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“Do Coding For Yourself” – An Interview With Sian Richards

“Do coding for yourself” – an interview with Sian Richards

I first met Sian Richards when she came along to help out as a coach at Codebar. We sat for hours discussing her passion for technology and how it came about, Sian also helps our students learn the crazy world of Javascript and is a great advocate at showing our students you don’t have to follow the typical career path into Tech. Sian did a degree in Philosophy and she had heard a lot of people say Software Development doesn’t seem an obvious path for a Philosophy grad. But they’re not too different. Sian decided to complete at intense 12 week boot camp to welcome her to the tech world, she is now a Software Developer in Test at Bud Systems.

You did your degree in Philosophy and now you are working as a Software Developer in Test… how was that as a transition?

I’ve heard a lot of people say Software Development doesn’t seem an obvious path for a Philosophy grad. But they’re not too different. In Philosophy, you have to think analytically about philosophical arguments – both when constructing and deconstructing arguments. At university, I did Logic which was a Philosophy module and we had to do proofs which is essentially a practice in “clean coding” (making your code churn out the same result in fewer lines). I’d say the greatest difference between Philosophy and programming is the fact that Philosophy trains you to think about things abstractly – which is of course still useful in programming – but it doesn’t prepare you for the practical aspect of actually writing code. But I’ll go out on a limb and say that just describes the jump from most academic degrees to the real world.

You went through an intensive course with _nology, would you recommend this route for someone wanting to get into technology? And could you talk me through the course?

I would recommend a coding camp for sure. What attracted me to _nology in particular was the fact they pushed diversity so I could be confident I wouldn’t be the only women in the room (lol), and I also liked how we spent a solid amount of the course working on a real-life client project so it wasn’t just a case of cramming us full of programming knowledge without offering any experience of the other aspects of working as a developer (which are equally as important). It should be noted though, I was in the privileged position of being able to invest my time and money into a coding course. Therefore, if you are considering doing a coding boot camp and are concerned about money, I’d recommend opting for one that allows you to pay once you start earning (like _nology, I swear I’m not trying to plug them, or for a list of online courses with deferred payment, try https://igtechnologies.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/free-or-tuition-deferred-coding-boot-camps/).

In terms of technologies: in the first few weeks, we covered the basics of HTML 5, CSS, SCSS and worked on creating our own CVs online. We then hit JavaScript week which involved lots of mini challenges (and hitting your head against the wall when you thought you solved it but didn’t quite). Then we moved onto TypeScript (more challenges and head hitting), then React where we began our client project and finally, we finished with Redux.

In terms of soft skills: at the end of every week, we presented either individually or within a group to external clients, focusing on what we’d produced that week. Week five was dedicated solely to soft skills, where we gave a TED-style talk at the end of the week. Then we had our ongoing client project and finally, we finished with mock interviews.

What advice would you give to fellow females who are looking to get into Technology?

If you haven’t tried coding at all, I’d highly recommend giving it a go – it’s essentially like learning another language but rather than the reward being “Your German is good for an English person” or the listener not switching to English as soon as they detect an English accent, the reward is seeing magic happen on a screen through essentially telling a computer what to do with a given input. I’d say don’t be motivated to code by wanting to signal to people that you’re technically adept as that’s less fun and that motivation will fade quickly. Instead, do coding for yourself: before you even touch code, do some research and find something you want to build. Then just analyse the app you want to build by looking at syntax* (if this were a newspaper article, how would it be organised?), styling (what shape is this element? Where is it positioned?) and functionality (when I click on this element, what happens?). Then focus on the syntax and look at how to build it (YouTube is a great resource!) and once you’ve nailed that, move onto styling and finally functionality.

*I trained in front-end development so I’m looking at breaking an app down into front-end languages.

You are a coach at CodeBar, what were your thoughts on the workshop?

I thoroughly enjoy coaching at CodeBar workshops. I was struck by imposter syndrome during my first session because I had only started learning to code March 2019 and here I was, months later teaching someone about JavaScript functions. But my confidence grew and I realised “Ah wait, I do know what I’m talking about”. It was so much fun, and it’s such a good way to assess your knowledge. I like CodeBar in particular because it’s very chilled – “What would you like to learn?” “I’d like to learn Python” “Oh great, I’ll teach you Python”, or in my case “Oh great, I’ll swiftly direct you to someone who knows Python” Plus, there was pizza on hand, so…

What do you think companies can do to attract a more diverse range of people?

This is a difficult question to answer as the lack of representation of diverse individuals in the tech sector stems from societal expectations of roles for specific people. If you fit the archetype of a programmer in terms of gender, race, class and so on, it would be less daunting and more welcoming for you to enter that field in comparison to someone who doesn’t fit that archetype.

However, focusing on what I think companies, in particular, can do, I think the biggest thing would be to reconsider filtering out applicants (particularly fresh graduates) based on whether they studied a STEM subject at university or not. I don’t quite understand the rationale behind this: either it’s because companies believe that individuals from STEM backgrounds would have the greatest pre-exposure to coding as part of their course OR companies believe that individuals from STEM backgrounds have had their minds moulded into the desired shape of a web developer through a focus on maths and general analytical thinking during their course OR, it’s down to laziness.

The first option doesn’t make a huge amount of sense given most computer languages are taught on the job and neither does the second point considering degrees like Music and Foreign Languages involve a hell-of-a-lot of analysis. For example, does my approach to learning how to code through breaking a page down syntactically play to the strengths of someone with an English Literature degree or a Chemistry degree? Furthermore, coding doesn’t necessarily have to involve any maths at all. It greatly depends on the requirements of the functionality of the application you’re creating. I guess that leaves the last option: laziness. And this is a poor reason to filter individuals out: the candidate misses out on becoming part of one of the fastest growing employment sectors worldwide and companies miss out on new approaches to solving problems and a wealth of analytical minds. It seems like we’re in a big lose-lose situation for not a very good reason. Therefore, I believe companies should at least give it a try rather than resting on unverified assumptions.

 

Thank you Sian for this brilliant interview and also for your continued support at Codebar.

An interview by Alicia Teagle

#womenrock

a voice of diversity in tech.

@womenrockbristol

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