ERIKA HARVEY
UX Design & Research
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Blog

Every day I try out something new whether it be javascript, css3 or html5 . Actually, i've been known to try and learn unity 3d and other gaming platforms , but those take a bit longer and i'm still learning them. Bac to the point. I am obsessed with this thing called front end development and I'm like a kid in a candy store, greedily gobbling up all the tutorial goodies out there.

The Beauty of Not Knowing

What did you do over the weekend?

I pushed my boundaries, broke through my comfort zone, faced the imposter syndrome and with the help of one equally passionate dreamer built an application that no one ever thought we were possible of.

It started off Thursday, when I found out that my idea that I’ve held since the death of my husband had been accepted into the National Day of Civic Hacking contest.

I am not ashamed to admit that when I read that email on Bart at eight pm, headed home after a long and inner determination and will defeating type of day that I burst into tears. (its amazing how much room opens up for you on a packed bart when they think you’re some crazy lady about to unhinge).  Finally, after two years of wondering if I could, and taking that leap into the abyss by quitting my job and throwing myself into the world of programming and tech, a small bit of my dream was going to take flight.

 

A little bit of backstory as to why what i did was so important to myself and my inner battle with imposter syndrome and defying the limits and labels that had been placed upon me by others.  I came into this world with absolutely no knowledge of the tech side of things. Sure, I can crash a computer with a mere glance but I don’t think that counts , and I do know how to make sure my computer is plugged in, that its turned on and that there is no smoke coming out of the back when something isn’t working. I came into this place after taking an inventory of what and where I was in my professional life. I was working at a place that helped a population of people that I fell in love with. I was honored to take care of some of the most gifted philosophers and minds that had found their way down the abyss of drugs, defeat and hopelessness, to find themselves homeless and living in a world that not many of us who are lucky through birth or circumstance to have escaped. These people that some believe litter our streets , are you and me. They are your brothers and sisters, daughters and sons. I was honored when they would open up to me and let me into their lives and their hopes and dreams and I felt their pain when they would then allow me in to where the demons lived. I would have been content to spend the rest of my career there, but unfortunately, the pure art of nursing is not that . It is a world filled with egos, tenure, cut throat attitudes and corporate games. Those that were to jaded towards those they cared for were still employed and the attitudes were accepted because they were in favor. No matter how much the clients complained, they were still employed and so the clients remain distrustful and no therapeutic value can come from that.  It was when i was told that I needed to reign in my interpersonal interactions (who knew that making herbal tea, providing some cookies ,spending however long was needed talking with someone at night when nothing else was going on and truly giving a sh*&), that those actions were considered poor job performance that I then and there decided that I needed out of the bedside and pursue some other means of making a difference.  To this day I still volunteer, but I took a look around at the nursing world and found that there is no nursing shortage, that the hushed up inner eating your young and horizontal violence was not going anywhere AND I WANTED OUT!

I wanted to take my experience as a nursing instructor, nurse and compassionate human being into the other world that could have a huge impact directly on others lives and that was technology . (there is a certain irony in that)  I’ve never had a problem understanding complex theory and being able to get through a class with a relatively high grade. I won nursing student of the year, and was salutatorian for my nursing program.  I won over most of my former employers who at first didn’t quite get my methodology , one that I took from one of my inspirations Patch Adams, that laughter really truly is the best medicine.  Its because I find humor in everything and having a sarcastic wit that I’m usually pigeonholed as flighty and dare i say it “dumb blond”?.  Which usually is okay with me because I enjoy the day when I get to see their befuddled expression when they have to eat their assumptions, but I’m tired of that as well.

