Christina is a self-taught developer and in this interview she talks about getting into programming, her tips for beginners and how she teaches new coders. Thanks to remote working though she is able to teach students at Lambda School from the beautiful country of Costa Rica.
Hey, so can you give us a short introduction for people who want to know more about you?
Sure, I am a self-taught developer and have been working as a front-end developer for about 4 years now. I currently work as a web development instructor at Lambda School. In the past I worked at an agency doing Drupal and Wordpress sites. I have worked as a GreenSock animator for a gaming company and I created and taught courses for Design+Code before teaching at Lambda. I am from Florida but I currently work remotely from Costa Rica where I live with my husband and 4 kids.
If you don’t have a CS degree, how did you learn coding?
I've used a lot of courses over the years to learn new programming concepts. A few teachers/courses I enjoy are:
- TheNetNinja on YouTube
- Jen Simmons Layout Land on YouTube
- Sarah Drasner's courses on Frontend Masters. In particular her SVG essentials course
- Any of Colt Steele's courses on Udemy.
- The keyframers on YouTube
- Jonas Schmedtmann's Advanced CSS course
- Meng To's course on Design+Code
And way too many others.
How did you find learning to code while looking after your children?
It was hard. I never felt like I was learning fast enough. And the time I did spend coding I often felt guilty for not spending it with my children. At some point I had to tell myself it was ok to go slow and learn when I could. I also told myself I was doing this so my family could have something better. It helped with the mom guilt. I dedicated an hour a day to coding and the knowledge I gained added up faster than I realized. I was able to land my first job after 9 months of self study.
How did you get your first programming job/ freelance work and what advice do you have for job seekers?
I listened to good advice from people working in tech. I worked on projects I was passionate about. I surrounded myself with encouraging and inspiring communities. And I took a chance. The first job I applied to was an agency that was willing to hire remote workers.
As a stay at home mom my resume was not impressive. I almost didn’t apply for the job when I saw they wanted a resume and portfolio. Instead of giving up, I decided to do something different. I re-did the company’s website as my resume. This helped me stand out from the applicant pool. It also helped me become familiar with the company, their brand, and their code.
How has your life changed since becoming a professional programmer?
My husband and I worked odd jobs or manual labor jobs for years. We spent the first few years of our marriage living under the legal poverty line. It was tough, especially once we started having kids. Having a developer job has given us a lot more financial freedom and less stress. We were finally able to afford to move to Costa Rica with our family. It has been a dream of ours to take our kids where my husband spent so much of his childhood. It has also given me a lot more confidence. If I don’t know something I am not so quick to think I can’t learn it.
What is it like teaching coding for Lambda School remotely from Costa Rica?
Live coding for 100 - 150+ students everyday would be stressful anywhere. My students have the added bonus of hearing parrots or toucans in the background while I teach. But in seriousness, all my jobs in development so far have been remote. Living here isn't much different than anywhere else I have worked. But I get to drink better coffee now. Plus, when I think about going on vacation it’s really more having time to explore Costa Rica. I already live in one of the world’s most popular vacation destinations 😉
Do you think not having a CS degree helps you connect with Lambda School students better as you have been in their shoes yourself?
Yes. At least that is some of the feedback I have received from students and team leads at Lambda. I understand the pain points a lot of them are going through. I will explain what we are learning in a way that is approachable. I also encourage students to ask questions often.
When I was learning by myself that was a valuable lesson I learned. I am so thankful to the many other developers out there that answer all the questions I had while I was learning. The terminology in tech can be a big barrier to a lot of new learners and I try to remember that as I teach and create extra resources for them.
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Can you tell us what an average day looks like for you just now?
Monday- Thursday morning I spend time in meetings with my team leads. I prep for the morning lecture and then live code/teach for 2 hours. My afternoons consist of either more meetings, interviews, lesson planning, or my own continuous development. Fridays are a little different. I have team meetings, Q&A's with students and a mix of other responsibilities. Then I spend my evenings with my kids and husband until the kids go to sleep. Some nights my husband and I binge Netflix. Other nights we both work on coding projects or other side projects. I'm currently working on a few lessons for egghead.io.
Have you ever had imposter syndrome and if so, how have you dealt with it?
Yes, every day. I feel like I never know enough and can always learn more. I try to look at this as a good thing now though. If I already knew everything I would get bored pretty quickly. An exciting thing about programming is that there IS so much to learn. Flipping it so it is something I can continue to work on instead of something I have to do has helped relieve some of the stress of keeping up with tech.
What are your coding dreams for the future?
I want to continue teaching other people tech skills. I also want to continue creating content that is useful to others and can help other people earn a job in tech if they want to.
If I could do whatever I wanted and still get paid my coding dream would be to spend my time making fun and educational pens on CodePen or a similar platform. I enjoy experimenting with code and sharing what I learn as I do.