How I Became a Developer: Katherine Vogel

Southwest Coder Dojo

Southwest Coder Dojo is a member of Coder Dojo International, an organization of free, volunteer-led coding clubs. We were founded to provide introductory coding experiences for youth and teens (ages 11-18). Our volunteer mentors are software developers and software industry professionals from the Twin Cities.

Register with Hennepin County Library to attend our Dojo events. Tickets are free, but seats are limited. No experience in programming required. Remember to bring your laptop!

Katherine Vogel is a volunteer mentor for Southwest Coder Dojo, a graduate of Prime Digital Academy and a full-stack web developer. In this interview she shares some tips for getting started in programming and explains what a "full-stack developer" is.

How did you get into coding?

I had always thought it sounded interesting, but never took any classes on it as a young person, or even in college. A friend of mine told me about Prime Digital Academy, and how I could learn a LOT about coding and the tech industry in a short amount of time.  I ended up going to Prime, I loved it, and got a new job in a whole new field.  

What was your first job as a programmer?

I am still working at my first job as a programmer.  My job title is Associate full stack web developer.  The full stack means that I work on all areas of the web application.  The front end is the part we see when we interact with a website or app.  I also work in "the middle" of the application.  I write code that implements logic for how/when the display should change for the user, and if any information should be collected from user input.  The back end is my favorite, making connections to databases and writing external applications that help retrieve and format data that the application will need.  

How has your career advanced from there?

I have been working on the same team at the same company for a year now.  In that time, I have had many, many opportunities to increase my knowledge and responsibilities.  When you're in programming, you learn a LOT of technologies really, really fast.  From this one position, I have learned at LEAST 10 new technology tools and languages.  I have endless opportunities to seek different types of jobs in different locations or settings if I choose to.  Also, with any amount of experience, your overall value and salary increases.  To me, the best thing about working as a programmer is that I have SO many choices about what I could do next. 

What advice would you give a young person who's interested in the field?

1. Just pick a language and learn to code!  It doesn't matter what language you start in.  You might one day get a job where the primary language you use is something you've never used before.  Everyone in the field understands that once you have learned one language, any new language you learn after that will come to you quicker.  

2.  Learn to read, write, and speak.  Being a well-rounded person who can communicate is a big part of becoming a valuable asset to a prospective employer/team.  

3.  Learn as much math as you can. I was a math teacher before I learned any code. Being a mathematical thinker really primed my brain for coding. If math is not your favorite, or you find it boring or difficult, stick with it. That leads me to #4:

4.  Be gritty.  Do you talk about what it means to have "grit" at your school? If you want to get really good at anything, you have to be willing to stick with it, well past the point of when it gets frustrating or hard. Be ready to run into problems that you can't solve immediately. You might have to take a breath and walk away for 5 minutes, ask a friend or teacher or research a question online.  You might have to break down the problem into smaller pieces.  If you accidentally break what you're working on, you might have to start over!  But take a breath, and stick with it.  You don't really have to be that smart to code (although, it can help). I think grit is the most important trait to build. 

5.  Talk to other people who code. Ask them what kinds of resources they use and like. It really helps me when I realize that I don't have to reinvent the wheel, I'm not alone, and there are so many people who are really friendly and willing to help others. The tech community, especially in the Twin Cities area, are incredibly friendly and supportive of one another.