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The TechLadies Bootcamp is a 12-week part-time accelerated learning program designed to help women with some basic programming background become programmers. Participants are guided by industry experts, creating products for non-profit organizations. 6 ladies were chosen for the TechLadies Bootcamp #3. In this blog series, we will be sharing more about their backgrounds and learning journeys. Hopefully that’ll inspire you to start learning how to code!

Meet Shirlaine - Jill-of-all-trades, TechLady

Editor’s Note: Shirlaine has taken a very interesting path to discover her passion for technology. She struck me as someone who gives her all to pursue her goals and she proves it by enrolling herself into a full time bootcamp on top of her involvement in the TechLadies Bootcamp. I’m excited at where she’ll go next in the industry. This is her story.

 

If you could tell a story about yourself in a few sentences, what would it be?

I would describe myself as an introverted but friendly, Jill-of-all-trades. I go where my passion calls and take deep dives, head first, into acquiring the knowledge needed to do well.

What are you currently working as?

I am currently running a small pet grooming business that I founded 4 years ago. Despite loving animals, joining the pets industry came as a surprise since I have a degree in sports science. I’ve worked in the property, health, and finance industries and I had no prior experience in the pets industry!

Wow, sports science to pets and now tech! Tell us more about your journey getting here.

Sports play a huge part of my life since I was a child so I thought sports science was something I could pursue in college. I also took up a property license and moonlighted as a property agent while in college since I had quite a bit of time at hand. It was when I met my mentor who was working in a health startup.

He wanted to create an IoT device much like FitBit before FitBit existed and roped me in to help bring that idea to fruition. Although the project failed, it gave me a glimpse of the tech world as it was the first time I’ve worked with software and hardware developers.

However, this experience was not enough for me to make the switch. After I left the company, I started devouring everything I can find on trading. I could make a living out of trading but it staying up to 3 am and waking up at 5:45 am to meet the trading open times was incredibly stressful. That’s why a friend and I hired a developer to create an app that trades on our behalves using our trading formulas.

We tested the app with mock data and were elated when the numbers were moving in the right direction but we lost thousands within hours when we roll it out into the wild! I didn’t understand how this could happen – the codebase was like a mysterious black box to me. I couldn’t tell if our formulas were wrong or if the code was wrong.

I felt quite burned out after that and took a sabbatical to figure out my next steps, and that’s how I decided to pursue my passion for animals and take up a pet-grooming license. This business and the industry was a huge change for me but I could acquire a new life skill and business management skills. It was tough as a one-person-do-all job but I am glad I did it!

I thoroughly enjoyed this process and through this, I learned that programming knowledge serves a purpose to a businessperson as well. (Without it,) I would not be able to comprehend the limits of my website without a background in coding.

What eventually sparked your interest in learning how to code?

Despite my previous experiences working with developers, my interest in coding was only piqued after I’ve set up my business. I engaged a web development company to create a website for me but I was entirely hands-on with the process – from crafting the logo using Adobe Illustrator to choosing all the photos going onto the website. I wanted everything to be perfect!

I thoroughly enjoyed this process and through this, I learned that programming knowledge serves a purpose to a businessperson as well. Communication between a developer and a client could be challenging at times. The client (a.k.a. me) would want a feature that a developer might not think could be done based on the existing infrastructure. I would not be able to comprehend the limits of my website without a background in coding.

This, coupled with my two previous experiences with developers, was finally enough to tip the scales for me to pick up coding.

Why did you want to apply for the TechLadies Bootcamp?

Having attended several events by TechLadies, I have always been very impressed by the way these events were organized. From venue to workshop materials, it was hard to miss the passion and quality that the volunteers for TechLadies’ cause.

I was looking to attend a part-time bootcamp to further my knowledge on Ruby by building real-world apps and to have a dedicated group of like-minded peers and mentors to share this journey with. With an almost 1:1 student to teacher ratio, TechLadies made my choice easy and everything just kind of fell into place. Zero regrets!

You had to create an app before you could apply to the bootcamp. Tell us more about the app you made!

We were required to build an app with a specific list of basic features using Ruby on Rails, with brownie points given for added features. For my app, it was a no-brainer for me to build a website for my grooming business. For those interested, the site can be found here.

Building the app was tougher than I thought it would be. I faced different roadblocks at different stages of the process and many of them took hours to solve. It also really helped that there were code clinics held to help us with any problems we encountered. Shout out to Michael and Daniel, thanks for the help!

What are some of the challenges you faced while learning how to code?

One of the major challenges I faced was the inability to identify problems. Problems in coding can come in various forms. To illustrate an example, we could get an internal 500 error but that gives one little hint of what exactly went wrong (especially when we’re still new). A trip to Google or stack overflow may or may not help to solve the problem and many times we had to trash the project to start coding again.

Another challenge faced was to apply the right syntax to problems. This was particularly frustrating at first because logically, the problems are usually not difficult to solve. But solving them through the use of a programming language felt a bit like trying to sing “baa baa black sheep” in French!

I’m happy to say that these days, it is definitely getting much better. At the bootcamp, we are taught how to recognize types of errors and deduce clues on what to look for to solve them. Fluency with the programming language, particularly Ruby, gets better with more practice 🙂

A mentor once mentioned that the skills we picked up from coding are similar to various tools in the toolbox. Each tool has its best use in specific situations. In the context of software development, these tools can potentially be used to solve various problems in the community and even in the world!

How do you see yourself using your coding skills for in the future?

A mentor once mentioned that the skills we picked up from coding are similar to various tools in the toolbox. Each tool has its best use in specific situations. In the context of software development, these tools can potentially be used to solve various problems in the community and even in the world!

I hope to continue sharpening my tools and acquiring new tools to tackle these problems, above all, I seek to gain more experience in deploying the best-fitted tool for the right situations.

Hereinafter, I hope to be able to know enough to contribute to more open source projects, preferably for more NGO’s. Being around other programmers has also inspired me to want to better my code, and constantly challenges my way of thinking in solving problems. I also hope to seek out the opportunity to learn more in an internship programme, and eventually, work my way towards becoming a developer to tackle more complex projects.

What is one advice you will give to a lady who is thinking about learning how to code?

If you are already thinking about learning how to code, just do it and start somewhere!

When it comes to choosing programming languages to learn, my humble advice is to think of something you want to build first, like a private tweet site/ blog site/photo album site for just your loved ones, for example. Building something with an aim in mind always helps to keep the momentum going. Once you’ve decided on what to build, it’s easy to figure out the tools you need through YouTube videos and online resources etc.

Don’t worry too much about which programming language to learn first, the key is to get started!