Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Twenty Questions (With Myself)

It's always fun to answer questions about yourself - remember those "About Me" books you would fill out as a kid? Well, I do, and I loved them, so when people ask me if I'm up for an interview, I always say yes. I recently answered a series of long & short questions for a Mexican development agency's internal newsletter, and since that newsletter isn't online, I figured I'd share them here instead. Enjoy!

Short Questions

  • Linux, Mac or Windows? Mac. I was raised in a Windows-using family - back when Macs weren’t Unix-based, but I recently converted to Mac and love it.
  • Twitter or blog? Both. I like the challenge of expressing something in 140 characteres, but I also like to write up my experiences and projects in much longer blog form.
  • iPhone or Android? Android...only because I got free Android phones from Google. I’d happily accept a free iPhone if it were to come my way. :)
  • Bread or tortilla? Neither. I’ve recently stopped eating grains of any sort (as they’re not actually that good for you). I miss tortilla more than bread though - growing up in Los Angeles, I was raised on quesadillas!
  • Wine or tequila? Wine. I save tequila-drinking for when I’m in Mexico and can drink the good stuff. :)
  • Day or night? Day. I’m afraid of the dark.
  • Warm weather or cold weather? Warm.
  • Sunny or rainy? Sunny! The rain is only fun if there’s a hot bath waiting for you at home.

What is your favorite…

  • Book: I can’t come up with just one. My favorite book genre is short stories, and Roald Dahl has some of the best stories out there.
  • Gadget: Kindle. It stays charged forever, and since I hate charging things, that makes it my favorite thing.
  • Videogame: Puzzle Pirates. I don’t play it anymore, but it’s the only game that I’ve come close to an addiction with.
  • Programming Language: JavaScript. It’s weird, but it works.
  • Browser: Chrome.

Tell us how did you get your first computer, and what age were you?

I don’t actually remember a time when we didn’t own a computer - since my parents were effectively computer scientists since the day I was born, we always had computers in the house. I first remember using DOS to play a “Garfield” and a “Dinosaurs” game, and then we upgraded to Windows 3.1.

Why did you choose to be a programmer?

I was always very in to computers as a kid- I loved using them to make posters and to browse the web. When I discovered programming - specifically web programming - I loved them even more. I made fun little games, I made a “cyberclub,” and I made websites for everything I did.

When it came time to deciding what to major in at college, I found it easy to pick Computer Science. I knew that no matter where my interests went, I could use my computer science skills to complement those interests, and I knew that I could always get a job with those skills.

As a programmer/developer, what is the thing that motivates you the most?

I like the ability to make something, and to easily share that something. If I wasn’t a programmer, I think I would be an artist of some sort, so that I could fulfill my need to create that way.

In which programming language do you feel the most comfortable on?

I am generally the most comfortable in “scripting languages,” and these days, I am the most familiar with JavaScript. I have always been attracted to scripting languages over compiled languages because I love the speed at which you can develop with them, and I find them generally more approachable.

On the server, I tend to use Python, but would love to try out using JavaScript there as well. I like the idea of getting to use the same language for both the frontend and the backend. The lines are blurring between them, so it makes sense for the language to be the same.

Do you have a hobby that is not related to technology?

Lately, I’ve gotten really into cooking. I’ve discovered that I get a similar creative rush from cooking as I do from coding. When I cook a meal, I get to enjoy the end result, I get to share it with whoever is around me, and I get to share with the world how I did it. When I code an app, I get to use the app, share it with other users, and open-source the code.

The main difference between cooking and coding: far fewer bug reports, and no long-term maintenance required!

How do you feel as a woman that works in a predominantly male environment?

I usually don’t think about it that much. I grew up around a lot of males - I had a brother with a lot of male friends, and I tended to make a lot of male friends myself. So, I didn’t find it that weird in college or work to be surrounded by males, and in fact, I somewhat preferred it.

(I wrote a much longer blog post about this here.)

Do you feel that you had to break the gender barrier or any stereotype because you are a woman in order to be considered a good programmer?

I have to admit, I don’t actually think I’m a great programmer. I think I’m a pretty good programmer, but not great. I am able to achieve beyond my core programming skills because of my ability to combine multiple skills, my desire to create, and my desire to share my knowledge with others.

I do often wish that I was a crazy-good programmer like my colleagues and peers, and I think to myself that I should take some classes or read some books to increase my skills...but then I think that I’m pretty happy with my diverse skillset.

I do sometimes feel as if I have to break stereotypes when I am giving talks to new audiences, as some people see a girl on stage and immediately assume she’s not going to talk technical. By the end of the talk, they know better. :)

What's your achievement that you feel the most proud of?

Looking over the past five years, I am most proud of my “teaching moments” - the times when I taught someone something new, and could see their knowledge grow as a result. I’m sure I had many virtual teaching moments with developers in forums, but I am most proud of the in-person moments with students in classes. There’s something very real and very gratifying about watching students grow from the first day of a class to the very end.

How do you do to keep your life under balance, I mean, keep learning, spend time with your family and friends, work hard, etc?

I don’t. My father is a workaholic, and he instilled a similar work ethic in me. When I am working, I’m putting all of myself into that, and I find it hard to justify making time for family and friends. I instead wait for them to force me to make time for them, and if they force me, well, I can’t say no.

I recently left my job, and I’m looking forward to finally putting friends and family first, at least for a few months. In the end, it’s the people that you remember more than the work anyway.

What projects do you have in mind for the near future?

Generally, I want to make apps that I would use, and if I’m lucky, a few other people would use as well. As I am currently obsessed with food and nutrition, I am experimenting in that area to see what apps might make it easier for me to eat healthily, to cook delicious meals, and to share nutrition information with others.

My basic strategy is this: Every day, when I encounter a situation that would be made better with an app, I write down the app idea. If I end up writing down an app idea multiple times, well, there’s a good chance I will make it.

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