In the Spotlight 11: Coraline Ada Ehmke
In the Spotlight week 11: Coraline Ada Ehmke! Coraline Ada Ehmke is a speaker, author, teacher, open source advocate and technologist with 20 years of experience in developing apps for the web. As a founding member of LGBTech, CultureOffset.org and and contributor-covenant.org, she works diligently to promote diversity and inclusivity in the tech industry. Her current interests include refactoring, code analytics and artificial intelligence.
What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I knew from a very early age, when I was writing video games for my family’s first computer, that I wanted to program for a living. My dad was an engineer so I was fortunate enough to have a home computer at a very early age. We also did a lot of projects like creating a mercury-switch joystick, a ham radio interface, and a robotic hand, so I had seen the potential for computers to influence and integrate with the outside world.
What does your working day look like?
My team does a stand-up meeting first thing, where we talk about what we’re working on, progress we’re making, and any problems that stand in our way. The rest of the day is largely coding, either solo or with a pair partner.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I’m currently working on a side project involving artificial intelligence, named Sophie. My near-term goal is to have her read and understand simple Wikipedia articles. In January she read the sentence “A raven is a large bird with black feathers” and autonomously created a whole grammar and meaning graph, which was incredible to see. I’m basing her semantic engine on principles of early childhood intelligence combined with metaphysical classifications of knowledge, a combination that I think is unique and promising.
Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
My first hero was Alice, from the Lewis Carroll books. Her wonder and bravery in exploring new worlds were very inspiring to me. I try to live those values as well. I’m also really interested in the work of the Enlightenment thinkers who basically invented science as we know it. They were largely amateurs and devotees who continue to have an immeasurable impact on the world centuries later.
Why do you love working in IT/Tech?
It’s a creative thing for me. I love creation in lots of different media, from programming to music to writing to art. It’s an opportunity to explore different ways of modeling the world, our place in it, our personal realities. I find modeling problems particularly interesting, since the way we model things is a physical manifestation of our worldview. It’s fascinating to see how different people approach the same problem, and it’s almost always challenging and enlightening.
I also love the opportunity to leverage my privilege as a technology veteran to do good in the world. I am fortunate enough to speak frequently at conferences to share the things I’ve learned, as well as volunteer to help underrepresented populations explore careers in tech. And there’s also the one-on-one mentoring that I do. I am able to meet and get to know the most interesting people from across a wide spectrum of interests and experiences, and tech is what brings us all together.
Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I started pursuing one when I was younger but ended up dropping out. The CS program I was in was neither challenging nor exciting, and it made me seriously question my devotion to programming as a profession. So I learned by hacking away on my own projects and pushing the constraints of technology. I do wish that I had a better grounding in some CS topics and especially math, but those things rarely hold me back. My main regret is that I dropped out of a college that no one has heard of. I joke that I would prefer the cache of having dropped out of a prestigious school.
What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
Follow your interests and see what you can create. I learn best from doing, from making things, and learning what I need to in order to complete a project. I prefer hands-on learning to book learning. If that’s your thing as well, throw yourself into a side-project that challenges you. Don’t let what you don’t yet know stand in the way of your curiosity; curiosity is one of the most incredibly motivating forces that I know of.
I strongly believe that every person, regardless of their background, has something to teach and something to learn. When I get to know someone new, even in an interview situation, I am most interested in discovering what those things are. I find them much more valuable than bullet points on a resume or a list of skills and technologies that have been accumulated. Technical skills can be learned, but it’s passion that makes people fascinating and powerful.
Thank you Coraline!