Amazing Women Developers in Colorado Cara Jo Miller

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Published on Mar. 29, 2014
Amazing Women Developers in Colorado Cara Jo Miller

Men may still outnumber women in the tech field, but that’s something the amazing women profiled below are helping change. In their own words, read stories from women some of the great on the front-line of coding in Colorado.  Learn how these women are forging their way, making great products, impacting the lives of those around them and get their take on entering the field. 

Cara Jo Miller, Girl Develop It and Simple Energy

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What was your first job in technology?

My first job real job in technology was as the senior designer and front-end developer for the Detroit Free Press.  I went to school for photography and double-majored in web design/development.  I realized when I graduated from college, photography would be a hobby not a career. I landed a job at the Detroit Free Press and moved there on a whim. My first day, they transferred the entire team to a different department so it was just me. I had a crash course in PHP and Drupal week one and I loved it.

That was my first ‘real' job in technology. But before that, I worked on a lot of websites for many different departments in college. I got to learn about brand consistency, accessibility guidelines and all those things you don’t really learn in school right away that are super helpful to know.

What motivated you to get involved in Girl Develop It?

I’ve always been the only woman at my job. At my first job, I was the only female in my department (the newspaper was quite large so there were lots of other ladies in other departments). When I left the Free Press, I went to the small start-up with eight people and I was the only female at the company. After a while, you start to notice yourself becoming one of the boys, and that can wear on you a bit. I latched onto other ladies at the company even though they weren’t technical. They would say things like: “I could never do that, it seems so scary being the only girl.” But in reality it’s kind of awesome, you get to learn a lot and the men respect you.

Before moving to Boulder, I was really involved in the Detroit tech community, the start-up scene (it’s very similar to that which we have here), especially getting more designers involved in the technical side. I met a woman named Michelle through this community. She wanted to learn basic HTML. She mentioned Girl Develop It and I devoured the website. She wanted to start a chapter. Michelle wanted me to be a technical co-founder at first, but I didn’t’ have the time. So I was more of a non-official co-founder.

She hooked up with another woman, Erika, they were the two main co-founders and I was sort of the third co-founder. Together we started the Detroit chapter because Michelle wanted to learn to code. We figured there were other people who wanted to learn as well. We had our launch party a month after we had this crazy idea. A month after the party we had our first class with 15 students – I had never taught a day in my life – but I had always wanted to be a teacher. This seemed like the next logical avenue for me to take, to teach something I loved, which is web design and development. I thought, "this is amazing, I don’t ever want to stop doing this". We used our connections in the Detroit community to help the chapter grow. When I left we were at 400 or 500 people.

When I moved to Boulder, one of my goals was to start another chapter. I moved here on March 25th, 2013. On the 26th I met with Kate and we decided to start the chapter. I wasted no time.

Really what it comes down to is: I had a friend who wanted to learn how to code and we decided to help change the ratio in Detroit. And then I moved to Boulder and I started GDI here.

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A scene from Girl Develop It

What has been the response in Colorado?

The response has been absolutely amazing. I was surprised that I was practically fighting people off who wanted to help.  I needed a manager to manage the people who wanted to help me! Instantly SendGrid stepped up and wanted to be a sponsor, in addition to my employer Simple Energy (one of our largest sponsors). An interesting point – all the people who contacted me were men that wanted to change the gender ratio at their companies. They could see we were reaching the people they wanted to hire. These guys were basically saying to their lady friends – "hey you should go do this GDI thing and you can learn cool technologies and get an awesome job making a lot of money if you take a class or two” … But obviously, it takes more than a class or two.  

If you asked me a year ago, "do you think this will be impactful?” I would have been hesitant because Boulder is such a tight-knit community. But we are touching on things that Boulder needs, which is a female presence in the tech community.

What has been inspiring about working alongside girls and women who are learning to code?

I’m inspired by everyone who participates in Girl Develop It events and it makes me giddy everyday. Its amazing to see a student take an intro to HTML class and see their excitement on the subject. You can see it when they learn to type some code on their screen and they see their changes in real time. Seeing someone start from nothing as a student – with no tech knowledge – to becoming a TA (teaching assistant) and then sometimes even becoming an instructor, that’s the best feeling. Those former students are now teaching people what they’ve learned through us and that makes them smarter and better at their skills. I’m actually co-teaching with one of the students from an earlier class here in Boulder. It’s really amazing and inspiring because it’s actually making a difference.

One student came to our launch party and bumming about her job and she meets all these wonderful, motivated women, and she got really fired up. She’s been to every single event since then and now she’s working with her partner to create a class called Intro to Programming Concepts. It takes the concepts of programming and applies it to real-life things, instead of using complicated math and language specific syntax, which can get really confusing when you’re starting out.

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

I have a friend who has to remind me every so often that everybody started out knowing nothing about programming and that everybody learns differently.  

You can’t beat yourself up for not knowing something right away. My friend and co-worker helps me work through problems, for example when I get frustrated because I don’t understand why the syntax or something else isn’t working and I push my computer away and he says, “don’t worry, one time I deleted all the things on my computer because I forgot a semi-colon. This thing here is very minor. Let’s walk through it.” So you have to realize that everybody was in your shoes at one point. You are constantly learning and you are constantly getting frustrated. If you give up every time you get frustrated, you aren’t going to get it. You can always learn from your mistakes.

What advice do you have for women just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to be the first one!  A lot of companies might not have a female on the engineering team yet and that’s ok. If you are the first female, I guarantee more will follow. Don’t be afraid of being first.  Being first means you get to set the ground for other women to come in and follow in your footsteps.

What else should we know about you?

In the 6th grade, using spare parts from my dad’s computer repair shop, I built a computer with my dad. Some parts needed to be soldered back on, so at a very young age I learned precise soldering. After I built a computer, I hacked into my Uncle’s AOL account. I would log on when I knew he was in bed or at work. I was really into Anime at the time and my cousins, who are Japanese, got me into Pokémon. I drew all these crazy Pokémon drawings for my friends at school and my Mom thought they were so awesome. She wanted to mail them to people to show them off, but I had a better idea. During a snow day I taught myself HTML/CSS using lissaexplains.com (still around!). I scanned my Pokémon drawings and published them on a website so my mom could share my work. She didn’t have an email address so we did it from my [email protected] account. We reminisced about the good old days of the internet recently, and she said to me “remember when I thought putting websites on the internet was illegal?! How awesome is technology these days!?”.

GDI helped some Girl Scouts get their technology badge. Three of us spent an evening with 4th and 5th grade students teaching them how to make a game with scratch. It was a riot and inspiring. They made games, worked together and earned their technology badge. One student was so excited from the evening she convinced her mom to bring her to a Code and Coffee event to show us a game she made. Getting girls when they are young – and they don’t yet have the idea they can’t do things – is important. 

 

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