Maren Heltsche – getting convinced I really can learn to code

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!

Meet Maren, a freelance data scientist, who via Rails Girls Berlin Google Group found fellow students and coaches and formed the Ruby Monsters project group. In March they launched speakerinnen.org, a database for female speakers. Maren is a mentor for a Rails Girls Summer of Code 2014 team,  who works further on this project.

 

„Find other people with whom you can share and discuss your experiences. Even if this might not sound familiar: coding is a team work and especially learning to code is.”

 

Hi Maren , can you tell us a bit about yourself and your educational background.

I have a Master in Communication Science and worked 10 years with a strong empirical focus as a data analyst. That means I’ve always had a passion for analytical processes and tools, but I never looked under the engine hood of the tools I’ve used.

In my former company I established a business department called ‚Social Media Evaluation‘ which needed many changes in the IT infrastructure. Since I was the project manager of that construction site, I was suddenly involved in IT details and have realized, how important is the translation between the user and the software developer. Within 2 years I managed to fill that gap and to understand more of the life behind the user interface.

How did you get to know about Rails Girls Berlin?

I found a call for participants for the first Rails Girls Berlin workshop on twitter. Unfortunately I was too late. But some weeks later I was on board for the second workshop, back in April 2012.

Why did you join the workshop and what was your impression of it afterwards?

I was very curious how programming really works, but I never thought it would be possible to learn it by myself. In my first workshop I was really overwhelmed by the small things we already built. I was also a little bit confused and couldn‘t hardly understand, how all the magic happens.

How did you continue learning?

With a project idea in mind (Text to squares) I posted my interest to join or to found a learning group in the Rails Girls Berlin Google-Group and found some other students and coaches. Since summer 2012 we meet every Monday as „RubyMonsters“ at Travis CI and have wunderful coaches (Sven Fuchs, Matt Patterson, Arne Brasseur). Besides learning in this group I followed some tutorials e.g. the Hartl tutorial, read some chapters in a book „Beginning Ruby. From Novice to Professional“ and was lucky pairing for some time with Raphaela Wrede – an experienced programmer – on a real world project.

 In March we launched speakerinnen.org a database for female speakers. We worked on this project already for one year, but after the launch the project entered a new era. We are very happy to have one team of Rails Girls Summer of Code working on speakerinnen.org for the next three months. I am proud to be one of their mentors and to learn more about working in larger groups on open source software.

What was the biggest obstacle during your learning process?

I think the biggest obstacle was to get started. To get convinced that I really can learn to code. During the learning process the biggest obstacle for me was to recognize, that there is a big gap between understanding passively how the code works and to actively build applications. Personally it helped me, and still helps me, to read books and to take notes. Recapitulating some basic principles while solving concrete problems helps me to get a deeper understanding of how things work.

Also I had to learn to be more patient in getting things done. Setting up some coding architecture really needs time and deep thinking. Sometimes it also needs the ability to ask the right questions to google. Besides I had to change my way of thinking and problem solving.

When and how did you decide to change your profession?

I didn‘t really change my profession, but I shifted the focus. Before I started to code, I was working in the field of social media monitoring and I was manager of the social media evaluation department and product owner of a big IT project. While learning to code my focus of work shifted more towards the technical things in data science and visualization. Right now I‘m working as a freelance data scientist and do data processing and develop visualizations on my own.

Where you afraid of that step? If so, how do you think about it in retrospective? Was there a reason to be afraid?

For me it was no real step to take but more a slight transition. So, there was no time slot for being afraid. But the encouraging environment of the study group and the help of the coaches made me confident to offer projects that include coding to my clients.

What do you like the most about your new profession?

The diversity of the tasks and the fact that I create concrete products people actually use. Data analyses and data visualizations often help people to get a perspective on things they didn‘t have before. My work helps them to understand things better and to take better decisions. With my programming skills I am more flexible in choosing the tools of my work and so my work gets more creative and innovative.

What is your advice to women who want to learn coding?

If coding sounds interesting to you, just try it out. Do the first steps with www.tryruby.org or www.codeschool.com. If there are Rails Girls in your city, apply to the next workshop available, or if not, find other people with whom you can share and discuss your experiences. Even if this might not sound familiar: coding is a team work and especially learning to code is.

 There is much magic in coding. That will motivate you! But you have to understand how this magic works. This is a lot of learning but it is also a lot of fun!

We thank Maren 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.