In today’s episode of the Learn to Code With Me podcast, I talk with Laura Medalia – a software engineer for a healthcare startup, and an avid Instagram user.
Laura majored in English with an emphasis on creative writing. In her senior year she took a few classes in computer science and realized her love for tech. After taking some data algorithm and structure classes in her final year, she got a job as a software engineer with a healthcare startup and has been there ever since!
In this episode, we discuss how Laura is crushing coder stereotypes using Instagram and how she got into tech after college. She reminds us how important it is to practice what you learn and she shares with us her advice on growing an Instagram following.
This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.
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Hey, you're currently listening to Season 3 of the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host, Laurence Bradford, and this season I chat with a range of individuals who work in tech.
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Hey listeners! Welcome to the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host Laurence Bradford and today in this episode I talk with Laura Medalia. Laura is a software engineer for a health tech startup in New York. She's also an avid Instagram user with a huge following and she uses Instagram to crush coder stereotypes. In our conversation, we discuss how Laura became a software engineer. She shares with us how she manages her Instagram account and she also gives us some great advice on getting a job in tech. If you want to hear some great tips on getting a job in tech, as well as growing your Instagram following this episode is for you. Remember, you can get shownotes for this interview plus much more information about Laura at learntocodewith.me/podcast. Also, if you like the show, make sure to subscribe on whichever podcast player you listen on. And if you're feeling particularly generous, a review and rating would be great to enjoy the interview.
Laurence Bradford 1:58
Hey, Laura, thank you so much for coming on the show.
Laura Medalia 2:00
Hi there. Thank you for having me.
Laurence Bradford 2:01
Yes. I'm so excited to talk to you today. I've been following you on Instagram for a while. And we're definitely going to talk about that towards the end of the interview. But really quick, could you introduce yourself to the audience?
Laura Medalia 2:13
Yes, of course. So I'm Laura Medalia. And I am a software engineer. I work at a Health Care Health tech startup in New York City, and an avid Instagram user. So yeah, that's me.
Laurence Bradford 2:29
Yes. Awesome. So before the show, I was doing some social media stalking, namely under link, namely under LinkedIn, which took me a while to find but I found it. And I noticed that you didn't study computer science or related while you were in college. So I'm curious. How did you first get into tech and how did you begin learning how to code?
Laura Medalia 2:53
That's a great question. Yeah. So it is true. I was not a computer science major. I graduated as an English major with a creative writing emphasis, actually. But I had taken my first computer science class back in high school, it was an AP Computer Science course. And I loved it. It fit really naturally with me. I did really well on it and just like enjoyed it. But I never really thought of computer science or software engineering as a career. I had never thought of it as an option. I didn't know what a start up was. So I just kind of took it as, like a class but I had a lot of fun. And then I went to college, and I actually I took one kind of computer science class in college my freshman year it was just to fulfill a science requirement. And it was more focused on like, what the internet is like HTML, CSS, and then again, just didn't think of it. I was pursuing English until around my junior year when I know my sophomore year I was considering going pre med took a couple of years. science classes including calc decided not to go pre med but realized how much I loved math and problem solving. And somehow it led me to taking computer science my senior year, which was late to the game. But um, yeah, that's kind of when I realized that I was really interested in it I because I taken an AP class in high school I placed into like a second computer science class really loved it. And then took a data algorithms and data structures class for the second half of my senior year and started interviewing and got a job as a software engineer with a lot of self teaching. Combined with those three classes.
Laurence Bradford 4:43
Oh, wow, that's really that's really interesting. So you were Okay, so you graduated with the English degree, but you did take a few courses that were like in the computer science like area and interviewing your senior year. Okay. So you then like, correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds Like out of college you got this job at at the startup and then you've been there ever since.
Laura Medalia 5:04
Yes. And I and I got the job while I was in college. Like interviewing in college so I like kind of went went to it like right when I graduated and yeah, I've been there ever since. I love my my current job.
Laurence Bradford 5:15
Awesome. That's really cool. Okay, did I wasn't sure if you took a bit of a break or not a break, but you put, like another career or something first and then went into it later?
