Episode 2

full
Published on:

20th Jun 2022

S1 E2: A Fun, Approachable Way (Jessica / @codergirl1991)

Jessica Wilkins joins the show to talk about her origin story coming from being a musician to building a passion project to promote diversity in classical music and how she got pulled into the tech industry by warm, friendly communities.

We discuss a fun, approachable way to learn technology as we discuss Exercism, an online platform built to teach the joy of programming to everyone.

Transcript
Jessica:

I just want to kind of practice some coding challenges.

Jessica:

That's what I like about it.

Jessica:

It's just very fun, approachable, but you're still learning a lot

Jessica:

I had this idea to create a project called the Black Excellence Music

Jessica:

Project that, highlighted musicians in the jazz world and just promoting

Jessica:

more diversity in those fields

Eddie:

Welcome to Episode 2 of the WebJoy podcast.

Eddie:

I'm your host, Eddie.

Eddie:

In this podcast, we interview guests about their origin story and what

Eddie:

makes them excited and joyful to be part of the tech community.

Eddie:

I hope you enjoy today's episode.

Eddie:

"A fun, approachable way" with Jessica Wilkins

Eddie:

Hi, Jessica, how about you, share who you are, what you do, where you work,

Eddie:

brief introduction about yourself.

Eddie:

If you will.

Jessica:

Sure.

Jessica:

I'm happy to be here.

Jessica:

My name's Jessica Wilkins.

Jessica:

I'm based in Los Angeles, California, and I'm a software developer

Jessica:

at This Dot labs and I'm also a technical writer for FreeCodeCamp

Jessica:

I changed careers from a classical musician.

Jessica:

So before being in software, I spent all my time, performing,

Jessica:

teaching, and recording.

Jessica:

Since I'm been in LA there's a big recording scene here.

Jessica:

(laughing) so that was my life just running all around Southern

Jessica:

California and living that life.

Jessica:

Then the pandemic hit and everything obviously changed and

Jessica:

it didn't go away anytime soon.

Jessica:

Like I had thought and so I had an idea for a project that I had started

Jessica:

in June of 2020, because race relations were really bad at that time.

Jessica:

There was George Floyd's murder that we were going through and all of that.

Jessica:

And then also COVID was just really really, really bad at

Jessica:

most places around the world.

Jessica:

So tensions were just high.

Jessica:

I had this idea to create a project called the Black Excellence Music Project that,

Jessica:

highlighted musicians in the jazz world and just promoting more diversity in those

Jessica:

fields and to bringing forth those stories of musicians from past and present.

Jessica:

So I decided to learn how to code because I had all this free time

Jessica:

now, since, COVID was just forced us to all be at home pretty much.

Jessica:

So I started just learning how the code bounced around a different

Jessica:

resources and landed on FreeCodeCamp.

Jessica:

Started learning, HTML and CSS and JavaScript and started to really enjoy it.

Jessica:

And so the first year I bounce back and forth between if I wanted to

Jessica:

make a career change or not, but then finally decided make that plunge.

Jessica:

I did end up building the project there and launching that and then making

Jessica:

a version two, but then I decided to switch careers for certain there.

Jessica:

That's how I ended up here.

Eddie:

I love how, in the midst of a really unfortunate time, with COVID,

Eddie:

with all the tensions being high because of such horrible decisions

Eddie:

that were acted in our country that you said what can I do about this?

Eddie:

you found a proactive way to uplift people and, say, Hey, listen, I'm going to

Eddie:

do what I can to create more visibility.

Eddie:

So that people have something to look to rather than being dragged down into

Eddie:

the bad things that people are doing.

Eddie:

Of course we need to address that, but also to say, while people are looking

Eddie:

at this what if we have a way to uplift and raise those black voices so

Eddie:

that people can see them and amplify them and, really uplift the community

Eddie:

in a season that was so difficult

Jessica:

Absolutely.

Jessica:

Yeah,

Eddie:

I can't imagine what that time was like.

Eddie:

what do people have to kind of break out of that heavy time?

Eddie:

And I love that.

Eddie:

You're like, let me bring a little bit of inspiration, to

Eddie:

that time to help people through.

Eddie:

I think that's awesome.

Jessica:

Yeah, it just came out of nowhere.

Jessica:

Cause I was, getting all these messages from people because one of the, I guess,

Jessica:

good things that came out of COVID was we were finally having a deeper

Jessica:

conversation about lack of diversity in many industries, not just in music.

