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What Makes a Coder: From a Nature-Loving Freelancer to a Former Furniture Mover

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More and more people are saying goodbye to the outdated idea that Silicon Valley is the one-stop destination for a tech career, and are creating their own path from locations all over the world. We wanted to highlight some of the individuals who are working in tech on their own terms, so we’re back with What Makes a Coder?, a monthly column that spotlights two people who work as coders—but might not have taken the traditional path to get there. Today, we have stories from a full-time freelancer who loves customizing professional sites and spending time outdoors and from a long-time lover of code who found his passion in mentorship work.

Charlotte O’Hara, 28, Vancouver, Canada

charlotte ohara coder

What you do and where you work?
I’m a freelancer—I have my own web design/development business.

Did you start your career as a coder?
I went to university for a BA, and after graduating I got a bilingual analyst job at a software company. I learned A LOT there over the course of my four years with the company, from web design, to product development, to UI, to client success. Eventually, I relocated to a new city, took a job at a digital strategy startup, and then finally left to work for myself building websites for small, professional business clients.

How did you learn to code?
I took a part-time intro to web development course and from there taught myself through online tutorials, and good old-fashioned trial and error.

Tell us about a favorite project you’ve worked on.
I recently worked on a law firm’s website. That was a fun project because they weren’t afraid to add a little personality to their website and online presence. It made for a nice change to my usual/more formal website projects.

Were you always interested in tech? What sparked your interest?
I always played around with computers when I was younger and had fun using the “inspect” feature (when you right-click on a web page to open the HTML) to see what was going on on a web page. As a teen, I also customized my MySpace page a lot (LOL). After graduating from university, I secured an analyst position at a software firm and that’s where my interest in tech grew ten times over.

Do you have any advice for people who are considering learning to code and might have some apprehension?
Just do it! There’s a learning curve, but once things click it becomes so much easier to build on your skills. Coding is also a lot of fun if you enjoy creative projects or building things. If you’re apprehensive or aren’t sure that you can learn (spoiler: you can), I suggest enrolling in a part-time course where there’s an instructor and classroom projects to work through.

What do you do outside of work?
I’m very active and love spending as much time outdoors as I can (hiking, camping, surfing, playing soccer, etc.) I also love cooking and travelling! Basically when my work day is over, the last thing I want to do is look at a screen so I try to spend time “offline” outside of work.

How would you describe your work/life balance?
While there’s always room for improvement, I’m pretty happy with my work/life balance. I’m active throughout the day, take a solid lunch break, and try to finish work at a normal time. I work alone, and often from home, so I try to get out and see friends and family in the evenings and on weekends.

Shawn Scott, 39, Dallas, TX

shawn scott coder

What you do and where you work?
I’m the CEO of Hack My Future, a Dallas-based nonprofit that teaches technology skills to youth and young adults through things like coding and robotics.

Can you give us a look at your career trajectory? Did you start out as a coder?
Career-wise I started out about as far away from coding as you can get. My first job was working in a furniture warehouse, loading and unloading eighteen wheelers full of office furniture. When I finally did land a job in tech, I was doing tech support for a dialup ISP and did a lot of tech support work after that. Later in college I had an internship with a software company and finally got back to writing software for a living.

How did you learn to code?
I started coding back when I was seven by picking up some books on BASIC, and teaching myself.

Tell us about a favorite project you’ve worked on.
My favorite project would have to be creating VenueCenter.com. When I started as the CTO there, I was in charge of completely rebuilding the site from the ground up to make sure it could easily scale as we expanded to new markets. The premise of the site was to provide an easy way for people to find and book event venues regardless of the type of event they are having. Now, three years later, the site sees about 30,000 searches a month for over 10,000 venues in Texas and Louisiana.

Were you always interested in tech? What sparked your interest?
I’ve been interested in tech since I first turned on a computer as a kid. I initially saw it as something new and different that no one else I knew was doing and one thing led to another.

What do you do outside of work?
My biggest interest really is just keeping up with all the new changes and innovation that happens in the industry. I spend a ton of time every week reading blogs about new companies and happenings in the industry. This is one place you can never fall very behind. I’m also starting to become pretty interested in IoT and Big Data. They are both relatively new things, but they hold a ton of opportunity in the future.

How would you describe your work/life balance?
A wise man told me recently, there really is no such thing as work/life balance. The trick is making everyone think there is. I have two kids that take up most of my time outside of work and a host of other projects and initiatives I’m involved in to hopefully make Dallas a better place to live and the world better overall. When I’m not doing all of that, I’m usually in my bed sleeping.

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One сomment

  1. Charlotte O'Hara Replied

    Thanks for the opportunity to share my story! Coders unite :)

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