Meet gSchool Graduate Erin

Our first class of developers graduated from gSchool last July. Since then, our graduates have been rocking the free world with their coding skills. We’ll be featuring gSchool students past and present, plus the people who mentor and employ them, in this new series on our blog.

Erin Drummond is a graduate of our first gSchool class. She’s now a software developer at Table XI. One year ago Erin was working as a manager in an operations role at a large daily deals company. Switching careers to become a web developer wasn’t even on her radar. We caught up with Erin to get the backstory and see how things are going in her new job.

Erin, tell us what inspired you to apply to gSchool. Did you have any experience with programming before you enrolled?

My decision to apply to gSchool came about pretty serendipitously, actually. I had been interested in programming, but I believed the stereotypes that you had to have a computer science background or be a math genius to be a programmer, and with my two liberal arts degrees I didn’t think I qualified.

I came across an intro to programming workshop led by two of the graduates of Hungry Academy, and decided to check that out to find out more about programming. Through that workshop I realized not only that I was capable of programming, but that I really loved it. It was really simple stuff like using puts, gets, and string interpolation, but it was enough to get me hooked.

I’d already been exploring the possibility of taking my career in a different direction before the workshop, but with even just a small taste of programming, I knew this was what I wanted to do. I started looking into different training options to learn to become a programmer for people like me with no programming background, and gSchool seemed like the best fit for me, hands down: it was the longest and most intensive course, a few of my friends had already been through Hungry Academy so I knew from them what to expect, and the employment guarantee really sealed the deal for me.

Tell us what you’ve been up to since graduating from gSchool. What kind of work are you doing?

After gSchool graduation I started my first programming job with a company called Table XI in Chicago as a software developer. Table XI is a full-service digital strategy and development consultancy that specializes in working with medium-sized businesses to create websites, mobile apps, and/or custom software.

In my first six weeks with Table XI, I’ve primarily been working on a legacy project that just had its first big deployment to production since I started working. I took ownership of many of the features in that deployment, and I had the opportunity to meet some of the client team in person a few days after deployment and talk to them about their experience with the new features. It was a great first project to work on, and I learned a ton.

I’ve also been involved with starting the inception process for a first time client, as well as a new project for an existing client. It’s been interesting to be involved in the very beginning of the process, working with a client to distill their vision and begin the first steps of the agile process with creating user stories and working on estimation.

I feel really lucky to have landed at Table XI. They are a great bunch of people who have all been incredibly supportive in helping me to continue my learning and happy to help in whatever way they can.

What surprised you the most about your experience with gSchool?

I guess there were a few things that surprised me about gSchool. I knew it would be intense and I’d learn an enormous amount in six months, but I didn’t know how much I would be able to build with what I learned in the program. Even as I was starting with Table XI, I thought as a brand new developer I’d have the training wheels on for a while and wouldn’t be able to complete features on my own, but by week two I was doing a lot of work on my own. I obviously had a lot of questions still and am lucky enough to work with great teammates who were happy to help, but a lot of the work I was able to do pretty independently and I wasn’t expecting that.

Another thing that I wasn’t expecting with gSchool is just how well it primes you to learn how to learn. A big part of my takeaway from the program is just knowing how to look up and read technical documentation, read other peoples' source code, and know how to go about solving complex questions that I encounter. Especially combined with the focus on TDD, gSchool helped to teach how to break up epic problems into small, manageable pieces. It sounds small, but I’m learning it goes a long way in the real world.

What would you tell others who want to become developers but don’t know where to begin?

If you’re interested in finding out more about development but feel like you don’t have the right background for it, don’t worry about it! There are so many resources available to help people discover programming, regardless of previous experience. Some of the resources I’d recommend to dip your toe in the water include online courses through sites like Code School or Treehouse. For women interested in programming, I have personally worked with two groups that I recommend highly, Girl Develop It and Railsbridge; check them out to see if there are any workshops or meetups in your area. In general, I have found the programming community to be very welcoming and people have embraced me as a newbie. It might sound a little intimidating to throw yourself out there, but see if there are any programming meetups in your area, and then go and introduce yourself to people, get a feel for the community, and ask any questions you might have - we’re a friendly group, I promise!

I’ve also found the programming schools themselves to be very welcoming to visitors and happy to answer questions or put you in contact with students you can talk to. If you live in an area where you can physically visit a school, see if you can pop in; if not, see if you can set up a Skype call with the instructors or some of the students to find out more about it.

What do you enjoy most about being a developer and where do you see yourself five years from now?

I think the thing I enjoy most about programming is the excitement that comes with learning a new, elegant way to approach a problem, and the thrill of standing back and looking at a problem you’ve solved. There have been a number of times I’ve talked over a solution to a problem with my technical mentor, and while I could have found a solution to the problem on my own, he’s suggested a much more elegant approach using techniques I’ve never heard of, or didn’t know how to implement. It’s really exhilarating to learn the new approach, and then stand back and look at your code and appreciate the clean implementation. This is the perfect field for that, too; there’s always going to be something new to learn, so these ‘a-ha!’ moments will never end.

I haven’t been in Chicago for long, but I’m already getting to know the local community through meetups, events, and mentoring students at a programming school in town. In five years, I see myself still programming primarily, and I hope to be at a point in my career where I can take the lead on complex and interesting new projects. I hope to also still be very involved in mentoring new and junior developers, speaking at conferences about all the nerdy things that I’m learning that excite me, and just helping to give back to the programming community that has been so good to me.

That’s a wrap! We here at Jumpstart Lab and gSchool are so proud of Erin. Stay tuned… we’ll be talking with Erin’s gSchool mentor and the good people at Table XI later in the series.

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