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Meet Mary-Katherine. A Self-Taught Rails Developer.

She shares her story on how she taught herself to code with the help of CodeNewbie and Women Who Code DC communities.

Tell us about yourself

I currently work at WeddingWire as a Software Engineer. WeddingWire is a marketplace (think Yelp) that connects engaged couples to wedding vendors (florists, caterers, venues, etc) to help take the grunt work out of planning their big day.

Before I was a developer, I studied Environmental Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After graduation, I moved to DC, taking a job as a Graphics Coordinator/ Web Producer for a small professional association.

I also organize the DC chapter of CodeNewbie and I’m a lead for the Ruby on Rails group with Women Who Code DC. When I’m not involved with either of those groups, I’m posting pictures of my boyfriend’s dog to Instagram (she’s too cute not to share with the world) or binge watching whatever’s hot on Netflix that week.

marykatherinemckenzie

How did you first get started in your career in tech?

I signed up for the Skillcrush Web Developer Blueprint (HTML/CSS, jQuery & JavaScript, and Ruby) after I felt I was no longer being challenged at my job. I needed to brush up on my HTML and CSS for work anyway, so I thought why not learn a little more?

By the time I finished that course, I had one Ruby script that would tell me the weather for any given location. It wasn’t much, but I was hooked. That’s when I knew I wanted to do this full time.

How did you become a Rails developer?

After taking the Skillcrush course, I was determined to continue with Ruby. A search online yielded a Ruby on Rails beginners class with Women Who Code. I installed Rails with them in June 2015 and continued going to those weekly meetups.

In addition to those weekly Wednesday Rails meetups, I spent most of my Saturdays online doing tutorials on Codecademy, Udemy, Skillshare, and Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial. I listened to podcasts like Ruby Rogues, Programming Throwdown, and CodeNewbie during my commute to and from work.

Prompted by the podcast, I joined CodeNewbie’s online community. I started participating in Ruby Monday, building a blog in Rails with developers all over the world during three-hour increments every Monday night.

I picked up a copy of the acclaimed “Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby” (POODR) and started a weekly Thursday book club with some people from CodeNewbie. The book club culminated in meeting a few of the people at RubyConf in November, where we had our last session in real life.

It was also at RubyConf where I met many key players in the community, not to mention my awesome mentor. After RubyConf, I continued to have twice-monthly Google Hangout sessions with my mentor where we would pair program on a small project. Those sessions were invaluable to my growth as a developer.

I became a lead with Women Who Code in December 2015. I started applying for jobs in January or February 2016, often never hearing back. In March, Saron Yitbarek of CodeNewbie approached me with the idea of starting a DC branch of CodeNewbie and I couldn’t wait to get started.

Meanwhile, I started using my new Rails skills to build out internal systems that helped me do my job at work. That helped tremendously because I was no longer going off of tutorials, but forging ahead on my own. After applying to dozens of companies, a few phone interviews, and one real interview, I finally landed a job in July 2016.

In total, it was about 14 months from installing Rails for the first time to my first day on the job. I estimate that I averaged about 15 hours a week on all code-related activities (tutorials, meetups, podcasts, books) for that time period.

Is coding hard?

YES. Coding is hard, but it’s not impossible. Like anything, it takes hard work in addition to a little luck.

Coding is hard, but it’s not impossible. Like anything, it takes hard work... Click To Tweet

I truly believe that learning to code can benefit anyone’s career – writing scripts to automate small, mundane tasks frees up a lot of time to do other things. Learning to code doesn’t have to mean a job in software development, but it can if you want it to!

What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in tech?

My first piece of advice would be to find a community. Find something like CodeNewbie or Women Who Code. Surround yourself with people who are also striving to do better and can boost you up when you’re down.

Surround yourself with people who are also striving to do better and can boost you up when you’re down. Click To Tweet

My second piece of advice is to know that it’s not easy going in. You’ll miss out on social events, you’ll have to give things up at the beginning, but you get out only what you put into it – hustle hard and your efforts will be recognized.

Where can we find you?

You can find me on Twitter  and LinkedIn.

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