Valerie Woolard

The Starter Career


Valerie’s interest in developing began before her first job. As an undergrad at Berkeley, she was drawn to journalism and publishing — fact checking was her favorite thing!— but she took a couple of programming classes and found satisfaction in getting a program working. The obsessive detail-oriented nature of de-bugging was similar to her favorite aspects copy editing and fact checking.

In computer science, and in a lot of fields, sheer persistence through frustration is a big part of it.

~ Valerie Woolard

But she put her interest in publishing and in coding aside and started her career on strong footing: as a Berkeley graduate in Cognitive Science and French, she landed a job at Google working on Search Quality.

When Valerie had an opportunity to relocate to Chicago, she jumped at the chance to pursue a Masters in Computer Science at the University of Chicago. There she had a broad overview of computer science, including basic concepts, algorithms, cloud architecture and web development. It wasn’t easy — there were many times when she had a hard time wrapping her mind around some of the concepts — but this time she was determined to push through the frustration of not being a master of something on Day One.

How She Made the Leap


Valerie said she sidestepped some of the self-doubt that comes along with starting a coding career because she went back to school.  “Convincing people — and convincing yourself that you’re ready to look for work as a software engineer— is the hardest part. If you’re self-taught, it can be even harder to figure out at what point to send your resume out, at what point you know you’re ready.”

The Beginnings of a Coding Career


Valerie’s first engineering job is her current job, as a tech lead at Nationbuilder. She works on a team of three coders, where she liaises between product managers and other developers working to provide a platform that non-profits and political entities can use to build websites that tell their stories and engage their audiences.

The Day-to-Day


Valerie’s day starts with yogurt, tea and a detailed review of what’s happening on Trello, the project management app the teams at Nationbuilder use to gauge and manage tasks. Her work focuses on building a great web site and related products, relying primarily on Ruby on Rails and Javascript.

Valerie says she started out with a pretty good grasp of the technology stacks used at Nationbuilder, but that learning on the job is a part of the natural order of engineering. “Taking the time to learn, even if you know there’s someone else who could already do it twice as fast as you can, is important. It’s easy to get into a situation where there’s a person on your team who knows a language really well, but then the rest of your team doesn’t know it. Then what do you do if they’re out sick?”

The Wrap Up


Most Surprising Aspect of the Job
School is designed for you to learn. You know that things are there to solve, they’re at your skill level. When you’re out in the real world, that’s not necessarily the case. You can get into really hairy territory that you don’t know how to get out of.
Most Important Thing to Consider in a New Job
If you don’t like the people you’re working with, you’re going to be miserable. Select for team first. If there are things that raise red flags in an interview, definitely pay attention to those. More important than the money or the technology stack is the people; that’s going to be your day to day. 
Best Thing She’s Made
I have a huge family and managing the Xmas wishlist and Secret Santa can be a stressful time, so I made a Rails app that helped to manage Christmas better!
Favorite Resources
I like to keep my skills sharp by teaching Ruby courses through Girl, Develop It. I also go to Project Euler and its algorithm-based puzzles every so often.
Advice For New Coders
Women tend to underestimate themselves. I know a lot of people worry  that they might not be ready for an interview. Be straightforward about your experience, but don’t sell yourself short. If they decide to hire you, great. Just don’t try to make that decision for them. 

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