Hi Ryan! We’re so excited to have you join the Coder family! First thing’s first: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career pre-Coder Academy.
I’m excited to join Coder Academy too! I’m Ryan, I’m originally from Adelaide but now call Melbourne my home. I have a wife who’s a high-school teacher and we have a 3 year old daughter who keeps us both plenty entertained or otherwise busy!
My career leading up to Coder Academy has been varied. I’ve been a developer on teams small (2–3 people) and large (80+). I’ve also worked as a community manager for an open-source e-commerce platform called Spree which allowed me to travel all over the world and speak at conferences about the cool stuff I did.
Closer to home and more recently, I led the Junior Engineering Program at Culture Amp for 2 and a half years. During my role at Culture Amp, I was responsible for training up 19 junior developers, ensuring that they became confident and capable developers. I’m super proud of each and everyone of them, as well as the work we all did together over there.
At the end of last year, I decided to leave my role at Culture Amp which is when Coder Academy approached me to ask whether I’d like to come on board and teach junior-junior developers full-time — I accepted and here we are!
You’re referred to as a #RubyHero and your contributions to the tech industry are super impressive. Where did your passion for coding and technology stem from?
Thanks — I’ve been using computers since I was 3 years old, playing games like Paperboy on the Commodore 64! My dad (who’s an electrical engineer/ photocopier repairman by trade) always had a computer (or two) around and I guess I just fell into it by being around them. The things you can do on computers is limitless, and I’ve truly always enjoyed tinkering with them — I’ve even built a few of my own PCs!
Coding is fulfilling to me because it’s a creative art that requires very few physical resources. All you need is a computer and the “raw material” you work with is your own ideas.
Being able to be creative through coding is certainly interesting to me. I try to spread that passion by writing and teaching about programming. When I see other people gaining that knowledge, developing that passion, and excelling at coding, that gives me a really great feeling.
To top if off, you’re also an award-winning author! What drew you towards sharing your knowledge through writing?
When I started out programming professionally I started keeping a blog of interesting things I learned. That way, if I wanted to remember something I could just find it on my blog. A nice and accidental side-effect of doing this is that the blog posts were then indexed by Google, so others started finding them too!
Alongside this, I also really enjoyed answering people’s programming questions on Stack Overflow — I love it when I can use my knowledge to help someone else out. There’s also been so many times when I’ve used knowledge that I’ve gained from researching an answer for my own personal projects, so there’s kind of a “long-term benefit” for me answering questions there too.
Lastly: I was contacted by a publisher in 2010 who asked me to write a book on Ruby on Rails called Rails 3 In Action. The book sold about 5,000 copies and its sequel Rails 4 In Action came out a few years ago. Both books have helped people all around the world learn Rails. I hear from some of the readers from time to time, many who come from places as far afield as Kathmandu and Kenya, about how the book has helped them learn Rails and that really keeps me motivated to keep writing.
Since I started writing in 2010 I’ve published 8 books on Ruby, Rails and Elixir. I’m hoping to finish at least one or two more books in 2020 as well.
At this stage in your career, what attracted you to teaching at Coder Academy? What parts of sharing your knowledge are you most excited about?
After running the Junior Engineering Program at Culture Amp, I realised that I really, really, really enjoy teaching developers. So what better way to do that than to work somewhere that I get to do that full-time? Sharing my knowledge by teaching is certainly something I can do at Coder Academy!
By sharing that knowledge, I hope to grow the next generation of brilliant developers that this industry so desperately needs. I actually gave a talk on this very subject in Jakarta this year!
I’m excited about turning people into confident and capable developers, and I know I can do that through my teaching.
How would you explain to someone new to coding what web development is and what career opportunities it can open up?
More and more businesses are transitioning to using “Web applications” that can be accessed globally — well, anywhere with an internet connection at least. Web development is the practice of developing those applications.
As this transition goes on, the demand for more developers grows. We’re currently in a booming phase, and there are more jobs than there are available developers. So becoming a new developer now, and training yourself up is a great move.
Is now a good time to pursue a career in technology? Why?
Absolutely. The industry is booming! There’s so many things you can do with technology that you’ll definitely find something you like doing. Web development is one thing, but you could use what you learn here to move into other related fields, such as robotics.
When you learn what a computer can do and connect you to, the power of that opens up a lot of possible pathways for your future.
The tech industry has a solid reputation of inclusivity; in your experience, what’s it been like to work in technology?
I would say historically, it has been a little exclusive — a boy’s club — but more recently it has been getting a lot more inclusive. There are excellent initiatives like Code Like a Girl, RailsGirls and many more that are helping bring diverse audiences into the wonderful world of programming.
As a white, straight, able-bodied, male, it has been pretty cushy to work in technology. I’ve had my choice of jobs, companies and projects. I aim to use my extremely privileged position to help people who don’t look like me or have the same history with computers that I do have similar or better opportunities than I have had.
I think helping out at Coder Academy and continuing to write books are two ways I can do that.
Do you think that tech companies should be comfortable hiring programmers from non-traditional backgrounds? Why?
Totally. The diversity of people’s histories brings different perspectives to working in technology.
Some of the best people I've worked with in my career so far do not have backgrounds that involve heavy use of technology. These are people who’ve come from industries like nursing, child-care, teaching, nutritional sciences to name a few — and who each have valuable experience working with a gamut of people.
We should include and hire these people because when we build these applications of ours, we’re often building them for this exact gamut of people and not just ourselves.
What are some stereotypes of working as a developer that you’ve found to be untrue?
That we work in dark basements, usually in our mum’s house. This was partly-true for me: I did work out my mum’s house at one point, and at another point I did work out of a basement with very little natural light.
What advice would you give to someone considering learning how to code?
You can be as capable as anyone else. There’s no pre-programmed disposition towards coding in people. A latent talent doesn’t exist. There’s no physiological difference that gives certain people the ability to program and others not.
The people who got good at programming got there by being bad at it first. And being bad for a very long time and practicing at it. A lot of skills work in this way.
A book which helped concrete this idea in my own head is called The Talent Code. It shows you that talent isn’t born, but grown. It covers quite a number of skills, but the gist is the same. People must practice to get better at whatever they’re doing. I really recommend reading that book.
So if you’re getting into programming now and you’re worried about being terrible at it, I guarantee you that everyone who has come before you was also feeling the same way — it’s a natural feeling.
It’s fine and accepted to be bad at programming when you get started. If you keep practicing it, you will get better at it, over time. You’ll be nervous about disappointing people and falling behind. My advice here is to talk to people about the feelings you’re experiencing, and not to hold them in. Share them, and talk about them, and process them with other people. It’ll help!
So to sum my advice, in the words of Finn from Adventure Time:
“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something”
Also: talk to people about the struggle! They’ll be feeling exactly the same as you.
Any last pearls of wisdom you’d like to share?
The web development community is one of the most open and welcoming communities in the world. If you don’t believe me, just come along to any of our events, MeetUps and conferences — you’ll find friendly faces who can help you along your programming journey.
Speak to people about your journey, and theirs. You might find some similarities, or interesting differences. It’ll help!
Overall, know that you can do this too. I believe in you and your abilities.
Oh, and keep a blog of what you learn. You never know who might find it ;)