Lauren Scott is a poet, Dev Bootcamp Chicago graduate, developer at BradsDeals, and organizer for RailsBridge Chicago. In short, she's a busy contributor to the Chicago dev scene and we were lucky to catch up with her to chat about her experience. We talk to Lauren about learning to code with a humanities background, why it's important to be involved with your tech community, and how she landed a supportive job as a developer after graduating from Dev Bootcamp this year.
Tell us what you were doing before you started at Dev Bootcamp.
I studied poetry for 8 years--I went to boarding school for poetry, college for poetry and I left with my undergrad in poetry... and worked in retail for 3 years. It was really difficult to find any sort of work that was even remotely related to poetry.
I didn’t really have a technical background. I did come from a family which really valued computer science. My dad works in computer science and my mom was always trying to get me into the field. I’d been accepted to an MFA program and I was really considering going, but I felt like there wasn’t much financial support or many career prospects after graduation. I was just really looking for anything else that would allow me to have a job that I was interested in and passionate about.
Once I heard that there was a way to learn without having to go back through the traditional educational system, I was really excited. So I started going to Girl Develop It, Rails Girls and Chicago Women Developers and I applied to Dev Bootcamp right away.
Did you find out about Dev Boot Camp through Girl Develop It?
No, I found out about Dev Boot Camp from my mother!
Was Girl Develop It and Rail Girls your first exposure to coding?
Actually the first thing that I did was TryRuby.org. There are small Ruby tutorials that my mom sent me off to do. (My mom was really drumming for this). So I tried several tutorials and then I found Rails Girls, which does weekend coding workshops and Ruby on Rails workshops for women with no programming experience.
At that point, Girl Develop It had not yet launched in Chicago and Rails Girls (which was founded in Sweden) didn’t come to the U.S. very often. I saw that they were having an event in Atlanta so I decided to fly there and go to the workshop. I came home from that, immediately declined my MFA offer, and applied to Dev Bootcamp.
Did you find that having a humanities background clashed with learning to code?
I’ve always been interested in both math and creative fields since I was a little kid. It’s nonsense to believe that you can’t get into Computer Science because you focused on liberal arts. It’s really cool to see the way in which my liberal arts and artistic education has really helped me in programming. You see the attention to detail; you’re trained in critical thinking.
In a liberal arts education, you spend a lot of time making connections between different theories and texts- I think it’s very helpful for people to have that sort of training. In the case of programming, you’re making similar connections but with a different toolset.
I think people who have an artistic background, particularly people who have been through things like workshopping, are able to self-edit and also listen to others and incorporate their feedback.
So actually, I’ve got a lot of skills that particularly help me because of my background!
Decide you decide only on Dev Bootcamp or did you look at other bootcamps?
I looked at a bunch of different bootcamps and there were a few factors I considered. One factor was that it would be by far easier for me to stay in Chicago, particularly because I have a significant other. When you have a significant other you might not want to say I’m going to completely leave and be out of communication for several months while I’m doing this thing.
So I was giving preference to programs in Chicago, but if I had found something I really liked or believed in I would’ve done it in a different city. I did lots of research online- one thing that I really liked about Dev Bootcamp’s approach was their emphasis on empathy and teaching holistically. They teach students to be programmers but also to be better people and better employees or coworkers and better communicators and collaborators.
I think especially as a woman, it’s helpful to go through a boot camp where people are interested in empathy, because even though you can still encounter sexism in such an environment, it’s a lot less pervasive. And I knew that Dev Bootcamp had just a really good reputation and they seemed to have the most solid job prospects. Looking at the history of the developers they put out, I knew I would love to be one. So I only applied to Dev Bootcamp.
Did you complete the program in 9 weeks or did you ever repeat one of the phases?
I went through it in 9 weeks.
Did people from your class repeat the phases? Did anyone actually drop out?
