General Life Stories

Quick, say something!

Have you ever gotten a phone call you were absolutely not prepared for? I have that all the time. Today, I got a surprise call from someone. They were speaking Dutch, so I thought it was Vodafone trying to get me to buy something, but no…

Usually, I would like to think I am a very articulate person. I mean, sometimes people don’t believe it’s me on the other line because I sound a bit like a receptionist, but catch me off-guard and I will come off as either a bundle of nerves or a stoic robot. It was so embarrassing.

“Sure”, you say, “but nobody can expect to be fully ready to have a random chat, there will be a time when you’ll be caught off-guard”. You’re completely right. I still hate to be caught off-guard, though. If not for this, why did I practice so darned hard at Toastmasters for impromptu questions and speeches? I still have a long way to go, it seems.

I miss Toastmasters. I don’t miss being part of the board, but I miss the speeches. I miss racking my brains creating a cohesive story to tell and influencing people. I miss having to be quick-witted. I miss the socialization. Is it time to go back yet?

Computers Life Stories Programming

Quality vs Quantity: How Fast Should a Developer Work?

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back when I was interviewing for my current job, I said I couldn’t promise speed in my coding, but I promised to do my best and to learn fast. Lately, I have been feeling a lot of pressure to perform faster.

The project I’ve been assigned to is simple: I need to build templates for future web tools. They should be good enough to modify and easy to understand. Most of them are based on already existing tools. It’s an easy job, right?

Except for the fact that the tools I need to modify could be improved upon. They’re good tools, but I feel that I could try to make them more concise and easier to modify. I’m a newbie and I don’t know all the details on how to make my code as efficient as possible, but I want to leave something that is neat and easy to understand. The kind of code you hardly need to use the inspector mode to change, because it’s all in the code. But as I take my time to perfect the code and leave comments, the clock keeps on ticking. I should be done with most of my assignments already, but I’m lagging behind.

Of course, I could always just grab the old tools and modify them fast enough to make them *look* right, even if the code is a mess (because let’s face it, I don’t have  the skills to work both fast AND not use a bunch of dirty hacks in the process). I doubt my superiors would care, and my colleagues would definitively understand. I want to perform well, I want this first job as a developer to go well. I don’t want to disappoint anyone. If I just gave up my need to make the code better, I could do this job a lot faster and nobody would fault me for it — except for one person. I would be disappointed in myself.

Sure, I want to be a developer. I want to code for a living. I believe I am at the right place right now. That’s exactly why I don’t want to compromise. I’m not a complete perfectionist, it’s not that I want perfection. With the little knowledge I have, perfection is an unattainable dream at this moment. I just want to be able to write code in the way that anyone can understand what’s happening. I’m new and inexperienced and I’m slow, but I want to do the right thing. I’m afraid thinking this way may cost me my job, if you’re not fast enough, then you’re being inefficient. I know that. I’m not sure if I’m doing the right thing. I wonder if future Claw will look back at me and think “why are you so stubborn, stupid?”. There’s so much to do and I only get two days a week to do it.

I’ve decided to be slow. I’m too new to do a perfect job, and I’ll work as fast as I can without compromising the quality standards I’ve set for myself. I’ll be as neat if possible. If things take a turn for the worse, I guess I’ll deal with things then. I won’t let my fears win against me. I want to be a good coder.


Computers Life Stories Programming

Is two years too long to become a web developer?

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I first learned that you could become a developer without formal education in that particular field when I met a good friend who is a Swift developer.

At the time, I was struggling with the demands of society to finish my masters in English literature. I had started -and failed at- holding a normal desk job, and I was terrified of the prospect of working in an office setting (thanks to some drama and bullying I had experienced in the aforementioned desk job). I was working as an assistant teacher for children with special needs, and although it was a very fulfilling job, it was a tough job, and I felt culturally alienated from everyone I worked with. Mind you, they were nice people, and I liked most of them, but I felt as out of place as a circle in a group of triangles and squares.


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My developer friends, however told me that there was a whole world out there and that it would be pretty cool if I could explore it.  they said I could totally teach myself how to do this coding thing, even if it was just for myself. This was at the end of 2015.

I was not a complete computer noob, but I was pretty close to that. I had done a few Codecademy tutorials in markup language, but there were two things that happened that year that changed my life:

The Free Code Camp is this amazing website that helps you get better at javascript and other web technologies. It’s often better to pair it up with other resources but it gave me a good curriculum to work through by myself.

The Django Girls is this one-day event where they teach a bunch of women about how web development works and all the best practices. their tutorial is one of the best Django tutorials (and one of the best tutorials-period), I have ever encountered. In my case, my acceptance to this particular Django Girls led to earning a ticket to the biggest python conference in Spain.

