You don’t drink Mountain Dew and you aren’t good at math?
Was the reaction Bobbilee received when she told her friends and family that she was leaving her job to become a software developer. After stints as a photographer and graphic designer, Bobbilee Hartman, 24, was determined to acquire practical, employable skills which would make her indispensable.
Reading a 700 page HTML/CSS book in three days left her curious to learn more. Inspired, she started watching a few online coding videos to solidify her learning. After a few weeks, she came to the realization that programming was a good fit because it appealed more to her personality. Being organized and having extreme attention to detail made the process of building the backend of a web application feel like a natural fun process for her.
“Programming really fits into the way I think. I’m pretty OCD about things, I love solving puzzles, and organizing tasks. Writing lines of code requires that organization and a logical mindset.”
The fear of having to do intensive math was always in the back of her mind. Yet, she persisted on. It was at the Madison Ruby Conference that she became intrigued by a web development bootcamp, The Starter League.
Acknowledging that she couldn’t continue learning programming all on her own, she decided to sign up. The Starter League is a 11-week programming boot camp in Chicago, IL. The boot camp takes people from knowing little to nothing about software development to being able to build a web application in 3 months. While providing top-notch instruction and mentorship from the best developers Chicago has to offer.
On week two after an event called “Ideathon” students pitched ideas and formed teams to work on a final project to present on graduation day. Although Bobbilee had joined a team on a project she felt passionate about, her team members did not have as much time to work at 1871 because of their full-time jobs. She began to feel frustrated and jealous of other teams that were always meeting and working on new features.
After much reflection, she came to realize that the only thing holding her back was herself. The situation provided her with an opportunity to set off on her own, to work on a project she was always interested in working on.
Taking something as simple as Farmer’s Markets, she started to build a web application which could location-aggregate all the farmer’s markets within a designated area. The project gave her an avenue to build something she was curious about, while giving her something to use to practice her development skills. Finishing her Farmer’s Market web application on the side provided her with coding practice and more knowledge than if she just worked solely with the group. With her first project under her belt, Bobbilee began to feel more confident and eager to learn more of what The Starter League had to offer.Through test applications, pair programming sessions, and classes she took, Bobbilee had yet to encounter the dry, boring math her friends so earnestly warned her about.
“All this time I was at The Starter League, in my head I was saying to myself,‘When is this math stuff going to come?’ or, ‘Come on, math!’”
Math has been a consistent deterrent and negative stereotype often associated with computer programming. On some occasions, people compare the math that Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory draws on his whiteboard to what they would expect to do in computer programming. While Bobbilee admitted that she does have to do some math, it wasn’t the math she imagined or the math that her friends envisioned as dry and boring. To Bobbilee, learning how to program has yet to feel dry and boring, but exciting and creative, and like so many who are in web development bootcamps they often ask themselves the same question: when is this math stuff coming?
Bobbilee took the initiative to garner even more practice and develop her programming skills after the first few weeks of school by signing up for her first hackathon. A little nervous during the event, she was uncertain about concepts like modeling databases and deploying applications. But suddenly she was comforted, knowing that she can count on her mentors at the The Starter League to help her out.
“I learned so much in a short amount of time and got a small first taste into what it feels like to be paid doing something you love and had so much fun doing!”
After a long weekend with some new friends her team ended up winning and Bobbilee became hooked entering into more as they came along. Every hackathon she attended allowed her to gain more practice with new features and build her network. Although she was frustrated at times when she couldn’t figure out a certain error, Bobbilee was never deterred. Instead, she used all the resources available to her to find and implement the solution. Eventually after participating in so many hackathons, Bobbilee came to win recently Startup Weekend in Minneapolis.
Bootcamps like The Starter League are definitely a welcoming agent in the teaching of computer science: inclusive and supportive to all of those who don’t have a technical background or who aren’t math geniuses. There aren’t many math geniuses, yet there are some that think you have to be one to go into something like computer programming. As we have seen from Bobbilee, this is certainly not the case. This is also further countered in “The Myth of ‘I’m Bad at Math,’”an article recently published by The Atlantic:
“Is math ability genetic? Sure, to some degree. Essentially none of us could ever be as good at math as Terence Tao, [UCLA’s famous virtuoso mathematician who publishes dozens of papers in top journals], no matter how hard we tried or how well we were taught. But here’s the thing: We don’t have to! For high-school math, inborn talent is much less important than hard work, preparation, and self confidence.”
In short, persistent effort can trump talent. Countless hours at The Starter League and attending hackathons has transformed Bobbilee into a professional software developer, who now works at “Software for Good” and is the Web Director for Girls in Tech Minneapolis.
Although she didn’t let the fear of math stop her from pursuing her passion for programming, there are still many out there who are hesitant to go into computer programming because of that aspect. Yet, Bobbilee is solid proof that anyone can be a software developer.
“One day, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to learn this, I’m sick of saying ‘if only’ I knew how to make this myself.’ I flipped the switch, picked up a book and went straight to the coffee shop.”
Justin Reyes is the editor-in-chief of Femgineer. Follow him on Twitter @itsjustreyes.