Happy 2019! For our first community interview of the year, I’m joined by Ali Spittel.
Ali is a Pythonista with a passion for CSS art and teaching Python. Join us as we talk about her non-traditional path to learning to code, teaching at a Bootcamp, and her recent move to one of the most positive developer communities around.
Ricky: Welcome, Ali! Thank you for joining me for this interview. Let’s start with the usual first questions. How’d you get into programming? When did you start using Python?
Ali: Thanks for having me! I got into programming during my sophomore year of college. I randomly went to a computer science class because I had an extra credit hour for the semester.
It was a Python class, and I fell in love with it. I decided part way through the semester to try to double major in computer science. They even offered me a teaching assistant job for the next semester!
Then, the next semester, I took Data Structures and Algorithms in C++. I hated it, and I had to put so much work into the class. I decided coding wasn’t for me, and so I quit programming. I only got back into it because I was offered a paid programming internship and couldn’t find one in politics, the field I was interested in at the time!
Ricky: Until recently, you were the Lead Instructor for the Web Development Immersive program at General Assembly in Washington, D.C.
I’m curious to know what it’s like to teach at a coding Bootcamp and how it has changed as Bootcamps become more common and accepted as a non-traditional path to becoming a developer?
Ali: Teaching is one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. Seeing material click for students and seeing their growth is awesome. I also love building a curriculum and shaping how people see code at the beginning of their journeys.
I think Bootcamps are so important for increasing tech diversity, and there are so many great programs within Bootcamps that serve people from economically disadvantaged or underrepresented demographic groups in tech.
For my last 9 months working at GA, I worked for their enterprise program, where I was teaching onsite for companies who were training employees.
I love that those companies were really investing in their employees and that those students could really focus on their education instead of having to worry about the financial aspects of doing a coding Bootcamp.
I’m actually still teaching their Python part-time program in D.C. even though I don’t teach full-time anymore!
Ricky: Teaching seems to be something you enjoy doing, between working as a Teaching Assistant in college and working at the General Assembly. Last year, you expanded on that and started a blog that has become really popular. What made you decide to start the blog, and has success you’ve had early on with it surprised you?
Ali: I started writing pretty randomly. I had an idea for a CSS art blog post, and then decided I could go further with it and write a series about learning new things. I started out on Medium, where I got next to no traction, and then found out about DEV.to a little later on, where more people were reading my writing.
I fell out of writing for a few months because I was getting more and more speaking roles, and I was more focused on that.
Then this summer I moved to Connecticut for work, and I didn’t know a lot of people. I had a concept for a blog that was a hybrid of a programming blog and a lifestyle blog. Those posts started to really gain some traction, which was awesome.
Ricky: You’re also a member of the D.C. meetup circuit, and most notably, the D.C. chapter of Women Who Code, which now has almost 9000 members! How is the meetup scene in D.C., particularly for women and minorities? What advice would you give to someone who is looking to go to their first meetup?
Ali: The meetup scene in DC is great! There’s an event pretty much every night (usually multiple), and I always learn so much from them and meet great people.
My advice for someone going to a meetup for the first time would be to bring a friend if you’re nervous the first time! I still pretty much always make sure I know somebody before heading to a meetup. It just makes it easier when I have at least one person to talk to.
Ricky: When we first met on Twitter, you were posting daily code challenges from code wars, and then solving them in Python. It was great to see so much participation from others, as they compared answers in various languages. Are you still doing those? What did you get out of doing something like that with the community?
Ali: I loved doing the code challenges on Twitter! I did them for six months, I think, and would love to get back into them.
Unfortunately, my life is a little busy right now between a new puppy and a new job! I may be able to start putting them up again soon though. I have a lot of fun with them.
I did them for a few reasons: first to prove that I can actually code since I have had people doubt that, and second because they’re fun to do. Hopefully they’re educational to some people!
Ricky: You just alluded to your new job. Why don’t you tell us more about your exciting news and the reason for the change?
Ali: I just started a new job last week! I’m now working as a frontend developer and doing developer advocacy work for DEV.to.
I’m going to be working on their open source codebase, which will be awesome. On top of that, I’ll be doing more speaking and writing for them, as well as developer community outreach!
I’m so excited to work for them because they’re such an awesome community. Their tagline is Where programmers share ideas and help each other grow.
It is an online community for sharing and discovering great ideas, having debates, and making friends. It’s definitely been that way for me as a community member. It was a huge part of how I gained a reader-base for my blog—their users are so supportive. I’m so excited to be a bigger part of the community!
Ricky: Now for my last question. What else do you get up to in your spare time? What other hobbies and interests do you have, aside from Python and coding?
Ali: In my spare time, I rock climb, check out the awesome food and bar scene in D.C., and hang out with my puppy!