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Caption: Sally and Doug playing poker. (Note who has the larger stack.)
Caption: Sally and Doug playing poker. (Note who has the larger stack.)

In March of this year, I quit my job as a clinical psychologist to learn to code. Quite the change, right?

I heard about Ada Developers Academy, a year long, tuition-free program devoted to teaching women software development. But, when I quit my job, I hadn’t gotten in. I hadn’t even applied.

Part of realizing I wanted to code for a living was what I termed delving into the nerd. When I was younger, I felt awkward about my geeky proclivities, which included a love of sci-fi.

I didn’t advertise my adoration of Dune and Jean-Luc.

More recently, instead of shying away from it, I’ve finally gotten comfortable enough with myself to love Battlestar Galactica and not care who knows it. Feeling more at home in my own skin also opened me up to being interested in unexpected things, eventually allowing me come to grips with my desire to change my chosen profession. I’m a girl AND I like computers, and data, and science, and space, and poker. And that’s just fine, thank you very much.

I’ve been playing poker with the same people for years. At most of these games, I’m the only woman, but that’s comfortable for me. I grew up with three brothers.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Photo via Wikipedia.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Photo via Wikipedia.

As I got more comfortable with myself, our poker conversations included more sci-fi references. Since three of the poker regulars are developers, we also talked about programming. I learned about ADA from a friend who co-founded a Seattle startup. (Shout out to Doug at Estately!) He volunteers as a teaching assistant at Ada and claimed that all of the people he met there were amazing. He encouraged me to apply.

To learn more, I assembled a brain trust. Ok, not really, but I did take each of my developer friends out for beers to pick their brains about the field. Big shocker: They were all men.

I talked with them about life as a programmer, about ADA, and about the gender imbalance plaguing the tech industry. I was fortunate; they were incredibly encouraging, and they all care about increasing diversity in the field.

I started coding in my free time. A few Codecademy courses here, a few R functions there. Nothing big.

I was surprised by how much I liked it. It felt like I was doing something that aligned with how my brain works.

And I researched ADA. It seemed almost too good to be true: Nonprofit? Tuition-free? Improving the gender imbalance in tech? The timeframe seemed ideal to me as well: Not so long that it would be like grad school all over again, but long (and intensive) enough to think I could leave as a hireable junior developer.

When the application window opened, I was in employment purgatory at my job: I’d given notice but hadn’t had my last day. I had no idea what to expect from the application process.

The application included a coding exercise submitted through GitHub, answering a bunch of questions about a database file, and (gulp) a video.

I’d never logged into GitHub. For a newbie, GitHub is confusing. I struggled to understand it enough to submit the coding exercise.

In comparison, working with the data file was a dream. Good old data, my familiar friend. I worked with a lot of data as a research psychologist.

Finally, the video. The very idea made me cringe. The instructions encouraged creativity, but the primary objective seemed to be to get to know you better. I kept mine simple. I answered each question, and for a little added flair, I added titles that referenced sci-fi standards.

Working on the application was a second full-time job for a little over a week. My partner, Jeremy, watched me freak out more times than I’d like to admit. He remained supportive, but also wondered if I’d be better off waiting until the next round.

After all, I was applying to work in front of a computer throughout the Seattle summer.  But I’m stubborn, so I finished everything and hit submit.

Off it went, into the ether of the interwebs. I waited.

Note: For my next column, I’ll talk about the interview process and being accepted into ADA.

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