Interview with Emma Koszinowski
Our next alumna (Class of 2015) is Emma Koszinowski, a Swede living in San Francisco. With a background in media production and IT and a bachelor in Social Science (focusing on how humans learn in digital environments), she took a leave of absence from her job as a maintenance manager at Stockholm university to study when her husband moved his company to San Francisco — and eventually left her job to make a career change. Her aim? Becoming a software developer.
Where do you currently work, and what do you do?
I just started an internship at a small startup called Bridge US where we help people juggle American visa applications. It’s a full stack position where I do a bit of everything: fixing bugs, building features and improving the UI. It feels like it took forever to land a job after RGSoC but if I compare with people I met at events and meetups who went through a bootcamp experience here in San Francisco, it seems like a lot of the other alumnis also spent 3-12 months to find a coding job. My goal was to find a junior position as a programmer right after the program, and I did a couple of interviews and made it to the the technical interview in several of them. Solving a programming task and talking through your problem-solving approach was a pretty nerve-wracking experience for me, but at the same time it motivated me to level up on areas I failed to explain or solve. For quite some time, my day job was to level up on skills I lacked for jobs that I wanted.
What does your usual day look like?
So far I’ve been working on new features and UI improvements as well as fixing bugs. I’m getting more and more familiar with the codebase and the app’s architecture everyday. The goal is to get up to speed on how the most fundamental gems work as well as taking ownership of specific parts or projects.
How did you get interested in programming?
I’ve been interested in technology for a long time and worked in IT, which is somewhat related to software development. I started doing an online introductory course in Python just to get more familiar with how programs are built, and even though it was pretty challenging for me I got hooked. It’s an empowering feeling to be on the production side of things and to know how things work. Knowledge is power.
Is a career in tech something you had planned all along? Where did you work or what did you study before?
I’ve been in the industry for the last 10 years, however I was doing IT or media things, and I can’t think of a more interesting area to work in. This said, I guess I had a mental barrier to do programming since I wasn’t that great at math in school and I didn’t use computers regularly until I was in my twenties.
Which of your skills helped you most to be successful during RGSoC?
I feel like positive self talk might be the most important skill for a programmer. It’s hard to be wrong and that one will be as a new developer. It’s important to take a step back and recognize improvements, even though they seem small or obvious. There is a lot to learn and it’s important to also enjoy reaching milestones and not save the satisfaction for the final release. I believe my management skills — to break things down — and at least some level of discipline helped me get things done. I recommend using Trello or Asana with your team to define tasks and have a platform to communicate about them. I scheduled coaching sessions in advance and made sure I had studied up on the subject I wanted to learn more about before, so that I would have relevant questions. If I reached a roadblock I’d ask in one of our Slack channels to see if there was someone online who had time to answer my questions.
Which difficulties did you face during the program — and how did you overcome them?
We were a really big team! From our open source project CocoaPods we had four remote coaches, two in different time zones than us. We had five coaches from GitHub who hosted us, one and a half remote, and two of our friends also coached us. It was a lot of people involved and just getting everyone on board on what was going on took some managing. The next thing to tackle was to understand who to ask about what. Our GitHub coaches were not familiar with the CocoaPods codebase, so with them we learned everything from demystifying the codebase to iOS development to Regex, algorithms, Git and more. CocoaPods helped us with more specific questions regarding the issues we were working on as well as helping us when we had Git problems, etc… Mostly it boiled down to knowing who to ask about what and to find the time to work on it together, given everyone’s schedule and time zone. If you are having a similar experience, I recommend using Screenhero when you are working together; it allows you to take turns sharing your screen as well as taking over somebody else’s screen.
How did Rails Girls Summer of Code help you get to where you are today?
I can’t stress enough the value of the experience working on a real project with real users. RGSoC is a great way to get that experience which universities don’t really teach that well. I learned to use relevant tools in a team environment and what a workflow can look like. Those are valuable experiences that help me in the internship I do today.
Who do you look up to in your field? Do you have any role models?
I look up to all the amazing people that pass knowledge forward in this field. RGSoC does an amazing job and I would also like to give a big thank you to RailsBridge that organizes workshops in Rails as often as once a month in San Francisco. Check them out to see if you have a group close to you, or get in touch with them to organize your own.
Do you have any advice for future Rails Girls Summer of Code students and for women who wish to work in tech?
Finding a local learning environment has been really helpful for me. Keep eyes and ears open for study groups, workshops, hackathons or social events in tech to get to know people and learn about what’s happening. You might meet people to work with or get help solving a problem you’ve been trying to figure out — or just meet new friends. Also guard your maker time — things don’t get built on their own. When it’s time to look for a job, make sure people know you are looking so that they can connect you with people they know are hiring. Don’t wait till the last week of RGSoC (like I did). Start way earlier.