When you first say: “I’m a Developer”

From Current Bloc Student, Beth Cummings

Original Article

Here at Bloc, we love celebrating our student’s successes. This week’s featured student is Beth Cummings. She’s currently finishing her capstone for the Part-Time Web Developer Track using a real client that she sought out herself. Before Bloc, she owned and designed for a screen printing company distributing goods to boutiques throughout the country. In addition to being a Bloc student, she’s a mom to an adorable five-year-old and loves to cook! Check out where she’s at currently with the program as she wraps up her time at Bloc.

Beth with her son, Frankie.

I was at a party a few weeks ago and something really amazing happened. I got everyone’s least favorite opening question, “What do you do for a living?” and without thinking, I said, “I am a web developer”. I didn’t caveat it with “want to be” or tell them I was in school or give some long winded answer about changing careers. I simply told them what I was, I’m a web developer. And it was in that moment that I believed it for the first time.

I started my first week at Bloc with an equal measure of hope and fear. It’s a big, crazy unknown and I had the same three questions as everyone else does. “Am I smart enough?” “Will it be too hard?” “Will Bloc accept my carefully cultivated selection of cat gifs in lieu of payment?” (FYI: No, they won’t.) I quickly came to realize the best part of learning to be a developer is that no matter what your problem is, someone else has had it already. Google, StackOverflow, and Chrome Dev Tools became my new best friends. And like human best friends, I cry on them and tell them all my problems and they give me advice (unlike human best friends that don’t take my side and tell me that I’m too good for Ruby anyway and it’s her loss and feed me cookies). Of all the things I’ve learned from Bloc the most important is to be a better problem solver. How can I break down the problem? What can I do to isolate it? Test it? It is an absolute necessity to be able to critically evaluate the problem, though like most problems eating cookies really does help.

Take a penny, leave a penny. That’s how I feel about Slack. Bloc uses Slack to connect students, mentors, and alumni to help others as they’re progressing through the program. Since everyone starts at different times, there’s always someone ahead of you in the program and someone behind you. There is a beautiful symmetry in that. Both someone to ask for help when a checkpoint is tricky (I’m looking at you Bloc Chat!) and someone to offer a hand to. That is our responsibility as a community. It’s also a win win, it has also given me leagues of practice in parsing and debugging code that isn’t mine, an invaluable skill to have.

I was so excited to start my first projects and to make them my own, it made me realize really early on how passionate I am about crafting beautiful front ends. I’ve always been the teacher’s pet and am certainly no different as an adult. I began digging into more front end principles like accessible design, responsiveness and playing with CSS preprocessors like Sass and LESS that aren’t covered in the curriculum. One of the many things I love about Bloc and my mentor, Caila Blanton, is the freedom and encouragement to explore interests that will only further my professional development and make me a more well-rounded developer.

My capstone has been an amazing learning experience. It’s the first time the training wheels really come off and it’s all you, steering into a parked car (true story, I definitely did that as a kid). With all the freedom in the world, I settled on the challenge of taking on a real client for the first time. A local boutique owner here in Chicago I’ve known for ages was in desperate need of a new site. The old one was outdated, bland and not nearly graphic enough to show off the 100+ artists that she carries.

Beth’s capstone project/first client project!

We worked together to design a site that served her needs, not just in a final product but in terms of maintainability. A real client comes with the added pressure of needing to get it right. This isn’t hypothetical anymore, a real person, a real business is now relying on you. I wanted to push myself so I decided on building a custom CMS with Ruby on Rails, Postgres, and AWS S3. Starting out I had more questions than answers, which was a great sign as far as I was concerned, that I would learn a lot. This was, after all, a chance to try as many new things as I could. The finished project is beyond my expectations. The site is now clean, modern and easy to use and navigate. And most importantly my client couldn’t be happier!

“Mommy, look! I am coding just like you!” my son sits on the floor next to me with a laptop he made out of cardboard, merrily tapping on the drawn on keys. I’m teaching him by example that intellectual curiosity never ends. And that no, I will not buy you a real laptop, you are five years old. There is a certainty we instill in children from such an early age that they can be anything they want to be. If you ask my son he is a coder, an engineer and a paleontologist (and sometimes a tiger). At some point, that certainty in who and what we are goes away and the nagging feeling of imposter syndrome becomes real. But when I look back at all progress I’ve made since starting Bloc, the skills I’ve developed and the fully fleshed out projects I’ve created I know in that moment who and what I am. I’m a web developer and I’m ready for the next challenge.

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