From Intern to Professional Developer

Quite often, people undertake internships at the beginning of their career. For me, it was a mid-career direction change and a leap of faith. In order to facilitate this career move, I took a Rails Engineering class at The Iron Yard in the fall of 2014. I had limited experience as a developer and no experience in Django prior to my internship at Caktus. Because of the structure and support Caktus provided and my enthusiasm for becoming a developer, my internship turned out to be the ideal way for me to make the transition from a novice to a professional developer.

What I Expected

When I chose to make this career shift, I read and thought a great deal about the challenges I might face due to my age and gender. I had minimal apprehensions about coding itself. I like math and languages, and I’m a good problem-solver. My concerns were about how I would navigate a new industry at this point in my life.

While I had general concerns about making this leap, I was sure Caktus was the place I wanted to try it. When I was in code school, I met Caktus employees and saw some of the work they do, particularly SMS apps in the developing world. It was clear that Caktus’ values as a company align well with mine. They are principled, creative people whose apps make significant and sustainable positive impact on people’s lives. I was excited to be part of a team whose work I supported so wholeheartedly.

What Caktus did

Caktus did a number of things, both consciously and subconsciously, to create a welcoming and supportive environment in which I could learn and succeed. The sexism and ageism that is allegedly rampant in tech is notably absent at Caktus. My co-workers understood that I was a capable but inexperienced developer. They were all eager to share their knowledge and help without making any assumptions about me or my abilities. Sharing knowledge cooperatively is standard operating procedure throughout Caktus, and I think it’s one of the reasons the company is so successful.

Something Caktus did, very deliberately, to help me was to provide me with a female mentor, Karen Tracey, Lead Developer and Technical Manager at Caktus. While any of the developers at Caktus would make great mentors, pairing me with a woman who has worked as a developer for her entire career was incredibly valuable. Karen provided me with thoughtful guidance and insight gained from her experience. She was able to guide me in career choices, goal setting, and on navigating an industry that can be very unwelcoming to women. She showed me that I can succeed and be happy in this industry and, more importantly, helped me figure out how. She also helped me strategize about how I can open doors for others in this industry, particularly those from groups underrepresented in tech. That’s a personal goal of mine, and I one I know I will find support from Caktus in pursuing.

What Rob did

Caktus provided additional support in the form of another co-worker, Rob Lineberger who worked very closely and patiently with me on coding itself. We worked on a real client project, and Rob was very good at scaling work for me so that I could experience some challenges and some accomplishments each day. When I was stuck on a problem, Rob intuited what conceptual background I needed to move forward. He walked me through problems so that I would be able to use the skills and knowledge I was acquiring in the future when I was working on a problem on my own. Working with Rob on this project ended up being a series of lessons in the fundamentals of web development that, in the end, gave me a broad and useful toolbox to use after the internship.

What I did

Because the project was well managed, I was able to work on a variety of different pieces in order to get a really good sense of how a Django app works. One piece of which I took significant ownership was a routing app that communicated with the google directions API. This app in particular required that I explore Javascript and JQuery in a confined, practical context, a very useful opportunity for me to expand my skills. Having discrete, challenging, yet attainable assignments like this created an ideal learning experience, and I was able to produce code that was demonstrated to the client.

In addition to this app, I worked with tables, database logic, and testing, all essential to understanding how Django apps work. I gained knowledge and confidence, and I had a lot of fun coding and getting to know my co-workers professionally and personally. The experience allowed me to see myself as a developer, more specifically as a developer at Caktus. Happily, Caktus saw me the same way, and I am thrilled to continue as a full-time developer with this passionate, dedicated, and inspiring group of people.

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