I am super thrilled to have Jennifer Dewalt featured on this installment of Women in Tech Wednesday. Turns out, Jennifer is actually from my hometown (Bethlehem, PA).
Hashtag mind blown.
Truth be told, I had no idea this was the case till she mentioned something about my cell phone number area code.
In any case:
Jennifer has an awesome story about how she taught herself how to code. Yes, as you could have guessed, by building 180 websites in 180 days.
Even better is what she is up to today—running her own startup in San Francisco.
Getting Her Feet Wet
Before she began teaching herself how to code, Jennifer was basically as far from a programmer as one could get.
“Before I learned to code I was an artist. I worked with sculpture — video and installation mainly — but I ended up working with some friends on technology projects doing wireframing and user experience design. That’s where I caught the coding bug.”
After experiencing first hand all the awesome technology being created today, she knew she wanted to get in on the action. Jennifer was especially interested especially in the role technology plays with modern communication channels.
So, Jennifer quit her job so she could learn how to code full time. At first, though, she didn’t know how to go about it. She says, “I poked around a couple of tutorials but I never got very far. I’d get a few chapters in and be totally confused and feel like I wasn’t getting anywhere.”
Hmm…sounds familiar. I think most of us coming from non-technical backgrounds can relate—at least I can.
However, unlike most people, Jennifer decided to take on a self-driven project. That way she could measure her own progress and answer her own questions rather than relying on the questions a book thought she should have.
Still, with no technical experience, she knew she had to start small.
“I mentioned to a friend that I was going to start by making a couple of mini websites to get my feet wet and he asked me how many I thought I could do. Could I make 7? 30? 100? Eventually, I got to 180 and by that point, it sounded like a good idea!”
So on April 1, 2013 Jennifer made the first site for the 180 Websites in 180 Day project—the homepage.
From Artist To Web Developer
Keep in mind, Jennifer had absolutely no technical experience—she went to college for fine art.
She jokes, “My last math class was my freshman year of college!”
Nonetheless, she always had enjoyed exploring things on her own. Something that led her to study art in the first place.
With such an adventurous inclination, teaching herself how to code came somewhat naturally. Also, making it much easier, is the abundance of free resources available online.
“The awesome thing about learning to code these days is the wealth of knowledge freely available on the internet. Everything I used to learn is easily found with a little Googling. There are tons of demos, tutorials and blogs out there you can use to learn.”
Languages Utilized in 180 Websites Project
“[I] then picked up Ruby on Rails on Day 69 of the 180 Websites project. I also played around with Node.js toward the end of the project. Since then, I’ve been working on YumHacker which is a restaurant discovery website. YumHacker uses Rails as an API on the backend and Backbone.js on the frontend. The learning curve was pretty high for Backbone but I’m a big fan of it, now.”
As you can see, it took Jennifer until day 69 to start playing with Ruby on Rails. Proof that learning how to code takes time—even if one quits their day job and learns to code full time.
What Jennifer Is Learning Now
Lately Jennifer has been exploring areas beyond hard core programming.
Specifically, she has started looking at areas like SEO, analytics, and other website performance metrics.
“There are tons of things you can do to help improve your visibility in search engines like Google, from text content to images to URL format. It’s a nice reminder that building a successful website is about much more than code.”
Very true. A site can never be successful if the design is top-notch but the actual content is garbage.
Specific Tool and Resource Recommendations
Here’s specific tools and resources Jennifer recommends for those trying to learn how to code.
“All the resources I used to learn are freely available online. Stack Overflow is my number one resource for information. The answer to just about every question a beginner coder might have is on there. HTML Dog and the Mozilla Developer Network both have excellent tutorials for beginners. CSS Tricks, HTML5 Canvas Tutorials, HTML5 Rocks, CodePen and GitHub are all fantastic resources and to get started with Rails I used Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial which I highly recommend. There are also tons and tons of blogs out there with demos and tutorials you can find with a little Googling.”
Conclusion: Teaching Yourself to Code is Possible
It just takes time.
Jennifer went from the fine arts to in-depth programming with Ruby on Rails and Backbone.js in only about a year.
And she was completely self-taught. She is clear evidence that teaching yourself how to code is possible.
Jennifer shows how far perseverance and discipline can go.
Now Jennifer has her own startup in San Francisco—the tech hub of the world.
What do you think about Jennifer Dewalt’s 180 websites in 180 days project? Have you done similar to teach yourself how to code?
Leave a comment below :)