Sabine Geithner – What motivated me was that I really enjoyed programming

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 Sabine who studied Biotechnology. In 2013 she quit her job as Head of Online Marketing for a self publishing company to do software development as a profession

 

However, the women I saw coming to programming to one of the Rails Girls workshops and who continued learning and eventually started junior positions were an inspiration for me.

Hi Sabine , can you tell us a bit about yourself and your educational background.
I studied Biotechnology and came to Berlin initially to do my PhD in Biochemistry. However, I realized I wasn’t quite happy with laboratory work and my future prospects. I decided to leave Biotechnology and started working in startups in Berlin. That was in February 2008. Before I gave programming as a profession a chance I was Head of Online Marketing for a self publishing company.

How did you get to know about Rails Girls Berlin?
I think a colleague of mine sent a link about the first workshop to me. But I had missed the application deadline. The same thing happened for the second workshop. I liked the idea of Rails Girls and wanted to help. So I decided to write to the organizers if they needed a helping hand.

Why did you join the workshop and what was your impression of it afterwards?
I joined the workshop a lot later after I had already organized a couple of them. I already had some coding experience with online resources and had a solid knowledge of HTML. So I didn’t completely fit the target group. I wanted to do the workshop because I wanted to experience it for myself and in order to find out if we can improve anything in the curriculum. I loved the atmosphere of it and that everyone shared their knowledge. The structure of the workshop itself was not made for me though. I am a different learner type and I think I was already too advanced.

Had you any previous programming experiemces before?
Yes, I had already started learning with online resources. I think I was playing with Udacity and Codeacademy back then. In my Online Marketing job I was initially also responsible for creating the landing pages. So I had solid knowledge about HTML and CSS.

How did you continue learning?
I didn’t initially. I continued playing with Codeacademy once in a while but didn’t seriously give programming a go. However, the women I saw coming to programming to one of the Rails Girls workshops and who continued learning and eventually started junior positions were an inspiration for me.
I only started learning programming with intention when I quit my job in marketing. I also did not learn Ruby on Rails but iOS development with Objective-C. I was mostly learning with online classes. Within two months I taught myself the basics of Objective-C and built my first rudimentary apps. I quickly noticed that I had to work on a real product with other people if I wanted to continue learning. So I applied for internships and started my first internship 4 months after quitting my job.

What was the biggest obstacle during your learning process?
I think there are two things:

  • A change in mindset, that writing code is not necessarily about the product but the process – There will be times where you spend an enormous amount of work and time into writing code that you end up throwing away because the specs for the product changed. You have to learn to deal with that and understand that the process of writing that piece of code improved your skills and made you a better programmer.
  • The feeling that there are soooo many people out there who have been programming half their life and who know a lot more than you and that the knowledge the field encompasses is huge. It’s difficult to find out what you need to learn first, where to set the priorities. However, I believe that as long as you enjoy programming you will get to where they are as well. It might take a while, but I think Peter Norvig was right when he asked, “Why is everyone in such a rush?” Of course you won’t be a pro in 3 weeks, but with some time you will get there.

When and how did you decide to change your profession?
I quit my marketing job in the summer of 2013, quite spontaneously without having a new job option in sight. I was Head of Online Marketing back then and wasn’t happy with the job market in marketing in Berlin. There average salary is very low and most companies here are doing e-commerce products in which I wasn’t really interested in.

I was really intrigued by the option of doing software development as a profession. I liked automating processes and had already written some VBA code for calculating fields in Excel and Access. I loved the feeling of achievement it gave me. I was initially thinking about going into web development because I already had knowledge about HTML, CSS and some PHP and I had the network as well. However, when I started asking my friends only two of them said they had time to teach me and both of them happened to be iOS developers, one of them even used to work for Apple. So I started learning Objective-C on my own but was able to ask them for help when I was stuck.

Where you afraid of that step? If so, how do you think about it in retrospective? Was there a reason to be afraid?
Of course I was afraid of it. I had to start (again) from scratch and I didn’t know how good I was going to be. What motivated me though was that I really enjoyed programming. I am still freaking out once in a while because I think I am too slow or not knowledgeable enough. But I try to remind myself that nobody is born a genius and it takes time and practice to become a pro.
I was also a little bit afraid of the “bro-grammer” culture, but it didn’t turn out to be that way. The people I worked with during my internship were super cool. I was working for nxtbgthng with Gernot, Toto and Ulrich who were like brothers to me and who really valued the other skills I brought along with me. When I started my current job, I was hired by a friend, so I already had one person to go to. In the beginning it was quite difficult to integrate into a team of only male and senior developers. I felt inferior and was sometimes too afraid to ask questions, but over time that has changed. I am a valued member of the team now after 1 year of working there. For some topics people ask me first even. It’s great.

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

  • Just try it out. You don’t need to quit your dayjob yet. You will notice quite quickly if coding is something for you. When you start coding with Codeacademy and you just can’t stop  and continue doing one level after another, programming might be something for you. Look out for a project of your own or join the project group to build something solid. The feeling of finishing something and putting it out there into the world will empower you.
  • Don’t be afraid of people with more years of experience. Nobody can be an expert in everything. You can find your own niche or programming language. Also generally developers are willing to share their knowledge with others and they are happy to teach others. The field is a lot less competitive than other areas of business when it comes to knowledge.
  • Find people who support you. May that be the Rails Girls project groups or individuals who can support you on your way. There will always be people who will question your ambition or your choice of programming language. Ignore them. If you are having fun, you will get where you want to be eventually. And your supporters will help you keep motivated.
  • Don’t give up. Learning to code can be exhausting and frustrating at times. Sometimes you will feel like a complete newbie, but this will fade again. Every programmer no matter how experienced hits those points. You can always learn what you don’t know yet.

Your extra question: How are you dealing with frustration during work/learning?
Good questions, sometimes I don’t know either. There are times where I feel stuck and I am not making any progress. Those days are hard. I tend to jump between tasks then which sometimes helps because I get new ideas how to solve it, but sometimes it doesn’t help at all. Quite the opposite. If I am stuck too long I ask other people to help me. So we pair and try to solve the problem together. If I have the feeling I still didn’t really understand the problem or the solution I try to find related articles to gain more knowledge about it.
And then there are other problems that are more related to management, like shifting priorities or unrealistic planning. I speak up about these problems as they happen and I think this is really important. For example once I got really upset because we were presented with a feature deadline 2 weeks before it was due. This is really frustrating for developers because even though they are doing the work they don’t get a say in the estimation. So I demanded longer term planning to know which tasks have and will have high priorities. This way you can start working on them earlier. But for a real change to happen you have to have a good connection to your management team which really depends on the people.
And then sometimes there are things that you just can’t change. In those cases I ask myself what my priorities are. At the moment, I want to learn as much as possible and I enjoy working on an exciting project. So if I can’t change something and it does not affect my work itself, I try to ignore it and focus on my work.

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