It’s Never Too Late: Patricia’s Journey Coding Over 40

Patricia wanted to become a full time web developer, but being a woman in tech can be difficult. Women face stereotyping and imposter-syndrome and the best way to close the gender gap is to give female coders support systems that can help them thrive. That’s why in 2014, Women Who Code and Bloc partnered to create a Women Who Code scholarship program that offers two women each month a $1000 scholarship toward their Bloc tuition. To-date this scholarship program has funded over $48,000 in Bloc tuition.

Patricia had two mentors while completing the program. For backend web development she worked with John Sawyers, a 20 year software developer veteran who has previously worked as a software architect and CTO. And for frontend development, she was mentored by Alissa Likavec, formerly a City Director for Women Who Code who works as a software engineer at Bedrock Media Ventures in Seattle. Patricia blogged about her experience learning to code as someone over 40. Thanks to John and Alissa’s mentorship, Patricia recently landed a full time job as a developer at ePublishing in San Francisco.

PatriciaEhrhardt

Bloc: What advice would you give to women who are thinking about a coding bootcamp?
Patricia:
Invest in yourself. Don’t make excuses like you can’t afford it. If this is truly something you are passionate about, invest the money, invest the time, invest your heart and soul and it will all work out.

Bloc: Some women report silent stereotyping during the job search. Do you feel your gender made a difference in your recruiting process?
Patricia:
It did but in a very weird way. I started this journey when many tech companies were getting backlash for their non-diverse gender hiring. What happened to me was: I was being recruited to interview for roles that weren’t even a match for my skills [like] IOS/Android development (I know nothing about this and never have studied i,t save for a Meetup or 2) just to have a woman on their roster. I am a woman, a woman of color and over the age of 40, I have a ton of things that may make your company look great and meet some demographics you want, but what I want is to be the best person for the role, regardless of my gender. There are so many of us out there that are so good at what we do and we aren’t being interviewed for that, we are being interviewed to meet a quota. It makes me sad that the tech community still doesn’t get it.

Bloc: Brittany Martin, another Bloc mentor and fellow Women Who Code member, has talked about how 1:1 mentorship reduced the imposter syndrome women can often face in a classroom setting. Did 1:1 mentorship feel like a safer space for you?
Patricia: I picked Bloc specifically for the 1:1 aspect ratio. After 2+ years of learning on my own, I knew I needed to take that step. However, what really “sold” me was that I didn’t have to be in a classroom. I’m over 40 years old, have 2 college degrees and no desire to go back to the classroom. That would have made me feel awkward; not unsafe, but awkward.

It’s funny we talk about the female 1:1 mentorship here, and then mention the imposter syndrome. When I felt BEST about letting that go was with my first mentor, John Sawers. It was the day I was struggling with thinking I had made a mistake because I was not grasping a concept. When he told me, with 20 years experience, [that] he runs into the same feelings, I was floored and vindicated all at the same time. I felt [that] if someone with that much experience and specifically a man in this situation still has bouts of Imposter Syndrome… I’m good.

Bloc: How would you describe your mentor Alissa’s teaching style?
Patricia: Alissa is really great at deciphering oftentimes vague questions. She wants to answer your question so she makes certain she understands what it is you are asking for before going into an answer that may be irrelevant.

Bloc: How did you and Alissa spend your mentor sessions?
Patricia: Mostly discussing where I have gotten stuck and why. Because I studied Ruby first, in JS functions I often am writing recursive functions alot and can’t seem to wrap my head around why this won’t work. Lately she has been great chatting with me about where I am still doing this. Talking to YOU Codewars!

Bloc: How has taking Bloc impacted your life?
Patricia: There is not enough room here to state it all, but in a nutshell, it provided the one on one mentorship that I so desperately needed to get me over the hump of learning online and solo. Also, it provided a platform to work on real live projects and feature my skills to add to my GitHub and ultimately my resume.

Bloc: Are there any examples of stereotyping or difficult situations that you have faced being a female developer that future female developers reading this can learn from?
Patricia:
I love attending hackathons, and as much as I love them, I found that in this environment you will see teams of men (they usually win the big prizes, I’ve heard this is a “thing” where male developers go to a couple of “cash prize” hackathons a year and make over 100K) that are not open to [having] a woman on the team. The general vibe I get is that we are too slow or want to learn things (God forbid!) or that we are only good for HTML and CSS. I also hate that people think being frontend or design focused is lower on the rung of the ladder as an engineer. Have you seen how hard Javascript can get? And CSS is no joke! So yes, I have felt stereotyped at hackathons, but the way I get over it is to correct people’s perceptions by actually saying my title: “Hi, I’m Patricia [and] I’m a RoR Engineer,” and let them know I am a polyglot (Ruby,Python and Javascript), then ask them to give me a task. They rarely say no to that.

Bloc: Media and culture sometimes distorts what it’s like to work as a developer. What is it really like being an engineer?
Patricia: Well, I LOVE it! It’s super challenging which I love cos I loathe being bored, extremely precise and I learn something new every hour, no joke. I remember once when I was in RAILS I was struggling with some Rspec tests and sent my mentor a message that was something like “I’m struggling, but I love this stuff” and he told me, I hope you mean that because engineers aren’t working on things that work correctly they are working on things that are broken. So I’d say that if you love fixing things, that is basically what being an engineer is like on a daily basis.

Bloc: Tell us about your new job at ePublishing! What does ePublishing do?
Patricia: ePublishing is a “fully integrated, cloud-based, software as a service backed by custom development, design and obsessive 24 X 7 support.” My role is in that “24/7” support arena. I work on help desk tickets and get mentored daily as I am being groomed to become a senior engineer. My title is Jr RoR Engineer.

I cannot even express how much I love it. It was exactly what I was looking for. I had put out almost 200 Applications/CV’s since the beginning of 2015. I wasn’t one of those people that [kept] saying I need to wait until I graduate. I was ON IT. Those 200 were ONLY for roles that I wanted to do and that I had about 75% of the skills they were looking for. [For most], I never heard back from because my CV would go into the portal of hell where a word cloud would not even let me in. Some I wasn’t a fit for after the interview. A few I turned down because I was told verbatim that they didn’t have a lot of time to support [junior developers]. That was not going to work for me.

Bloc: What are you looking forward to in the future? Where do you see your career heading?
Patricia: What I am most looking forward to is learning and becoming a better engineer everyday at ePublishing, and eventually, I have a long-term goal of creating a piece of software that will be useful for organizations like the Innocence Project, Missing and Exploited Children or homeless organizations, poverty abatement and battered women’s advocates. Maybe I’ll even create software that Google, Facebook or Twitter will use!

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