People of Tech: Interview with Lydia Hallie
Developer Careers Mia Bijman
We recently caught up with the talented, young Dutch developer Lydia Hallie for a quick chat about starting to program, important coding languages, and how her 2017 Medium article ‘Advice from a 19 Year Old Girl & Software Developer’ helped her to create a nexus with the developer community. Her do-it-yourself attitude and engaging, fun personality made it a blast to get to know her.
How would you describe yourself?
Which programming languages do you mainly work with?
Why the interest in all the different coding languages?
Do you get excited when you start learning a new coding language?
Definitely! I really like to study and get out of my comfort zone. Whenever I’m learning a new language and it’s awkward and uncomfortable, I just feel myself growing and getting better at it. That’s what motivates me the most in programming. It’s amazing to experience personal growth and know that while last week I couldn’t do this, it’s no problem at all now.
How did you initially get into web development?
Wow, so you started coding at 15 years old?
Yea, I was 15 when I started to really build things myself, however I had no idea that this was coding in a way, I was just doing it for fun. When I was even younger than that, I got introduced to coding by making small games in python and later on started to use R to analyze data for school.
You went to The Iron Yard coding school in Florida. Could you tell us more about that and take us through the career path that got you here today?
I finished high school, took my gap year, and after that I was thinking about what I should do next. Was I ready to go to university? Was I sure that I wouldn’t regret choosing a certain bachelor? ? It was scary stuff. Everyone around me wanted me to pursue higher education. I have family in Florida, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to go to America and study at a coding school. Seeing the career options that developers can have right now and how happy I am while I’m coding, I know that I chose the right career path.
Is the working culture different in America compared to Europe?
Yes, definitely. I think that it’s generally easier in America to pursue a coding career as the entire culture is different. Although I have to admit that this is changing very fast and Europe is getting much better at it, most companies are still based in the US that often organize the best conferences and meetups. The US is always one step ahead of Europe, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s definitely different!
Do you go to meetups yourself as well?
I really try to! I’m always kind of traveling around though so that makes it hard. It’s nice to go to meetups and talk with new people, but I don’t always have time. It’s still a bit overwhelming to go to meetups on your own, especially when you’re like 19 or 20. It can be hard sometimes to be taken serious and show that I’m really passionate about programming, but it’s really fun to meet so many new people in this community who are all very supportive!
What are you working on nowadays?
Besides my regular job, I’m basically always making tutorials, mentoring people, and working on my own projects. I’m collaborating with teams of new developers. They work on coding, and I help them to get better as they go along. The last couple of weeks have been super busy with mentoring, which also helps me to learn new things for myself. I constantly take on more projects and expand my knowledge. I could get stuck in my projects forever.
Do you learn new languages to be able to mentor others or for your own development?
I learn them for my own development or whenever I need to use them in my personal projects. I don’t feel comfortable mentoring people if I just learned something myself, you know? I might be totally misunderstanding something. Web development is something that I’m 100% comfortable with, so I can have fun mentoring people in that. I also learn so much just by teaching people, and seeing them improve is just the best feeling in the world.
So, you mostly teach people about technical skills, technology, or more than that?
Do you schedule calls with them?
I basically have one-hour Skype calls or sometimes screen shares with people and then I just make small coding challenges or workflows for them so that they have references and all that.
Do you make your own coding challenges as well?
Haha, yes! It’s really fun to do. Sometimes I don’t even know the answer. I’ll tell the coders to solve my challenge, see what solutions they come up with, and go over it with them. I sometimes give them a real-life problem I’ve been struggling with in my own projects to see how they would solve it haha, it’s a win-win!
How many people do you coach right now?
I’ve tried to cut back a little bit recently, so probably around 10 people right now. People stop and start up again quite frequently, so it’s hard to say how many total people, but definitely quite a few.
Is this to make a living or something you do voluntarily?
This is something that I do on the side. Of course, I’ve made some money from it, but that’s not my main goal.
Let’s jump into your Medium articles for a bit. One of your articles was about advice for teenage developers. What advice would you give them?
Hmm, well this piece of advice isn’t necessarily just for teenagers, but it’s very important to get your name out there. Honestly, that’s the best thing that happened to me for my career, even though I absolutely never expected that my article would get this much attention! It doesn’t matter how good you are when you’re just starting out, but you should share your journey on social media like Twitter and Instagram. You can motivate yourself and others this way. You have to keep on going to share content and not give up on yourself. Sharing like this when you’re more junior can have some disadvantages though. It’s hard not to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of senior developers who can criticize you and the way you code online. You can learn from this criticism, but you just have to ignore the negativity, get through it, and tune out the haters. Haha, I don’t want to get too negative here, but it’s something you have to be aware of.
How do you deal with that yourself?
