So You Want to Become a Developer? An Interview with Iris Classon

Noel: That was almost like your retrospectives—using those evaluations to kind of determine how you would do things differently that following year.
Iris: Yes, absolutely, and not just for a whole year. This was a monthly basis, and sometimes you would have to change a course kind of in the middle of it. The most important thing I learned is that anything can change at any time, but it shouldn’t halt the whole thing, and you have to be prepared for that. That means you have to break things apart into pieces that kind of can work together, but you have to be able to separate them apart and treat each as its own little individual piece.
Noel: Would you recommend—as far as someone deciding to maybe follow this, maybe not your exact same path, but to go into development—to kind of have that … not be some agile expert, but just have some sort of understanding that that’s going to enable them to, I guess, grow quicker by knowing that this is the way it will be, and that by allowing yourself to be agile, you’ll have a much smoother, I guess, transition into that career?
Iris: I would say I don’t really see any other options, unless you have a lot of time and you can put the world on hold. The world is spinning a hundred miles an hour and you have to be able to keep up that pace, and you’re never going to be able to if you’re going to go through that tube from one end to the finish line—and there’s no finish line, by the way.
Noel: That’s true, that’s true.
Iris: It’s ever-expanding, so you have to view software development, in particular, as a store full of toys. They keep adding new toys every single day, and at first you’re like, "Wow, I want to play with them all! I want to play with that and that and that!" And then you kind of despair because you don’t have enough time to play with it all. You pick a couple of favorites, you chuck some out, some you keep forever, you trade toys with friends, but there’s always going to be a change. You can’t expect to go just through a tube from one end to another and then, "Ta-da! I am a developer now!"
Noel: Right.
Iris: That’s not going to happen.
Noel: I’ve always kind of marveled that when I’m speaking with these agile experts who’ve been doing this for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years that, even though they’ve had that long to come up with these ideas they’ve come up with, they never claim that it will work for everybody. They never say it’s a silver bullet, they never say, "This has to be the way you do it." It’s so open to, "This might work for you if this is what works for me. Ten years from now I may have completely dropped this and moved on to something else."
I’ve always thought that was really cool that no one has all the answers, no one’s reached agility. It’s like everyone is still on that path and hoping to continuously improve.
Iris: Agile itself is very abstract in its form. I think you can say that agile works for everybody, and then it kind of depends what you put into the word "agile."
Noel: Right.
Iris: Me, personally, I would say 100 percent that a strict, waterfall process in education is a bad idea in fields where things are changing really fast, and those are most fields today.
Noel: And then, my last question was, I know that there are a lot of people kind of like myself, admittedly, who want to be able to do everything as quick as possible, and I saw where you were—again, you haven’t learned everything in the time you’ve been a developer, but the accomplishments that you made just in your first year, and then in your second year, and I saw the certifications, the recognitions that you received—was there anything that you did personally to be able to do it that quickly? Was it just the amount of time and dedication that you put into it, or are there some tips that you could give people like myself who aren’t looking necessarily for shortcuts, but at the same time, if it can be done quickly and if it could be done faster, I usually try and go that route.
Iris: The first thing I would say: Don’t panic. Whenever you panic—say, back to scuba-diving, when you panic, you’re screwed, because you’re going to lose all sense of logic. Never, ever panic. Don’t allow yourself to get into that moment of panic because you’re going to lose time and energy and you’re not going to be able to think clear. A lot of people do that when they just feel that. They feel it is overwhelming—there’s too much to learn. You kind of have to slice it up into tiny bits and pieces and just take it one piece at a time.
The second thing would be never underestimate hard and efficient work. It’s not just doing your repetitive things. You have to constantly evaluate what you’re doing, if it works, and if it works for you, and then act upon the results that you get from that evaluation. That’s a lot of hard work. The easiest thing is to just go learn stuff and not think about how you go about learning. If you spend time on how to learn, it’s going to pay off in the end.
Those are the two most important things, and the third one, which I don’t usually say because it’s so obvious: You’ve got to have the passion. If you don’t have the passion, it’s kind of like baking bread without yeast. Of course, you can do a sourdough bread, but few people actually manage to do that and it takes forever, so you need some passion, you need some yeast to put into it and you’ll get the perfect bread.
Noel: Yes. I don’t think the best developers or testers would ever argue that they weren’t extremely passionate about their work. They’re so, so dedicated to it that they spend time not just learning all that they can, but sharing that knowledge with everybody else to kind of make the software world a better place.
Iris: Yes. You’re building the world. There is nothing today that doesn’t have technology involved in it, so we are a part of something really, really big.
And you can tell by the spirit. I mean, this is the best community I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m just amazed by the people, the creativity, and the sense of humor, and the sense of self as well. People seem very confident in who they are and where they want to go, and I really like that.
Noel: Very cool. Well, thank you so much for speaking with me today.
Again, Iris is going to be speaking at the Better Software/Agile Development Conference East in Boston, Massachusetts, on Thursday, November 14th, giving a keynote titled "Learning to be a Developer—From Day One." Thank you so much again.
Iris: Thank you.
With her tremendous passion for programming, Iris Classon has had a remarkable career path that proves that anything is possible. As a registered and licensed clinical dietitian, Iris decided in 2011 that she wanted to learn programming and rapidly accelerated from 0 to 100. Within the first year, she earned several certifications, landed a developer job, and after just six months, was a technical evangelist for the renowned international company Telerik. In less than two years Iris was awarded Microsoft MVP for her contributions in the C# community and is today known for her rapid learning and rather unique, creative, and uplifting teaching style.

About the author

Noel Wurst's picture Noel Wurst

Noel Wurst has written for numerous blogs, websites, newspapers, and magazines, and has presented educational conference sessions for those looking to become better writers. In his spare time, Noel can be found spending time with his wife and two sons—and tending to the food on his Big Green Egg. Noel eagerly looks forward to technology's future, while refusing to let go of the relics of the past.

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