What I’m Reading: Women in Tech by Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack

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This book came to me in a strange way. I was checking out my Twitter timeline and came across this tweet from an expert developer at Google. He basically said that he’d buy this book for anyone who DMed him, proclaiming it was essential for any woman entering the field of tech.

Now, I was a bit skeptical at first, but I went ahead and messaged him, asking if he was for real. He said he certainly was and asked for my address. Going against my natural instinct to withhold my home address from a complete stranger, I decided to trust the dude and gave it to him, hoping he wouldn’t send a bomb or come by and murder everyone in the house.

Thankfully, none of that happened. My book came in five days, and I decided to start reading it yesterday night, instead of continuing my binge of Sense8. Now, I haven’t even read a quarter of it yet, but I can confidently say that this book is definitely heaven-sent.

Women in Tech shares personal stories of women from a variety of amazing backgrounds while offering incredibly practical advice on getting a job, maintaining your sanity, and going above and beyond to become your own boss by starting your own company.

As a writer, I love a good story, so reading about Van Vlack’s journey from an introverted, precocious girl to stormy teenager to a powerhouse in tech was refreshing and eye-opening. Nothing in her story was predictable, and I found myself responding to her narrative with nods and little notes to her on the margins.

Inspired by her grit, struggle, and rebellious presence from beginning to end, I told myself one thing, “I can do this.” Meaning, I can excel in tech despite whatever doubts I or other people may have about my abilities. And the reason I can do this? Because I want it. 

I hate cliches, but this one is true: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” And I’m overflowing with the will to succeed as a web developer.

Before I let you go to hurry over to Amazon and buy this amazing book, I want to share some highlights I got from the section on resumes.

I’m just going to jump right in and tell you the sentence that made me the happiest in the entire chapter:

“One comment: Don’t bother with cover letters. It takes too much time to write one for each company, and I’ve never heard of a technologist being hired or not based on a cover letter,”(18).

Okay, those were two sentences, but I couldn’t resist adding the second one to drive the point home. Can we all just say amen? Cover letters are evil. That’s all.

Here’s a list of some other things she said that I thought was super helpful:

  • A good job description should have three things: minimum qualifications, job duties, and preferred qualifications. Usually, jobs list these in bullets. If you satisfy the first item listed in each category, apply for the job.
    • My reaction: Huh, I didn’t know that. I thought I needed at least 4/5 of the things listed in each part. Good to know!
  • Stay away from jobs that don’t list these three things. Also, be wary of buzzwords like “rockstar” or “ninja” because it usually signifies that the employer won’t pay you much because he/she thinks you should be grateful to work at their company. Other words that should set off red flags: “be able to work individually”, “chaotic environment”, or “odd hours.”
    • My reaction: Huh, okay, definitely need to keep these things in mind.
  • Your resume should actually be more than one page. In fact, developers usually have resumes that are 6 to 7 pages long. They list all their projects and describe them in great detail. Speaking of which, your projects and your skills are probably the only parts of your resume that will be read by a human, so make sure they offer valuable insight right away.
    • My reaction: WHAT?! 7 pages? And here I thought I’d have to keep my resume only one page long. I’m definitely posting all my projects and will be describing them in relevant detail.
  • Next, don’t include non-tech jobs in your resume, unless they connect to the job you’re applying to in some meaningful way.
    • My reaction: Woah, okay. That means my project section will have to be a lot longer since I’ve been working as an ESL teacher for the past five years.
  • Last piece, but certainly not least (See? This is why you have to get the book because there’s a ton more of great information about resumes), don’t include personal information about your life such as your religion, political affiliation, sexuality, marital status, number of children, and so on.
    • My reaction: That makes sense. I honestly don’t like having people know all those things about me anyway unless it comes up in a casual conversation.

And that’s it for now. I hope this was helpful to your as it was to me. I can’t wait to finish Women in Tech and share with you more of how it’s helping me on this path to become a tech boss.

What book have you read that has significantly helped your career? I want to know. So, please share!

Stay amazing,

CSS

 

 

Looking for a Mentor

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This week has been rough.

I feel like I’ve done a million things in terms of working on my projects and learning new concepts in web development but nothing’s complete. Of course, learning will take more time. Right now the focus is React, which at first glance, seems simple enough, but my gut tells me there’s more to it. I’ll have to dig deeper and push myself to fully grasp it so I can kill it on my final project.

This whole process of learning and building has highlighted a gaping problem in my coding journey: the lack of a real mentor.