Jessica:

And it was talked about film and television and whatnot.

Jessica:

And so within the music industry, specifically within the classical

Jessica:

world, there really isn't a lot of diverse representation

Jessica:

for Black and Latino musicians.

Jessica:

There've studies done about it, and it's like as low as three and

Jessica:

half percent, which is really low.

Jessica:

It's been pretty steady for the past, like decade or so.

Jessica:

I had people messaging me on Facebook and Twitter asking me about resources

Jessica:

to learn more about, black musicians the classical world and jazz worlds.

Jessica:

And so I started just sending them all these different sites

Jessica:

that I found over the years.

Jessica:

And I was like, there should really just be one site and it should have some games.

Jessica:

It should have some good teaching materials.

Jessica:

I was like, I guess I'll just build it.

Jessica:

And so that's where it came in.

Jessica:

I was like, I guess I'll learn how to code.

Jessica:

And I kind of just went down that crazy path and ended up loving it there.

Eddie:

That's so cool.

Eddie:

I know a lot of people who are trying to get into tech that I've met on Twitter.

Eddie:

A lot of times they're trying to figure out like, oh, what should I do?

Eddie:

How should I improve my skills?

Eddie:

And it's funny because one of the biggest things I always come back

Eddie:

to is what's something that you're interested in that you wish existed

Eddie:

and figure out how to build that.

Eddie:

You may have to rely on grabbing stuff from tutorials or stealing

Eddie:

stuff from other websites you see, but have a vision for what you wanna

Eddie:

have and then figure out what skills you need to be able to build that.

Eddie:

Because your passion for what you're building is what's gonna

Eddie:

drive you to learn rather than.

Eddie:

Just following a curriculum because you wanna learn a thing.

Eddie:

That can work, but it's also very hard to stay passionate about it.

Eddie:

It's a lot easier to fall the bandwagon.

Eddie:

So I love that's literally how you learned.

Eddie:

It wasn't, I'm just gonna learn HTML because you thought, Hey,

Eddie:

I want this thing to exist.

Eddie:

There's no other obvious way to have it exist than to build it myself.

Eddie:

So I'm gonna figure out what I need to figure out.

Eddie:

I love that.

Eddie:

That's that's so awesome.

Jessica:

Yeah.

Jessica:

There were a lot of bumps and bruises along the way where it's like,

Jessica:

okay, I guess we can't do that.

Jessica:

Or I guess this doesn't work and all that, but it's, it's all

Jessica:

part of the learning process.

Jessica:

I'm glad that I went through that journey and I give the exact same advice

Jessica:

to people that are getting started.

Jessica:

Just find it a passion project of yours and just start building it there.

Eddie:

Well, so, you shifted away from music and into tech,

Eddie:

amid COVID and all that stuff.

Eddie:

You started learning it for this project, but what kind of captivated you about

Eddie:

tech beyond building this one project as something that you wanted to keep

Eddie:

diving into and that you wanted to make this a sequence of jobs or a career.

Jessica:

Yeah.

Jessica:

So as I started diving a little bit deeper, I just love the aspect of the

Jessica:

possibilities, what you can build.

Jessica:

And I was like, oh, there's so many cool music applications that you can build.

Jessica:

I was thinking about all these problems that I experienced as a musician.

Jessica:

There should be an application.

Jessica:

And also just by perception of what is developer specifically

Jessica:

within web applications?

Jessica:

I think a lot of people, especially non-technical people think, oh, build

Jessica:

up a simple little page and whatnot.

Jessica:

Why do we need a developer?

Jessica:

We can just use Wix or something.

Jessica:

Like, I don't know where all these developers come in, but there's so

Jessica:

much complexity when you're building out a really cool application.

Jessica:

So I had all these ideas and this is cool.

Jessica:

If I could keep learning this stuff and build a career, build

Jessica:

some really cool projects.

Jessica:

And so the potential of what you could build with these skills

Jessica:

really attracted me to it.

Jessica:

And the fact that it's always changing, I didn't want to be in something that

Jessica:

just, I learned it and it's okay, well I'm not gonna grow anymore.

Jessica:

I think that's one of the great things about music is you're

Jessica:

always learning new repertoire.

Jessica:

You're always challenging yourself.

Jessica:

You're always in these wacky, crazy situations as a performer.

Jessica:

So it never a dull moment being a musician there.

