If you follow us on Twitter, or have read any of our blog posts, you know that we are extremely proud of the amazing students that make up the HackerYou Alumni community. But there is only so much that you can learn about someone in 140 characters. So, today we want to highlight on one of our amazing Hackers, Steph Laba, who participated in our Intro to HTML & CSS and Intro to Responsive Design courses in 2012.
Steph's story is one of our favourites. Her drive to grow is truly inspirational, and exemplifies what HackerYou is all about: taking charge of your career and following your passion. She arrived at HackerYou with a background in the arts, and a history of trying to break into the technology industry, only to hit roadblocks when she tried to get there by way of conventional education. These days, she can be found hacking away at Indigo, or working as a freelance developer. Steph is living proof that today's career paths are anything but straight, and that with determination and the right resources, nothing is out of reach. We recently caught up with Steph to learn more about her story, and hear about her HackerYou experience:
Growing up, what was your relationship to technology like? Were you fascinated by it, or did you shy away from it?
I wouldn't say I was fascinated by technology but I was definitely a kid of the internet. I, like most kids, used it mostly as a social tool. I was also really interested in digital art in high school.
You've gone through an interesting transition, from a BA in Arts to becoming a full-time web developer - what inspired you to make the change?
During university I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in the creative field. Since I'm a total internet nerd, web design was a no brainer. While I was learning web design I was also exposed to coding. I loved the satisfaction I got when I was able to bring my static designs to life through code. After I built my first site at HackerYou, that was it, I was hooked. While I will always love design, development offers me the kind of creative challenges I look for in a career.
Do you think your previous experience in the arts is an asset you to as a developer? How so?
Coding, like writing a good paper, is process-oriented. There are steps and protocols one needs to follow to effectively execute the project at hand. While in university I realized the importance of following strict protocols and being really organized. They are really beneficial traits to have as a developer. I also learned how to research and use Google efficiently while in school. Google is an essential tool to any developer so I am able to troubleshoot a lot more effectively as a result of research methods I learned at university.
Tell us about some of your favorite projects that you've taken on as a developer.
I'm currently working on some super fun projects that aren't released yet. I'm creating sites for some Toronto-based tattoo artists. I'm really excited about these projects because I'm blending two things that I really love: web development and tattoos. There's nothing like building a site for something that you really stand behind.
Take a peek at some of Steph's latest creations:
You have attended both a traditional college program and HackerYou - how were they different? Which one did you prefer?
My time at college was pretty frustrating. There were some great professors but by and large the curriculum was obsolete and a lot of the profs really seemed to lack passion. I was really put off by this and my passion to learn web design and development wasn't nurtured at college. At HackerYou I found the kind of positive environment I was looking for. I was constantlyy challenged, and I was also surrounded by people who sincerely cared about being there. I saw my knowledge and abilities excel quickly - I was in a place that allowed me grow.
What did you learn about yourself through HackerYou?
I'm a developer. Before HackerYou I thought I was going to be strictly a Web Designer. I figured learning front-end development was important for any designer to know - but during my time at HackerYou I discovered that I love developing for the web. If you told me five years ago that this is what I would be doing as a career I would've laughed, but now I can't see myself doing anything else.
What advice do you have for other young professionals thinking of making a career change?
Trust your gut. It may sound hokey but if there's a voice inside you telling you to make a change, make a change. I wasn't content in university and it really affected my life. When I decided to become a developer, I took the plunge and finally pursued something that I actually wanted to do. I can't tell you how much more fulfilled I feel. Life is way too short not to do the things you are really passionate about.
What advice do you have for future HackerYou students on how to get the most out of their experience?
Work hard and make friends. Coding can be really rewarding, but it isn't always easy. I found that by putting myself on a consistent study schedule I learned and retained the curriculum much faster. I also discovered that there is an amazing network of people out there willing to help you out if you get stuck. Whether it be your classmates, people at meetups or online communities - there are incredibly smart and awesome people willing to help newcomers out.
Are you inspired?
Steph's story is powerful because it's the same story we hear from so many young professionals looking for meaning and achievement in their professional lives. The average Gen Y-er will have 15-20 jobs over the course of their career. Gone are the days of specializing in one subject at school and sticking with that career for life. Your career is what you make it, and stories like Steph's are evidence that it is still possible to find a fulfilling career - you just have to be willing to step out of your comfort zone to find it. Whether your next step is applying for a HackerYou course, joining your local startup community, finding a mentor, or something else...the important thing is to get out there. Your career is waiting for you.
A special thank you to Steph Laba, who shared so generously of her insights and allowed her story to be an inspiration others!