When my articles first started to blow up, it was definitely hard to deal with because everyone was trying to prove that I was faking it. I was OK with it, but it was hard to deal with all the criticism. Right now, I’m just totally numb to it. When I see it, I just laugh and ignore it and just keep on coding and improving myself. It’s hard when you’re not used to it and have to deal with it for the first time.
What new technologies or languages do you think new developers should focus on?
Why did you first start sharing on social media and when did it really take off?
I was trying to find more people to connect with in the coding world, so I went to Instagram and saw that there were more people doing the same thing that I was doing. I was like that looks fun and I want to connect with them. I think it was last summer that I started posting on Instagram. Being on Instagram also worked to motivate myself along with other people. I believe that coding shouldn’t be seen as this weird genius-type thing, you know?
I started sharing my pictures and got into contact with so many developers, and I think things really started to take off when I wrote the Medium article. At the time, I had around 10,000 followers on Instagram, and had many people asking me ‘What’s your life like?’ “Did you go to university?” and things like that, so I wrote a Medium article thinking that only 80 people would read it. I thought it was nothing special, but the views really surpassed all my expectations.
What was the timespan for that rise in readership?
I remember publishing the article and the very next day it had 800 claps on Medium. I was like freaking out and thinking it was so crazy. I didn’t look at it for three days after that and then it had 20,000 claps, and I was in shock. [Editor’s Note: It’s now up to 92,000 as of May, 2019.]
I almost had a heart attack. It was incredibly fast and then I started receiving phone calls, emails, and everyone was adding me as a friend on social media. It was overwhelming, especially when people from Google and Amazon, and very big newspapers were reaching out to me. I just kind of ignored all of them, which I shouldn’t have. But it was just too much for me and I couldn’t handle it at that time.
Moving back to web development and open source, do you enjoy being a web developer? And if so, what do you like about it?
Well, I really enjoy doing this right now, but it’s not something I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s been a great first step into the tech world. What I like about it most is that it’s so different and varied. Each project I work on, I work on something completely different and when I have my own idea, I can actually make it into a reality. Even for a business or app idea, I can just go ahead and build it. It gives you so much freedom. It’s a lot of work, especially with how fast things are changing. Seriously, there’s something new to learn every week, but it’s worth it.
Are you an open-source contributor?
No, not right now. I’m working on my own projects that are open source, but I haven’t contributed to anything open source yet. It’s a bit scary to do for me. I don’t know why. My mind just tells me that people will judge me, haha. Hopefully I can get over that apprehension and start soon.
What projects are you working on then?
I have several. I’m working on platforms that will make it easier for developers to learn other languages and to connect with other developers. They’re projects for stuff that I’m missing personally right now. That’s the main thing. You don’t want me to start getting into all the technical details. I’ll never stop and you’ll be bored soon enough.
Are things working out in general for you?
Yea! The projects I’m building with other people, my juniors, are really fun. It feels so good to watch them grow and be happy that they can help contribute.
How do they give you feedback and communicate with you?
We all use Slack. I tell them things to do, have trial reports, and work together. It’s great.
In your opinion, what is Europe’s tech capital and why?
Wow, that’s hard. I think that Berlin is pretty great. I didn’t realize just how great it was before, but I’m finding that there are so many good companies there. I feel it’s a very good environment for developers as well. I don’t really know about other cities, however I’ve seen that London and Amsterdam are also really attractive for developers.
What aspects are important for a city to have a good environment for developers?
Having a lot of meetups and possibilities to reach out to other developers, at least for me, is the biggest single factor. I don’t want to feel isolated. You need to communicate with others in order to grow. It’s also important to have a large number of startups and other small companies. A city needs to have people with good entrepreneurial spirit. It can’t just have an older generation of developers being cranky about the new generation. There’s a lot of that around here, and it’s not very motivating. I want to be around younger people with motivation to open their own businesses.
That’s so difficult to say. Even just five years ago it was so different. We didn’t even have React yet. There will be so many new technologies that will make it faster and easier for developers. There’s even software now that generates code for you based on your input and design. I’m really interested to see how that will go and to see if developers will even still be necessary. They will definitely be relevant to some extent but not in the same way as now. I can see that happening in the next 5-10 years. That’ll be fun. Maybe it’s a good time to step out of web development before that happens, haha.
In what fields do you see jobs being available in?
Again, it’s very hard to say due to the speed of technological advances, but I imagine that machine learning will be important. I also think web optimization and backend stuff will also have plenty of jobs. Those will always be very much sought after.
If our followers want to get to know you better, where can they find you?
Much thanks to Lydia for taking the time out of her busy schedule to take part in our interview. She’s truly a talented and kind developer who has big things in store for the future. If you’d like to get in contact with her, make sure to check out her profile on Twitter and Instagram @theavocoder, find her tutorials on her theavocoder Youtube channel, and on Medium @lydiahallie. Who knows, maybe she’ll be mentoring you next!
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