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S1 E2: A Fun, Approachable Way (Jessica / @codergirl1991)
Episode 220th June 2022 • WebJoy • Eddie Hinkle
00:00:00 00:17:45

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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.

Transcripts

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.