My first stint at a coding bootcamp was the most humiliating and soul crushing experience I”ve ever had. I had my ego demolished and was taken down a few in the humility ladder of life regarding my ability to learn quickly and retain. What was this hell, that I had entered where everything is finite, black or white, it either works or it doesn’t? This is not my world of theory and non absolutes. I cried every day after class (or sometimes in class which is always a bonding means with techies ..hahaha. not!)until my father who is the kind of logical, keep the emotions out of it , mental process, gave me the proverbial slap across my face and basically said, “Suck it up, thats what a bootcamp does..it breaks you down and then builds you back up”.  OOooooohhh! revelation number 1!  unfortunate for me, the damage and the labeling had already occurred at that bootcamp and I was basically thrown onto the pile of lost causes and will never get it. Even tho, i completed every assignment and scored higher than some of the others in my qualifying exams I was still regarded as the lost cause. I left there, ten grand poorer, with nothing to show for it except for having experienced some ugly examples of sexism and unprofessionalism. To be fair , I allowed that to happen, so I take my responsibility for that . I won’t ever let another human being label me something I don’t believe I am , or to let those labels define me.

I then entered into a six month heavy on the computer science theory program. here i was beginning to make the inner neurological connections that I needed to solve coding challenges. I was not the worst, I was not the best, I was at a happy pushing myself level. When , I was brought into speak with my head professor and challenged that I had not produced a piece of code on my own because we had not been taught that yet, I didn’t just whimper and allow them to assume that I was not able to learn on my own. I stood my ground, unequivocally producing my references, my “sandbox” i  had used in coming up with it and was able to prove that it was all mine. Whilst in this program, they are heavy on the networking yourself and i’ve got to say that they are right. It really is about who you know, and through one of those connections I found out about this event that was taking place.

I quietly submitted my proposal. I told no one. I didn’t want to have to tell them that I hadn’t succeeded at something yet again. I had forgotten about it until Thursday, in a sardine can called bart.

Friday at school, i barely listened, i was desperately trying to put together my pitch. I was on fire, how could anyone not want to incorporate the internet of things methodology and help this clientele out. What I found out, is that just as it is in every area, elitist snobs and others that aren’t bad people, they just are looking out for themselves and their opportunities to connect with the next facebook or VC backed star start up. I provided none of those opportunities. I had a few people sign up , but they did it because they seemed to feel guilty at not and then I met Zach. Zach is a new transplant from New York, he doesn’t know the hierarchy that makes up silicon valley technology, what he does know is himself and what drives him and screw the others. He is inspiring. He told me that no matter what He would be there, because he believed in what I was doing and he already had his own business so that wasn’t his driving force . he wanted to find something that pushed his boundaries and got him excited.

Saturday morning rolled around. I sat on a bench and watched those that had signed up hide their gaze as they went to the non profits that were well established or the new hip thing. I began to feel like the little kid at the side of the playground no one wants to play with. And then Zach texted saying he was going to be late, but he was still in.

we spent the morning getting to know each other and what each others strengths were. At one point, we just looked at each other and said “Want to?”
“hell yes, lets push it”. So then and there we decided to say “screw what we or others think we can do” and i told him about a new javascript library that i had been exposed to in class about facial tracking and we came up with our idea.

Its not perfect, it has some bugs (0kay, a lot of them) but its new and made both of us go out of our comfort zone and dig deep to find ourselves at the end with a program we were both excited about and one that has the potential of helping alot of other people.

At presentation time, they forgot about us. I looked at Zach and said “Oh hell no” and alerted them to the fact so we got to present our idea last. And we watched as some of those that had passed us by forty eight hours ago were sitting there with jaws agape.

We didn’t win anything, we lost out to someone who built four personas for ui/ux research and some get out of the vote program that had the mayors people on it. What we did win, at least for me was a new outlook at what I can achieve , that I can do this thing called programming and that there are other people out there that can help me achieve new levels than I thought possible. I am also happy as hell to have been able to give Zach something he could get passionate about. I would have hated to have been the person behind forty eight hours of someone elses life that left them bored.

its because we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to be able to do this, or that we were venturing into technology that not much is documented when it comes to pure javascript or tech that doesn’t require a serious financial backer to attain, that we were able to put together something I’m proud as hell of.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zach, and he is worth learning about you can find him on github at Straubcreative and on twitter @Straubcrrtive. http://straubcreative.nationbuilder.com/