Thanks to The Nerdery for underwriting the ‘Know this Nerd?’ series.
Jenna Pederson is an independent web and software developer with a with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from the University of Minnesota – Duluth and a Master of Science in Software Engineering from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. This Minnesota native would be a barista or a ski bum (but still programming on the side) were it not for the steady stream of work that keeps her coding on the regular.
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When and how did you originally become interested in technology?
I originally became fascinated in building things when I was a kid…LEGOs and forts were a regular part of my childhood. As I started college, I was the lone freshman with a shiny new laptop (that weighed about 30 lbs) and I had to know how to make it work and not BSOD every 5 minutes. My roommates were relying on me!
From there, computers started to really fascinate me. Knowing how it all worked and how to fix it when I eventually broke it was what kept me going. I ended up taking an intro to CS class at the U the summer after my freshman year, one which involved Lisp and the Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. The class killed me, but that’s when I fell in love with programming. And so it began…
At what age did you write your first computer program? What did it do?
Unless you count LOGO programs in 2nd grade, it was some Lisp assignment the summer after my freshman year of college. I was probably bubble sorting something. But the real program I wrote that people actually used (and maybe still do?) was the computer lab support web forms for UMD. When someone’s computer didn’t work in the lab, they filled out the online form to get help.
What do you do now? What languages are you proficient in?
I am an independent web and software developer. While I love to program and build technical solutions, I also love the people side of software like getting other people excited about it. My typical day is in a development role, but I often get to work “between teams” to help build relationships and it’s really cool to see what comes from that.
How have you increased your skillset over the years, formally or otherwise?
Both through work and experimenting. I once counted the number of Eclipse projects I had in my numerous workspaces and it numbered close to 100. Most were unfinished experiments to learn a new language, library, or framework, but that’s how I learn is by doing. In my work, I also try to position myself in a way that I will grow my skillets, not only to feed my desires to learn more, but to stay current with the types of project work that is available.
Additionally, surrounding myself by other talented developers also helps.
Which do you prefer in programming, the struggle or the achievement?
Sounds weird, but I love the struggle. It’s one of my motivators because if I’m not struggling I’m not learning. And if I’m not learning anything I’m sure to be bored.
What people, groups, projects, or resources were most influential in your development as programmer?
First and foremost, my parents. They both have successful, established careers and have led by example that I could do anything I wanted, be successful, and be happy doing it.
Second, my college bosses at UMD. Both took a chance on me, but one of them was a female programmer and if I remember correctly a math/CS professor. She gave me some early opportunities to do real world work, for real users, with real timelines, and actual pay, and she mentored me through the whole process. I definitely wouldn’t have been prepared for the real world had I not had that job during college.
Right now, it’s by far the passionate people I surround myself with on a daily basis, both in person and online. They motivate me to step out of my comfort zone, try new technologies, and share in their excitement for some geeky thing and it’s fantastic.
What do you enjoy about it? Is there anything you dislike?
The constant learning. This industry is insane right now and I love that there is so much to offer and that it is constantly changing. It sure does keep me on my toes, but this variety and change is what I love about it.
Chasing shiny objects is one of my dislikes. Don’t get me wrong, I love cool technology, but I’m more interested in building the right thing than chasing the cool thing. An occasional bell and whistle definitely does have it’s place, but when we start going after all the cool things we tend to lose focus on building the right thing. But like I said, I love cool technology/solutions so it’s a constant battle.
If you were to be doing anything else, what would that be?
I’d probably be a coffee barista or ski bum. Programmer on the side.
What does agile software development mean to you?
For me, agile software development means having the ability to adapt quickly to the only constant in software: change. It’s about being more proactive, by getting the right people talking about the right thing and touching it before it’s shipped. But in practice, I believe it means something completely different to every team and that team needs to define it. What helps team X be more proactive may not be the recipe for team Y.
Where do you spend most of your time online?
Twitter is my main access point these days. I regularly use the ‘favorite’ button to add to my “to read later” list.
What concerns you most about where technology is headed?
I’m really getting annoyed by the lawsuits over who dreamed up what touch gesture or who copied who’s phone design. These lawsuits just seem more accepted today and unfortunately, instead of fostering innovation and healthy competition, it is hindering it.
What excites you most about where technology is headed?
All of it. It’s really hard to pick just one thing. I’m excited to see technology used and improved in activities like the recent election, within and between government entities, as well as in the healthcare profession. There is a lot of opportunity to improve in these areas, but there is also a great deal of room for innovation.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for the opportunity to answer these questions! I am really excited for the tech scene here in Minneapolis. There is a lot going on here, many extremely talented people, and a lot of opportunity for it to grow. I am very excited to be a part of it.