Interview with Tara Manicsic

Tara Manicsic

In preparation for ngAtlanta we are doing a series of interviews with our speakers. We are proud to introduce an in depth interview with Tara Manicsic!

ngAtlanta: Let’s start with something easy, what was your first computer?

Tara: I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this but its an Einstein. She bought it in 86’ or something. Then we had a Packard Bell, I remember playing Number Munchers on floppy disk with it.

I remember using floppy disks and the books with art libraries, going through the books and finding what disk the image was on and printing really long banners, then you had to take the side off the paper.

ngAtlanta: You enjoyed Number Munchers, what was your favorite game growing up?

Tara: In terms of computer games Number Munchers was my favorite, but then there was so many other ones I can’t find any more, but there is this one called Dr. Brain. It was this mouse that did all these brain games.

ngAtlanta: Like Pinky and the Brain? Did they copy the TV Show?

Tara: I think the game came first. It was super, super fun.

ngAtlanta: Maybe that’s what the show was based off of.

Tara: I think I just blew your mind a little.

ngAtlanta: What about now, do you still game?

Tara: Not as much, I’m one of those people that do crossword puzzles, every time I try to get a game console I lose weekends, I lose hours, where did the time go. I’ve not allowed myself to get another game console.

ngAtlanta: What about Sudoku?

Tara: Oh I love Sudoku!

ngAtlanta: What was your first programming language?

Tara: I actually started in second grade with Logo, the turtle game where you made boxes. I was really lucky.

ngAtlanta: Where did you go to school?

Tara: In Lorain county in Ohio, it was like 45 minutes west of Cleveland. We had this math / science magnet school. We had a computer lab, it was second grade, and we would just do the turtles making shapes. But then we never really touched computers again after that except play Oregon Trail or do word processing. We never learned to program again like that until high school. I went the A+ computer repair and electronics route in high school because that’s what my mom taught. Then when I went to college I did Java.

ngAtlanta: Did you learn Spring and all that, or did you go straight java?

Tara: Straight Java, I even did MIPS assembly language programming for a little while. I loved it! When I had started, I went to school the first time for marketing because I thought, “I like math and being creative.” It turns out that’s not what marketing actually is. So then I dropped out and I did disaster relief for a little while, then I finally went back to school because I was working at a university and they give you classes for $40. So I took a class called Creative Explorations in Screen-Based and Physical Computing. I was working with Arduinos, sensors, and then using Processing, a language from MIT (at the time it was only based around Java). I was like, “I want to do this better,” so I just dove straight into Java. I liked it, so I just kept going, it was a great kind of introduction.

ngAtlanta: You said disaster relief, tell me more about that.

Tara: Oh yeah, so when I started in school, I didn’t like my business classes. I just started doing all my math classes and ceramics, or classical guitar instead. Then they were like, “you can’t go here anymore,” so I was like, “ok”. When figuring out what to do I learned about Americorps National Civilian Community Corps and knew it would be a perfect fit for me. You give them a year of your life and they ship you where you’re needed. It just so happened that the same year I was accepted was the year hurricane Katrina happened. So we went down to the Gulf Coast right after. We were in Mississippi and Louisiana, sleeping in tents, army bases and even a gutted elementary school. During the day we would go into these empty houses and tear them down to their skeleton and then bleach them so somebody could build them back up. Then we also organized volunteer groups, helped people with FEMA, even built playgrounds and re-leveled softball fields in a town where kids relayed heavily on softball scholarships. It was a year of that. Based in DC and going to the Gulf Coast for months at a time. I learned a lot.

ngAtlanta: How did that change you?

Tara: I think that it made me really realize that I could have an impact. It kind of sounds selfish, but its like, I was able to make an effort, do something and see how it impacted someone else. We would also have groups come in that needed help getting organized, and I realized that through that I could have an even greater impact. It made me realize that no matter how smart, strong or capable you were you could help in many different ways. Just by how motivated and how much energy you have, you can make an impact. I think that was really installed in me through that.

ngAtlanta: So what’s one of your pet peeves?

