:56] SY: And that’s the end of the episode. Let me know what you think. Tweet me at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.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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