So You Want to Become a Developer? An Interview with Iris Classon


Iris Classon explains her decision to become a software programmer and shares the amazing amount she was able to learn in a very short period of time. Learn how agility played an invaluable role in the process and how you, too, can achieve software success.

Noel: Hello, this is Noel Wurst from TechWell. I am speaking with Iris Classon, who is going to be giving a keynote address at the Better Software/Agile Development Conference East in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday, November 14th, and the keynote is titled "Learning to be a Developer—From Day One."
How are you today, Iris?
Iris: I’m good, thank you.
Noel: Great! I was really excited about doing this interview because I feel like it’s not the normal keynote that they have. It’s not usually a tale that’s stretched out into an entire keynote, but I figure there’s probably a really decent story behind it, so I was really curious as to what made you specifically want to become a developer and how you kind of hit the ground running once you made that decision.
Iris: Oh, how long of a time do we have?
Noel: Oh, as long as you want to talk about it now, without spilling everything that you’ll talk about during the keynote.
Iris: Yes. I probably won’t say much about what I’m going to say during the keynote.
Noel: Sure.
Iris: In regards to how I made my choice, I’ve been working as a clinical and licensed dietician and personal trainer for several years. I get that question a lot, why I chose to get into programming and, well, software development.
The best way I can describe it is actually something I learned this summer. I was scuba-diving and I got my rescue diver certificate. I’m working towards master diver. I learned some new concepts that really, well, kind of describe my situation before I started programming.
What I learned during my rescue diver course is that there aren’t any accidents due to running out of air, because an accident is a mishap. It’s something unforeseen, an unforeseen event, and running out of oxygen is not unforeseen. You can certainly foresee that’s going to happen in various ways. All accidents in scuba-diving can be traced back to one first bad decision that in turn led to another bad decision and so on, and that kind of formed event. That’s kind of what happened to me.
When I was 15, 16, I’d been preoccupied with just getting into liking boys and just hanging out with my friends at the shopping mall and everything, and suddenly I had to grow up and just make a decision what I wanted to do with the rest of my life when it was time to decide on high school and college. I felt kind of forced to choose something. My options were, at the time, as I saw them, hair care or health.
Instead of exploring other options, kind of forcing myself to see if there were any other options, I just went with health. I was young, full of energy—I had plenty of oxygen in my tank and I had to use it for something. I kind of decided that, OK, out of those three options, I would go for health.
The problem is, it’s kind of like doing an unplanned dive. You dive in with your oxygen but you have no plan, you don’t know your equipment. If you don’t feel comfortable, you’re going to hyperventilate and you’re going to use all your oxygen, but you’re not going to notice. You going to notice at the end, but you’re at the bottom, and that’s when accidents happen.
For me, it was kind of a domino effect. I started studying nutrition and very early on felt like I didn’t fit in. I was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. And instead of trying to find other places I could fit in, I was just trying to shave off the corners of the square, trying to fit into that round hole, and I started trying other areas in nutrition: "What about natural medicine? What about clinical nutrition? What about personal training? What about that?" because I didn’t want to admit that I had taken the wrong dive and I was completely unprepared. I didn’t want to go back up.
I stayed down so long until I literally ran out of air. I just crashed smack into a wall. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t talk. I just was completely burned out that I tried so hard to make nutrition be my thing, but I just didn’t fit in, not with the people, not with the job. I just didn’t fit in.
What I did is I sat down and said, When you have an accident, when something happens during a dive, you go up. Slowly, you go up. Well, even if you drown, sooner or later you will float up, you know?
You go up, you go up on the boat, you put down all your equipment, and you analyze what went wrong. That’s what I did. As I was looking through my equipment, my equipment is me: What am I good at, what can I do? I wrote everything down. That’s when I looked at, OK, which dive sites are perfect for me? That means what kind of jobs would fit me.
I wrote a list of all the jobs I could think of in the whole wide world, those that I could think of. Obviously there are quite a few, so it was a long list. I started matching what I was good at with the jobs, and at the end, I only had technical jobs left, something I had never, ever, ever considered before. You can do any dive with pretty much any equipment, but it’s going to make such a big difference if you had the right equipment and the right dive site and it’s perfect for you.
That’s what I found with programming. It was kind of random, while it wasn’t.

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