Lifelong learning, remote culture and overcoming imposter syndrome: meet senior developer Aimee Ault

Aimee was introduced to her first computer game at 6-years-old. She was so fascinated by what it made it work that she started to play around with code for the first time. Over the years, Aimee taught herself code through trial, error and curiosity — the same learning framework she uses today. Over the course of her career, Aimee has found herself dipping in and out of software development, but she’s always drawn back to it. Aside from the fascination of code, being a lifelong learner is essential to being a developer, and something that’s important to Aimee.

After Treehouse had an impact on Aimee’s life as a student, she applied for a job for an opportunity to be part of changing other’s lives. As a Senior Developer at Treehouse, Aimee is also able to embrace the remote lifestyle and being a mom. She believes education should be accessible, affordable, and you should be able to learn exactly what you want to learn.

In her interview, Aimee shares her experience becoming a developer, why software development always brings her back, how to tackle imposter syndrome, finding her place as a part of the Engineering Team at Treehouse and working as part of a remote company.

What inspired you to learn to code and become a developer?

My dad brought home a computer from work when I was 6 years old in 1991. It had MS-DOS 5.0 installed on it which included the very first release of QBasic! It included 2 games which were oddly very popular despite being fairly hidden in the operating system. One of those games was stored in a source code file named Gorilla.bas and was a 2-player turn-based game in which you and your opponent control gorillas standing on a city skyline hurling bananas at each other and inputting an angle and velocity to determine the arc the bananas travel in.

I had no idea what I was doing, but I started dissecting the code and just playing with it — mostly just breaking things and laughing at how I broke them. I’d change a line, recompile it, and laugh when the banana went entirely out of the bounds of the screen. I thought it was amazing how easy it was to make something just through a set of commands. I think maybe a year later, I wrote my first Mad-Libs game. There have been times in my life where I’ve walked away from software development for a moment or two in pursuit of other things, but it’s always been a fascination to me that keeps calling me back — proof that it doesn’t matter whether you’re 6, 32, or 80 years old: anyone can be a developer.

There have been times in my life where I’ve walked away from software development for a moment or two in pursuit of other things, but it’s always been a fascination to me that keeps calling me back — proof that it doesn’t matter whether you’re 6, 32, or 80 years old: anyone can be a developer.

How did you first learn to code?

Trial, error, and lots of curiosity. I read books and even went to college for it. I did terrible in school. It just wasn’t the right setting for me and I don’t think I learned from it the same way I did from hands-on practical experience. I like to dig into things!

How has your career evolved since then and what brought you to Treehouse?

I’m constantly learning new things and I think that’s an important thing to remember as a developer — your education never stops as long as technology keeps expanding. I used to be a PHP developer, and I was interested in learning Ruby, so I signed up for a Treehouse account and built a web app for a side project of mine. I felt really good using Ruby and I wanted to keep working with it, so giving back to the product that helped me learn was imperative to me. I knew that if Treehouse changed my life, I wanted to help it continue to change other people’s lives as well.

I’m constantly learning new things and I think that’s an important thing to remember as a developer — your education never stops as long as technology keeps expanding.

What does the Treehouse mission mean to you?

It means a lot to me! Education should be accessible, affordable, and you should be able to learn exactly what you want to learn. There’s also something to be said about the value of Treehouse as an ongoing educational resource. It’s weird to me that traditionally you go to college for a set number of years in a very particular window of your life and then generally don’t return, despite the fact that, especially with tech, everything is constantly evolving and in flux. Education deserves to happen in parallel with your career, not just be a precursor to it.

Education should be accessible, affordable, and you should be able to learn exactly what you want to learn.

What is your work station set up?

I don’t actually have a work station or a desk. I carry my laptop around with me and generally just work wherever it’s convenient. A lot of the time that’s in a very comfy armchair in my bedroom. Sometimes it’s outside in a park.

With so many of the team remote, how do you collaborate?

Tools, tools, and more tools! I don’t know where we would be without Github, Slack, Zoom, and occasionally Screenhero. An important aspect of remote working is finding the right way to asynchronously work together and having the right communication tools really facilitates that so you can pick back up on a conversation an hour, a day, or a week later.

An important aspect of remote working is finding the right way to asynchronously work together and having the right communication tools.

Tell us a bit about the developer culture on your team.

I think we have a very “humility”-driven culture. That’s to say, I think our engineering team is very empathetic and also openly vulnerable when we come across knowledge gaps we have — and are quick to lend a hand in knowledge-sharing with others. I work with a lot of smart people but I think what I admire most about my teammates is how human they are and how nice they are to work with — I think that also kind of answers “how do we collaborate” — kindly. :)

What are some of your favorite aspects of the work you do?

I work on a little bit of everything on the Treehouse site, which is interesting because I feel like every week is different and I’m tackling different things — whether that’s trying to quickly fix a bug or helping put together a small new feature. And it’s exciting because I know most of the stuff I work on is directly used by students.

What are some of the greatest challenges you face as a developer and how do you overcome them?

Imposter Syndrome! Every now and then I come across code I’ve never worked with before and I get a little bit scared and worry that I won’t be able to figure out how it works or what I need to do. I’d worry that people would judge me or think poorly of me if I admitted I had no idea what I was doing. I think overcoming that is an ongoing battle of just allowing myself to be open with other people and ask for help when I need it (and position myself to be open to helping others in return when they come across the same challenges!) No one knows everything and willingness to learn is so much more valuable than not admitting what you don’t know and never learning.

No one knows everything and willingness to learn is so much more valuable than not admitting what you don’t know and never learning.

What advice would you give to aspiring developers who are just starting to learn to code?

If you don’t know something, it’s okay. That’s why Google exists. And why code libraries come with documentation. I think a lot of people come into their careers as developers fearful of the technical job interview where someone asks a code-related question (e.g. “How would you take these records from a database and output them to CSV in Ruby?”). “I’d first go to the Ruby docs and find the documentation for the CSV library” is a completely acceptable answer to that question.

Also: Don’t be afraid to break things! It’s part of being human and it’s part of how you learn as well.

Don’t be afraid to break things! It’s part of being human and it’s part of how you learn as well.
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