Working just down the street at Telus Digital, Ruxandra is a very familiar face around Lighthouse Labs in Vancouver! Since graduating Bootcamp just over a year ago, she's not only kicking butt in her role as a Developer, but has been contributing to the dev community over and over by mentoring, lending her skills to Ladies Learning Code and being an exemplary role model for aspiring women coders. We caught up with Ruxandra to learn what she's been up to in her One Year After Bootcamp.
What were you doing before Lighthouse Labs?
Quite a few things! Let’s see .. I have a bachelor's and master's degree in Economics/Management from Romania, my home country. Before moving to Canada in 2012, I did a little bit of everything: sales, customer service, traditional marketing, PR, fundraising, and I even dabbled with entrepreneurship for a while as co-founder of what quickly became one of the most popular business events brands in Romania.
However, what I settled on and continued working in after moving to Canada was digital marketing, with a focus on SEM, analytics, e-commerce, and technical implementation of various marketing tools.
What made you decide to come to Lighthouse Labs?
Me and coding? Oh well, it’s been a long time coming. I had a chance to try out some coding in high school, and in my first year of studying it I was completely in love with it and quite set on pursuing Computer Science in university. However, it all vanished in 10th grade when they changed our teacher, and it all fell apart. The new teacher was a nice guy and he probably knew his stuff well, but his teaching suffered tremendously. I ended up choosing Economics for university because it made sense at that point given the labor market in Romania.
I tried a variety of jobs and projects, but in the last few years I became more and more technical and I ended up working quite a lot with developers to implement various tracking or CRO tools. As this developed, I slowly started looking into coding and tried some free online learning tools, but I wasn’t getting very far with it. And so it happened that I got extremely bored at my job at the time, and I felt I needed to do something about it; joining a full-time coding bootcamp sounded like a pretty big challenge for me, and so that obviously got me very excited.
I’m quite sure I had little (no?) hope of actually becoming a developer when I signed up for the bootcamp, but I knew that, if I were able to do it, it would help my career greatly. As a matter of fact, I think what mostly got me to sign up was my desire to eventually get back to working for myself, and so it sounded like being able to build something with my own hands (be it even an MVP) was something that would make my goals achievable more easily.
It’s been exactly a year since you graduated Lighthouse Labs, what have you been up to?
I jumped from the bootcamp straight into working at Telus Digital, where I have been ever since as part of the Telus My Account developer team. I started off on a 6-month contract with them, and I remember how good it felt when they asked to extend it. And then a month later after extending it, I got a lovely promotion and was asked to join the team as a full-timer. Almost a year has passed since my first day at the job, and I remember how terrified I was of being “exposed” (imposter syndrome and I have history together). Also, the fact that I was supposed to code in PHP (when all I knew was Ruby and JS), and use a completely unknown MVC framework wasn’t helping, but guess what .. I survived! :-) One thing that is worth mentioning is that I was lucky enough to receive proper mentorship, so that kept me and still keeps me excited and motivated to learn and constantly improve my skills.
Four months after graduating I also started TA-ing at Lighthouse Labs as an alumni mentor, which has been an eye-opening experience. Having been through the bootcamp myself, I have a pretty good understanding of what a student (who is exhausted, stressed, and stuck while working on an assignment) feels and actually expects from a TA. However, there’s a long way from knowing it to actually doing it and doing it well, which is why it’s a learning experience for both. Also, having to explain concepts you’ve only learned yourself recently in a clear and concise way helps internalize them.
How did Lighthouse prepare you for your transition from bootcamp to full time developer with Telus Digital?
As best they could, really. It’s quite amazing how much they made me learn in 8 weeks, not to say how many doors they opened for me! The discipline of doing things step by step, the focus on following best practices, the ability to debug before freaking out, the habit of asking questions and requesting code reviews, the practical introduction to version control workflow, project planning and building good user stories, working productively as a team without killing each other, etc.—all of these are incredibly solid skills for a (junior) developer. Both the people and the curriculum itself help build these skills and prepare the students for real jobs as developers.
It’s quite amazing how much they made me learn in 8 weeks, not to say how many doors they opened for me!
I remember when I completed coding for the first larger story I took on at my job, and I asked my senior dev colleague to do a code review. He freaked out .. in a good way, and he told me he had seen plenty of senior devs who never wrote such clean and modular code. That felt amazing; I almost thought I could rule the world that day :-)
Tell us about living in Vancouver as a Developer!
Living in Vancouver as a developer who also has friends, family, personal development plans, and a bunch of other commitments (and is often terrible at saying “no”) is tough. There’s lots happening here; so many meetups, so many presentations, so many hackathons, so many communities that sound interesting! I’ve tried going to some meetups and events, but it’s hard to keep up.
Other than that, I started volunteering with Ladies Learning Code (such a great cause!). Also, together with a few other alumni, I got involved in “The Pair Program”—a special project that Lighthouse's Education Manager Rosy is leading, and that tries to tackle in interesting ways the issue of women in tech.
To wrap up, I am very grateful for being part of the Lighthouse Labs community; it’s incredible how many smart people I now feel I have access to, not to say how many lovely friendships I’ve built!
What technologies are you working with?
What advice would you give someone who wants to become a developer?
First of all, before you get too serious with this, please make sure you enjoy it. Would you see yourself sitting at the computer for hours just to get something working? Do you have the motivation to get things working, to build something reliable and not just make it work? Are you ok with being uncomfortable and always having to learn and adapt? Then go for it.
Secondly, be humble. I truly believe that the best developers out there are the ones who ask for code reviews, who know how to accept a different option and don’t reject any critical comment without properly analyzing it. The only way to learn is to accept you don’t know everything (cliché alert!).
Thirdly, don’t freak out. This is one piece of advice I still occasionally fail at following. All developers have bad days and good days; no developer is bug-free; just because X knows this Y technology you haven’t gotten a chance to look at yet doesn’t mean that X is necessarily much better than you.
I truly believe that the best developers out there are the ones who ask for code reviews, who know how to accept a different option and don’t reject any critical comment without properly analyzing it. The only way to learn is to accept you don’t know everything (cliché alert!).
An extra piece of advice for the fellow women developers out there: please please please don’t let anyone get you down. You are entitled to this and you can do it just as much as anyone else!
What's the weirdest, or most interesting part of your job?
I believe an interesting part of my job is the fact that the things that I build or contribute to are being used by a huge number of people (just think of how many customers Telus has). This adds a lot of pressure, but at the same time fosters a superior sense of responsibility and a steady focus on scalability, security, and performance. But, yeah, if your QA colleague finds a bug in production, you’re guaranteed to get some shivers up your spine :-)
Any side projects?
I mentioned above some projects/activities I am currently involved with. Unfortunately, I am yet to settle down on an app idea or open source project to contribute to. I sometimes get sad because of this ( of course, don’t we all compare ourselves to others?), but at the end of day what matters is that I keep learning. And that I do, I really do.
I’m excited to see what opportunities the future will bring for me within Telus Digital, but also very keen on anything that Lighthouse Labs has planned and any volunteering opportunities as a techie, and not only.
I will keep trying to please the creativity gods and hope they’ll give me a cool idea that will keep me coding day and night and become a star :-) Until then, I’ll keep visiting Lighthouse Labs and try to have fun! Thank you!