While I was attending I don’t know of anybody who left the program, either voluntarily or because they were asked to leave. There were plenty of people who got held back a phase. I think “held back” is too strong a word because it’s all about making sure that you know the material well enough that you’re not going to drown when you move on after that. The whole system is trying to make sure each student knows the material well enough that when they move onto the next section, you won’t be still floundering. If you’re still trying to solidify and relearn the knowledge that you had from the last phase, you won’t be able to focus on the new phase.
What was your cohort like? Did you find diversity in age, race, and gender?
Not exactly. I think that this just varies from cohort to cohort. I believe when we started we were almost entirely white. We had two people of color and both of them decided to leave in the first week; I said earlier that we didn’t have anyone drop out, but at the end of the first week Dev Bootcamp gives everyone the option to leave with a full refund except for the deposit (in case the environment just isn’t for you).
When we entered the program there were only three women and among 20 students. I’m not gonna lie; that was rough. Despite everyone’s best intentions, a lot of people aren’t necessarily open to trying to understand why tech is difficult for women – and by difficult I mean not a particularly welcoming environment. I definitely encountered some issues with guys in my cohort.
Did you feel a lack of compassion, or what was that experience like?
This wasn’t specific to my group; I feel a lot of the guys had a hard time listening to women in general. And there were definitely times when I wished I had been in a cohort that had more women. Three other girls joined our cohort by repeating from the cohort before us and they were great, so that was fantastic.
Eventually, our cohort did end up with more racial diversity and more women. I’ve talked about the sexism that I have encountered so far in my programming career in lots of public forums so it’s just something that I speak out about. But I would not say every group is representative of the whole. The nice thing is, Dev Bootcamp is very, very sensitive towards these issues and puts a lot of effort into making the space safe and accepting.
I know Dev Bootcamp is also putting a lot of effort towards increasing diversity. One problem that you see in bootcamps is a lack of institutional financial support for these programs, so it can be incredibly difficult for people to fund going through them without having a lump sum of cash. The financial model makes them less diverse. The groups definitely skewed privileged.
Who were your instructors while you were there?
My cohort lead, the instructor that stays with you throughout, was Alyssa Diaz, who was fantastic. Having somebody to talk to about my experience as a woman going through the program, who was a person with power and able to actually help me out, was fantastic.
Our other instructors changed for each phase, so I was also taught by Torey Hickman, Kevin Solorio, and Ryan Briones, as well as a few temporary junior instructors.
Aside from the teaching style, were you satisfied with the material that was taught?
Absolutely! I think the curriculum is really spot on. Instead of throwing you into things right away, they really make you build up to the technologies .
They have you reading and tinkering long before you get to the program. They are really good about making sure your knowledge builds up. You’re starting with these very basic building blocks and learning about different data structures; it’s fantastic.
Then you start branching out into databases, then into making a bare bones Sinatra app. Although they provide you with a Sinatra skeleton, it’s still a very bare bones Sinatra skeleton. You are learning how to do some of the things that a real app does so that you really understand what it’s doing in certain ways.
Did you ever feel any burnout in those 9 weeks? And how did you push through it?
I think burnout’s going to be inevitable- I was often working 14-16 hours a day. I think that burnout happened for me more on a daily basis. There’s going to be a point where your brain is done.
For me the most important thing was to take frequent breaks. Go get something to drink or eat just so you physically move.
We did yoga twice week. I hate yoga; I really hate it. It’s not for me. But it was mandatory and I knew that the point of it was to get focused on your body and make sure that you’re not neglecting that other parts of yourself that are really important towards being a realized human being. So really, I’m glad they forced me to take that time, even if I grumbled through it.
What are you up to today? Where are you working and what does your job entail?
I started working at a company called BradsDeals, a local post-startup. We’re a deals site that curates deals for our customers.
I’m working here as a junior developer so I work on full-stack, and I get a fair amount of autonomy. They basically put a lot of trust in me when I came here and just let me dive in and get started working with other developers.
Is Brad’s Deals written in Ruby on Rails?
Yes. It’s Ruby on Rail on the back end, Backbone on the front end. We also use GO.