Laura Medalia 5:25
Yeah, no, I didn't. I went right into software engineering. It was really my senior year that I was like, wait, this is what I want to do. And I'm gonna give it my hundred percent and really, really, like work to get a job and start my career in this industry. Awesome. So you mentioned doing a lot of self learning or self teaching, and what Yeah, what resources did you use and how did you go about that? That's a great question. So well, so first of all, what I will say is that I think my so my senior year, the courses that I took, it was an intro to programming like part two and then it was a data structures and algorithms industry. Rate structures, which was a little bit more mathematical course. And I think those there those really lended well to like what people were covering in interviews if, if that makes sense. So it helps me get a foot into industry being like very in that world at that time that like more back end data structure world. And then I had this book that I, that we read in my data structures class, it was called data structures and problem solving using Java. It's by Weiss. That was a fantastic book, I read that book, front to back, and I loved it. And then it was a lot of reading at that time. I was very like theoretical. Um, so yeah, I hope that answers your question.
Laurence Bradford 6:44
Yeah, yeah, no, definitely. And yeah, what you said about those courses, the time went very well with the interviewing process and some of the questions you're probably getting during the interview, so that that's really neat. Um, okay, so you mentioned Java and you're taking these like, more mathematical courses in college, when you started the job, what languages were you programming in? Like, what other technologies were you using and has not stayed the same over the last like four or five years?
Laura Medalia 7:15
Laurence Bradford 8:54
Alright, awesome. So you mentioned like a bunch of different things both on the front end on the back end. So are you technically a full stack developer or?
Laura Medalia 9:02
Yes, yes, I would say that for sure. Um, yes.
Laurence Bradford 9:06
All right. Awesome. And when you started off you were mostly doing Oh, you mentioned web development. So yeah, that's what it was. That's what you're still doing today. Correct? Yes. Okay. Okay. Got it. Awesome. Yes. So that's really neat. So I'm circling back a little bit, but you lost his job while you're still in college. So you were still like, your senior year? Correct. You're taking courses? Uh huh. All right. Nice. So do you have any tips? And I know, it's been like a while, like four or five years ago, since since maybe the time maybe don't remember everything. 100%. But what was that like finding jobs your senior year of college? And did you do anything in particular or anything extra aside from the courses you were enrolled into prep for the interviews?
Laura Medalia 9:48
That's such a greatquestion. And an important question. Yeah. So I think first of all, what I will say is that, like, focusing on data structures and algorithms I personally found really helped me in the interview process because it seemed to be what everybody was asking about all of these, I kind of call them gotcha questions, because it's funny, like I didn't really know much about web development. But I was able to, like, do well in interviews, because I was I was very comfortable with data structures, algorithms, that kind of stuff. So I would say focusing on on on that, like just picking up a book. And there's some sites out there, I wish I could remember them off the top of my head where you can just practice like, like coding problems, data structure, like that involve using data structures that I think really helped me and I wouldn't advise for people to do that. I think I'm missing a second part of your question. Am I?
Laurence Bradford 10:41
I, you know, just asking about prepping and music. You mentioned his website, so it's no that was definitely good. Um, yeah, I was going to Oh, and I'm also curious, because you you've had this one job since college when you were when you were interviewing, did you interview at other tech companies as well?
Laura Medalia 10:56
Yeah, I did interview at a couple of other companies. Although the company that I'm working for now. They actually came to recruit recruit at my college. And that's how they found me. They, so they came to recruit, and they gave a talk explaining what they were doing. And I was like, wow, this seems like a really great company, really nice people that was really important to me. And then at the end, they they did this thing at the time where they would ask this like one question. And if you were able to get the question, right, they would skip the Skype part of the interview process and pay to have you like, come down and do the final interview rounds. And so they were asking this question to everybody and then me and one other student, I think we we got it right. So I, you know, two weeks later, and you know, the question was so easy for me because I had just been reading a chapter in that white book and like, knew, like, the perfect data structure down. I could like to code it all out everything. And yeah, so they had me come in for an interview a couple weeks later.
