Every now and then, I write a letter about what I’ve learned lately. Today’s letter was a little different.
Over the past year, people have often wondered out loud: what will you do next? What happens after you graduate? For a while now, I’ve had a hunch. But now that it’s official, I wanted to share the news with all of you.
What’s happening next is this: I’m moving to Berlin to work at SoundCloud.
The most amazing part? Erik is, too. After two years of long distance, we’re reuniting on the other side of the world. I’ll be joining SoundCloud as a Community Manager focused on scaling up their community engagement efforts; Erik will be joining as a Developer Evangelist. I am pretty much over the moon.
I’ve been on the lookout for a way to work with David Noël ever since our first conversation. The day we met, I tweeted in awe: “Too energized to sleep after dinner & ideas with @David, thanks to @eqx1979’s introduction. Future history, left turns & leading by example.” Over the next two years, we talked all the time; every conversation blew my mind. But SoundCloud was still in Berlin, and the rest of my life was still in San Francisco, and neither city would budge. The impasse was undeniable, but so was the draw.
The first turning point came when David invited me to Berlin last November to meet with the rest of the team—just to see. What I wasn’t prepared for was that every conversation would leave me in awe. Back in my teal and orange hotel room after a day of those conversations, I remember telling Erik in disbelief: I think I need to work here. I returned to Boston exhilarated, but perplexed. I stayed that way for weeks.
The second turning point came in December. Erik and I were on FaceTime, just catching up on each other’s lives, when suddenly he brought up an idea: what if I worked at SoundCloud, too? My eyes went wide as the idea sank in; I tried my hardest not to explode with excitement. That would be AMAZING. The next time David and I talked, I mentioned the idea and he broke out one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.
The rest is history…except for what happens next.
Where is this from? The song tingled like déjà vu. I hunted through my memory, grasped at keywords for clues. And found it: this scene and what it’s like to be fourteen.
So tell me, you go by Lorde. How did that come about?
I just made it up really. I really like the way it looks, the way it sounds. I like the way it’s kind of feminine, but it’s a Lord—it’s a male position of power you know? The e softens it too, it’s a combination of things. I mean, I like to read a lot. I’m really into how words look and sound, so that was important to me.
Can’t wait to hear more from Ella. Extraordinary.
I was supposed to spend yesterday in an airplane, hurtling from San Francisco back to Boston. Instead, I ended up in a fifteenth-floor conference room in Chicago with 30 aspiring web developers, getting them excited about coding.
What? How? Rewind:
It’s April 2011, and Jesse Farmer and I meet for breakfast at Stacks in San Francisco. We’ve reached a critical mass of friends in common, and so we decide to connect two more dots. Our conversation ranges from Chicago to Tumblr to fashion, but the part that sticks with me is the moment when Jesse asks: “but how do we get more women into coding?”
May 2012, and an email from Dave Hoover shows up in my inbox. We have a lot in common, not least our shared interest in mentoring and apprenticeship. It takes a while for us to hop on Skype, but once we do, it’s evident that our wavelengths are even closer than we thought. We resolve to stay in touch.
January 2013 finds me sending out my latest letter about what I’ve learned lately. In the letter, I write:
I’ve heard from a handful of people that my posts about programming have inspired them to give it a shot, or to get back in the saddle. And yes yes yes, that’s half the reason I’m doing this at all! I want more people to know what it feels like to make it to the edge. But the writing has gone about as far as it’s going to go on its own. If this work is to travel further and mean more, I need help. Will you tell people it exists?
The letter lands in Dave’s inbox; he’s been reading along. I receive a note from him in return:
If you ever find yourself in Chicago, I hope you’ll come spend some time with us at Dev Bootcamp. We push people to the edge every day and try to instill in them the ability to remain comfortable with confusion.
“Dev Bootcamp” rings a bell, and loudly: Jesse is one of its founders! Dev Bootcamp is a 9-week intensive intro to web development, and Dave is starting up the Chicago campus. Two more dots, connected in a surprising way.
Two weeks after Dave’s note about the letter, another note shows up. He’s wondering, too: how do we get more women into coding? Not just in, but into. We set up a Skype call for the afternoon of Wednesday, February 13.
On the call, I learn that Dave’s made significant progress: he and Elliott Garms and Jen Meyers have organized a day-long introduction to the Dev Bootcamp way. Through careful planning and the efforts of a supportive developer community, over 50% of those who’ve signed up for the workshop are women. But there’s still the question of how to make the most of the momentum, and how to keep it going.
