My Path into Engineering

by Lynn Root engineering pyladies story

More and more often, folks have been asking about how I became an engineer, what my “story” is. So, in the effort to save time and breath, here it is.

TL;DR: I have a business degree, and started teaching myself how to code in the fall of 2011.

Started in Business

In high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to study or do with my life. I loved playing the double bass and flute in the school’s orchestra. I even took IB music and seriously considered going to Berklee College of Music in Boston. But I had the foresight to know that I wouldn’t make a decent living as a musician.

I loved math and excelled in our highest available math class, but as a teenager, my brain had trouble trying to turn math into a career beyond being a HS teacher. So I thought studying business would be a good medium - related to math, but also gives much more opportunity to getting a decent job after college.

So in 2008, I graduated Babson College with a undergraduate degree in business management, concentrated in Economics and Finance. And yes, I certainly did graduate into a horrible economy, but oddly enough I landed a job in Boston at a bank as a Treasury Analyst managing the bank’s balance sheet (assets, liabilities, & equity).

It was a pretty awesome job, but I wanted to (or at least thought I did) get a PhD in Economics, as I eventually wanted to work for the Federal Reserve (managing the US’s balance sheet!). I got accepted to a PhD program in Frankfurt, Germany, but I couldn’t go because the US Department of Education did not recognize it as a legit university, and therefore I could not defer my student loans from undergrad.

So in 2010, I decided to return home to Seattle to hit up the free rent to save up money. There, I met my current beau, and in the summer of 2011 he decided to accept a position at Google down in Mountain View (I sort of nudged him as I wanted to get out of Seattle), eventually moving us down to SF.

Being in the Bay Area, I found out about UC Berkeley’s Masters in Financial Engineering program, which I thought would be a great detour to get into the Federal Reserve, as I figured I could turn into a “quant” and work my way into the Fed through the workforce route, rather than the PhD to post doc to lecturer/professor route.

Dipping my Toes into Programming

Welp, that MFE program required applicants to prove knowledge of programming in C/C++, so for the fall of 2011, I took a course through Harvard’s Extension School. Because how hard could it be? I was only a few years out of college.

Well, I sucked. I failed both midterm exams. I cried often. I could not understand pointers and dereferencing. Stacks, queues, the various sorting algorithms. All over my head.

The course held a hack day for students at the Harvard campus, but since I was in SF, I decided to find a local one instead - Science Hack Day.

It was at that hack day that I can pinpoint the exact moment that sealed my future, that I decided to continue learning how to code because I liked it, not because I needed to learn it. I was working with a team that hacked on parsing data from the LHC to make some visualizations. There, I was introduced to Python. Looking over someone’s shoulder coding in Python, I literally thought,

ZOMG I CAN ACTUALLY READ THIS. I CAN UNDERSTAND WHAT’S HAPPENING. WTF IS THIS MAGIC.

Returning to my nearly-failed Harvard course, I decided to do my final project with this language that I was just exposed to. I made a website that calculated a user’s personalized inflation rate over 10 years. I built the site using Django because of their awesome tutorial.

Oddly enough, despite failing both midterms, I received an A- in the course because of my final project (weeee!!!). And I thought 3am never looked better while trying to debug my stupid little website. I wanted to continue learning to code, but did not want to pay another $2,000 for a course through Harvard.

Drinking the Python Koolaid

I found out about Women Who Code through Meetup, and organized a study group to learn Python in the spring of 2012. I was a complete n00b but women showed up because we were all learning together.

I also heard about PyCon that happened to be down in Santa Clara, and scored a few free tickets for me and a few WWC'ers to attend. Attending PyCon left me super inspired. PyLadies of Los Angeles encouraged me to start a PyLadies in San Francisco (which I did the following month!). I also knew I wanted to speak at conferences like PyCon - everyone was so awesome, the crowd, the speakers, the organizers.

Despite only learning how to code for less than a year, I through care to the wind and proposed talks to DjangoCon EU, EuroPython, and OSCON, all of which were accepted. I spoke about how I was helping to improve diversity of the Python community by somehow convincing women in learning how to code with me.

One Year to Engineer

At EuroPython that year, I met a few folks at Red Hat, which is how I landed my first job as an engineer in the fall of 2012, and contributed my first patch to my team’s OSS product within two weeks. For the year I was there, I integrated the product into many third party applications, and wrote up one of my most popular blog posts ever: an explanation of Kerberos.

After a year at Red Hat, I decided to move on as I felt I wasn’t getting enough support as a new coder. I left for a job at Spotify in September 2013, originally working as a Partner Engineer (3rd party integrations with our APIs). Shortly after joining, I moved into a Backend Engineer position because I felt I wasn’t coding enough (so many meetings as a Partner Engineer!).

Just recently, my first project that was originally built during an internal hack week, was publicly released: an API Console for external developers to get familiar with our Web APIs. When I was a Partner Engineer, I got fed up answering the same questions to external partners on how to use our API and OAuth, so I felt something like this would help! I am also working on many internal diversity initiatives, including integrating the Ada Initiative’s ally’s workshop into our introductory days for new employees.

And that’s where I am today. Since starting to learn to code, I’ve join the Board of Directors on the Python Software Foundation, I’ve done some side projects, including New Coder, as well as lead PyLadies in taking over the world, including the pyladies package on PyPI. I still continue to speak a lot, as well as host workshops for those learning how to code.

Mind you, my journey in learning how to code isn’t over. I’m still very much a n00b, not not as n00b as I once was. :)

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