Laurence Bradford 11:59
So yeah, we think That is so cool. I've never heard of that. Of course, I've heard of companies going to colleges to recruit and all that stuff. But so they so they gave you a question and then whoever got a right God and to go down to New York and be interviewed, and it was like an expenses paid kind of trip. And the question, was it like on paper? Or was it on the computer? Like, how did they deliver it to you?
Laura Medalia 12:21
It was like, it was like a whiteboard. pseudocode kind of question, but it was funny because they like, couldn't have anybody see anybody else's answer. So you we you wrote it out on a piece of paper, I can barely even remember the question. But, um, it was something about sorting and then, like, efficient lookups and like the answer was a hash set. And then like talking about a hash said, and like, I was like, you know, I was ready to talk about everything. I could tell you anything about, like hashing and it was so yeah, it was that and like we wrote it on a piece of paper. I think it's a bit of a blur to me now.
Laurence Bradford 12:57
Yeah, yeah. That's such an interesting now. Such an interesting technique. So basically then and you got to skip the phone interview.
Laura Medalia 13:03
Laurence Bradford 13:05
Yeah. Okay, cool. Cool. That's really that's really neat. So yeah, thank you for for sharing all of that. And of course, as I think we mentioned a few times already, you're still working at the company, you live in New York, and you've been here ever since. So that's really, really exciting. And you it's, you know, obviously, it's like a startup, you've been growing with the company and it's all well and good. So now I kind of want to pivot a little bit, and I sort of feel like you have to live like not really but there's like, okay, so of course, there's Laura like, software engineer, full time access startup. You know, you've you've been there for like about five years. And then you also have this Instagram and the Instagram. Your handle is coder girl underscore at the end. And every time I look back at your account, you have like more and more followers. I don't remember. I wish I remembered exactly how many you have when I followed you, but I feel like it was I mean, maybe five to 15,000 And now you're at the time of the recording. You're over 30,000. But I bet by the time this episode goes live, which won't be for several weeks, you'll be up. I don't I'm not. I'm not good at guessing this kind of stuff, but but a fair amount more. So. Okay, just give this huge long intro. But when did you start the Instagram account? And like, I guess kind of like, I don't know, like, why and yeah, why and when and how did you start posting so frequently?
Laura Medalia 14:22
Um, yeah. So I think I started the Instagram account two years ago. It's funny that I can't think of the answer. I think it was two years ago. And so what did I do it? So there was a couple of reasons why I did it. So first of all, like I kind of mentioned to you when I was a junior in high school, I took this computer science class, I loved it, I did well, and I just never thought of it as a career. Like, I wish somebody had told me it was an option and that, you know, I could have seen somebody else like a role model who could show me what the life of the software engineer was like. So Part of it was me just wanting to show the world I'm like a platform that a lot of young people use and that a lot of people use that this is a career and it's really fun and problem solving is fun, and you can make a difference in the world. So that's a big part of it. And then another big part of it for me was, you know, when I was in college taking classes, it was like, I was like, one or two of it was like me and another girl. And then like, it was all guys. And there's this huge gender discrepancy in the field. And I wanted to put my face out there as a woman in tech and in to show that this is something that that women can do and it's really it's a great field to be in and it's rewarding. And then yeah, just to like, make people comfortable with that idea. Because if there's that discrepancy, if that makes sense.
Laurence Bradford 15:53
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Laurence Bradford 18:04
Yes so definitely that it's so awesome and I remember when Instagram not when it first came out but when I first got on Instagram and this was probably I don't even may goodness I could probably go back all the way to my first post and figure it out I think was maybe 2013 or something and I began getting into tech then and learning how to code and all that stuff. And I would tweet about it a lot and write about on my blog but I for for me like I do I love looking Instagram is a social media like platform, I use it probably more than anything like personally where I go on and look at a bunch of stuff. And I think like every morning, that's the first thing. Gosh, like check my email like on Instagram. Oh man, like before Twitter. Yeah.
