We sat down with DeeDee Lavinder, a software engineer at Spreedly, to learn more about her journey from small business owner to coder. We asked her about why she changed careers, what she learned along the way, and why she believes you can learn to code too.
What led you to start The Red Hen? And then why did you decide to take a left-turn onto the tech road?
The Red Hen was a resale store for children’s items. I saw an opportunity in the market, opened a small retail shop in Carrboro in 2007, eventually moved and expanded to University Mall (now Place) and then sold it in 2014. I loved the process of starting a business, systematizing it, and orchestrating all that went into it, but after the day-to-day set in, was ready for a different kind of challenge.
Software engineering had always been in the back of my mind during junior college (Sacramento City College). I took one computer programming class and loved it. I even did all the extra credit. At the end of the class, the professor told me that the rest of the major wouldn’t be that interesting. Sadly, I believed him.
A few years before deciding to sell The Red Hen, I took a career assessment test and four or five things showed up on the list of recommendations — software engineering was one of them! I was excited about the possibility but couldn’t imagine how to get there from where I was. My Bachelor of Science (UC-Davis) was in International Agricultural Development. I researched online programs and Computer Science undergraduate degrees and wondered if I should skip getting another bachelor’s degree and get a master’s instead.
Then, fortunately, I met a local programmer who was teaching a class on Ruby on Rails. I had no idea what that was, but he got together with me for coffee. His advice was not to go back to college — rather just learn to code. I stayed up late at night and did a lot of online tutorials. I loved it but could sense the vastness of what I didn’t know and wondered how I would ever get to an employable place.
Finally, I was introduced to Clinton Dreisbach (now Momentum’s Co-Founder and CTO) and decided to take a full-time class with him to learn to code. I wanted to pivot quickly, and didn’t want a long time between jobs. I opted for a class setting with an in-person instructor so I could gain a depth of knowledge to be ready for the job market.
Why tech as an industry?
This industry is such a good fit for my life. Engaging work, decent pay, remote options, flexible hours, plus, you can take tech skills and use them in any industry, perhaps even one that reflects your values. If you’re choosing a new career, technology has inherent flexibility and broad availability; that’s unusual.
What has been your favorite part of being in the tech industry?
The flexibility to be with my school-age kids — which is employer dependent, but I feel is more common in tech. I love problem solving and I love the work.
I’m a detail-oriented person and I also love the big picture. Those are often presented as diametric oppositions, but that is not the case in coding. You can also be creative and analytical.
What does your day/week look like on the job?
My hours have shifted — I start early so I can finish early and pick up my kids from school. Our team works from the office two days a week and from home or remotely the rest of the week.
My work week is a mix of writing code, reviewing code, and discussing problems that need to be solved with teammates. We use Slack to communicate with others — the computer is a tool for connection in this industry.
What benefits does this type job provide for you?
There are few professions that have a broader community of colleagues. The broader technology community is something that I didn’t expect, but have really enjoyed. The basic logistics are so nice — I am never worried about being unemployed. I’m not worried about my children not having healthcare. With small business ownership, that was always in question. Plus, I have generous paid time off and work/life balance.
If you could go back and talk to yourself before tech, what would you say?
When we are going to take a big risk in life there’s always that question — will it be worth it? I would say it’s totally worth it. I also felt such determination to make it work. I was going to make this happen and wanted to take in everything I could. I took advantage of all the resources.
What was it like to learn to code? Why do you believe others can do it too?
I believe in determination. When you set your mind to something, you can do it. Learning to code stretched my mind in ways I couldn’t have anticipated — and I loved it. It’s possible! Being in a group setting also had its advantages. We learned from each other. It is also human nature to compare yourself to other people. When I felt like other people were learning more easily, I learned to be more gentle with myself.
It was helpful for me to be a parent while learning to code because I had empathy for myself and the learning process. I also recognize that I have lots of skills, and learning to code is just one of them. Your previous professional, or parental, experience is going to benefit you in any new endeavor. Everything I did in my prior life applies and I bring that to the table as well. There may be others who are faster or more advanced in some areas. The collective success that can happen on a healthy team is often the result of a diverse set people using their respective strengths.
Do you have any final thoughts to share?
You can learn to code — we absorb new skills all the time. We’ve learned how to use smart phones and adapt to new user interfaces every time our email changes. And we do it — we adapt. Learning to code is about learning how to adapt in the same way that we’ve learned how to adapt to everything else — like getting a new car and figuring out all the new features.
Written by Stuart Gunter on behalf of Momentum Learning.