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Ashley Willis
Ashley Willis

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Nevertheless, Ashley McNamara Coded

I Began/Continue to Code Because...

I began coding in my thirties, and we can all agree that's relatively late.

How I Began (The Abridged Version)

At the time, I was running a photography business (if you have kids, then you've probably seen my work on a pampers box) but I learned early on that selling to photographers was far more lucrative than having photography clients, so I started making and selling Photoshop actions and presets. Eventually, I realized I needed a website, so I learned HTML/CSS; my website needed to rank, so I learned SEO, and so forth.

Before I knew it, I was selling front-end development services to photographers, which spread into other businesses. Then, I landed a significant opportunity outside of art, at a tech company. I did some contracting and quickly realized I was in over my head— I was being asked to do things I didn't know how to do, but I wasn't willing to admit defeat. I started attending meet-ups to connect with other developers and upskill, which led me to OpenStack. Although I knew a bit about open source, I sat through the meet-ups, wrote down terms I didn't understand, and then went home to research them (I still do this, by the way). After about a year of this cycle, I realized I needed a more structured way to learn and enrolled in a bootcamp. There, I spent three months working 18+ hours a day to learn Python— all while continuing to be involved in open-source communities, which I truly love.

By the end of that third month, I had learned four key things:

  1. Bootcamps are mostly ineffective.
  2. Community matters—leverage your network.
  3. The importance of open-source contributions.
  4. Python.

Armed with this new knowledge, I tapped into my new OpenStack community and landed my first real tech job at Rackspace, and the rest is history.

I Recently Overcame...

Recently? Goodness, it feels like I'm overcoming something every single day. This job requires constant learning, and sometimes it feels as though I'll never level up. To combat this, I've started keeping an affirmation journal. Every morning, I log even minor successes, such as "I read a chapter of x book today" or "I got the PR merged." Each night before bed, I review the journal, acknowledging my accomplishments and allowing myself a sense of pride. My hope is that I will one day overcome my impostor syndrome.

I Want to Brag About...

Grabs journal

Bragging might not come naturally to me, but here's something noteworthy. I want to extend a heartfelt shout-out to Microsoft. Since my Rackspace days, I've honed new skills and broadened my horizons. This past July, I joined Microsoft as a Developer Advocate. Here, I collaborate with some of the industry's most brilliant minds. I always say, "I never want to be the smartest person in the room," and at Microsoft, that's a daily reality. Each day at work is different, challenging, and exhilarating, satisfying my ADHD personality to its core. The leap from being a teenage mom and struggling artist to becoming a software developer wasn't easy. But here I am, defying the odds, and I couldn't be prouder.

I Look Up To...

Steve Francia has been an irreplaceable figure throughout my entire professional journey. His belief in me, especially when it seemed like a scarce commodity, has been invaluable. As a woman in tech, accepting help can sometimes come with strings attached or unwelcome expectations. Steve, however, quickly dispelled those fears and earned my trust. Through him, I've made connections that have transformed into lifelong friendships, including with people like Brian Ketelsen and Jessie Frazelle. Even in the midst of his own health crises, Steve never ceased to send opportunities my way, each of which has contributed to my career progression. Whenever I felt underqualified or not good enough, Steve was there to remind me of my strengths and push me forward. His mentorship and friendship have been priceless, and for that, I can't thank him enough.

My Advice for Other Women and Non-Binary Folks Who Code Is...

Find a tribe. There will be days when you'll want to quit, and having people to lean on will be key to your survival.

My Advice for Allies to Support Women and Non-Binary Folks Who Code Is...

Being a mentor is essential, but also be a sponsor. Advocate for people and help advance their careers. To understand the difference between mentorship and sponsorship, I recommend this excellent article by Lara Hogan.

Feel free to leave your questions in the comments below.

Top comments (2)

sadukie profile image
Sarah Dutkiewicz

"Find a tribe." YES! This has been a helpful thing - whether it's my tribe of folks who help me as an independent consultant, my tribe of conference organizers and conference speakers who encourage me to continue being a force in the community... whenever I feel like things are rough, I can count on my tribe to be there to support me and lift me up if I fall. Great advice!

ashleymcnamara profile image
Ashley Willis

It sounds overly simplified but if I didn't have anyone to lean on and confide in I would be lost. <3