I need an expert developer whom I can trust and feel safe with, someone who won’t make me feel lesser for the gaps in my knowledge. In other words, won’t look down at my stupid questions. Someone whom I can freely go to with my concerns without feeling like a bother. Someone who genuinely cares for my growth and success in the field of programming. Someone who can guide me around the future potholes and bring light to the dark places ahead. And, of course, someone who can help me get a job in the future. I want to reach my highest potential as a coder, and I honestly don’t believe I can do that alone.

I need a mentor.

It’s why I’m determined to go to the Women Who Code meetup happening here in Atlanta in the next few weekends. I want to find a woman coder and learn the essentials, especially what’s like to be a woman in a field dominated by men. How do I navigate the male programming culture and its intricacies–how do I deal with issues that could potentially get in the way of my thriving as a web developer?

People in general grossly underestimate the struggles women have to go through in the workplace, quickly dismissing women’s concerns as annoying gripes or “feminazi” chatter. Women want the same respect and human dignity given to men, and yet for some reason, this is considered some radical desire intent on destroying the “family”. It’s not. Women just want to live without having to fight unnecessary battles based solely on their gender. I wish society would: 1. Leave people alone. 2. Treat everyone with respect. 3. Treat everyone according to their actions and not according to their [insert identity here].

But of course, I’ll most likely be dead before such sweeping changes happen. All I can do is work hard to bring us closer to that ideal. Anyway, I’ve digressed too much.

I sincerely hope I can find a mentor in the meetup I’ve signed up for. I’m not feeling too confident about where I am right now.

Where’s my Yoda?

Question: How did you find your mentor?

Stay amazing,

CSS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Commit

 

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Okay, here we go.

Before setting up this blog, I was installing rails from my terminal to get started on this Sass tutorial on YouTube. The thing is, I missed the lesson on the topic a few days back at my coding boot camp, Digital Crafts, and I needed to catch up.

My Chrome has several tabs open on how to make a Soundcloud music player because I have their API key and have already started making a website that will feature only chill-hop music (How? I’ll figure it out. It’s what I do.), one of my top three favorite genres of music (the other two are alt rock and epic music–great for writing, by the way).

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The home page of my chill-hop player web app, using the Soundcloud API, made with express

If you’re lost, that’s okay. Three months before I dove into web development, I was lost too (and still am but in different ways.) Let me start from the beginning.

Six years ago, I graduated from a master’s program at Columbia University and made the grand decision of leaving the U.S. for Seoul, South Korea to teach ESL (English as a Second Language). Living abroad for the first time in a completely different culture did all the wonderful things you hear people talk about after time spent in a foreign country: you become wiser, more appreciative of other cultures, more understanding, your worldview expands, you find your true self, etc.

The challenges were great as well; there were times I suffered crippling homesickness and loneliness but learned to overcome the two as time passed. I spent the next five years teaching ESL in schools and community colleges and even went to Japan to teach in a small country town there, all while trying to become a published author in science fiction.

The return home was tougher this time around. I was almost thirty and didn’t want to continue teaching ESL, even though I had enjoyed teaching my students from past classes. And life as an aspiring author was not sustainable in any way or form. Might as well go live in a makeshift hut in the woods.

Deciding on my next career move loomed over my head, and I felt internal pressure to make a decision fast. I contemplated reapplying to Ph.D. programs in sociology or English literature (I hadn’t targeted the right schools the first time around),  but I asked myself, “Do you really want to spend the next five-plus years in school?” My gut answer was no.

What to do? What to do?

Luckily, my brother had enrolled in a coding boot camp, Digital Crafts, here in Atlanta, and sung to me its praises. Hmm, web development… I had taken C++ in high school and remembered how much I enjoyed it. Sometime three years ago, I had even wanted to return to school to study computer science.

Why not skip getting a second bachelor’s degree and try a boot camp instead? I loved challenges and my creative spirit told me I’d most likely enjoy the building and problem-solving aspects of programming.

Fast-forward to the present. I have found an intense passion for coding because I’ve found myself spending six to seven hours working and studying while not even batting an eye at the clock. I love this stuff. A lot.

Maybe even as much as I love writing (if you know how deeply I felt about writing–I’m talking god-level love here, ladies, gents, and others–you’d be surprised). But this boot camp consumes huge chunks of my time so I haven’t had the chance to write as much as I’d like to, but I will once August rolls in. That’s when I graduate. Excited.

And that’s pretty much it for now. Next time, I’ll update you on making my chill-hop music player, starting CS50 at Haaavad (Bostonian here), and giving you a peek at my capstone project, a web application to help writers write books. Yay. Calling it writeIt. Don’t steal that, folks. Just kidding.

Stay amazing,

CSS