Tara: Mean people, for sure. I really really hate mean people. But it’s not necessarily people who don’t know they are being mean, it’s people who realize they are being mean but don’t care.

ngAtlanta: We have your bio, tell us something about yourself that’s not in your bio.

Tara: I can solve a Rubik’s cube with my left hand.

ngAtlanta: What got you interested in software?

Tara: The biggest thing was that I learned I could make things. I’ve always liked making things. Growing up I always tried to make things. I always did different businesses. Ever since I was 9 years old. It was really because I like making things, not just because I wanted to make money. So when I learned that I could do electronics and make things lite up, and make controllers for things and make sensors for things then I got really interested. Then I learned I could use code and make things on the internet. I could make games and interaction and make tools that I wanted to use. I’m really bad at learning actual languages but there is something about programmings languages that I’m much better at. Its exciting. Every time I solve a bug or something I get excited. Its funny because someone was asking me at a conference right before I graduated from school, “How do I know if I’m meant to be a developer? I’m ok at it, I’m just not sure I’m made out for it”. I told them that when I knew I wanted to do this for my career and forever and ever and was when I was doing one of my final projects for class. It was my intro to web design class and I was banging my head against a problem for like 4 hours. This is like from midnight to 4am. So it was one of those real crucial bugs but it ended up being one of those super small things like a misplaced comma. Instead of being outraged, I was so excited and so elated and so proud of myself. I just couldn't be mad. That’s when I realized I wanted to do this forever.

ngAtlanta: So you talked about you had a business when you were 9. What was the business?

Tara: I actually learned how to make pumpkin rolls. Then in my aunt’s office I started to charge for them. So many people wanted them that I got a wagon and filled the wagon with pumpkin rolls and went around the business centers with pumpkin rolls and sold them. Then I donated that money to the local animal shelters. I had the wagon and at the time my brother was a pizza delivery guy having problem spotting house addresses. So I got a set of number sponges, a big rectangle sponge and exterior paint. I would charge people $5 to paint the numbers for their house on the curb. With that money I bought a flute. I always liked doing things like this.

ngAtlanta: You talked about tools and sensors and stuff, are you interested in IoT?

Tara: I’m actually working on a talk about displaying sensor data in an Angular app. I was on the path to building a security system for my house and wanted to see how it would work pulling the sensor data into firebase then having it show up in Angular using our Kendo UI visualizations. I think it’s super fun. There is just so much we can do now. I actually worked at an atmospheric research group and our electronics engineering group was NASA certified. They taught me how to solder to their standard. I love soldering, anytime I can get my hands on something, it’s so much fun!

ngAtlanta: What was your greatest success?

Tara: Definitely starting up Women Who Code in Cincinnati. We came back to Cincinnati from Boston and I was thinking about how much having a tech community in Boston had helped me. I loved being surrounded by that community and wanted to try and build a community like that here, so I started doing things around Cincinnati. I started with a detox and debug meeting where we would do a local yoga in the park event then debug some coding projects at a coffee shop. Then I was wondering why isn’t there a Women Who Code group? There were a few people telling me they had wished there was a Cincinnati WWC branch so I just put the paperwork together and started the process. As you know, its so much work! Often I’m the speaker, I’m the workshop coordinator, I’m the one that organizes all the events. I even host them at my house to pull people to gather. Slowly but surely we’ve been pulling it together. Since we’ve had it another organization has started, Cincinnati Women in Tech, which brings together more than just women developers. It brings in VC’s, board members, project managers, etc. and because of this we have gotten more mentions in the local news.

ngAtlanta: Outside of development what do you love to do?

Tara: I call it making and breaking things. So today for example, I’m in an 8 week intro to pottery wheel course so I’m making a whole set of ceramic dishes and cups and stuff like that. But I’m also demolishing a house.

ngAtlanta: Slightly different scales there. *laughs*

Tara: Its really funny because my husband is an architect and cabinet maker and furniture maker, so I demo a house and tear everything down, then he comes and builds everything up.

ngAtlanta: What question should people ask you but don’t?

