Birgit Pohl – How I became an Expert in digital worlds

Rails Girls Berlin “Wall of Fame”

This a series of interviews with women, that have successfully made their way into coding.
Check out their stories, get inspired!

 

Birgit is a trained graphic designer. She designs websites, digital interfaces for mobile apps and games, as well as icons, logos and print products. She learns to code to broaden her horizons and because she likes to challenge herself every day.

„It is a long way to learn a language and it is the same for a programming language. Don’t just learn it like learning vocabularies, but always use the language to exercise it.”.

 

Hi Birgit, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your educational background.
I have always been interested in the digital world. When I was a child I played many handheld, console and computer games, I browsed through the internet and I used a lot of applications, which are connected to the internet. But my interest to paint and to draw
brought me into the profession of a graphic designer. When I was a student at BEST-Sabel,
a vocational school for design, the main focus was on print. Despite that fact I wanted to
learn more about the web. That is why I finished learning HTML, CSS and Javascript after
half a year, which was meant to be learned in two years at the design school. My lecturer
was so impressed that I was allowed to give presentations about the current web
technologies.
Nowadays I design websites, digital interfaces for mobile apps and games, but I do a great
job in designing icons, logos and print products as well. In addition to that I teach people how to make web games with programs, which are easy to handle to give them the first
impression of making a game. As an Adobe community professional I teach people how to
use Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and other Adobe products, that helps people to succeed
in their own projects. I have a very exciting life.

How did you get to know about Rails Girls Berlin? Why did you join the workshop and what was your impression of it afterwards?
Having finished self-teaching HTML5 I still wanted to learn more about the digital world. What about learning a real programming language? My biggest obstacle was to understand the
basics, because they are very different from HTML and CSS.
I searched for new opportunities and I found them on Facebook, where a posting appeared
that invited women to learn coding even without having any knowledge about programming.
I was excited about it. It was THE chance to get over it.
I was absolutely impressed how easy it is to create a website. Who doesn’t want to learn
more after having such a great feeling of having success in conquering the programming
world?
I realized that Ruby on Rails is like Igo, an Asian board game with white and black stones. It is the easiest programming language I know, but if you want, it can be very complex as well. This is good, if you want to be creative and do something different.

How did you continue learning?
I continued learning Rails at several Rails Girls groups like the one with Johannes Mentz.
I also recommend attending the “Rubynoons”. The workshop is made for women who have
children or study in the evening. It starts at 2pm and ends at 4pm.
I wanted to make it big, real big. So I attended a further study for seven months. There were
many modules to pass: Javascript, PHP, PDO, object-oriented programming, Typo3 and the
extra module Ruby on Rails. When my certificate arrived I was very happy about the grade,
which was equal to A. It shows how strong my interest in and my excitement about it is.
Writing books gives me the opportunity to research and to learn more about programming.
That is why I plan to write one about digital media. I have the chance to pass my knowledge
on to people who are interested in it. For me teaching things is equal to learning things.

What was the biggest obstacle during your learning process?
Learning coding is like learning a language. You have to use it. Otherwise you will forget it.
At further studies we installed Ruby and Rails many times until we knew how it worked and
what kind of problems could appear. Have you ever tried installing Rails via WLAN-hotspot
connection to your mobile phone?
The biggest challenge I had was to manage the time. I wanted to learn programming, but Idid not want to give up my other studies. So I had a 15-hour day or more. I slept like 4 or 5
hours per day and I needed to do homework for both studies. It was all about my willing to do
it and pushing my discipline.
I guess some women have the same time management problem as I had, but for a different
reason, because many women care for their children.
It was a tough time, but in the end I am really happy that I finally have overcome my primary
obstacle, learning the basics of programming.

When and how did you decide to change your profession?
My current profession is as excited as programming, but I decided to do more. I understand
both worlds now. I am the connection between the programmer and the designer, so I am
able to translate the tasks for both groups of people. It makes it easier to work with
customers who have large projects containing problems to be solved in design and coding.
I made a new “friend” with mathematics, because now I can use it practically after studying
the theoretical elements. Before that I never thought mathematics could be interesting in any
kind of way.

Where you afraid of that step? If so, how do you think about it in retrospective? Was there a reason to be afraid?
I am not afraid of doing something that excites me. Of course many women might think that
programming is meant to be for men. This is not a reason for me not to learn it. I grew up
with a bunch of brothers, I jogged the time of the male pupils and I played in the male teams
at high school, just to play with people at my power level. In addition, it helps to play games since there are more male than female gamers. As a result, it does not make me feel
uncomfortable to be around a lot of male programmers.

What do you like the most about your new profession?
It is new and it is challenging me. Though graphic design is the profession considered to be
creative I find programming very creative, too. Programming leads you to solve problems and
you can do it in many different ways. Give ten people three different shapes: A rectangle,
a triangle and a circle. They can choose how exactly they are defined. You will see they will
create ten different arrangements. It is the same in programming. You will have ten different
solutions for one problem.

What is your advice to women who want to learn coding?
It is a long way to learn a language and it is the same for a programming language. Don’t just learn it like learning vocabularies, but always use the language to exercise it.
Don’t give up, because your obstacles are keeping you at your current position. Try to go
different ways. Sleep a night over it, before solving the current code problem. Clearing
the mind helps to think and to focus.
Use your new skills at work and show people that you can do it. This will give you more
confidence and people will know that you are not a normal woman in a normal profession,
but a woman with strong goals and the will to achieve it. You are pretty and you can code,
this makes you special. 😉
To do so helped me to become an expert in the digital world. It is a constantly changing
world in which you have to be ready to learn something new.

We thank Birgit for helping us to inspire more women to get into coding and wish her lots of fun with RoR. If you want to tell your own story, please get in touch with us.