Nevertheless... Erika Coded

Nevertheless... Erika Coded

Posted 3 years ago in

My name is Erika; you may know me from my tutorials and illustrations, but it was a very long road to come where I am today. I was hesitant to share my story, thinking that it is not relevant enough to be shared; however, knowing how often I underestimate the importance of making my voice heard, I will share it anyways.

I'm originally from a small city in the northeast of Brazil. My first contact with computers was at school, around 12-13 years old. I was very lucky that our teacher was quite unconventional - probably bored by the usual content that is taught in these classes, he decided to teach us how to program in Clipper. I had a blast.

It was not before I was 14 years old that we got our first computer at home, with dial-up internet access. Soon after being introduced to mIRC, I started writing little scripts to salute people, to "LOL" in colors and things like that. But it took me many years to start working as a developer, mainly because nobody would take me seriously.

Nevertheless, I coded.

I think it all started to take off when I started blogging. I wanted to customize my blog, so I learned HTML, and shared templates with other people. There weren't many resources to learn how to code at that time (~2001) but I was lucky enough to win a template contest in this free blog platform called Blig and I got to choose a book - I got a PHP book. That is how I learned PHP, even though the book was clearly very outdated and I had to figure out a lot of stuff on my own.

When I got to college for the first time, it was incredibly hard. I don't know how I was able to work 8 hours a day and still be at the university for 4-5 hours a day. It's no surprise that I wasn't able to finish the course - and I felt angry, frustrated, but above all, I felt guilty and stupid, because I had a terrible time with all math-related disciplines. It was heart breaking.

Nevertheless, I coded.

Terrible at math, but good at coding. So that's how I moved on, and things started to get better with freelancing and my first official developer job, in a web agency. That's also when I started to build my own side projects, and I eventually left that job to live off of Google Adsense. There are a lot of privacy issues with that platform, but it paid my bills, paid a new graduation (this time in marketing) and helped us take off to the Netherlands when my husband got a job offer here, by the end of 2012.

Things changed when we moved. I had a hard time finding a job, because I couldn't prove my experience. I was once again underestimated and when I got a job, it was underpaid and within a toxic culture.

Nevertheless, I coded.

I got involved with the Amsterdam PHP community and that drastically changed everything; I went to my first PHP conference, I made friends and built a network. I wrote a book and self-published it. I started to speak at conferences, travel the world. I got employed as a developer advocate for DigitalOcean, and I finally had a job where I felt recognized and respected.

Fast-forwarding to 2017, after having my baby girl, I decided to take a break to absorb that whole new world that is to have children. I was out of the job market for 2 whole years, and it was scary to come back. Without any time to learn new things and practice what I've used to do in the past, I felt lost.

Nevertheless, I coded... and wrote. I wrote a lot.

And finally, in 2019 I was back at DigitalOcean as technical writer, the job I dreamed about, in the company I never stopped loving. One year ago at this date, I was getting ready to start my new job, feeling energized and confident after going through a comprehensive interview process including a homework that I've published later on as a tutorial:

I'm so very grateful for all the opportunities I had, even the bad ones, because they taught me everything I know. I was never the academic type, even though I tried so hard; I had to make peace with the fact that my work is more on the lines of art than it is on the lines of exact science. I wrote about this in an article called The Art of Programming, and I also shared this in a keynote talk of the same title (DjangoCon EU 2016) that you can watch here.

I made this visual career map a few months ago for a team activity, and it was such an unexpected experience - so much that went through, and I tend to forget:

erikas career map

It is true that my career brought me to different and unexpected places; today, I am a writer. But coding is deeply ingrained into my world view, my professional proficiency, and my life. It is hard to imagine where I would be today if I haven't started coding. I hope that this story might encourage others like me, who might not have a strong background in exact sciences and math, but still pursue a career as developer. You can do it!

Before finishing this post I would like to take this time to show gratitude to these two important women in career: Etel and Lisa. Etel was my manager during my first time at DigitalOcean, and Lisa is my current manager. They are both very important role models to me, and I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them. <3