Tara: I always think that people should ask me to teach them something, just anything. One of my favorite things to remember is actually from an interview with Mr. Rogers where he says that you can learn something from everyone you meet. I think that too many times when you go to meet someone you want to tell them, “this is who I am and this is what I do, let me prove myself to you,” instead of the experience being, “Hey, tell me something, teach me something, what can I learn from you?” Imagine how many different things you could learn.

ngAtlanta: Who is your favorite mentor?

Tara: I was very lucky when I came here to Cincinnati. I met two guys Jack Boberg and Matt Hernandez they ended up being my managers. One of the first things I picked up from them is how they both really care about the code they write, working to make it as succinct and readable as possible. They try to stick to standards. It was also interesting because they both had just had baby girls. They always cared about people and now they had these baby girls coming into the world, brining them a new perspective. Matt one day went to get a shirt for his little girl and it said “my boyfriend is a superhero”. His immediate reaction was, “I want HER to be the superhero!” It was interesting to see this evolution of their view points and how things changed as they thought about things from the perspective of their young daughters. They already had such solid foundations of being great developers and thoughtful people and now they had a new viewpoint on gender in the tech industry and the world in general.

ngAtlanta: Whats your favorite aspect of your job?

Tara: It’s definitely the people I meet. I recently got to go along the west coast in my camper this summer spending two months going from San Francisco to Seattle. I spoke at a lot of great user groups and hang out with some great communities. I met so many smart and talented people.

It was so easy to talk about so many things and learn so much about what people are doing in their communities. Its definitely that aspect and being able to learn and teach. I’m very grateful that I’m able to make whatever projects I want if I know it can help people learn or explain things clearer.

ngAtlanta: Where do you go or to whom do you go when you get stuck?

Tara: I have a process. A lot of times when I get stuck is when I get errors. A lot of times when I get the error I take the error message and directly copy and past it into Google. After that then I look for documentation. Then if it’s still one of those things that documentation doesn’t help with I go to one of our local coding group events like our Cincy Women Who Code Together monthly meetings. I also know I can ask people on our local slack channels or product specific slack channels.

ngAtlanta: Who’s blog, people on twitter, or book do you recommend?

Tara: I’m a huge fan of Fun Fun Function. He has all these videos of breaking down functional programming, JavaScript, and more topics in and around tech. He is so much fun to watch. When he breaks things down he does it bit by bit and it makes a lot of sense.

On twitter I always like watching what Kat @maybekatz, Susan @noopkat, and Mariko @kosamari are up to. Mariko is pretty cool because she always does really good illustrations.

ngAtlanta: So what makes you get up in the morning?

Tara: It’s usually because I have a problem I have to solve in code or projects, anything. I used to even have rock climbing problems that I would wake up thinking how to solve. Sometimes sleeping I’ll dream about how to solve a problem, it’s never right, but I dream about it and the feeling of success is nice, no matter how fleeting. Or I wake up craving a certain food, that definitely gets me out of bed in the morning.

ngAtlanta: So food wakes you up, what is your favorite food?

Tara: Cheese grits with pickled peppers.

ngAtlanta: What excites you about participating in ngAtlanta?

Tara: very time I look at everyone that is coming and the people who are speaking I get super excited because its people that I know will give great talks and will be really fun to hang out with. Also, when I was on the road people kept talking about ngAtlanta. I wouldn't even be talking about to people and I would go somewhere, hear people saying, “Have you heard about ngAtlanta, did you hear about all the diversity work they are doing?” “Yeah, I really want to go to that.” Of course, I was like “its funny you say that…” then I would get all into their conversation, haha. Even the word on the street is very exciting surrounding ngAtlanta. Just being a part of this and knowing people are excited about it.

We really hope you enjoyed this interview and we look forward to seeing you at ngAtlanta.

If you haven’t picked up your tickets yet stop by to pick them up today. Use the discount code of “Medium” for 15% off.