Laurence Bradford 18:46
Yeah, it's just so it's just so it's so engaging, but, um, but I remember thinking, Oh, it would be so hard to like, share like kind of tech related content and I've been so proven wrong. Thankfully, over the last few years, because not only I mean, of course you but then there's other women and guys as well that have these coding focused. Instagram accounts. I think it's so neat, like, kind of some of the things that you share in your day to day and not all of it, you know, relates to tech, you're on vacation, your Insta story storying. Like what you're, you know, out on the weekend or something like that. Of course, a lot of it does relate to tech. But anyway, so I think it's so fascinating. You're making it so relatable. Yeah, I think as you as you mentioned, and yet like anyone, like any yeah,
Laura Medalia 19:31
Yeah, anybody can do it. And it's so important. Like, for me, it's like, it's not just women in tech, it's also just like, kind of crushing the stereotype of like, you can, like software engineer, I don't know, like this idea of like somebody in a dark room that's like unhappy and has no other interests. Like that. You can like music and software engineering, and you know, like, just showing that software engineers are real people, too.
Laurence Bradford 19:56
Yes. 100%. And the one thing at any one time goes to the count. We'll pick up on this right away I think but you're very like fashionable, which I feel like is something that's kind of like another stereotype is Oh, if you're a programmer, like you wear like a dirty t shirt and sneakers and your coffee stain or something, it kind of grungy or something, but it's like quite the opposite for you, which is also really awesome. Just to debunk that myth and go Oh, yes. And going back to what you mentioned, when I'm doing computer science in high school, I never had the chance to do computer science in high school. We didn't even have I mean, I think we had some computer courses but nothing that was like programming. But I never thought of it as well as even a career option until much later and it's so ironic because my dad was in tech his entire life and other people in my life in tech and as programmers, but I just never even it was never even crossed my mind. So I love that you mentioned that and how you're doing that for people that are in middle school and high school and seeing that is like as you said, a rewarding career.
Laura Medalia 20:55
Laurence Bradford 20:56
Yeah, totally awesome. So okay, so with the Instagram account going back to that you have like 30 or 30,000 followers, which is insane so many. Have you been super intentional about growing it? Like, I feel like you could probably teach an Instagram marketing class of some kind if you really want it like yeah, like how, how has that been?
Laura Medalia 21:17
Oh, yeah, so I haven't been intentional about growing it like in the sense that numbers aren't important but what is important is that I feel like very connected to the community that like tech Instagram community. And you know, like, there are people who are different than me in so many ways that we share this passion for of love of coding and wanting to like, motivate each other and educate each other and inspire each other. And that, to me, is what it's all about is like creating a community where, where people are different. They come from all sorts of different backgrounds, like whether you love fashion or you hate fashion and whether you're a girl or a guy like that's okay, we just all love tech and let's share it And so for me it's about what's it what is important to me is understanding what my followers want to see. And and making sure that of course it's like in line with my interest but like, I think listening to like my followers and and in motivating them has been what's important to me and and i think that that's what helped me grow because but maybe I'm wrong and it's just like that's what's important to me.
Laurence Bradford 22:27
Yeah, no I mean that definitely makes sense if you're listening to what people want and you know and crafting your story around that it makes sense that it grows but I okay and then I'm thinking as you're as you're saying, I didn't even consider this until right now all the messages and comments and likes Do you just have just have the notifications turned off on your phone?
Laura Medalia 22:48
I actually don't have notifications turned off my phone eats up my battery like crazy and people are like you're crazy. Like, I have a little like charger pack I have to carry around with me. And you know, I can't reply to everybody's messages so that's for sure. Like I work a full time blog job and you know, I'm running this account to share like my learnings with people. So I can't answer everybody but I, I try to like answer people and answer comments. And most importantly, I try and find themes and comments and messages. So like, I might not answer everybody's messages. But if for people who are like, Hey, I love this, or Hey, I have a question about this, then I'll be like, Okay, this is a topic I need to address if that makes sense. So I'm listening all the time. Yes.
Laurence Bradford 23:27
All right. Awesome. Awesome. And the other thing I wanted to ask because you see how the Instagram account Okay, and then you also have like clothing and accessories that you sell on your website. When did that start? And how do you text I know some of them are I think are handmade and you like so you so you sew them are you so you embroider them I don't know what the right term is. I'm not I'm not that crafty. But yeah, talk about that.
