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Ali Spittel
Ali Spittel

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Nevertheless, Ali Spittel Coded

I began/continue to code because...

I began coding completely by luck -- I had an extra course block one semester in college and I took an introductory computer science class that used Python. I fell in love with it. I ended up doing well in the class, and I was asked to assistant teach it the next semester. I decided that I was going to minor in CS, and maybe even try to double major.

The next semester, I took another computer science class: Data Structures and Algorithms in C++. It was a disaster. I pulled all-nighters nearly every week working on the projects, and I was still performing poorly in the class. Looking back, it wasn't just me -- half of the class dropped it and it wasn't a very encouraging environment. Still, at that time, I thought I wasn't good at coding. I quit.

That summer I was looking for an internship. At that point, I was doing light statistical work for political campaigns. A company asked me if I had coded before. I said that I had a bit of experience. They offered to pay me, and most political internships are unpaid. They trained me in data science libraries in Python, and I fell back in love with writing code. I picked up JavaScript, Ruby on Rails, and Django from there. Now I am in the double digits of programming languages I've worked with! I worked full time for that same firm for two years after that. I now teach people how to code, which is also really fun!

I keep coding because it's just so fun to build things! For me, coding has become an artistic outlet on top of my work and I really enjoy large parts of the tech community.

To quote Sandi Metz:

Those of us whose work is to write software are incredibly lucky. Building software is a guiltless pleasure because we get to use our creative energy to get things done. We have arranged our lives to have it both ways; we can enjoy the pure act of writing code in sure knowledge that the code we write has use. We produce things that matter. We are modern craftspeople, building structures that make up present-day reality, and no less than bricklayers or bridge builders, we take justifiable pride in our accomplishments.

This all programmers share, from the most enthusiastic newbie to the apparently jaded elder, whether working at the lightest weight Internet startup or the most staid, long-entrenched enterprise. We want to do our best work. We want our work to have meaning. We want to have fun along the way.

I'm an expert at...

Nothing -- which I am actually okay with! I am good at a lot of things -- teaching, Python, CSS, design, etc. But, I'm new-ish at all of those things! I've only been coding professionally since 2014, and I'm good at picking up new skills. I don't think I could call myself an expert at anything. In fact, I would say I'm a generalist to a fault. I've done data science, frontend, backend, teaching, and design work, I'm not an expert at any of that! I'm still only 23 years old!

I really hope that the tech industry moves to a point where people can admit to not being experts, geniuses, ninjas, or rockstars and have that be a positive rather than a negative. I hope that people can acknowledge that there is more to learn, and love that, rather than trying to one-up each other or pretend to be more of an expert than they are. I'm good at a lot of things, and I like that -- I don't need to be an expert at anything, at least for now!

I want to brag about...

My blogging and speaking work! I set up a pretty tough challenge for myself: learning a new technology each week, building an app, and then writing an article on my experience. I just started this at the end of last year, but I've been pretty consistent with it and had a lot of fun with it as well.

I also started talking at conferences last year, and I'm getting such a good response that I've actually had to start turning down opportunities (which is kind of bittersweet). I have a ton of fun teaching people and just getting up there and talking about something I find fun!

Also, my portfolio site re-write was so much fun and it really allowed me to see my creative potential.

I'm currently hacking on...

My blog! Still trying to get an app + article up a week... stay tuned for a Nuxt article later this week!

I look up to...

So many women in the tech industry as a whole -- even so many who are at similar points in their careers or newer to programming than me. Especially women who had a previous career and are coming into tech later than college. I know that among most programmers I know that I was one of the oldest to start coding at 19 years old!

I also really look up to the women who made the DC women in tech community what it is. It's amazing to keep being the #1 city for women in tech, and a lot of people have put in a lot of (unpaid) work to make the community as inclusive and extensive as it is!

My advice for allies to support women and non-binary folks who code is...

Two quick tips (things that awesome allies have done for me!):

Look out for your woman-friends at tech events. There are still a lot of guys who get really weird at meetups and conferences, and tech is still a really male-dominated space (unless they have a diversity focus). If you notice a conversation getting kinda weird, maybe try to step into the conversation.

Make sure you aren't accidentally drowning out your woman colleagues' voices or accomplishments. If you see someone else doing so, try to use your voice to counter that. Especially if you are in a leadership position.

My advice for other women and non-binary folks who code is...

Know that people can be assholes -- it's not just you. That guy who makes a weird comment has probably made weird comments to other women too. That boss who made sexist comments on your employee review has probably done that to other employees too.

Look at the pictures of employees at a company before applying -- make sure there are other women at the company, and -- if possible -- on the team you will be on. Also, try to make friends with those women and be extra friendly to new women coming on. My (few) woman colleagues have been invaluable to my career and sanity!

Parting Thoughts...

I know I was a bit negative here about the state of women in tech, but I honestly do see the industry getting better and more inclusive. I love programming and teaching people how to code, which, for me, overrides a lot of the down-sides of tech.

If you are just getting started or just want to talk about being a woman in tech, my DM's are open on Twitter, or you can email me through my website. I would love to connect with more woman programmers!

Can't wait to see everyone else's posts!

Top comments (6)

dominicduffin1 profile image
Dominic Duffin

I too hope that tech can get to a point where people can admit to not being experts, to the fact there are things they don't know. The very nature of coding is that there is always more to learn. It's much more constructive for everyone if people admit when they don't know things, and it helps less experienced people to feel more able to contribute.

poffuomo profile image
Manfredi Giordano

"I really hope that the tech industry moves to a point where people can admit to not being experts, geniuses, ninjas, or rockstars and have that be a positive rather than a negative"
Couldn't agree more!

lilymercy profile image
Meheret Girma • Edited

You are such an inspiration, thank you for sharing your story. I really like the part that you said 'you are not an expert about nothing', that motivated to learn more and to enjoy learning.

aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel

Thank you so much! Yay, definitely keep learning!

joshuaai profile image
Josh Ihejiamaizu

Ali's definitely on of the most inspiring people here. Keep pushing great work!

aspittel profile image
Ali Spittel

Thank you so much!