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Spotlight 72: Let’s meet JavaScript developer Astrid!

Hi everyone! This Friday we’re going to the Netherlands. I never meet a lot of Dutch female developers, so I’m excited to introduce you to Astrid Karsten. Astrid is a Managing Frontend Consultant, she is a real JavaScript expert and loves to play the guitar :-) Curious about the projects she’s working on? Read her story below! Thank you Astrid!

Name: Astrid Karsten
Job: Managing Frontend Consultant at Saxum (JavaScript developer)
Favorite website, app or gadget: Actually, I mainly use news apps/sites. I think “De Correspondent” did a great job on making news interactive and available through the web.
Favorite book: The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho. It was given to me by a very special person and it is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read. “To live your legend”, is something you should pursuit at any time.
Twitter: @astridkarsten
Site: Alfa Kappa ITSaxum

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I didn’t aspire a career in IT at all. Although I’ve always been fascinated by computers, playing games at early ages, build and rebuild my computer with faster processors, more hard disk et cetera, it didn’t just occur to me that I could be part of the industry myself. I think I just expected it to be something only “really smart” people could do. And probably even only men. I graduated as a physiotherapist and thought my career would focus on becoming the manager of a health care center or something like that.

But then my personal life changed tremendously. Long story short, but I ended up at home due to burnout and depression. But I wasn’t ready to just sit and wait; I wanted to be of value for others, get my self-esteem back by being part of the working society. I was always very good in mathematics and other beta subjects. I started developing my own site because it was something I could do from home. It turned out to be something I picked up easily.  Then I started to making more comprehensive sites and eventually got my first job as a front end developer at EnDouble.com. The possibilities were endless and I learned something new every day. For the first time in my life, I found a profession that was keeping me inspired for more than a year. Then I realized this was it. I just love being a professional nerd.

What does your working day look like?
I’m a front-end consultant, but also part of the managing team of Saxum. So my days may differ according to which “role” I’m in. As a consultant, I work at different companies across the Netherlands. Most of the time, I start my day with a stand-up. Being a Scrum Master, I also guide the development process on a more “soft-level”, talking with team members, make sure they don’t have any impediments for example. Or I talk to the client/product owner to manage if we are still on track regarding their expectations. I’m also involved in quality improvements such as code reviews, peer coding sessions, documentation and getting a grip on how to improve developing, test and release processes.

The hard-core coding part of my job is most of the time done between 11 a.m to 5 p.m. I’m not really an early morning person, though I’ll try my best to start as early as possible. Like every coder, I’m sometimes so consumed, that I forget about a sense of time. This costs me some lunches here and there. Although I discovered that sometimes it is better to leave your code for a while, and just do something totally different like playing the guitar or go for a walk. My laptop is always ready to work on my most recent project, so sometimes I’m finishing a project late in the evening when I have a sudden magical hunch to solve the problem!

Regarding the operations of my company, I’m responsible for new hires and coaching fellow front-end colleagues. Keep them satisfied both on technical as personal level. What do they want to learn, how are things going with their current client, what could be improved and how can we manage to make sure they continue their personal development? Working with developers of different skill-level is awesome and fulfilling.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I really enjoyed creating the front end of an analytics tool, developed for the Dutch Railway. It was my first assignment as a lead front-end developer, and I got the opportunity to work with the latest techniques (NG2 i.e.,). It was both as challenging on a personal level, as regarding my technical knowledge. That’s what motivated me the most, not only to deliver a product where the customer is satisfied with but also pushing myself to the limits of my knowledge and skills. It made me a better developer.

Do you have a hero or someone who inspires you?
Actually, it is someone who does not work in IT, but she proved that “ it can be done”. Lara Rense is a presenter at Dutch radio. I met her five years ago, and she explained to me how she got there. She believed she could do it, although her world was dominated mainly by men and she did not have the “right papers.” She was just so motivated, so self-assured that this was what she wanted, that she did everything it took. She lived up to “her legend” (Paulo Coelho) and made it happen

Stories like that inspire me the most to get everything out of this job. I really want to be a good developer, delivering great applications. Hopefully, someday other people might be inspired by me too, or at least get the motivation to get the best out of themselves.

Why do you love working in IT/Tech?
Coding for me is like solving a puzzle; the feeling when you finally manage to get your application to work is priceless. Also, I really like the “sorcery” which comes along with making a design or prototype available in the real life world. It’s just something not everybody can do. I’m proud being one of those “sorcerers” who make things happen.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
Nope. I do have a bachelor degree, but it’s not in IT. I don’t think I would have done it any other way, though. Although it might have been useful to have some traineeships during an IT study.

However, to me, coding is a very practical craft, mainly learned by doing. A lot of studies are very theoretical, and I think it should be the other way around. By practicing a lot, doing a lot of “dirty work”, strolling the internet and find solutions for “real” problems, I think you will create a better and deeper understanding of any IT-theories. Today, after five years of programming, I finally get (some of) the grab of development techniques, theories, software architectures, design patterns and so on. I think this would have been too abstract to learn when I didn’t have any practical coding skills.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
Practice, practice, practice. Fail. And then practice again. Coding isn’t taught in one day. You’re never done learning. So don’t be disappointed when you stumble or even fall. Just get up and try again. Sometimes you work on a solution for hours just to find out you could solve it with a single line of code. So be it. Try to enjoy everything you learn during your search.

And don’t be afraid to ask or tell people that “you don’t know.” It is never weak to know your limits. By defining them, you’ll be able to stretch them. Ignore your limits and you’ll never get the chance to learn. Oh and a wake-up call: you’ll never know everything. Better know everything about little things, than to know a little – but not enough – about everything

Last but not least, be persistent. Don’t stop looking for the answer, never give up. It can be done!

Extra question from Erin: What’s something you dream about doing or building?Recently, I joined the Google Progressive Web App Conference in Amsterdam. I was really inspired by the use of Service Workers (or any web worker for that matter) to create optimal in-browser app experiences for mobile users. I would love to work on a progressive web app at least once in my life.

When this question was asked to me a year ago, my answer would have been that I wanted to create a native app. But I think web-apps are more within my field of work. Although I definitely will try to make one myself, just for fun. Like I said earlier… I’m sure it can be done… ;-)