Celebrating Women's History Month: Meet Sara - New Lead Instructor at Codesmith

Core to Codesmith’s mission is creating a supportive and inclusive community for women, trans, and non-binary programmers. The month of March is a time of celebration, so we want to highlight and celebrate the amazing community we have built at Codesmith and our incredible team members.

Meet Sara, Codesmith's first female Lead Instructor!

After graduating from the Immersive in New York, Sara stayed involved in the Codesmith community as an Engineering Fellow, a Lead Technical Mentor and recently took over our full-time Software Engineering Immersive in NYC.

Learn her inspiring story of how she got involved in coding, her experiences both in the program and beyond graduation, as well as her advice to aspiring programmers.

What were you up to before joining Codesmith’s Software Engineering Immersive in New York?

Before Codesmith, I ran a donation-based yoga studio and spent my time handling daily business operations, teaching yoga classes to the public, leading yoga teacher training, and mentoring our studio’s yoga teachers.

How did you first get involved in coding?

I’ve been interested in coding ever since the days of MySpace! I would spend hours tweaking my layout to get the HTML/CSS just how I wanted it. I had played around with some other languages over the years but didn’t start seriously coding until early 2019 when I took Harvard’s CS50 and had so much fun that I started learning Javascript.

What was the turning point where you decided you wanted to pursue a career as a software engineer?

In 2019, I found myself wanting more from my career - I loved our studio’s mission of making yoga accessible to anyone and I felt that we really did make an impact on our community - but I wanted to make a difference on a larger scale and I felt that I had run out of space to grow in my role.

I’ve always loved problem-solving and logic puzzles, so I decided to give coding a shot! I started self-studying Javascript and liked it so much that I spent every bit of my free time learning more. After a month or two, I had the realization that coding was something I was capable of and passionate about so I decided to pursue an immersive program.

How did you come across Codesmith and what drew you to choose Codesmith as your school of choice?

I wish I could remember the exact resource that led me to Codesmith, but I’m someone who loves to research so I was looking at any and every school at the start. As I started to look at outcomes and resources, Codesmith quickly became a top choice for me. I toured several schools and ended up going to a workshop at Codesmith! As soon as I walked in, I knew that I wanted to go to Codesmith.

I learned a ton at the workshop even though it was a topic I thought I was familiar with. I figured if this was the level of care and attention they put into their free workshops, I wanted to know what they had to offer in the full-time program and applied to CS Prep almost immediately after.

What was your experience like? Can you share your most memorable experience during those three months in the program?

I know it sounds cheesy, but my experience in the immersive program was nothing short of life-changing. As someone without a background in tech, I knew I was headed into three months of non-stop learning and growth.

I think it’s hard to accurately describe just how much information is thrown at you over the course of 3 months. But Codesmith really encourages you to lean into not knowing everything, and it’s more about learning how to learn what you don’t know.

"Going through Codesmith instilled a growth mindset - I’ll say yes to pretty much any technical task because even if I don’t know how to accomplish it, I know that I’ll be able to figure it out through research, trial and error, and grit."

It’s also difficult to highlight just how close you’ll become with the other members of your cohort, you’re spending so much time together working through challenging material and it creates such a strong bond! I still talk to the members of my production project group almost every day.

I think the most memorable part of Codesmith was when we finally got our production project working. We had been working for weeks, hitting blocks and trying different approaches.

When we finally got it working the way we wanted, it just reinforced what I love so much about engineering - the ability to take something abstract, like an idea, and turn it into a real, tangible, product. Software engineering is a highly creative process.

What made you excited to become an engineering fellow after finishing the program? What has your career path been since then?

I learned so much through the mentorship of our engineering fellows and I knew I wanted to be that resource for future cohorts. I had experience as a teacher and was really excited about sharing my newfound knowledge of coding with others!

I also loved the supportive community of Codesmith and wanted to contribute to maintaining and building on that support - especially as a resource for other women in the immersive.