Jessica:

So that's what I really wanted is to keep challenging myself and

Jessica:

not just hit a level where it's all right, I've learned everything

Jessica:

and I'm just gonna cruise along.

Jessica:

I want to keep growing and being challenged and work on very unique,

Jessica:

problems and provide solutions there.

Eddie:

That's really cool.

Eddie:

That's a perspective I haven't always heard a lot of.

Eddie:

Well, you know, we're on this podcast cuz we come together to talk about

Eddie:

different things that bring us joy.

Eddie:

And so I was just curious about, what is a product, tool or community

Eddie:

that you found that you really enjoy using and brings you a lot of joy.

Jessica:

Yeah.

Jessica:

So when I started using the past few months is exercism, which is website

Jessica:

where you just solve a whole bunch of different coding challenges, but it's

Jessica:

different from a lot of the other ones that are more, like computer science.

Jessica:

We all know of leet code and stuff like that.

Jessica:

If you're preparing for a job and whatnot, but they're just

Jessica:

also code wars and hacker ranks.

Jessica:

But I really like exercism because you could still focus on those problem

Jessica:

solving challenges, but they make it in a more fun, approachable way.

Jessica:

So you're not just like, slogging away being like, ah, binary,

Jessica:

search trees and all this stuff.

Jessica:

They come up with these like really cute little fun problems, and

Jessica:

they're still teaching a lot of the basics and advanced concepts.

Jessica:

So you can get yourself lost and just solving all these problems.

Jessica:

You're not trying to rack up points or anything like that.

Jessica:

You just go through the different challenges and there's so

Jessica:

many supported languages too.

Jessica:

So if you're picking up a new language and you're just like, oh, I just want to

Jessica:

kind of practice some coding challenges.

Jessica:

That's what I like about it.

Jessica:

It's just very fun, approachable, but you're still learning a lot as opposed to

Jessica:

sitting there going I gotta do this cause I got a job interview coming up there.

Jessica:

so that's what I really like about it and that community is just, really friendly.

Jessica:

I like communities that are friendly atmospheres that are welcoming and not

Jessica:

really focused on this ultra competitive situation where we're here to learn.

Jessica:

And it's also open source.

Jessica:

So if you wanted to contribute and build your own challenges, then you could do

Jessica:

that as well, which is kind of cool.

Jessica:

So yeah, that's what drew me

Jessica:

. Eddie: I had never heard of

Jessica:

and checked it out when you told me , Hey, this is what I want to talk about.

Jessica:

And what's really cool that stuck out to me is: I was actually just

Jessica:

having a conversation with one of my coworkers the other day.

Jessica:

A lot of times, People can design gamified systems to always be

Jessica:

competitive and that's good and everything, but not everyone.

Jessica:

Like, I am not someone who tends to like competitive things.

Jessica:

It's okay.

Jessica:

But it definitely doesn't get me really excited.

Jessica:

I actually like co-op stuff more than competitive.

Jessica:

and that's what stood out, what you just said, like looking at it, it seems

Jessica:

more like a co-op than a competition.

Jessica:

You're not trying to beat people.

Jessica:

And in fact, they have mentors to help look at your code reviews and

Jessica:

it's more like you're on a team than you are trying to be the best on the

Jessica:

leader board or something like that.

Jessica:

Exactly.

Jessica:

You're not worried about like leveling up or how many points you get.

Jessica:

It's just let's go through these fun challenges and they have that mentor

Jessica:

program where people look at your code and talk about ways you could

Jessica:

optimize it, they also have a built-in tool where they'll check your answer.

Jessica:

And if you have a lot of extra repetition or stuff like that, it'll make suggestions

Jessica:

like, you have some repetition here.

Jessica:

You might want to consider refactoring this part.

Jessica:

So you dive back in the challenge, oh yeah, I guess I could refactor

Jessica:

this here, make it cleaner.

Jessica:

So it's fun there.

Jessica:

It takes away that ultra competitive, oh my gosh, I'm behind.

Jessica:

Or I don't measure up to so-and-so.

Jessica:

it's just, you're just going through fun coding challenges there.

Eddie:

Nice.

Eddie:

How did you stumble acrossed it and find out about it yourself.

Jessica:

Yeah, I think I discovered on Twitter because

Jessica:

someone else was talking about it.

Jessica:

And at that point I was using some of the other sites and I was like, oh, okay,

Jessica:

what's cause it's such unique name too.

Jessica:

I've never heard of that for like a coding site there.

Jessica:

So I clicked on it.

