How I Became a Programmer: Rob Lieving

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!

Rob Lieving is an IT Consultant and an organizer and mentor for Southwest Coder Dojo. In this interview we ask Rob how he became a programmer and his advice for young people interested in the field.

How did you get into coding?

I took some programming classes in high school and one of my last classes in college was learning spreadsheet software.  Later I learned that Excel has a programming language embedded in it.  Even better - Excel will write code for you if you record macros. In my spare time at work, I started playing with the language and learning the relationship between Excel coding and Excel the spreadsheet.

What was your first job as a programmer?

The process from non-coder to coder took several years. My first programming job was as a temp at a bank, helping to automate sales spreadsheets. I was actually hired to do filing and be a clerical temp, but talked my way into helping with other office duties. From there, I bought some Excel books and used the tools that were available to me. I moved into Access databases and expanded my knowledge where I could.

How has your career advanced from there?

I went back to school for an MBA and took a few programming classes.  I never gave up learning, which led to SQL and web development jobs after my MBA. That said, the most valuable programming lessons came from practice and books. I was lucky enough to have technology projects where I could work my way through books on the topics. Programming became a passion and I spent many long nights reading and taking code from the books I was reading and putting it into practice.

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

Be open to opportunity, find the best programming resources (books, websites, YouTube) and try to apply lessons on real-world problems. The only way to learn to program is to practice as much as possible.  What isn't included in my story above are the late nights, the tears, the determination needed to solve tough problems. I developed a programming habit: always stop on a "win" - when a problem is solved. That'll make the next day better, no matter how late it is or how hard the problem is.