Is learning to code harder than learning Italian? Self-taught mobile developer: Jo Lingenfelter
I recently had the delightful opportunity to chat with iOS Techdegree graduate Joanna (Jo) Lingenfelter. As a fellow person who entered the tech field with a non-technical degree, I was excited to learn more about her path from earning a Bachelor’s degree in Italian to launching a career in software development — in particular, how her language background may have sped up her journey in learning how to code. I appreciate Jo taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions.
What were you doing for a living between graduating from college and beginning with Treehouse?
I was about a year out of college and working as a 1-1 aide in an after-school program and then a Special Ed class. It was the only job I was able to get with my very practical Italian degree, but I love working with kids and it definitely opened my eyes up to a world I didn’t know much about. It was also pretty cool to see the way that tablets were able to improve the communication and lives of these kids, and my first coding goal was to make something for them. This inspired the first app I built, Enthusiasms. I also coached a U8 soccer team, and as I learned Swift, I started an after-school club to teach it to the kids. The club was very successful and an incredible experience. I would love to keep doing it, and will hopefully get something set up here in Richmond in the fall.
Languages were always my jam in school. I love their technical component and putting the little pieces together. When I didn’t know what to do after college, a good friend suggested that coding seemed like something I might like. It turned out to be a really good fit because I find speaking languages to be pretty stressful, but you don’t have to speak this kind of language. It’s all the fun of the grammar puzzle without the stress.
I find speaking languages to be pretty stressful, but you don’t have to speak this kind of language. It’s all the fun of the grammar puzzle without the stress.
Swift and Italian are not so similar in their grammar, but I studied them in essentially the same way and struggled in essentially the same places. Just like with Italian, I really focused on fluency, understanding the technical rules, and at first memorizing strings of code and going over them repetitively during downtime until I actually understood them and was able to be more creative with the language on my own. Obviously, I didn’t have to learn to “speak Swift”, but I did have to gain the courage to talk to other Swift learners and experienced developers and be patient when I didn’t understand the jargon, participating where I could and making mental notes of things to research when I didn’t understand. It was a lot like when I was interacting socially in Italy, not always knowing how much I was getting and missing, but I was much more patient and less anxious this time around.
This is in a little panino store in Reggio Emilia. I walked a half-hour to school everyday and I befriended the family that owns it during my many stops there for lunch. I ended up translating their menu into English for them, and living with them for a while. I keep up with them regularly.
What has been your greatest challenge in learning how to code?
In the beginning, every day when I sat down I thought, “Today is going to be the day that I’m going to hit a wall that I’m not capable of getting past.” I hit plenty of walls on plenty of days, but in my hours of Google searching, video-watching and tutorial following, I was always able to learn something — even just a small thing — but it was enough to think that the bigger stuff would come with enough time. Learning to be patient for those moments of greater understanding and trusting that they would come was the hardest part.
Learning to be patient for those moments of greater understanding and trusting that they would come was the hardest part.
What made you decide to pursue a career in the tech industry?
On its surface, the tech industry always seemed like a cool thing to be a part of. I never really thought I would be a part of it, but I liked the idea of being able to wear whatever I wanted at work and the culture just seemed really cool. For the longest time, I thought to be in tech took something that I didn’t naturally have but, as it turns out, you can learn that. I didn’t believe that in the beginning, but I do now.
This is me and my Italian host mom, Irene, at il Lago di Trasimeno in Perugia, Italy. I lived with her for a semester while I was studying in Reggio Emilia. She’s a great lady and speaks no English. We still keep in touch via Facetime.
Why did you choose to learn to code with Treehouse?
Very bluntly, I was disappointed with Bloc and wanted more material on Swift (Bloc was focused on Objective-C at the time). I already knew the teachers at Treehouse because I had been a subscriber before Techdegree, and I was pretty excited to take a more structured curriculum from them. I also really liked the idea of the Slack community. The projects were well-designed and the coursework was always consistent with the expectations in the projects. I felt like the skills needed for the projects were never too far outside of what I learned in the videos, and when I didn’t know how to make things work, I was able to ask on Slack. In the end, I loved Treehouse and have recommended it to others.
It wasn’t a matter of being a good coder from the beginning. I could put the time in and learn it if I wanted to, and they were going to be there to explain everything and make it manageable.
What did you love most about the Techdegree in iOS?
The teachers, definitely. Especially Gabe and Pasan! They were so supportive and good at explaining things. They broke everything down so clearly and really made me feel like I could learn this. It wasn’t a matter of being a good coder from the beginning. I could put the time in and learn it if I wanted to, and they were going to be there to explain everything and make it manageable.
Tell us a little about how your career has progressed since taking the Techdegree. How has Treehouse helped you get there?
Treehouse was the first time I ever did independent projects based on a prompt. It taught me how to break down tasks and gave me the opportunity to go through the whole process of creating apps from start to finish. I took about a year after Techdegree to keep learning because I felt like there were still some gaps in my understanding and fluency and I was nervous to enter the job market. As of a little over two months ago, I am employed full-time as an iOS developer at Mobelux in Richmond, VA. I work on a team of four developers in a really neat office. Although Treehouse was not the only source of my learning, it was a very significant part of it. I don’t think I would be where I am without it.
This is my dog, Jacopo (pronounced “Ya-coh-poh”). It means Jacob in Italian. I have a standing desk at work and he goes right by my feet. (He always sleeps upside down, and his tongue always sticks out just a little).
What would you say are the greatest benefits of working as a developer?
Having it be socially acceptable to have as many fidgets as I want on my desk and taking my dog to work! But also, I get to solve little puzzles all day. I learn so much by doing it, and I work with very cool people. Also, since being employed as a developer, I sleep so much better because my brain is tired at the end of the day in the best possible way.
I’ve hit a lot of walls and I still hit them. It’s the hard part of doing this, but enough patience and a little less self-criticism can get you over them.
What advice would you give to aspiring developers?
If you want to learn this, you can. You don’t have to be the best at it and it’s okay if you don’t understand everything right away, even if it seems like other learners do. Put the time in, don’t be afraid to ask questions — I was for a long while, and it didn’t help me — and don’t be hard on yourself. Some days, it will be easier than others, and some days, it might seem like you have hit that wall that proves you can’t do this. I don’t think that’s true though, because I’ve hit a lot of walls and I still hit them. It’s the hard part of doing this, but enough patience and a little less self-criticism can get you over them.
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