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My Life in Tech: Q&A with Software Developer Amanda Smith

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Amanda Smith sits down with us and answers a few questions about becoming a software developer and teacher, and why failure is so important.
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InformIT: What is your current job?  What are you working on now, specifically? 

Amanda Smith: Currently I have two jobs. I work fulltime as a Software Engineer at Pearson Education and part time as an Adjunct Online Facilitator for ITT Technical Institute. At Pearson, I support several eCommerce sites that utilize C#, ASP.NET, XSLT, SQL, and JavaScript. I’m currently working on an initiative to convert major sections of our site to use the .NET MVC framework to improve site performance. At ITT I teach several entry level IT courses. Currently I’m teaching a class of 20 students how to install, configure, build and maintain a SQL Server 2008 database for a medium-size apartment complex. 

InformIT: Why did you decide to become a programmer? How did you initially get introduced to it? 

Amanda: I took a computer class in high school, and one of our tasks was to update the high school website. I remember emailing the link out to family members so they could see the work I had done. Even though I was making simple updates to the website, I was inspired to see what else was possible.

InformIT: Did you have any particular role models – someone you looked at and thought, “I want to do what that person is doing”? 

Amanda: I was lucky enough to have several successful family members in the field. My mom became a programmer in 1980 for Indy Power & Light using COBOL and assembler. I remember going into the office with her and seeing the server room where she worked. I’d never seen so many computers in my life, I thought what she did was really neat.

InformIT: Did you go to school for your profession?  If so, where and what did you major in?  If not, where did you learn your skills?  

Amanda: I did, I attended IUPUI and obtained my BS in Computer Technology and later went on to earn my MS with a focus in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University.

InformIT: What’s been the toughest part of learning to be a developer?  Was there ever a point where you were close to throwing in the towel and taking things in a different direction? 

Amanda: For me, the single hardest thing about learning to be a developer was learning how to fail. I distinctly remember the day I released my first bug to our production environment. I felt like such a failure and I was so embarrassed! My boss trusted me with a piece of functionality on our live website and I screwed it up. I won’t lie; I shed a few tears at my desk and debated throwing away my entire development career that day. It took me awhile to realize that the small mistakes are what I could learn the most from. Mistakes are just a part of the job. Yes, I was upset that day, but it taught me to be even more prepared the next time, spending more time planning before development and testing afterwards. 

InformIT: What is the most challenging aspect of your job? 

Amanda: I’ve been a developer for going on six years now, and the most challenging aspect of the job for me has been planning for the future. When I sit down to start on a big project—take rearchitecting our shopping cart for example—I’m not only accomplishing the task at hand, but I also need to be thinking about how the shopping cart could expand in the future. I started asking myself questions like: If we needed to add to this functionality, am I designing it in a way that is scalable? If we are asked to change the flow of the cart, would that break everything else or would it be easy to change?  Business needs are always changing, and I’ve learned over the years to be prepared for that from the beginning.

InformIT: What are the benefits of being a software developer?  

Amanda: There never seems to be a shortage of jobs in the IT field. I’m always hearing about new opportunities.

InformIT: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of becoming a programmer? 

Amanda: The two best pieces of advice I can give to someone who is considering getting into software development would be 1. stick with it and 2. talk to other developers in the field.  I can’t even count how many hours I spent studying a concept and then applying it, but the most effective way for me learn something new has always been to talk to someone in the industry.

InformIT: What do you do for fun? 

Amanda: I love finding new recipes and trying them out. I’ve tried about 200 Pinterest recipes to date.

For more articles and resources, visit our Women in Technology page.

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