Jessica:

Started working through it.

Jessica:

I'm like, yeah, I really like this.

Jessica:

I'm glad that I found it.

Jessica:

So there's so many cool things you can find on Twitter.

Jessica:

Just poke it around and it's like, oh, what's this, you know?

Eddie:

Yeah, I definitely have a list of way too many things that I'm intending

Eddie:

to check out one day cuz I see it on Twitter and well if I don't save it now

Eddie:

it's gonna disappear from my timeline.

Eddie:

So I'll send that tweet to a note on my phone.

Eddie:

And then I tell myself, I'm gonna check out that note one day, but,

Eddie:

really it just keeps growing.

Eddie:

It's probably got like 120 items on it that still need to be looked at.

Jessica:

Right.

Jessica:

Yeah, same here.

Jessica:

I have a whole bookmark folder of just programming resources that

Jessica:

it keeps growing and growing.

Jessica:

I'll get to it eventually.

( Eddie:

laughing) Exactly.

( Eddie:

Well cool.

( Eddie:

What languages have you tried out on exorcism?

Jessica:

Yeah.

Jessica:

I've mainly been working with JavaScript and then also playing

Jessica:

around a little bit with TypeScript and a little bit with Python there.

Jessica:

And so they have a great range of beginner, intermediate,

Jessica:

"expert challenges" and whatnot.

Jessica:

And so it's great if you're just picking up another language, you're oh, okay.

Jessica:

Yeah, let me go get started with this and it's still engaging.

Jessica:

They try to create these like different stories with the

Jessica:

problems that you're solving, just to help keep you engaged there.

Jessica:

So it's not just solve this problem.

Jessica:

You'll be like two sentences or something.

Jessica:

They'll give you an actual story.

Jessica:

They're like, oh, can that be makes sense there.

Jessica:

So I like the engagement factor with.

Jessica:

it.

Eddie:

Yeah.

Eddie:

I think when I was looking at it, that was one of the biggest things

Eddie:

that popped up is that you have this story or something to go into.

Eddie:

Like for example, I just randomly pulled up this medium one that

is called robot name and it says:

:

Manage Robot Factory Settings.

is called robot name and it says:

:

When a robot comes off the factory floor, it has no name.

is called robot name and it says:

:

The first time you turn on a robot, a random name is Generated

is called robot name and it says:

:

every once in a while, we need to reset a robot back to its factory

is called robot name and it says:

:

settings and the name gets wiped.

is called robot name and it says:

:

So we need to respond with a new, random name, they should not

is called robot name and it says:

:

follow a predictable sequence.

is called robot name and it says:

:

And, that means you can end up having collisions of the names.

is called robot name and it says:

:

So your solution must ensure that every existing robot has a unique name.

is called robot name and it says:

:

So you're generating these unique names, making sure that they don't

is called robot name and it says:

:

match the other unique names, but that they're actually random and not

is called robot name and it says:

:

just a sequence of ABC or 1, 2, 3.

is called robot name and it says:

:

So that's really cool.

is called robot name and it says:

:

Like you actually feel like you have a job and you're trying to accomplish something.

Jessica:

Right, right.

Jessica:

And it just makes it way more fun.

Jessica:

As opposed to just being like, all right, just solve this abstract problem.

Jessica:

You're like, oh no another one, you know?

Eddie:

Yeah.

Eddie:

that's cool.

Eddie:

Cuz definitely leet code and things like that is just very technical, no

Eddie:

reason for what you're trying to do.

Eddie:

It's just write an algorithm that does this thing.

Eddie:

And this is nice cuz it makes it feel more like you're doing a real job.

Eddie:

I guess have you ever run into anything that's frustrating or any drawbacks?

Eddie:

When you've tried to use the website before?

Jessica:

Thankfully, no, I think they have a pretty good user experience

Jessica:

and it's nice and clean, simple user interface there where you just dive into

Jessica:

the challenge and on the site, I think it's like the right-hand side panel.

Jessica:

They have all the directions and the different test cases you're like, okay,

Jessica:

how are they testing this here and go.

Jessica:

Oh, okay.

Jessica:

Gotcha.

Jessica:

So I think it's laid out quite nicely.

Eddie:

Awesome.

Eddie:

Well, that's cool.

Eddie:

So if it sounds interesting to anyone listening, feel free to check out the show

Eddie:

notes, I've got a link to it, in there, so you can check it out and try it out.

