I met Renée for the first time at Ruby on Ales 2011 in Bend, Oregon. I was immediately impressed by her straigtforward, friendly demeanor and by the depth of her programming experience in several different languages. Check out this truly awesome Washingtonian’s take on what it means to participate in open source and the importance of diversity to effective problem-solving.
To me, open source is a community of enthusiastic programmers who come together to build useful and innovative software. All of my interactions with the open source community have been really positive, and have made me want to contribute more.
There comes a point in your development career where you have used open source tools and interacted with the community as a user for long enough. At that point you start to see areas where your own ideas and talents can be useful to the community. I’ve only recently gotten to this point myself. I’ve seen areas of work that I have wanted to get involved in, but have had trouble making the time to dedicate to it. I am starting to give back by making small contributions to the common tools/gems that I use, teaching at RailsBridge, engaging with the local development community in Seattle, and speaking at conferences. The first steps for me have been to get started participating in the conversation and then to contribute to the common code base of the open source community.
As a college student, you initially set out to study electrical engineering. What drew you to computer science? How did that transition occur?
I went to the University of Puget Sound because they had an ‘interesting’ engineering program. I was looking to do engineering, but in a non-traditional program that allowed me more flexibility and control over my curriculum. The program at UPS was a dual degree program. I would get my first degree in computer science while completing the undergrad prerequisites for engineering in 3 years. Then my plan was to go to Columbia in NYC to finish an electrical engineering degree in my last 2 years. So I did start out as a computer science major, I just decided I didn’t want to leave UPS after my junior year to finish the engineering part of my degree.
I’ve always been interested in the sciences. Especially physics and engineering. I worked for a summer at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) in Palo Alto, California. I realized big science and physics research was cool (I was doing finite element analysis for vacuum systems), but I was better at, and more interested in, programming business applications and working with business data. So I stayed at UPS for my last year and added an economics major.What were your first experiences with Ruby on Rails?
My first Ruby on Rails experiences were when I started at Blue Box Group in October of 2009. Before I started there I had been doing lots of different programming, mostly within the Microsoft stack and database query languages. It took me a while to get used to the freedom of Ruby and all the things Rails takes care of for you (especially ActiveRecord and interfacing with the database). I found myself writing code that looked a lot like C# and was very dependent on class type, or I would start to re-invent the wheel before I realized Rails took care of that for me! Now Ruby is my favorite language, specifically because of the freedoms you are allowed around types and syntax. Rails 3.1 has some spectacular new features baked in like jQuery, CoffeeScript, ActiveRecord associations and roles, prepared statements, etc.
I like to call myself a programmer, not a Ruby programmer, because I love to code and use the right tool for the job. So I’m happy in whatever programming language I get to use. For me, it’s more about working with a team and building something cool that meets the business needs, than what language or framework I’m using, but Ruby and Rails are my favorites so far!
Earlier you mentioned RailsBridge. You are a RailsBridge Seattle co-founder along with Elise Worthy. What can you tell us about the inspiration for that and why it’s so important? __
I met Sarah Allen and Sarah Mei at a number of conferences and learned about RailsBridge through them. I really liked the idea because it was a very tangible way to engage with the local community of female developers and women in the area that were interested in learning to become developers. Elise was the driver behind suggesting we organize a Seattle RailsBridge. We solidified the idea during a conversation with Sarah Allen at RubyConf 2010 in New Orleans this past November. Elise set up all the logistics and participated as a student in the workshop. I worked with Ryan Davis from Seattle.rb to work through the curriculum and coordinate the teachers and TAs. As a woman who has been doing technical and scientific work for my whole career, I’m extremely passionate about getting more diversity and especially more women involved in technology and science. Innovation emerges from teams of people with diverse opinions and outlooks. Having a team comprised of people with similar social, educational, and ethnic backgrounds limits your team’s ‘thought-genetics’ for combining ideas into new innovations. RailsBridge is a great way for people looking to diversify their local development teams and their own perspectives to see what new and different ideas female developers bring to the table.
Many thanks to Renée for taking the time to talk with us. If you know an awesome lady that inspires you and actively contributes to our community, let us know. Drop a line and we’ll feature her in a future post.