Tell us about yourself
My name is Lisa. I’m 48 years old, divorced with 2 kids ages 25 and 13. I am an Army vet, former registered nurse, former barista, former copyeditor, former small business owner, and currently a front end web designer/developer. I owned my own design firm for over 12 years before coming to government.
I’m currently the senior web designer for USDA’s Economic Research Service. My hobbies are Muay Thai, kickboxing, cooking, and knitting. I am also a mixed martial arts fight judge.
How did you first get started in your career in tech?
I got started in IT in 1998-99. I was a RN before working critical care, and was diagnosed with a severe latex allergy. At that time, there were no latex-free alternatives, so I had to “retire” from nursing. My ex-husband who was in IT encouraged me to get into web design.
He knew I had a creative side of me and thought I would be good at it. I took a HTML class at a local community college. I learned HTML with notepad and the old Netscape Browser (I’m showing my age lol). My instructor said I did so well that I should consider doing it for a living.
While in transition I also worked for a while at Starbucks as a barista, and part-time at Northern Illinois University as a copyeditor in their Center for Southeast Asian Studies department. I did copyediting, layout, and production editing. I have publication credit in some books and journals.
Tell us about your first tech job
I got my first gig while working at Starbucks. I would talk to customers behind the coffee bar and they would talk to me. My first client was a garbage truck and street sweeper repair parts company out of Kenosha Wisconsin. Their head of sales met me talking to him while making his coffee.
Looking back today, the website was hideous. At that time, it was pretty damn good. It was in the John Deere/Green Bay Packers yellow and green; because the company owner was a good old boy from Wisconsin and wanted it that way. The owner loved it. It stayed up for some 10 years until the owner passed away.
How did you develop your technical skills?
Along the way I developed my skills. If I couldn’t do, I wouldn’t say anything, but would obsess over tutorials and books until I could. I also took advantage of any free training I could get my hands on.
I was in an Adobe User Group for Dreamweaver and Photoshop that formed when Adobe took over Macromedia. I went to all of the free training seminars and read articles, and did a lot of trial and error with HTML and CSS. I eventually go brave and tried ASP.net, then PhP.
What are some difficulties you faced in your career? How did you overcome them?
Learning to code was somewhat hard for me but grew easier over time. The biggest challenge I had when I owned my company was that there was a perception I was a stay-at-home mom with a hobby business and it was hard to be taken seriously by male-owned companies I was trying to do business with.
I had to work hard to prove otherwise. I presented a professional appearance, my branding was professional, and I joined my local chamber of commerce and networked directly with fellow business owners. I eventually was elected to the board of directors for the chamber, which also helped me be taken seriously as a businessperson.
I know the chamber of commerce isn’t for everyone, but in some smaller cities, they are quite a tight-knit network, and can help you as a new businessperson in your community.
Is a career in tech something that anyone can tackle?
I would say to anyone wanting to learn code, that you can do it. There are so many free resources that wasn’t around when I was learning code. Take advantage of them.
Take advantage of the many meetup groups that offer to teach code like Women Who Code, or Code and Coffee groups where you can meet people from all walks of life with various backgrounds who are willing to help. You will get out of those what you put into them.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering a career in tech?
If I could offer advice to anyone trying to break in to coding, I would say to be open to new ideas, concepts, and even be open to learning another programming language. You never know when it may come in handy.
Don’t be afraid to fail either. We all have tried something that has failed. Coding is trial and error by nature. If you don’t know something, or run into a stumbling block, Google it. Chances are someone else has also ran into that problem.
Lastly, I would also say to put 110% effort into your work. Your work will speak for itself.