This is something I think about all the time, so we dig into brainstorming. I float the idea of bringing in speakers who will tell their stories. “If I were to give a talk, it would be about how it took forever for coding to click for me…but once it did, I was hooked for good.”
“Wait. Do you want to give a talk?”
“Are you free this Monday?” Monday is the day of the event.
We both laugh. The absurdity of the proposition is self-evident. It’s too soon! Unless…
“Actually, maybe. I’m supposed to be in an airplane all day. But if you can get me from San Francisco to Chicago on Sunday and from Chicago to Boston on Monday…I’m there.”
It’s getting real. We start looking up flights. “Could you stay and mentor the students all day?” I’d love nothing more. Okay! Lunch talk plus mentoring. “I have to run to a meeting,” I say, “but let me know what you think. I want to make this happen.”
By 9pm, the flights are booked. This is really happening.
Yesterday, it happened.
This one’s for you, Marie:
How do we get more women into coding? This is the answer that took me to Chicago yesterday: by telling our stories, and by seizing every opportunity to share what we’ve learned.
Thank you, Dev Bootcamp. And thank you to Dave, Jesse, Jen, and Elliott for building the momentum that made yesterday possible.
Since yesterday morning, I’ve been trying to make headway on a new edition of the open letter I write every now and then about what I’ve learned lately. In the beginning, I had five sections outlined: on finishing, coding, noticing, reading, and listening. I started working on the reading section because it seemed straightforward enough; just list all the books you’ve read since the end of August, right? Then add a bit of commentary where warranted.
Nope. Took forever. List seemed never-ending. Got urge to delete entirely. Then realized: maybe this belongs on my blog instead! Relief told me it was the right thing to do.
So: here are all the books I’ve read since August, filed by reason for reading. I hope that in this stack you’ll find something to love.
I wrote the following paragraphs in a text file on February 17, 2010, and then threw them into the attic of an external hard drive. I dimly remember believing that they needed a lot of editing. A few years removed, I can accept that just a little editing will do.
Some time ago, I read a passage about scientific writing—I wish I could find it, I’ve looked everywhere—that had this to say about acronyms: in many domains, especially technical ones, words have very specific meanings, and using a word just left of the right one could be misleading or even disastrous. But the words are long, and hyphenated, and to use them every sentence would be tiring. So you use it once, and then you use an acronym thereafter, and that’s how paragraphs come to be filled with symbols.
This might not be news to you, but it was certainly news to me! And something of a revelation, because: I’ve observed that the deeper I go into technology, the more I resist using technical words in public places. Especially to describe experiences.
There’s a reason that company and technical cultures thrive on acronyms and coined words; shared language helps you know who’s in and who’s out. Traversing all the opaque acronyms is a rite of passage and then a tool for survival, in local configurations. In diffuse groups (devoted to programming languages, for instance), the acronyms also serve as in-group signifiers, but also serve another purpose altogether: a one-of-a-kind cluster of letters that can be typed together looks like a word as far as a search engine is concerned, and if you invent a new word you own the global namespace in a very powerful way. Synonyms are hard to search for, and so are universal experiences phrased in different ways. Names of categories are easier, and so are names of brands. And so, it seems, are acronyms. Words form the structure and the substance of information, and if you own the acronym you’ve unlocked the path to information produced by an in-group. (But they’re context-specific; acronyms don’t actually belong to you, and so sometimes there’s unintentional overlap, which is almost better for the exclusionary: you must not only recognize these all-capital words, but recognize that their letters stand for something different and that the meaning is never guaranteed, depending on domain.)
There’s more at play here, though. Sentences littered with long words repeated are tiresome, but sentences littered with capital letters are alienating. They presume prior knowledge in a way that can seem smug or clueless. And, further: if you’re writing sentences whose nouns have no synonyms, even if the themes are universal, your readers will balk and feel excluded. Even large vocabulary words, as long as they’re rendered in lowercase, can be skimmed and skipped and understood in context. They might gesture to something general. Acronyms, however, almost always point to something specific, and so if you miss the point the meaning is entirely lost.
All of this is to say: in order to address universal themes, I’ve found it helps to use words that have synonyms.
Worksheet, 1997. (Plundering the archives tonight.)