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There I was, teaching myself and meeting people and feeling like everything was way over my head. People would ask things like “are you planning on learning as a hobby? Or will you make it a career?” and to be quite honest, that first year, I didn’t know.  I was so close to getting that masters degree it felt like a waste of time and money not to finish. I only needed one thing: the thesis and that was it. Also, working in an office was a scary thought. It meant having to deal with my demons and that scary voice in my head that tells me “I’m not good enough!”.

Time passed and soon it was already one year after I started learning how to code, and nothing much had changed in my life. A couple of weeks ago, I went to a MeetUp and talked to a woman who was very surprised that it took me that long from the moment I started to the moment I got my first job.

What can I say? I guess it was difficult to make the decision to throw away everything I had built up until then. Some people start with computational linguistics, or mathematics or some sort of engineering. I think that kind of background makes for an easy transition. As an English literature major, I remember going to a talk from the university about employability and prospects and having a university representative say “well, if you had wanted to get a job, you wouldn’t have studied what you did”. That was it, that was all I knew. It’s hard to think you’re worth something after being the butt of the joke for so long.

So then my second year rolled around and I decided to focus on this coding thing and a second issue showed up: what language to learn? There were so many languages. I had experience enough to know most people tell you to stick to one language and go for it. Some others ask you “what do you want to accomplish? Use the language you need to get your idea working”. I have issues with both these pieces of advice:

First, if you focus on the first shiny thing that comes across, you might end up learning a lot about that one shiny thing, but then you’ll get into this annoying mentality of “I have a hammer, and I will hammer everything in sight”. You see, different computer languages have different strengths and weaknesses. I know many people who have that one thing they know, and they know it very well, but can’t really understand anything else. I don’t particularly think it’s wrong to be a specialist per se, but I think it’s a bit shortsighted to ignore everything else in favor of the one thing you know. Sometimes you need one type of app, sometimes you need a different type. Learning about languages and how they can work together gives you a bigger toolbox than just a single hammer.

Second, if you already have a product in mind, I think it’s great to think about a language that will help you accomplish that. However, if you just want to learn how to code and don’t have any idea of where to start, it’s a bit scary to think about a project. I mean, you could potentially want to build the next facebook for cats, but somehow get stuck at the part where you’re supposed to add the meow-recognition login page. How much is too much to tackle? Are you good enough at assessing how good your skills are? Are you confident you can find all the information you want online? And once you find your answers in Stack Overflow, will you even be able to understand it? But hey, if you have the idea and the drive, I think it’s okay to go for it. My one advice would be to start small, with the stuff you know how to do, and then go deeper into small aspects you can tackle and so on.

What did I do instead of those two things? I allowed myself to have some time to go over everything I could get my hands on: Python, Ruby, JS, PHP, Java, HTML, CSS, Bash. I did a course on Linux administration, then Python, then JS and if you ask me if it was messy, yes, it was. I didn’t learn very deeply about any of those technologies but I started seeing patterns and learning about things I liked in languages, and things I didn’t like in languages. All the while, I kept going to MeetUps and helping out with events until I finally understood some of the lingoes a bit better. I discovered I liked Python as a language. I like how readable it is. I like learning about accessibility and clean code. My code might still leave a lot to be desired, but I could work in that direction.

Some people decide what language they want to learn based on which language is more in demand or what will give you a job. I’m an English major. Any developer language would give me more job opportunities than my whole life of academic endeavor. So I picked something I loved: Python and I started learning.

What happens next is not exactly what you are imagining right now. First, six months after I had started taking this coding thing seriously, I met some people who had set up a coding bootcamp for refugees. It’s called Re/start, and you should check it out. They’re lovely people. I am glad that I decided to participate with them. I learned a lot there. Personal circumstances made me unable to finish the whole curriculum, but those three months were a good investment.

After a month of code-induced burnout (studying 80 hours a week is not for the faint of heart), I decided to reach out and jump back on that horse. I also decided to start seriously applying for jobs. It just so happens that a friend of mine recommended me to do an internship type of thing at the company where he works and that’s where I am right now.

It took me two years. Most people will think it’s too long. I think that -without counting the time I was unsure about whether I should do this for real- I could say it took me half a year, that would sound better in this world where faster is always the way to go. But that would be discrediting all the personal growth I’ve done in between. I still have a long way to go, but at least I know where I’m standing.


Computers Life Stories Programming

One Push Per Day

It will be two years ago since I started dabbling in programming.

Here’s the next step: I am hoping to start doing more with my Github and I want to build a portfolio, so starting today I am going to do at least one push commit to Github. Wish me luck!

So here’s the plan: First, I’m going to recreate the Django Girls tutorial, so I have it fresh in my mind when I go as a coach in 14 days. Then, I’m going to be doing some other project-based Python and Django tutorials. I’ll also be following some other non-project base python tutorials on the side (to refresh my memory when it comes to the theory).