At the end of my engineering fellowship, I became a Lead Technical Mentor for the NY program. After a year of growing my skill set both as an engineer and a mentor, I’m so excited to be stepping into the role of Lead Instructor.

What is your role as the Lead Instructor?

As Lead Instructor, my time is split between teaching and engineering. I lead a lot of the core curriculum lectures for our residents on topics like Data Structures, Client/Server, and React.

I also lead public workshops - you might have seen me at Javascript the Hard Parts!

In the engineering realm, I work on our public site and CSX as well as our internal tools and platforms. I love that I get to solidify my engineering expertise through sharing it with others as well as putting it into practice.

What excites you the most about leading the NYC program specifically?

I know I should love all our programs equally but NY is my favorite - can’t help it! It’s the program that I went through myself as well as the program I’ve worked for since graduating from Codesmith.

I grew immensely as a resident and even more so as a fellow and LTM. I’m honored for the opportunity to be an even bigger part of our incredible NY community - even if we’re all spread out right now.

What is the culture and sense of community like in the remote environment?

I’m blown away by our ability to keep Codesmith’s strong sense of community in the remote setting. We had such a great foundation for remote learning and engagement from our workshops, CS Prep, and PTRI program that it carried over into our full-time immersives.

We keep all of our cultural activities - family dinners, happy hours, talent shows, mentor/mentee sessions - that we had when we were on site. I think it might be even more special now as the programs are accessible to those who don’t live in NY, so you’re interacting with people all over the country and the world.

What is your favorite thing about Codesmith and teaching?

I’m passionate about making things (education, resources, infrastructure, etc) accessible to those who might not otherwise have access.

"Codesmith is driven by the notion that this knowledge should be accessible to anyone who wants to pursue it and we’re constantly breaking down barriers to make that possible…That’s what I love most about Codesmith - our value of aspiration."

I’ve seen people from so many different backgrounds (tech, non-tech, degree, no degree, artists, scientists, service workers) go through the program and become thoughtful, brilliant, engineers.

We focus on technical knowledge but also the importance of being empathetic - what might the tech world look like with more people who are not only passionate about technology but also passionate about people? I love teaching because I get to be a part of that journey and vision for each resident.

What advice would you give to women entering the Software Engineering field? Anything you wish you had known?

I think the most important piece of advice I can give is don’t be afraid to take up space. If you don’t identify as male, you’ve likely been taught to make yourself smaller, quieter, less intrusive.

I see a lot of advice for women that is geared towards acting more like our male counterparts in the workplace. However, I wonder what barriers we might break if we were unapologetically ourselves and made space for leaders who don’t fit the archetype.

What if we were able to uproot the idea that ‘feminine’ traits are a sign of weakness? What if they were instead a sign of strength? Give yourself permission to say how you feel, to share your ideas, to command a room, to apologize less, in whatever way feels most authentic to you. You deserve to take up space and you belong here.

Any thoughts for women battling Imposter Syndrome, particularly career switchers? How should someone go about building a strong female network?

I’ve had Imposter Syndrome my entire life! I especially felt it when starting Codesmith.

I was surrounded by a male majority, a lot of whom had some sort of technical background. However, there were a few women in my cohort and we made an effort to support each other.

Codesmith does a great job of organizing events for our female-identifying/non-binary community which gives us the space to connect and decompress together and remember that even if we’re in the minority, we’re not alone.

Building a strong female network in a male-dominate field takes time, but the best piece of advice I can give is don’t be afraid to reach out - we are all standing on the shoulders of those who came before us!

I’m always excited to connect with women about their interest in software engineering or coding and will always make time to share my own experiences.

When do we get to meet you?

I lead Javascript the Hard Parts pretty regularly so you can catch me there, but I’m really excited about my Women's Callbacks and Higher Order Functions JSHP on 3/24!

I love our workshops for our female-identifying/non-binary community as it allows us to learn and grow in a space that’s all our own.All levels are welcome, so come hang out and meet other women who are aspiring software engineers!

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