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Taking Risks: How I became a Big Nerd Ranch Intern

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Kylie Stradley

I’ve never really thought of myself as a risk-taker.

I’d always found computers and technology intriguing, but I never felt that my interest alone meant that I should pursue a degree or job in programming. To me, developers all seemed brilliant and confident, where I was nervous and risk-averse. At one point in college, I toyed with the idea of dropping some of my major-specific classes so that I could pursue a minor in computer science, a relatively safe move as I’d still be able to graduate within a respectable amount of time. When I approached my advisor about this, she said “Are you sure? It seems kind of risky. Computer science is very difficult. It’s not for everyone.”

I didn’t take the risk.

And so, almost two years later, I found myself a business school graduate in a safe job at a good company. But I also found myself falling back into old habits: when something was boring, time-consuming and repetitive, I scripted it.

I also felt like the path I was on, one towards management, wasn’t the path to fulfillment for me. What I valued was learning. What I enjoyed was solving problems.

Testing the Waters

On the advice of a friend, I decided to learn web development—because the web is always changing, I would always be learning and solving problems. I considered several languages, but ultimately I chose Ruby on Rails for two reasons: the relatively low barrier to entry (setup on my aging ubuntu machine was quick and painless) and the extremely friendly community. Both in the Atlanta area and online, Ruby users were helpful and seemed to truly subscribe to MINSWAN, the belief that “Matz [the creator of Ruby] Is Nice, So We Are Nice.”

As I learned more about Ruby on Rails and worked my way through the Rails tutorial, I found the Atlanta Rails Girls meetup group (hosted by Big Nerd Ranch!) and started attending their meetings. All of the women I met seemed to be brilliant and confident—even the ones who were just as new to Rails as I was. As I went to more meetings, I started to gain some of that confidence. I felt comfortable asking questions about the talks and eventually put my own code up for scrutiny in a live debugging session.

Big Risk, Big Reward

Emboldened by my recent successes within the safety of Rails Girls meetings, I signed up as a developer for a weekend-long startup hack event—the kind where you try to build an MVP for a startup over the course of 72 hours. My intent was to listen to the pitches and try to join a team with more experienced developers. But as each potential entrepreneur stood up and gave his or her spiel, I realized that even with a very basic Rails background, I could actually build a lot more sites and products than I thought. Maybe it was because I had been holding myself up for comparison against developers much more experienced than me, but I had really discounted how much I’d learned since I began.

So when I found out that Big Nerd Ranch offered a developer internship, I decided that maybe I was good enough. Maybe it was okay that I didn’t have a computer science degree. Maybe it was okay that I was self-taught, and maybe I could even be a professional developer. As I thought about it more, I realized I had been keeping myself from the very thing I wanted because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. Ultimately it came down to whether I could succeed or not, but I would never know if I didn’t try.

I decided to go for it, interviewing for and ultimately accepting a Big Nerd Ranch internship. I quit my safe job and took the big risk. I couldn’t be happier with my decision. I know I’m in the right place.

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Kylie Stradley

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