Dan Moore over at letterstoanewdeveloper.com takes truth in advertising very seriously. The site is chock full of letters written by Dan and others, offering advice and stories to people who are jumping into software development.
I had a great time thinking of my early experiences and putting some of them down in my own letter to a new developer, which you can see on Dan’s site. I highly encourage those of you curious about the profession to go read some letters, and those of you with experiences of your own to consider contributing.
I have little to add to the conversation on COVID-19, but I do have a long-standing thought about Women’s History Month, so I’ll share that instead.
Several years ago, the company I worked for asked some of us women leaders to write about inspiring women for a public blog post. They specifically asked for women in STEM fields. I replied that I thought Sally Ride was cool when I was in school, as the first American Woman in space. I added that when I thought back, my heroes were not in STEM at all.
My real answer, which they didn’t print, was that my two absolute heroes when I was young were Harriet Tubman and Pippi Longstocking. Now the casual observer may not find a lot in common between Harriet and Pippi. One, after all, was an escaped slave who risked her life helping others escape on the Underground Railroad. The other was a sassy little redheaded girl who sat backward on her horse.
Despite a head injury that caused massive headaches and seizures, Harriet Tubman made 13 expeditions to free slaves, and then joined the Union Army during the Civil War. She led an armed raid that freed 700 slaves. Something we learned in school that has always stuck with me is that she occasionally had to get tough with the people she was helping escape if they panicked and put the group at risk—including threatening them at gunpoint. That’s some serious grit right there and I remember it being a really weird lesson to learn as a child, since all the other heroes we heard about were nice to a fault and bad things were glossed over. Because of that, Harriet Tubman always seemed more real to me than the presidents and other people our history books put on pedestals.
As for Pippi, I mean, she lived alone and she did whatever she wanted. She was strong enough to lift policemen by their lapels. Her friends were pretty wimpy, but Pippi was always kind to them and and ready to lead them on big adventures. My one quibble with Pippi was that she didn’t like math and insisted on calling multiplication “plutification”—that really pissed me off as a kid because I loved math. But she had a monkey and that more than made up for any failings.
To my two childhood heroes, I’ll add one I discovered as an adult. Beryl Markham was an early bush pilot in Kenya who is most famous for being the first person to fly West across the Atlantic Ocean. She also had one of the most remarkable childhoods I’ve read about. Beryl hunted with local children and had some harrowing adventures I’ll just mess up if I try to repeat here. Fortunately, she was an incredible writer and you should read her book, West With the Night.
What ties Pippi, Harriet, and Beryl together is that each one of them bucked convention. They weren’t afraid to get into scrapes or do the unexpected thing just because it was difficult. They were physically strong, mentally tough, and fiercely independent. That is what won my admiration and holds it to this day.
Today, I poured a glass of wine and came upstairs to what has so far been my favorite coding spot. I have a beautiful view of my backyard and the flowering cherry tree of a neighbor’s backyard. I fired up my laptop and a React Native training video.
Alas, the zoo had other plans: the dog and one of the cats wanted attention. Ada (dog) and Frankie (cat) let me know this right when I was trying to figure out why the Android emulator made a truly horrendous buzzing sound every time I clicked into a text box.
There are two main reasons the pets come to bug us. One is that they want to play. The other takes a longer explanation: our very nervous dog sometimes doesn’t eat and the only way we’ve found to let her know that we want her to eat is to give her a treat when she finishes a meal. So every time Ada finishes a meal, she gets a treat. The cats complained that this was unfair, so now they also get treats when the dog eats—though we do require them to sit for it, with which they’re mostly fine in a feline sort of way.
So Ada, Frankie, and I headed downstairs to check on Ada’s food bowl. It was full, which meant they wanted to play. If I was going to get any learning done at all, it had to be done. Frankie and I played with a fishing pole toy while Ada dog chewed the leg off of a squeaky moose toy.
So, my coding exercise so far has resulted in:
5 minutes of learning
2 minutes of navigating settings in an Android emulator to turn off the blasted noise
10 minutes of playing with Ada and Frankie
An unknown number of minutes on Twitter, which for some reason I went to when I got back to my laptop
However long it took to write this blog post
But before that, I had to watch this because I Googled “Willie Nelson” after writing the title
In other words, the coding is off to a brilliant start!
With social distancing and quarantine measures underway, I have a prediction. As we all experience less of the world, we’re just plain going to get weird. My friend Katie warned me that this will happen when I work from home for a while, and it applies to the current COVID-19 related isolation as well.
So my prediction is that the number of sentences that begin with, “This might sound weird…” is going to increase a lot over the next several weeks. After that, the phrase will nearly drop out of usage because the concept of weird will either cease to exist entirely or morph so much that we’ll make up a new word for it.
OK, that last part is probably going too far, but I do think the graph will look something like this:
Having spent several years silently admonishing myself for neglecting my little piece of the Internet, I have decided to make a fresh start. For those of you who have visited in the past, welcome back! If you’re new, I used to scribble down thoughts here a lot and I’d like to get back to that.
A lot has changed since I was a budding software engineer struggling with cross-browser compatibility issues or, later, a seasoned software engineer/leader diving into thornier topics. I will selectively import old content. I may or may not keep this up to date. What I am doing is setting myself up to share some thoughts because I’ve got a lot of them.
I’ve recently given notice at my job and am in the process of beginning new adventures (more on that later). With the decrease in work responsibilities, the little voice inside my head that tells me to get my thoughts into sentences and paragraphs has gotten louder. I missed that voice. She has steered me well in the past.