From Greenville to Germany: A journey from The Iron Yard to IBM Design

Whitney majored in studio art with a specialization in graphic design from the University of South Carolina. After graduation, she worked as a graphic designer for five years and eventually landed a job as as a designer at a technology distribution company. Part of her day-to-day job was to add new content to the company’s massive website. “They were using a CMS, and it was so limiting and frustrating to use,” she said. “The user experience was awful. Everything was ugly, and it was a pain to get things to work how we wanted.”

That’s when Whitney came to the realization that her company was wasting money paying for a third party to manage the design of their website. “I wanted to learn how to do this stuff, so I asked my company if I learned how to do it, would they let me handle some of it for the company,” she said. “When they said no, I realized this is actually a problem that I wanted to know how to solve.”

Before her “a-ha” moment passed, Whitney took a risk and left her job to pursue her newfound passion for learning to code. “I just realized, there were these problems that companies were trying to solve, and there’s nobody to solve them,” she said. “I am one of those people who wants to figure out how to do it, and I knew there were other companies who would see the value in that.”

So, Whitney found The Iron Yard and entered our full-time Front-End Engineering course. During the first few weeks of class, Whitney began to change her way of thinking. “I argued with my instructor because I wanted to make stuff really pretty, and he kept telling me I had to make sure it had to work first,” she said. “While that was frustrating at the time, now I think every job I’ve landed as a designer has been because I have a design background but I can also use JavaScript to help them solve their problems.”

After she graduated from the 12-week program, Whitney took her instructor (Mason Stewart, who is now our CTO) out for tacos and asked him, “How do I become a front-end developer that people really look up to?” He encouraged her to begin blogging, talk to developers she admired, and begin speaking about her experience and expertise. Last summer, Whitney spoke at JSConf EU, the largest JavaScript conference in Europe. She freelanced for a while before she met a woman with IBM who encouraged her to apply for a job with IBM Design. Two weeks later, she had an interview, and an offer soon followed.

Recently, Whitney reflected on her experience and shared her thoughts on becoming a developer.

The thing that I had always liked about being a designer was making things. I want to build things. I want to do work that’s challenging. I want to build things that people like. I want to build projects that are helpful to people and that changes their lives.

I think that’s something that people don’t tell you: you don’t need math skills or science skills to be a front-end developer. I’m trying to make the web nicer and more friendly. I’ve never gotten a developer job because I was good at computer science, or because I was even interested in computer science. I’ve gotten every developer job because I wanted to solve problems.

There are developers from all different kinds of backgrounds, and there are people who are older, there are people who are younger. There are developers of all shapes and sizes, and they come from all over the world. If you have this idea that you don’t have the right background, or you don’t have the right connections, or you’re too old, or you’re too young, or you don’t look like a developer, or you want to wear heels and makeup or whatever. These stereotypes are wrong, and if you keep buying into this, you’re only hurting yourself.

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