Interview of Stephanie Hutson of Shotput

Stephanie Hutson!

Stephanie Huston is a Bay Area-based backend software developer at Shotput a seed-funded startup working on improving logistics for small and medium company distribution. Continually challenging herself mentally, culturally and physically, she looks at life as an adventure and is energized by her passions for environmental and global sustainability, social equality and helping others achieve personal growth.

How did you first learn about programming?
I first learnt about programming in 1995, when my dad was learning BASIC and decided to write a few games for me and my sisters. I was only 5 at the time, so I didn’t fully understand the level of technical understanding he needed to have, but I remember sitting and watch him write tic tac toe for me and understanding that what he wrote on the page directly translated into my game experience.

It wasn’t until about 6 years later that I discovered web development. I asked my mom to buy me “Teach Yourself HTML VISUALLY” from the book fair, which I then used to develop a flat webpage about a cross country trip I went on with my family. Then it was another 10 years before I really touched programming again.

What made you ultimately decide to pursue it as a profession?
2013 was a tough year for me. I tried and failed at achieving many big goals. Looking back I can be proud of myself for trying, but at time I was just exhausted. I decided I needed to be stable for a little while and took a job doing financial research and reporting which, though incredibly boring, gave me the opportunity to recollect. I started taking a few Coursera classes online in Python, looked into marketing strategies, and personal branding. By the end of 2014, I knew I needed to challenge myself and more than that I knew I needed to establish a career that was going to take me somewhere.

I took an Intro to Computer Science class at Piedmont Virginia Community College just to see if maybe programming was something that I wanted to do. Within the first few classes I knew it was definitely worth a try. I rediscovered that fascination that I had had as a kid, and I decided there was more long term risk in not changing careers than in pursuing development as a profession.

What were some of the biggest hurdles you faced early on?
The single biggest hurdle I faced was making the ultimate decision on what to do. Writing code wasn’t the only thing I was interested in, I had also considered getting a masters in Urban Development, or going to Culinary school, or studying international relations. My professor at the community college I went to had encouraged me to pursue a masters instead of a bootcamp which is what I ultimately decided to do.

Rather than Bootstrap her way into a webdev role, Stephanie decided to embrace her passion for back-end and went with a barebones, terminal approach for her personal site

When I finally did make a decision, figured out my financial situation, I still had one more really big hurdle to get over. Fear of failure.The failures I had had early in my professional life were still fresh in my memory, and this time if I failed, I’d be 3000 miles from home in a city where I knew no one. I consulted a friend who had taken a similar risk when moving from his home to Virginia for graduate school. “Fearing the unknown is perfectly normal, but I think because you have thought the whole thing out and you have a plan going forward, that should give you the confidence to convince yourself that you are taking a calculated risk worth pursuing.” he counseled. It turned out to be good advice.

When I first started Dev Bootcamp I had done a cost-benefit analysis to figure out what the least amount of success I needed to make it worth it. I told myself if I could get a job for a year that made even 50% more than I was making already — which trust me would not have been hard to do — it would be financially worth it and what would be more is I would have an additional skill to use throughout my career.

That was then. Now that I’m fully engaged as a developer, I don’t view it as a ratio of how much risk there is any more. Now my focus is much more centered on what I can do with the tools I have to solve the problems I face. I’ve always been one to have big goals, which sometimes, as it did in 2013, results in my biting off more than I can chew, but I’ve advanced beyond the fear of failure into excitement for the possibilities to come.

Pixie report is a personal project Stephanie created when she was deciding whether between pursuing Data Science or backend engineering. It is a simple plug in for your website which will pull data from your users.

Who or what has had the biggest impact on how you program?
Dev Bootcamp. Though I had taken a few online courses in computer science, and I had taken that community college course, it wasn’t until I started Dev Bootcamp just over a year ago that I truly began to program. Because of the conventions taught and the philosophies they use not only to teach programming, but also to help you in your path to success in life, I have been able to continue to learn and shape my own development.

What are some important lessons you’ve learned through projects or products you’ve worked on?
In the role I currently hold, I have to opportunity to work with people who have varied levels of experience. Our CTO also came out of Dev Bootcamp, but a few years ago, so we have similar philosophies on how to look at a problem, but our CEO and another senior developer on the team earned degrees in computer science. There is a clear difference in perspective when it comes to writing down code, which has been incredibly valuable — and at times difficult — when working on various features, both giving and receiving feedback. Ultimately however, because we come from diverse backgrounds and educations, our code is better for it.

In your experience, what characteristics embody “good code”?
In my head I view good programs as being little packets of information that get transformed and passed around cleanly. In order to make it this way code should be modular, and reusable. This is a struggle sometimes when I’ve been working on larger projects because there are instances where the same pieces of information are used in different forms.

Ultimately from my experience, “good code” is code which is replaceable when it expires. If new features are added, or if something changes in the way a program operates, the best code is that which is modular enough to follow and change when and where necessary.

How has you focus or outlook evolved over time?
I knew fairly quickly that I wanted to to more than web development. Though I could spend hours getting the sidebar of my personal website to look just right, it all felt so much less satisfying than getting an algorithm to work or than do analytics on some source of data.

A year ago when I was first becoming a developer, I thought I wanted to go into data analytics. Who knows, I still might at some point, but recently, I’ve gotten the opportunity to work with and write algorithms for efficiency and to solve complex problems, which has been exciting, and I am really looking forward to continuing to dive deeper.

Courtesy of Shotput.io where Stephanie is working on algorithms to enable efficient packing management— she wrote a great article about the problem you can read here

What are you most excited about learning next?
Right now, I’m excited about machine learning. Part of me is excited just because it is incredibly fascinating and is more and more being used in different areas of technology

What kind of changes do you see coming to the discipline or industry in the next 5 years?
Only time will tell, but I would like to see a few things happen in the industry. With most companies — more and more — moving over to the cloud for storage and using AWS for their servers, I think there is a huge opportunity and huge need to zero in on the efficiencies of devops and data storage. I also think that, as mobile apps now reach maturity, there will be a movement toward using the same code and the same languages for mobile apps and websites. Already we are seeing attempts made with react and react native — though distinctly different, as we learn more, and the OS of phones and tablet are expected to do more, I think code will being more reusable across platforms.

If you could go back and give yourself some advice when you first began programming what would that be?
I have this really cool and interesting opportunity as a graduate of Dev Bootcamp to give this sort of advice to people who have more recently graduated. What I always tell them and what I would tell myself if I had the chance is to not lose the excitement for what they are doing. By that I mean getting started is really tough, getting that first developer, staying interested in the projects you are working on. Everything you do is an opportunity to learn and grow, and if you look at it from that prospective it will be a lot easier to work through and stay enthralled with at times seemingly mundane tasks.

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