One of the reasons that I chose Brad’s Deals is that they have a very supportive dev team here and they’re very focused on making sure they give back to the community. They’re always involved in community events and they’re constantly sponsoring classes or holding Girl Develop It classes.
I’m putting together a Rails Bridge workshop- right now we’re rebooting Rails Bridge in Chicago; we’ll have 80 attendees and 35 volunteers and Brad’sDeals is awesomely hosting the whole thing, which is really neat. And also, Dev Boot Camp is sponsoring it so both companies are super involved.
When did you start this job?
I started three months ago. I graduated at the very end of March and took a couple of weeks off before I started TA-ing at Dev Bootcamp. They then offered me a junior instructor position, so I taught there for nine weeks while job hunting. Dev Bootcamp was great about saying they didn’t want to hold me back, but they wanted to give me this opportunity while I search for jobs on the side.
How did you find your job with BradsDeals?
There are actually two other Dev Bootcamp graduates who work here - on a relatively small dev team. We’ve got about 10 devs and now three of us are Dev Bootcamp graduates.
The CTO of Engineering here actually goes to almost every single Dev Bootcamp demo day to watch the students show off their applications because he’s always so impressed by what they do. He approached me at a Rails Con shortly after I graduated and said that he saw my presentation, and to talk to him about working at BradsDeals. I ended up meeting with him and we had a really nice lunch; once they were in a position to hire a junior developer, I took the job.
Have you kept up with your poetry since learning to code?
Not as much as I’d like! I’ve been spending so much of my time not only trying to learn all of these new things about development and programming but also, trying to be really active in the community; it’s especially important at the beginning of your career. So I’ve been doing a lot of event organizing with RailsBridge and teaching.
How did you get involved with organizing Rails Bridge?
When I was first getting involved with programming, I remember seeing the ghost of Rails Bridge in Chicago at meet-ups. It seemed like they had events over a year ago. I was reminded of it again last spring and found their website. Anybody can organize a RailsBridge meetup, so I met with their organizers at a Ruby Conf. Their organizer, Lilly, is another Dev Boot graduate from San Francisco. They hooked me up with two other gals who were interested in organizing. We kicked things off in September.
Does Rails Bridge Chicago partner with other bootcamps in Chicago at all?
No; not yet. Right now we’re only talking with a handful of sponsors for our first event; we’re still looking for a couple more. Hashrocket and Table XI are also helping sponsor the event. We have not reached out to other bootcamps but I think that would be a really good idea.
When is the first event?
It is December 5th and 6th.
And who’s the target audience or can anyone go?
The workshop is for women. Men are allowed to come as the guest of a woman. You can come in as a completely inexperienced programmer who has not programed anything before in any language or you can come in as somebody who knows a lot of Ruby and you just want to learn Rails, or somebody who is a well-versed developer in a completely different language and you want to try out Ruby on Rails to see what it’s all about.
We end up splitting the attendees into sections so that you can work with people on their level. The workshop is already full with a sizeable waitlist, but feel free to hop on there or come to one of our next events--we’re trying to make them a regular occurrence!
Is there anything you’d like to add about your experience?
I will say this about Dev Bootcamp in general: out of all the experiences I have had in my life, I have never had anything change my life as much as this. When I was a new grad I didn’t even hear back from Kinko’s when I was looking for a job. Getting to go from that position to talking to 6 or so different companies about potentially working with them was such an empowering and cool experience.
Dev Bootcamp does a really phenomenal job of getting their students to that level. More so than any other group of people that I have seen in an educational institution, they just really care about their students- they’re constantly getting feedback and they address it so personally.
Do you think that you would have been able to get to where you are without Dev Bootcamp?
If I had incredible discipline and was not afraid about constantly reaching out to other people and finding resources on my own, I think I could have done that. Maybe not quite as quickly but I think I could be working in a junior dev position right now.
But that’s assuming I literally had superpowers! Like I would somehow make myself sit down and work for 14 hours a day and go find people who want to pair with me and who want to work with me. I think in the end, I still wouldn’t have the experience of working with other people on a team, being able to implement agile processes. I wouldn’t have as many connections.