Filling Sandboxes

As I lean into learning a new skill, I'm re-learning how to be a student.

May 30th, 20193 minute read • 729 words

Obsessed with productivity hacks — to an unproductive fault — I schedule every half-hour block of my day in a written planner. This year’s planner includes a space labeled for affirmations and insights. I keep a record of ideas that have inspired me or disrupted my thinking throughout the week. On April 17, I took note:

“I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” — Shannon Hale

I read this on an English teacher’s wall. I was about 10 days in to the pre-work before my Online Software Engineering program began, and I felt like I was only shoveling sand.

As I lean into learning a new skill, I’m re-learning how to be a student. That’s fun and frustrating at the same time. Sometimes, it feels tedious — like filling a sandbox with sand (I didn’t know until I was a parent that sand is actually pretty dang heavy and filling a sandbox is a chore).

But, there are so many reasons I’m ready to learn back-end developing:

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Practically Speaking,

I like the technical side of the front-end work I do a lot and my career path gets a little more technical any time I have a choice about which direction to take.

I started writing HTML in 2000 because I wanted to customize my diary. Very quickly, I was criticizing the code of the boy who helped me when I was learning for not being W3C validated. When I chose a career path, I didn’t want to corrupt what I found fun about web design by turning it into a job. I shied away from formal coursework because I knew what it felt like to be the only girl in the IRC channel (and bi, no less! Literally, the slang for me is unicorn). I didn’t want to deal with a bunch of 19-year-old boys in-person in a classroom.

Still, I’ve freelanced and taken on countless work projects that let me show off my HTML and CSS skills. By 2016, my b.a. in History and m.a. in Museum Science had lead me to the role of Director of Digital Engagement at the American Jazz Museum. And I loved having use of my digital skillset centered in my day to day work.

Where I was once annoyed by 1337 boys, I found myself adept at guiding a whole team of them through developing a new Drupal site for the museum— yet again, I’m the queen of “Hey, have you ever heard of QA? Think you might want to try it?” — and on-boarding a staff of mostly tech-resistant people to a new database and email system was actually fun.

When I left that role, I became the website/digital marketing specialist at an independent school where I have even more authority to design, develop, and tinker. I find myself taking mental breaks by doing more technical web work. So, it’s time to add more advanced skills to my sandbox. And, so far, I love it. I may have clapped and squealed a little the first time I got to parse raw text to files. From my days as a teenage clerk in the sports department of a newsroom, I’ve been great at converting a poorly formatted Doc into a manipulable Excel file to turn it back into raw agate for print.

But my interest in coding is more than that.

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On a more motivating level,

I’ve seen how software designed without concern for social consequence can have very damaging social consequences. More and more, code is what our world is built on. I want coders to reflect our population better. That means we need more women who can code, more queer people who can code. And I can represent myself.

I’ve seen how powerful organizations that make their money on developing software have become. I want developers to understand their power in what gets built. I want to be part of organizing within the developer community. Related, I want to be a coder who is available to community organizers for social justice projects.

So, for now, I’m committed to filling this sandbox. And I’m dreaming about the castles I’ll be able to build (and tear down) in the future.

Hero photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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