If I can get things right, I’ll probably be streaming the whole thing, just for fun and giggles, but feel free to drop by and say hi. I’ll be posting the streaming times in a future post.

So, what do you think of the plan?

Enjoy the weekend,

Life Stories

As I Take the Train 

As I Take the train I think of my friend, B. Let’s see if this story makes sense. I apologize in advance if it doesn’t. B was the girlfriend of my then-boyfriend’s best friend,  F. We didn’t have anything in common other than our gender, but we got along well. After all, her boyfriend and my boyfriend were friends. There’s a kind of sisterhood that’s born out of that kind of relationship.

I think that everyone has a friend you grew up with you compare yourself and feel inferior to. F and my boyfriend at the time (who we’ll call R to make things easier) had that kind of friendship. F was the womanizer, and R considered himself the hopeless nerd. It was made clear to me from the start that my relationship with R was not on the same level as F and R’s friendship. Bros before hoes, right? It’s hard to think of yourself as the “ho”in that equation. Especially if your significant other is the most important person in your life. I knew I would never be as special to him as he was for me.

F was R’s guide to the world of relationships, since he always showed off how easily he could pick up women. I understood that to be able to have a good relationship with R, I had to be on good terms with F.

F was not exactly good looking, but he was charismatic. He believed that women existed to serve men, and that a man should only consider marrying a virgin. He also thought that a woman’s ultimate worth came from the way she looked. R said he didn’t take F seriously, but he’d still take some dating advice from him.

I weighed 46 kilos at the time, and I still felt overweight. R would emphasize that “I didn’t look too bad, but there was a lot of room for improvement”. I wanted to weigh 40 kilos. Soon enough I found myself going hungry so I could get R and F’s approval. One time F came to visit and demanded I “do a twirl” and then congratulated R, because I had become “fine indeed”. B would sometimes be there, quietly staring as F complimented my appearance.

B and I had a somewhat good relationship, but I could never be honest with her. I wanted to. I wanted to tell her to run away and forget all about F. Tell her she was in an abusive relationship… But I was afraid that if I did that, it would be the end of me and R. If I ruined his friend’s relationship, F could convince him to find someone else. He was more important than me. In the end, hadn’t I moved to a different country for R? Hadn’t I forsaken a future of stability and my own family to be with him? Would I be worth anything without him? I kept quiet.

I kept quiet when I heard F say that B was worthless because she was not a virgin anymore, even though he was the one who took her virginity. I kept quiet when I heard him tell her she was not allowed to go outside without him. Going out to the fair with her girl friends was considered high treason. I kept quiet when he said she was a stupid whore because she’d had a boyfriend before him. I kept quiet when he started stalking another woman.

B would be locked home and F would be hanging out with us. As we headed out, F would say “I’ll drive you home, don’t worry”. Once in the car, he’d say he just needed to make a detour and would drive to this woman’s place and stare at the light of her apartment for hours. “I know she’s not a virgin, but I want her… I wouldn’t marry her of course,” F would say. It would make me feel uncomfortable. It happened several times. R would agree with me that it was uncomfortable, but he wouldn’t say anything about it. If I tried saying I wouldn’t go home with F, R would say it was just so much easier to go with him. They were friends, guy friends just need to be there for each other that way.

F was not someone to keep that kind of thing secret. B knew something was up. She’d ask me for advice “I just want him to look at me,” she’d say, and I felt like the worst friend on the planet. At one point F broke up with her. He told her the woman he wanted had given him the go ahead to have a fling, and that he’d come back to her. He said “I know you’ll take me back even if I cheat, because that’s how you’ll prove you love me”. I broke… I told her to forget about him. She took him back. I was so angry at her. I should have been angry at him, she was just a victim with Stockholm syndrome, but I got angry at her.

I guess what goes around comes around, though. I paid the price for being such a coward and such a bad friend. I moved back to Europe. I hoped I could take R with me, for a future here together. But… Bros before hoes, right? F said “he’ll never come to you. What do you think you are? You’re just a woman. You are the one who needs to give in to him”. He said R was comfortable where he was. It was my duty to give everything up for my man. I believed… I stupidly believed that I meant more to him.

“I’m sorry, Mami,” R said, “if I go there my mother will just be devastated. You just have to come back here”.

I had forsaken so much, my pride didn’t let me go back… But I couldn’t leave him. I stayed. I stayed for far longer than I should have.

The last time I saw F, he’d broken up with B. He was dating a girl eight (8)  years younger than him. She wasn’t even legally old enough for that kind of relationship. She’d been a virgin when he first took her. B still called him every week, asking for him to take her back, he said. Her phone number was different, though so I could never talk to her again.

I’m sorry B. I’m sorry I didn’t do more. I hope I’ve changed now.

I’d like to be the kind of person you could rely on. I can’t turn back time, but I promise you that I will help any woman in the same position as you were back then. I’ve learned my lesson. I’m sorry I learned it far too late.