Singer-songwriter learns to code: MaryEllen’s story

What would make someone leave a successful indie rock band to learn to code? We wondered the same thing when we met MaryEllen, who joined our Front-End Engineering cohort in Nashville late last fall. Her passion for learning languages, creating music and constantly learning made her an excellent student, but what’s really cool is how she stumbled upon a completely new passion for programming.

“She’s an incredible engineer who also is a really adept designer,” said Joshua Cournoyer, our Campus Director in Nashville. “She landed one of the most impressive positions we’ve had for a graduate here in Nashville, and her final project was also inquired after by a few companies in town.”

Read on for MaryEllen’s full story, in her own words:

Before learning to code, I spent my days as a singer-songwriter and touring musician. At the University of Georgia, I earned my Bachelors degree in Japanese Language & Literature, with a minor in Music Business. After a few music internships on the business side, I realized my true passion was on the artist side, as I have always been a singer/songwriter. Performing in bands throughout college was such a blast that I moved to Nashville after graduation to form an indie rock band and tour. For the next five years, I released three albums, multiple singles and music videos, and toured the nation.

While editing my band’s website one day, I became frustrated by the limitations on customizing the design. One thing led to another, and I discovered a new compartment in my brain that was obsessed with learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

In the same way that I found foreign languages like Japanese easy to pick up, I naturally picked up the syntax of web languages.

For about six months, I taught myself front-end development using online resources like Treehouse in every spare moment I got. At the same time, I was searching for a career with more financial stability than music that would still allow me to fulfill my deep need to create. Web development was the answer, and as soon as I found out about The Iron Yard, enrolling in the front-end program was a no-brainer.

After Demo Day, where my team and I presented our music business app, I landed a job at a creative digital ad agency in downtown Nashville called FoxFuel Creative. With only 14 employees and fast-paced, project-based work, I knew it was the perfect environment for me to learn and grow with like-minded creatives. I am so happy there, and am still learning every day at a rapid pace.

Where would you like to be in 5-10 years?
My sweet spot is bridging the gap between the design and development departments, so in five years I want to head up a UX department and be fully knowledgable in both user experience and full-stack development. In 10 years I could see myself transitioning to a freelance entrepreneurial role, so that I could travel the world with my fiancé, who is a music producer.

What’s your best advice for potential students?
Make sure you actually enjoy writing code all day before signing up. After that, by all means, go for it, because it will be the best decision you ever make. Also, surrender your whole life outside of class for those three months, and just focus all of your energy on learning. It’s intense but so worth it.

How have your past educational and work experiences helped you in learning to code?
Learning to speak Japanese was a requirement at my elementary school, and my dedication to mastering the syntax and vocabulary of a foreign language made JavaScript more approachable. Also, the same part of my brain lights up when I solve a complex programming problem as when I am inspired to write a song, so there must be a connection there.

Being in a band and co-writing songs is an extremely delicate and collaborative process, and that exercise has undoubtedly eased my transition into a workplace where I am constantly communicating with a small team on projects.

What surprised you most about your experience as an Iron Yard student? 
What surprised me most about the Iron Yard was how well the curriculum catered to different people’s learning styles. Lab time was my favorite because I like to work at my own pace, with the option to ask for help.

What else should we know about you?
I am also a strong proponent of women learning to code. If there are any girls out there who are hesitant to sign up because it is less common to see women in these roles, you should absolutely go for it. You are ahead of the trend.

Photo credit: Joshua Sells Photography

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