your daily code for breakfast

Spotlight 57: introducing you to software developer Salma!

Happy Friday everyone! Being able to publish two Spotlight interviews this week, means a lot to me. The response on the 57 interviews has been amazing and it motivates me to go for number 100 (!) :-) Thank you!


This week I’m introducing you to the wonderful Salma. She is a software developer and I know that today is her wedding anniversary: my warmest congratulations to both of you and wishing you a great day! 

Curious why Salma became a software developer? Don’t stop reading :-) Thank you for this interview Salma!

Name: Salma Alam-Naylor
Job: Software Developer at Shopblocks
Favorite website, app or gadget: iPhone 6 Plus
Favorite book: Scar Culture by Tony Davidson
Twitter: @salmashopblocks

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
When I first got a home internet connection at age 13 in 1998, it captivated me. I saw this big wide digital world in front of me and I wanted to infiltrate it and contribute to its greatness. I still remember painstakingly building my first Geocities website, lining up every pixel as best I could and sitting back to marvel at its wonder. ‘I made that,’ I thought proudly. ‘I want to make more things on the internet for people to use.’

What does your working day look like?
Each and every day is different. The team at Shopblocks is small and so I’m fortunate to work on a variety of things each day. Some days I’ll do back-end development, some days I’ll do front end development, some days I’ll do design, UX and wire-framing. The team works to a version of Agile development, so I do a lot of project management and planning as well. My role at Shopblocks is really varied and that keeps my job exciting, stimulating and fun.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
Myself and the founder of Shopblocks, Kevin Jones, have invented BlockLab, which is the first tool of its kind in the world that allows people with no coding knowledge or experience to edit the design and layout of an online shop without using themes or templates. I feel so privileged to be at the forefront of a development in the e-commerce industry that’s going to change the way people manage their online shops, and I’m truly excited about the positive effects it will have on small business owners who simply can’t afford the growing costs of a bespoke e-commerce website.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
The Shopblocks team inspires me on a daily basis. We all have different interests and different areas of expertise, and so sometimes just watching someone work can be inspiring in itself, which in turn motivates me to learn more and to continue to hone my development skills to make the team even greater.

Why do you love working in IT/Tech?
I learn something new every day. Being a developer means I get to use all parts of my brain; the creative parts, the mathematical parts, the technical parts, and the logical parts. It’s both exciting and challenging and keeps me really motivated to learn more and improve upon my skills and craft each day. There are times when I sit back from my desk and think, ‘Wow, I couldn’t have done that six months ago. I wonder what I’ll be able to achieve in six months from now.’ It’s an inspiring feeling.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I actually have a degree in music. In my past lives I’ve been a composer, a touring musician and a music teacher. Alongside music, my hobby as a teenager was making websites, and I always secretly hoped I’d have the opportunity to become a developer. I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on any knowledge at all, because I believe the most important knowledge and skills are gained through the tangible experience of building things, and I’ve been building things for 17 years. In my opinion, a degree in IT is definitely not essential to becoming a developer. It’s creative thinking, problem-solving and an enthusiastic attitude to ‘giving things a go’ that will ultimately land you that dream job.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
Make something! A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking they can complete x number of online courses and tutorials in order to learn how to code. You may be able to learn the basics of a language this way, but hand-holding tutorials don’t expose you to the real problem-solving that’s involved in being an actual developer. To put forward an analogy, it’s like learning some words, for example, in French, but not being able to put those words together and have an actual conversation in French.

When you make a website, an app, or a piece of software, for example, you put what you know into a real context. Through this process you’re encouraged to find new contexts for your existing skills, and you’re forced to acquire new skills in the process. As a result, your knowledge, the application of your knowledge and your problem-solving skills improve exponentially. Think to yourself, what would I like to make? Don’t be put off by not being experienced enough to make it, but give it a go. Slowly but surely, and with plenty of Googling those problems you come across (long live Stack Overflow!), you’ll find you’ve created something that’s real and authentic and has a legitimate purpose and context. The experience of building something that other people can use is simply invaluable and it will teach you how to be a developer in ways that online tutorials just can’t.

Also, collaborate with others. Share knowledge, discuss problems, try things out – sometimes you can solve a tricky problem yourself just by saying it out loud. I love it when that happens.

Extra question from Erika: Do you think it’s really possible to have a work/life separation, and if so, how do you do that?
Of course! Just put your laptop or your phone down once in a while and go outside. Then go back inside and code some more. Also, don’t forget to eat.