#WhyICode: Debra Gordon Finds Path to Coding Through Multiple Career Changes

January 12, 2018

Debra Gordon, recently graduated from Nashville Software School, on how she landed her dream job as a working mom. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

What inspired you to learn how to code? 
I am a learner, open to trying new things. I graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and taught for several years before becoming a self-taught graphic designer. While working as an art director, I realized I also had a natural bent for coding when I maintained the frontend code for 10 company websites.  
I decided to apply to the Nashville Software School. In the interview with the school’s creator, we talked about the fact that my history of playing the piano and enjoying math and sciences were early indicators that I may have a natural bent to the logic of software development. He also pointed out that my time in marketing as a designer uniquely positioned me to come at a tech product from a user’s perspective. Luckily after a year in the school, I did in fact enjoy it and understand what I was doing.  
Where do you currently work?  What kind of coding do you do there?

A few months after completing software school, I was able to land my dream job. While in school, I developed a good rapport with my teacher, and he reached out to me through Slack about an opening at his company, Ncontracts. As a server-side software developer, I get to work on software that financial institutions use to manage their compliance, risk, and business continuity planning.


I lived on Pluralsight to brush up on the technology they use here that I had not learned in school; I had learned C# and .NET, and this company uses Visual Basic and Typescript. My first code was pushed to production a few weeks ago, and I am very proud of how far I have come in such a short time. I had been told that once you know one language, you can very easily learn another; I didn’t believe that until I was convinced by my quick acquisition of the fundamentals of Visual Basic.


What advice do you have for moms wanting to break into technology?
First off, don’t count yourself out of the game before you are even on the team. There was a lady in our class that had been out of the workforce for five years while raising her young children. She came into the class with a meek demeanor and was nervous to succeed, but she has bloomed into a confident software developer for Vanderbilt (the medical center). She was coming out of diapers and Goldfish into conversations about SQL and JavaScript. 


Also, beware of falling into the trap of imposter syndrome; this happens when you feel like you are faking your ability until the others around you realize you don’t know what you are doing. I’ve learned not to doubt my ability, and having a mentor was a key part of that. Find key people whose career/path you respect and learn from them - go to coffee, ask them questions, and learn from their experience. Never underestimate the power of networking and getting to know others in the field you want to get into. 

Any tips for moms on how to find a company that supports working parents? 

I didn’t talk outright about my family with employers because it wasn’t their right to know what my home life looked like. However, it was my right to dig into the details and ask questions about work-life balance. I asked what the hours of a typical work day were and covertly figured out that the majority of the team had children. I’m sure you have heard this, but interviews are as much for you as they are for the company. No company is the end-all-be-all for you, so if you get the sense that they wouldn’t be understanding of a person when “life” happens, then it isn’t the place for you and right down the road could be the perfect fit.


What are ways you stay current? Do you have any favorite websites or podcasts? 

Right now I have to code in languages that are very out of date. When I need to learn something new, I turn to Pluralsight. I find the course/videos on there are highly rated and easily consumed. Prior to having a job as a developer, Team Treehouse was very helpful because you could actually code along while you were watching so that you were engaged with what you were doing. Both sites require a fee, but in my opinion, they are worth it while you are trying to break into coding.

What is your favorite coding language or IDE?  Why?
At this point I would have to say I like the predictability and structure of the object-oriented C# language on the .NET framework. It runs deep and wide and is easy to modularize. Since starting here, though, I have had to use Visual Basic on .NET, and I miss C#. I never thought I would say that!
How did you balance motherhood, a job, and learning to code?
I wake up ready to go - I make lists with sublists and I knock it out. Between my wife and I, I am the one that lets the dog out in the morning, gets our son ready for school, makes breakfast and packs the lunches every morning. Ultimately, for me to balance all the things I have signed up for, I try to be 100% where I am. If I am home, I am killing it with housework and mom-hood. If I am at work, I am focused and producing with the team. It is the work hard/play hard mentality that drives most of what I do.

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