Eddie:

And if you want to continue learning more of the language you're currently learning.

Eddie:

Do that.

Eddie:

If you've been curious about another random language, they've

Eddie:

got all sorts of languages.

Eddie:

57 different programming languages.

Eddie:

So there's a lot there to figure out.

Eddie:

So you can grab a random language you haven't used before

Eddie:

and learned something new.

Eddie:

As we wrap up, one thing we always like to do is.

Eddie:

Hear if there's anything that each of the guests has that they'd like

Eddie:

to share with the community that they think might be helpful to the community.

Jessica:

Yeah.

Jessica:

So I always love to talk about FreeCodeCamp.

Jessica:

That's where I got started learning and then got involved

Jessica:

with the open source projects and started writing articles for them.

Jessica:

It's a free platform where can learn how to code and they focus

Jessica:

on full-stack JavaScript as well as Python and data science.

Jessica:

So they have an interactive program on their main website where you learn

Jessica:

by building projects, which is the best way to learn in my opinion, too.

Jessica:

It's interactive.

Jessica:

So you're not just sitting there consuming hours and hours of videos.

Jessica:

They'll give you a challenge and then you start to slowly build out this site.

Jessica:

So beginners have this great sense of oh, okay, look what I'm building.

Jessica:

They could see it, in real time, okay, this is what I'm building and understand

Jessica:

how all the pieces fit together.

Jessica:

They also have a very active YouTube channel.

Jessica:

I think they have, like, 5 million subscribers at this point on their

Jessica:

YouTube channel and they covers like everything with PHP and Ruby

Jessica:

and Java and CS concepts, Math.

Jessica:

They just have a whole bunch of videos that you can go through, but

Jessica:

they're really high quality videos.

Jessica:

So whatever you wanna there, you can check out the YouTube channel.

Jessica:

I just like the community.

Jessica:

It's very friendly and approachable.

Jessica:

Cause we have people from all around the world.

Jessica:

I would probably say I think Quincy who's the founder of FreeCodeCamp have

Jessica:

said that, the North American population was maybe like 30% or somewhere around

Jessica:

there, and so we have a lot of people from parts of Africa and India and

Jessica:

other parts of Europe and Asia that just wanna learn how to code and gain

Jessica:

this skill set and transition jobs.

Jessica:

so we all just try to help each other out and answer each other's questions

Jessica:

and that's what I like to be a part of is just nice, friendly, helpful communities.

Jessica:

I try to stay away from the toxic environments if I don't

Jessica:

want to be involved with that.

Jessica:

So that's what I love about FreeCodeCamp

Eddie:

That sounds awesome.

Eddie:

I've definitely heard different people on Twitter mention it over time, but, haven't

Eddie:

really interacted with it much myself.

Eddie:

So that's great to hear.

Eddie:

Not just that, it's got good information to learn, but also it actually has a

Eddie:

good community and things like that.

Eddie:

We'll include a link to that in the show notes as well.

Eddie:

Jessica, thank you so for coming on and joining the podcast.

Eddie:

It's just been a pleasure to talk to you really

Jessica:

Yeah.

Jessica:

Thank you so much for having me.

Jessica:

This was fun.

Eddie:

Thanks for joining us for Episode 2.

Eddie:

"A fun, approachable way" with Jessica Wilkins, you can find out more about

Eddie:

Jessica on her Twitter @codergirl1991.

Eddie:

You can find links to everything we talked about in this episode, as well as a link

Eddie:

to Jessica's Twitter in the show notes.

Eddie:

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider rating and reviewing it in

Eddie:

your favorite podcast directory and follow us on Twitter @ WebJoyFM.

Eddie:

Thank you for listening and have a great day.

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About the Podcast

WebJoy
Find your happy place
The WebJoy podcast is an inclusive community centered on celebrating the diverse origins, skills, and experiences that make up the tech industry.

Talking with guests about their origin stories, what they love about working in their roles, and what they find joy in keeps this an upbeat and rather lighthearted podcast.

We approach the world with optimism and hope, while recognizing the flaws and challenges within our own industry and the world at large. We believe that if we work together, we can all find our happy place.

About your host

Profile picture for Eddie Hinkle

Eddie Hinkle

Eddie's mission is to bring joy and empathy to the tech industry. He does this through engineering leadership, mentoring and podcasting. Eddie currently works as an Engineering Manager at Glassdoor, Mentors on ADPList and hosts the WebJoy podcast.