08 October 2012

Michelle Glauser, Hackbrighter

If you know me personally, you know that my tendency to keep mum about personal things like what I'm currently up to has gotten even stronger in the last few years (and there are good reasons for that, I feel). I have to point out that not telling people about your plans makes you more likely to complete them, because telling people gives you a similar psychological satisfaction to actually completing whatever (true story, I read it here).

However, since I've invested quite a bit of money (all of our wedding donations and more), this plan won't last long, and I hear that blogging about it is a good thing to do, here goes:

I'm becoming a web developer in ten weeks, specializing in Python (if you don't know what that means, just call me someone who works with programming computers and internet stuff, and we'll leave it at that). I'm enrolled at Hackbright Academy.

There it is. And though it may seem really random to some people, I feel totally amazed to realize that this is a better path for me than focusing on the theoretical and literary side of technology in the world of academia. I have always loved internet technology (hello, read this blog and you'll know that), so it seems kind of crazy to me that it never occurred to me to go in a more technical direction.

In fact, I feel a little annoyed that no one told me about the possibilities--I was in technology clubs all during school, I learned some Visual Basic 6 back in the day, I worked as a "Customer Technology Assistant," I'm the one my parents ask about how to do things online, and I've never been quiet about my love for techie stuff. So why didn't anyone ever say, "Michelle, you actually aren't that great at writing analytical essays, but you're really interested in computers. Did you know that you can study how to make them do all sorts of cool things?" (Okay, maybe not that part about not being great at analytical essays, though it's true.)

I blame that failure to help me discover my niche on my gender and the place where I was raised. In Utah, women are encouraged to get educations, but it's often expected that they will earn degrees in the more theoretical, education-based areas and use that education to . . . be a stay-at-home mom. So why encourage a woman to develop skills that clearly point to a career? And why point a woman to a field that is considered a "science" at all? Don't women hate math and science?/Aren't women not as good at math and science as men? (Okay, yes, I do hate higher math, but mostly because I'm too lazy to figure it out, and I'm trying to get over that hatred now that I see its application.) I want to call every K-12 school I can find and ask to be included in their career days so that I can tell all the girls, "Women can rock at web development, here are some cool things I've built that you could build too, please join me because being a dev is awesome and here are all the different kinds you can be!"

Did you know that the amount of female developers has decreased since the 80s? It is now down to about 9%. That is sad. I mostly don't worry about working with a majority of men since I've had good experiences working with men in the past (Wil, here's pointing to you), but this article makes me see the possibilities for problems. I think that the only away to fix such gender-related problems is by not avoiding situations where they could be, but rather forging a place for other women. 

For this shift, San Francisco is ideal. People have been suggesting cheaper places to live to me for several months now, but the fact is that San Francisco has meetups every single night for people to learn more about their subjects of choice and to help each other. Networking is also very important these days, so there's that as well. I could always train in, but I think not having the stress and cost of the commute totally makes up for the more expensive cost of living. Plus, there are jobs galore for this kind of thing.

So how's it going, this new endeavor?

What is proving to be helpful is that I picked up a bit of Ruby on Rails over the summer (I was actually registered for the summer program--the first group ever--at Hackbright, but my foot problems made me need to defer). However, we passed up pretty much everything I knew by the third day.

My biggest challenge right now is memory. Maybe I'm completely wrong about this, but since we do Pair programming, I work with a different individual every day, and it seems like others somehow pick up specific details more quickly than I do. I have to refer back to instructions often, so I feel like I need to take the time outside of class to memorize details. I can read a lot of code just fine, but when it comes time for me to just up and write some using the code I can read, I can't remember exactly how the spacing works or if I need a colon, or where I put the parameters. I blame this on feeling like I could always look something up on Google for the past ten years. Why learn when the information is always available? Sigh.

Another challenge is focus. I blame this on the internet as well. I've always got so many tabs open and I'm constantly jumping from one task to another so quickly that I am forever having to remind myself what I'm doing. I think whoever I'm working with must notice that I say, "Okay" to re-focus myself at least twenty times per hour. To make focusing even more difficult, it's not like I need to focus for half an hour. I've got to figure out how to manage 8 hours per day, and that is really hard. The good thing about Pair programming is that it challenges both of you in different way and really helps you to have a good reason to focus.

Another challenge is energy. I wasn't built for working with people every minute of 40 hours a week. It tires me out so much that last week, I came straight home and slept while Michael made dinner, then I went right back to bed after eating. Obviously, this does not bode well for memorizing after school. I am re-energized by quiet time, and I feel like I learn best that way as well. So why not just learn on my own? Three reasons: having to answer to someone is extremely motivating. Paying a lot of money is also motivating. When I'm learning code on my own, everything is fine and dandy until I run into an error I can't figure out how to fix, even after googling it. Then I get so stuck that I have to try a different tutorial in order to continue, but I can't seem to ever complete one. With a teacher and other students right there with me, I don't feel as discouraged, and I can get the answers I need quickly. Christian is an amazing teacher. Any time I don't understand what I read about one concept, he is able to sketch it out on a whiteboard and explain it in a way that really works for me.

Overall, once I understand how something works, I find it absolutely amazing. That doesn't mean I don't have to refer back to manuals a lot. I'm also glad to be picking up on a lot of tech lingo and even some front-end web page design to add to what I already know (maybe I will use my new skills to re-do my blog design again--two times in one year, that's a record for me!).

I'm so glad to report that the other women in the program are absolutely fascinating and nice. Almost every one of us studied something quite different and realized recently that we wanted something more technical. The first girl I really got to know surprised me because she had also studied women's studies/literature outside of the U.S., and we both love editing. Several of us have talked about how cheated we feel by the tendency in K-12 education to not really inform girls about technical careers, and it feels great to know I'm not the only one feeling that way.

It feels so good to embrace my inner nerd. The developers I have met are accepting and quirky in hilarious ways (they do things like drop funny internet references in the middle of presentations or put "Meow" at the end of their code--seriously, check out Amazon.com's source code by right-clicking on their page!)

So that's what I think after week one. I'll be starting week two in about half an hour. Wish me luck.


  1. Glad to hear some details. Sounds cool.

  2. Good for you! Sounds like a great opportunity--and definitely right up your alley. Good luck with everything!

  3. And I'm skeptical about that study you read, I don't think it makes it completely true. I think it depends on the test subjects, and their background and behavior patterns when it comes to their work ethic. It can also depends on the sample size. It is also common that a lesser percentage of people achieve what they plan to do regardless whether they announce it or not. Basically, I don't agree with the study as much as you do.

  4. Ignore my email - I just needed to read you blog to get an update!! Very cool - I'm glad you're able to do the program :).