When and how did you originally become interested in technology?
My dad’s degree was in electrical engineering, and I remember back in the day he would try to get me to understand electrical diagrams. I was slightly more interested in My Little Pony at that time, so I didn’t really learn anything. My dad got me a domain name with hosting in 2001, so I made some (really terrible) webpages.
I still didn’t really fall in love with it then. I liked art and painting more. When it came time to pick a major, my dad talked me into going for computer science with a focus on psychology / human computer interaction. It took a while, but about the middle of my second year, something clicked where I understood concepts and I found that same feeling of satisfaction that I used to get completing a painting in completing a program.
At what age did you write your first computer program? What did it do?
Does HTML count? I was a big anime fan back when I had my first website and I remember needing to rescale and edit and make thumbnails from the pictures I would take. I wish I could tell you that I figured out a program to automate it but I never did. Having a picture gallery was pretty cool at that time.
What do you do now? What languages are you proficient in?
How have you increased your skillset over the years, formally or otherwise?
I’ve always been interested in data visualization, but when I was in college there wasn’t really a great way to do it (interactively?) for the web. Then D3.js came around it was this perfect blend of art and coding. With some reading, experimentation, and programming contests to keep me motivated, I taught myself enough D3 to be dangerous.
Which do you prefer in programming, the struggle or the achievement?
Having something that works like you imagined at the end is the best feeling. The bigger the struggle, the better the feeling of achievement. I definitely prefer when it’s over though.
What people, groups, projects, or resources were most influential in your development as programmer?
My dad probably first and foremost. He tried to get me to understand electrical diagrams when I was 9, he bought me a website when I was 16, and now he helps me with wearable electronics. We’ve got this really good thing now where I know about sewing and programming and he knows about electronics so we can bounce ideas around until we find something that will work.
There’s a talk by Bret Victor called “Inventing on Principle” that I really like, and there was a talk at Eyeo last year about failure I really enjoyed too.
Lastly, the women on Twitter who are brave enough to address issues of sexism in the industry and provide resources and support to those affected by it.
What do you enjoy about it? Is there anything you dislike?
When you’re learning stuff, it’s super easy to feel alone or feel like the problems you’re running into are because there’s something wrong with your dumb brain or whatever – but that’s not really the case. Bret Victor addresses the problems with modern coding tools – specifically that because there’s this delayed feedback loop in compiling and reloading, you don’t get to just play with variables and code and learn through playing. With most other things, you get to learn by just trying stuff out and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
The failure talk again helps with that – super smart people screw up and get frustrated just like I do. It’s not because of my dumb brain, it’s just part of the creative process like all the other parts you want people to know about.
If you were to be doing anything else, what might that be?
I’d still like to make things that would be useful and somewhat permanent, so maybe welding to make furniture, bikes or robots.
Where do you spend most of your time online?
Twitter. I love Twitter as a communication tool. I get to talk about my projects — the good and bad parts — in short little blurbs. I don’t feel like I’m overburdening people with too many words, and there are lots of people on twitter who can be interesting or funny in 140 characters. It’s also a great way to stay connected to the community. People RT projects they like, and following smart people with great taste can help you stay current.
What excites you most about where technology is headed?
I love how people are building tools, and writing open source code. People are using things in ways they aren’t supposed to be used and some companies are embracing that. People are knowing their rights and fighting to release civic data.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Everyone should volunteer for CoderDojo or Katie CoderDojo because they’re great programs that I wish I had more time to volunteer for. It’s not hard; the structure for kids that come is extremely laid back so you’re really only responsible for an intro and helping if there are questions.