Laura Medalia 23:51
Yeah, so I did I did start like this apparel. I I started a website and it part of it is a blog and part of that is selling apparel and it's like perfect. apparel and, and one of the goals it's like in line with my Instagram account kind of is like making clothing that's just like about like the like that embraces the idea that like software engineers like are different in many ways but we just all love programming and can like laugh together at the same jokes even though we might be different and I try and introduce some some feminine ideas into the shirts to to challenge stereotypes. So yeah, wait, I'm so sorry. I got lost.
Laurence Bradford 24:33
No, no, it's so interesting. And I and I totally forgot about the blog, too. I had seen some of your posts and saw you mentioning it on Instagram. And I just clicked over to it. And I see you've been posting you just posted something like literally I think today so that's really yeah. I'm sorry, I was asking just about like finding time and how you will actually kind of just explain how you started but yeah, just exciting time to do this, the embroidery and then the sewing and all of that.
Laura Medalia 24:57
Yeah. So I do I design a T shirts, though, like printed ones, but I do work with somebody who prints them. And then the embroidery I, you know, do on the side, like, maybe if I'm watching a video or something, it's definitely like, I'm not as up to date with that as I am with working on the shirts and the website and the blog. And then how do I find time? Like, I don't really watch TV. And, and I used to watch TV so then I when I stopped watching TV, I was like, I guess I have some free hours. So I don't know, I'm really motivated to do this work. It feels really important to me and and I feel like I'm connecting with people and and I have like a mission and so I think that that just motivates me to make the time and to try to just like keep on doing it. And when I think when you enjoy something, it's just so much easier to do you know, like you somehow are more productive. Oh yes, that was 1,000% and Yeah, what you're doing I mean, it's so amazing and it's grown so much, I can't wait to see how it grows in the future. And I'm curious what is next with coder girl? The Instagram account slash the website, the blog, the apparel, like what are you? What are your future plans? Well, I'd love to hear what people would love to see. And then I want to iterate on some of my T shirt design. So I'm going to be releasing some new ones. So that's one thing that is coming up, stay tuned. And I've recently been working on app development two, which is been really fun. And I feel like I'm learning more. So those are kind of like the next projects and then just like continuing my blog. So yeah.
Laurence Bradford 26:41
So you said app development, I assume you mean like mobile app development? Yes, I do. Okay, and that's not related to the full time job or on the side or
Laura Medalia 26:50
Yes, it's on the side. So I'm working on. So with the apps, I've been trying to find projects in areas that are meaningful To me, like ways that I want to positively impact the world like things that like better help for mental health or the environment. So those are some of the projects that I'm focusing on on the side too. And, you know, the great thing is that, you know, as you continue to work and learn, I have, I gain more insights into like, what to, to write on my blog posts and share with people. So it's like on in, in that work, also generating more content to share.
Laurence Bradford 27:25
Awesome, that's, that's really cool. I'm excited to see some of the things and watch it evolve on your blog. And I have a like closing scenario question. So if there so lots of listeners don't have computer science degrees. Now, of course, neither do you. I know you took some courses, but not exactly, but not without the full CS degree. So yeah, what advice would you give to someone who has no or limited technical experience but wants a job in tech? What thing can they start doing today to take a step in the right direction?
Laura Medalia 27:58
That's such a great question. Okay. So I'm gonna give you like a couple of things that I would say. Um, so the first is like, you adopt this mentality, which is the internet is your friend and like Google things like Stack Overflow things, read things. use the internet to find like, knowledge is like can be shared now, and you can learn so much for free. So definitely, like use the internet. And don't be embarrassed about your Google searches, like, feel free to Google, like learn how to code or like, what does this mean? Even if you think What does x mean? is a silly question, just do it. So that's one thing that I'd say just like as a mentality piece of advice.
