“There isn’t one way learning how to code. The most important thing is to find your way”. Christine, an art school dropout found her own way of learning with the motto of “just a little bit more”.

This is an interview with Christine and I hope you enjoy reading.

Please introduce yourself

I’m currently working as a Senior Software Engineer and Tech Lead at Clubhouse.io, where we build project management software. I specialize in frontend code, mostly writing JavaScript as my day-to-day language. As Tech Lead (TL for short) for the UX Platform squad, I plan my team’s workload and priorities so that everyone knows what they’re working on and where it all leads. I coordinate these with product & design leads, as well as engineering management to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

What was your background before learning to code?

This is going to sound like a weird, rambling answer because I had a weird, rambling background.

I moved to NYC to go to art school. Initially for fashion (which sounds absurd looking back now), but switched quickly to fine arts. Mostly painting. I got into freelance graphic design work a few months into school, and ended up finding steady part-time work at a local non-profit organization. This quickly turned full-time as I gained responsibilities on the marketing/event organization side, and I dropped out of school a year later to focus on work. Afterwards, I ended up getting a job at Wix.com’s NY office as part of the community outreach team.

What got you interested in coding and how did you learn to code?

I quit after a year of working at Wix, intending to start my own design agency. I had been making Wix websites and doing other odd design jobs on the side for a few years at that point. That’s when I started getting an interest in code, because clients started requesting web and app design work. Although I could produce decent-looking comps, I had no idea how they turned into clickable, living websites.

I never really meant to become a developer. I just wanted to know a little bit of HTML and CSS so I could make sense of my web-related designs. I started out just fiddling with how to change the color of a button. But then, I wanted to know how you could change that color when you moused over it. And how does the website know to change URLs when you clicked it? Wait, how does the website render graphics in the first place?

All those questions kind of just snowballed as I got addicted to learning “just a little bit more” about web development. About six months into my journey, by sheer luck, I ran into someone at a meetup who told me about Recurse Center. RC is a free programming retreat where people of all backgrounds and experiences come to learn together. It was perfect for me - no teachers or curriculum and no cost at all. I did a three-month batch and probably spent 16+ hours a day during this time teaching myself JavaScript (with the help of Google and my peers).

How did you get your first job in tech?

I attribute most of my success in getting a job to the Recurse Center. They have staff on board to help everyone with their unique job finding processes, whether you’re looking for your first ever junior role or you’re 20 years into the industry. They helped clean up my resume, highlight my portfolio, and connect me directly with the tech recruiters of tech companies. I ended up getting about 5 interviews and 2 offers with their help.

How did you prepare for an interview?

I did a lot of white board practice with peers at Recurse Center. We took turns asking each other questions while the other person attempted the solution at the board. At first, I couldn’t even solve the most basic problem. I realized how shallow my foundations were when I was unable to fully explain the code I was writing. Slowly, through practice and filling in the knowledge gaps, I improved.

I tried to do more traditional coding practice, like Cracking the Code Interview, but the academic-style learning doesn’t work for me. I mostly went with trial, error, and a lot of floundering forward in between.

Any obstacles that you have to overcome in learning coding?

It’s hard to say that I overcame obstacles. I think every positive turn in my life came with a lot of luck and the compassion of others. I did put in hundreds of hours, but none of this would have happened if I were alone.

I think my main obstacles were personal. I wasn’t making a lot of money at the time I was learning to code. I kept some freelance graphic design work, but I wasn’t able to focus on getting any new clients. I racked up credit card debt while holed away in my apartment, coding all day and night. Finally, I lucked out with Recurse Center because they offer financial scholarships to folks in underrepresented groups, like women. They gave me $6000 to attend my three-month batch, which was life-changing at the time.

I also just didn’t think of myself as an engineer. I don’t have a formal CS background. I don’t have a college degree. Why would anyone hire me over my MIT grad peers?

Tips for newbies?

Lean into your strengths. Do you have a knack for making things look good? Having visual, design sensibility is an incredible skill to possess as a frontend engineer. Are you great at connecting with others? Maybe you’d be interested in the dev advocacy side of things. Chase the areas you really enjoy, not the ones you’re “supposed” to be focusing on. There’s no one way to learn to code. The most important thing is to find your way.

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