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Coding and Coronavirus: An Interview with Jessica Nolette

Meet Jessica, Redfin Solutions’ Junior Front-End Developer. Jessica’s journey to becoming a developer is unique and untraditional, catalyzed by the events of the coronavirus pandemic.

A lifelong Mainer, Jessica founded Flask Lounge in Portland’s West End in November 2007. Flask closed its doors for a year and a half due to the pandemic, rendering Jessica in a tough position, like many other business owners during this time. With a background in graphic design, Jessica took this opportunity to teach herself how to code.

In December 2020, Jessica began at Redfin Solutions as an intern and was hired as an employee in June 2021. Jessica’s story inspires others that it’s never too late to pursue a new career path, and obtaining a computer science degree isn’t the only route to follow to become a developer.

What first sparked your interest in developing?

“During college, I was a freelance graphic designer and did that while waiting tables to earn extra money. As clients needs evolved, I picked up doing web [development], so it’s been a while since I got interested in it.”

Was it hard to become a self-taught developer instead of going to school for it?

“My interest in developing was pushed to a priority when the pandemic hit because Flask was closed for a year and a half. I was temporarily jobless and saw it as an opportunity to find a new career path just in case I couldn’t reopen Flask. I had built apps in the past and was initially interested in being able to code and edit my apps, so that was my original plan in teaching myself. Then, I took a more structured foundation online course. Stanford had a Code in Place class which I had to apply for. It was six weeks of learning Python. I met with ten people from other countries twice a week, and we’d talk about coding assignments. This was a huge foundation course for me, and [Python] was really good to learn the basics.”

What advice do you have for someone learning to become self-taught in this field?

“Time spent at your keyboard determines your skills, not time spent in a classroom. It requires a lot of self-discipline, and you have to get over the fact [that you think] you’re not good enough or not experienced enough just because you don’t have a computer science degree.”

Do you find it difficult to balance ownership of Flask, developing at Redfin, and enjoying your personal life?

“I wouldn’t say it’s difficult. I’ve always been a learner and a multitasker, and able to balance keeping my family the number one priority and everything else is below that. Having a supportive family helps me improve my time and ambitions. I’ve worked hard to develop mindful practices to keep on schedule, and I’m extremely routined to help with how busy I am.”

What are some of the best resources you can recall using to learn coding in general?

“For me, it was Codeacademy and Wes Bos. I also took Stanford and Harvard online computer classes.”

Why did you decide to focus on Drupal specifically?

“I applied to the internship at Redfin [Solutions] because my friend, Christina, was a senior developer here. She encouraged me to take online classes, but to be honest, I had never heard of Drupal. If it had not been for Christina and the pandemic, I still might have never heard of Drupal. So, in learning Drupal now, it’s been mentorships and the Redfin [Solutions] team.”

What is your favorite part of being a developer?

“It’s an evolving practice, and technology is always changing…I love learning new things. I also enjoy the flexibility of being able to work from home.”

What is your least favorite part?

“It’s a blessing and a curse how quickly technology changes, so something you may have coded last week may not be the best practice for the following week. There are thousands of ways to code something, and I can get stuck down a rabbit hole of searching for the best way. Also, this is a good one, sitting in a chair all day and not moving around [or] giving myself breaks and walks. I get so into what I’m doing that I’ll sit all day and not move!”

Did you ever expect to be a developer prior to your journey to becoming one?

“To be an official developer is not something I anticipated pre-pandemic, but post-pandemic, it became my primary goal and focus. I wanted to prepare myself for a career change.”

Big thanks to Jessica for taking the time to share her story and impart some wisdom to aspiring developers.