Laura Medalia 28:42
Another thing that I think I learned was really important is like finding people who you can kind of like code with or share ideas with or learn with, like, go to hackathons, maybe and make some friends and in and share like, Hey, I read this article and the person be like, I read this article. What do you think about that? Like there's this idea called a coder Ducky or a developer Ducky where you kind of like bounce ideas off of people. And sometimes just talking things out loud with somebody can help you like realize answers to your problem or like you gain more perspective. And there's so many different ways to approach problems in this industry that I think having a community is important, just to, like, grow yourself. So there's that, um, find good books. There's like so many lists out there of good books, the book that I recommend to people that I just really think was so fantastic is that Java book I have it's data structures and problem solving using Java. And it's a book by Weiss. I think that that's a fantastic book. And I'm sure there are other great data structure books out there and books and you know, topics of whatever if you're more interested in front end, there's great front end books out there. What else I would also say here's another thing is combine theory with practice and really just practice, practice, practice. So like, for me, one of the biggest jumps in. Like my learning was when I started my job and really started working like real time coding. And I think when if you just like if you want to work in tech and like, let's say you want to work in web development, try and build a website, it'll take you a lot of time the first time around, but try it out or like try and build a game or whatever you're interested in, practice it.
Laura Medalia 30:25
And then, I guess another thing I would say is learn how to learn and, and in what that means is like, learn how to approach problems, a lot of like, computer science and tech is problem solving. And so like, if you as you like, as you continue to solve problems, figure out the techniques that work for you and that and then in draw upon those in as your approach as future problems approach you. So yeah, learn how to learn, learn how to debug is also really important, like in front end console dot log or place the debugger, learn how to use your Chrome extension tools. debugging is really important because it'll help you understand what's going on with your code. And don't be afraid of bugs. Also, I guess I would say, everybody gets them and don't let that discourage you or make you think they, you know, this isn't meant for you like bugs happen you sometimes you get that red console error because like, you something didn't compile, right. Don't let that stop you. And believe in yourself, I would say, it's tech. Sometimes I think that there's like the stereotype, especially with computer science. And it's like, so impossible and like, you know, just like the most difficult thing ever, and it's not it's problem solving. And you can really like learn how to problem learn how to solve problems, and it's so doable. So just believe in yourself. I feel like I've given you a really long list and I could probably keep on.
Laurence Bradford 31:58
No worries at all. No, thank you. So much for sharing all that is super helpful. I know the listeners are definitely going to be eating that up. And yeah, I loved I mean, I was writing down what while you're saying everything and I love earlier on you mentioned the community I think that's so important like finding other people that are also learning to code who or who already are in tech and a little more experienced in learning with them or learning from them. And then yeah, everything else you mentioned was really awesome, too. So thank you so much, Laura, again for coming on the show. And finally, where can people find you online?
Laura Medalia 32:28
You can find me on my Instagram account. Codergirl_ and with the underscore sign.
Laurence Bradford 32:32
Yes, and I think if anyone probably just searches codergirl_, you must be one of the first results if not the first, even if it's misspelled, I'm sure it probably shows up really high. Anyway, thank you so much. Have a good one.
Laura Medalia 32:42
Thank you too.
Laurence Bradford 32:50
I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Again, the Show Notes for this episode can be found at learntocodewith.me/podcast. If you're listening to this in the future, simply click the Search icon in the upper navigation and type in Laura's name. It's spelled like L-A-U-R-A, and her last name, M-E-D-A-L-I-A. Moreover, if you'd like to this interview, head on over to my website, learntocodewith.me, where you can find even more awesome code related content like my 10 Free Tips for Teaching Yourself How to Code. Thank you so much for tuning in, and I'll see you next week.
- If you’re looking to learn tech skills for a new job, the internet is your friend. There are so many free resources online!
- Find someone to learn with. Go to hackathons together, bounce ideas off each other, and share problems. It really helps to gain a new perspective.
- Learn how to debug. It’s so important because it helps you learn what’s wrong with your code.
- Don’t let bugs discourage you; everyone gets them.
- If you’re struggling with learning to code, remember that it’s just problem solving.
- Learn how to approach problems. As you solve them, figure out a technique that works for you and apply that to your future problems.
- If you want to grow your Instagram following, connect to the community you’re in. You need to educate, inspire, listen, and learn what your followers want to see.
Links and mentions from the episode:
- Data Structures and Problem Solving Using Java by Mark A. Weiss
- C# in a Nutshell: The Definitive Reference by Joseph Albahari and Ben Albahari
- Laura on Instagram @codergirl_
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