Interview with Lena Herrmann

Lena Herrmann

Lena Herrmann is a woman, a mother, a feminist, a political activist and an agile developer.  She is also a coach at Rails Girls Berlin, and in her free time she is also helping some of the participants of the previous workshop to build their own blogging platform. I’m not sure where she gets her strength from. Must be the samba.

Cristina: Who are you and what do you do?

Lena: My name is Lena Herrmann, I’m 30 years old and I work as a software developer. I’m passionate about agile methodologies like test driven development and pair programming. I like playing snare drums in a samba band, supporting open source software, feminism, preparing and joining political protests and direct actions, reading, hiking and dancing to electronic music. I also have a five year old son, who makes sure I do neither of it as much as I’d like to 🙂

C: Why Ruby on Rails, and why Rails Girls?

L: I studied computer sciences at a university of applied sciences, so during my studies I got to work with several languages and frameworks. I liked programming well enough, but couldn’t quite see myself working with something like Java all the time. I learned Ruby on Rails while I was at home with my first baby, when I helped a friend to build a web application for a campaign of the global justice movement. I immediately fell in love with Ruby and Rails, because it targets to a happy programmer: I felt the creators really wanted me to understand things! You neither need years of experience to be productive, nor do you have to guess how things are working. In Rails, it just makes sense where stuff goes, there is a clear way how things should be done most of the time. And when you’re not able to figure it out by yourself, there are tons of resources to look it up, and many many people to ask.

As much as I like the Ruby community, there are even less women in it than in other open source communities. Rails Girls is a wonderful way to actually do something about that. I love to see the sparkly excitement of smart women, and it’s great to be able to give something back!

C: So, you were a beginner once. Why and when did you start coding?

L: Since high school I’ve been actively involved in what later was called the global justice movement; I’ve always been part in initiatives concerned about environmental protection, women’s rights and antifascism. I got interested in media activism and so I started to volunteer for Indymedia, a global participatory network of citizen journalists that report on political and social issues. At the turn of the century, long before Tumblr, Flickr and Youtube, Indymedia was one of the first places where people could publish their own stories and upload their own pictures – on the mission to close the gap between media producers and consumers. There were always many women doing editorial work and teaching people how to use the website – but almost all the people responsible for software and hardware were male. With their help I started to learn HTML and Linux to be able to be part of their conversations. But soon I knew I wanted to learn more, so not all the important tasks and decisions would be in male hands only. So I changed my major from languages to computer sciences.

C: Why, oh why, do you think we need more women in tech?

L: We live in a world where software is very important in all kinds of areas, or as Lawrence Lessig puts it: “Code is law”. And it will become even more important in the future, we’re currently seeing just the start of it. I believe software written by people from all walks of life turns out to be overall different than software written by only a very small selection of people (white, male, young). While it’s great to just discuss the world we want to live in, it’s also important to empower a diversity of people to actually implement it.

Furthermore, software development is a great profession: varied, challenging, social. Also it’s well paid and highly in demand – perfect for working less than full time and from any location. Therefore it’s perfect for a life that allows you to also do other important things apart from work, like having a family or changing the world. But, it is not a profession that girls choosing their career usually come up with, while today it’s one of the first things boys think they can do when they have no other ideas. And that’s so unfair! I also want it to be an obvious career choice for girls!

C: Beginners are reading. Any advice for our first steps in coding?

L: There are plenty of resources that can help you with the very first steps. Next, you should build something for yourself, something you totally want to use yourself! One of my first software projects was an expense tracker for my samba band. Before I had used a spreadsheet, so the software I came up with was quite simple, but I learned tons on the way. Instead of working through tutorials, you are so much more motivated when you really know by yourself how the result should look like.

And: There are many many people who want to answer all the questions that you have! Not only in Rails Girls, open source people are mostly very helpful in general. You don’t need to chew on one problem for several hours on your own. Learn how to google, but don’t be afraid to ask even if you think it’s a silly question.

Want to know more about Lena? Visit her site and follow her on Twitter.

Cristina