Chiara Sarta – I was frightened!

Chiara Sarta

Meet Chiara who changed her career from frontend to backend developer with the help of Rails Girls Berlin. She is now working at WorkHub as a Junior RoR Developer.

„I wanted to code, but I always felt, that since I was lacking a standard education in computer science, I could never be a backend developer.“

Hi Chiara, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your educational background.
I actually had no idea, that I wanted to be a developer, and would have never expected to be able to do this FOR REAL. When you finish high school, you are still too young and confused to clearly know what would you like to do. I wanted to be a journalist, so I picked communication studies at the University of Torino. My studies had a huge variety of subjects from economics, to sociology and psychology, and I had to do some IT-related exams as well.

I started in 1999, and back then I coded my first HTML website with a notepad on Windows. There wasn’t anything of the web we know today. But I was immediately hooked, and attended all the coding courses my faculty had to offer, including Java, web usability, and more general human-machine interaction courses. I graduated in web programming, coding a search engine in PHP for an academic research group.

After my master, I attended one more year of education in Milano, where I studied visual design and web design. By then, and by doing so much design related stuff, I knew that I didn’t want to design. I wanted to code. But I never really trusted myself enough, to do it as a backend developer. I always felt, that since I was lacking a standard education in computer science, I could have never been a backend developer. So I started working focusing on the frontend-side, doing small backend things with PHP. I loved to do HTML/CSS programming, and I have been a freelance frontend developer for 5 years. Until I heard about Ruby on Rails and Rails Girl. Then my life changed for real.

How did you get to know about Rails Girls Berlin?
I heard about Ruby on Rails from a friend, but again, I didn’t trust myself to think I could really learn it in a way that would have allowed me to work with it. Then one day I discovered Rails Girls, and Rails Girls Berlin, just by chance, on the Internet, I found a link talking about Rails Girls workshops. I searched immediately if they were holding one in Berlin, and decided immediately to attend it.

Why did you join the workshop and what was your impression of it afterwards?
The first reason why I decided to attend the workshop was that I really love this initiative. I am interested in open source, shared knowledge and collaborative learning, and Rails Girls Berlin purpose, is exactly to help share knowledge with women who are willing to learn. It sounded like an awesome community, with great ideals behind, and that was for me the most important thing. Back then I didn’t think, attending the workshop would have opened me a door to a career as a backend programmer. I thought, I will get a great overview and introduction to Rails, I will learn something, but I didn’t expect it to turn into something so concrete.

How did you continue learning?
After the workshop, I created a study group with one other Rails Girl, Carolina, and one of the coaches, Johannes. We started meeting once a week, and had a project we wanted to work on, but also did a lot of general learning. Johannes has been teaching us a lot of things, and it was great to learn!

What was the biggest obstacle during your learning process?
I think that the biggest obstacle has been building the proper way of thinking, for programming, not the coding itself. I was lacking this kind of forma mentis, and I needed to learn how to think.
Rspec testing has been the highest mountain to climb. I found it so abstract, and so difficult to understand. It took me long, but I got there.

When and how did you decide to change your profession?
I never actively decided to change my profession. As I said, even with the learning that followed the workshop, I still did not trust myself enough. I have been very lucky, to find some awesome people who trusted me, and gave me a unique chance to be a programmer in the real world.
At the workshop, I met David, who was my coach, and I got in touch with Workhub. I started doing a small collaboration with them on the frontend side, but I found myself most of the time playing with the Ruby code. I was just too fascinated. So they asked me if I would like to work full time at Workhub, as a junior ruby developer. That was exactly six months after attending the workshop. I still feel blessed.

Where you afraid of that step? If so, how do you think about it in retrospective? Was there a reason to be afraid?
I was frightened! I felt completely insecure and that I would have never been able to make it. The first three months have been really hard. I was able to make things work, but lots of times not really aware of why it was working. I think I had reasons to be at least nervous, because everything was completely new, and I didn’t feel good enough for what I had to do. I was also going to work in an environment with only men, and I had experienced already some kind of discrimination feeling before, for being a woman AND a developer (back then, a frontend developer).

What do you like the most about your new profession?
Two things: the feeling I get when I write some good code that solves a real problem on our platform (for the users, or for the project manager). It’s a kind of sensorial feeling, and I want to feel it as much as possible. And then, my colleagues, who are the best. At Workhub I never felt any kind of less-trust for being a woman, or that they would not take me serious. They are all great programmers and way more experienced than me, but they are always ready to help me and teach me new things, or suggest better ways to achieve something I want to do.

What is your advice to women who want to learn coding?
Don’t give up! You have to go through a lot of frustration and fail, if you want to be a programmer. No one has got this as a gift, and everybody had to learn, and go through the same frustration. Have patience, and give yourself the time you need. And then, of course, share knowledge and do it like this great community does, collaborate with others and help others. You will just get the same in return!

We thank Chiara 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.