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Spotlight 73: Rachel, Engineer @ CodePen

Time for another spotlight, number 73! This time, I’m introducing you to Rachel Smith, web developer at CodePen (which is awesome!). And I’m so excited to share her story, cause I’m an absolute fan of the projects she’s been working on, and I’m sure she’ll have even more fans after this :-) Enjoy reading and thank you so much for your time, Rachel!

Name: Rachel Smith
Job:  Engineer at CodePen
Favorite website, app or gadget: This is going to sound like a plug, but it’s true: My favourite website is CodePen.io!
Favorite book: I am a Harry Potter fanatic, so the whole series.
Twitter: @rachsmithtweets
Site: http://rachsmith.com

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
I was obsessed with the internet since my dad first got dialup installed in our house in ’98. I tried to study a Software Engineering degree after leaving school, but the content just wasn’t appealing to me, and I couldn’t see a practical application. Some time later I realized that coding could help me build sites like the sites I loved using (like LiveJournal and MySpace), and I began pursuing a career in Front End Development.

What does your working day look like?
I work remotely, from home. So after I do some morning exercise I begin the workday on my computer. A usual day for me on CodePen is spending 80% of my time working on new features on the site and 20% on fixing bugs or issues logged in our support. Lately, I’ve been spending all of my time on a large feature that we’re planning to release this year, so that’s been exciting. We use Slack and video chat to keep up with the team so I will spend some of my time on quick meetings but a lot of my day can be devoted to uninterrupted programming, which is wonderful. I like to start earlier and finish earlier if I can, which actually works well as a lot of my team are on Central and Eastern time while I’m on Pacific (US).

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
From my years working in agencies – there were many awesome sites I was fortunate to work on, but if I had to choose one I would say the campaign site for Under Armour – http://willbeatsnoise.com. I loved this one because I really like Under Armour as a brand and in order to make the site I had to build a social media scraping and moderation system to control the real-time content being projected on the walls in the interactive video. We also won a Cannes Grand Prix for the project, which was a nice achievement.

But if I’m honest, the coolest project I’ve ever worked on is CodePen.io. I was an avid user of the site before I worked here, so to work on a project I truly love using is really an amazing privilege. I still have to pinch myself.

Do you have a hero or someone who inspires you?
I try not to put internet personalities on a pedestal or engage in any hero worship :) However, I’ve had many brilliant coworkers who have inspired me to learn more and do better throughout my career, and I’m truly grateful for the experiences I’ve had with them.

Three people in the web animation space who inspire me with their propensity to work hard and treat people well are Sarah Drasner (http://sarahdrasnerdesign.com), Val Head (http://valhead.com/) & Rachel Nabors (http://rachelnabors.com/)

Why do you love working in  IT/Tech?
My favourite thing about being a Front End developer is that there is always something new to learn. The techniques and tools and possibilities are forever changing; I’ll never run out of cool stuff to discover!

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I have a degree in IT and a degree in Creative Media. I felt like the degrees provided a good starting point for a lot subjects in a structured learning environment (which I respond positively to) but most of my knowledge has been self-taught on top of that.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
If you enjoy it, go for it! Learning to code can involve a lot of frustration in the beginning, so get comfortable with being wrong, remember not to be too hard on yourself, and to have a good time!

Extra question from Laurence: What advice would you give someone who wants the job you have right now?
If you know the job you want – always be working on the skills that will bring you closer to being qualified for that job. And remember to be nice to the people you come in contact with, my last two jobs I was offered in part because I’d previously struck up a cordial relationship with my employers.