Interview: Web Developer Ashton Levier on Girl Develop It and Being a Woman in STEM

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[Editor’s Note: After seeing our interview with Code and Cupcakes founder Jen Myers, Bloc, the online coding bootcamp, asked if we would feature a piece on their award-winning graduate Ashton Levier. Here’s Bloc’s Drew Sing talking to Levier about how she learned to code and her experiences as a woman of color in STEM.]

Originally from Louisiana, Ashton Levier is a teacher turned web developer in Salt Lake City, Utah. Introduced to coding through Girl Develop It, Ashton then enrolled in Bloc’s online coding bootcamp. Below is her Q and A on how she did it, and her thoughts on diversity in tech.

The Mary Sue (Drew Sing): Where are you working now and what do you do?

Ashton Levier: I’m a Web Developer at SCHAWEL+COLES, an e-commerce optimization dev shop where I help convert sites and build e-commerce sites for clients. There are eight developers in the office and four who work remotely. I get to learn a lot from them by talking to clients and sitting in on meetings.

I’m doing mostly front-end development, which means working with html, css, jquery, and php on the back-end.

TMS :What were you doing before you became a Web Developer?

Levier: I was originally became a teacher after graduating from McNeese State University in 2010. Growing up, I always had an interest in tinkering with computers and code, but was never given the opportunity to consider web development as a career path.

I moved to Utah because it offered me a place to be surrounded by peers in the tech industry as well as fulfill my passion for the outdoors. Where else can you snowboard, float a river, and go hiking in the same day?!

TMS: What is Girl Develop it? Why did you get involved?

Levier: Girl Develop It is an organization that provides programs to women who want to learn software development. Their hack nights are great for anyone interested in playing with code in a female friendly environment. They’ve got chapters in over 50 cities, so there may be one near you!

I joined GDI in 2012 when a friend of mine introduced me. Getting involved in GDI gave me the confidence to realize I could have a really great career that I loved.  It was tons of fun and really helpful. It was nice to be a part of a community and be able to ask people questions!

At subsequent hack nights, I got to build on my skills, learned other languages, and realize that web development was what I wanted to do for a career.

TMS: How did you hear about Bloc?

Levier: GDI helped me learn the basics of programming, but I knew a more thorough education would be crucial in getting me job-ready.

Through my Salt Lake City GDI Chapter, I heard about Bloc through their Girl Develop It Scholarship in Web Development. It’s a scholarship that GDI and Bloc have partnered on to promote women in tech. If you’re not a GDI member though, Bloc also has a Coding Bootcamp Diversity Scholarship that any women or minority is eligible for as well.

TMS: How did Bloc help prepare you for this role?

Levier: Bloc taught me all aspects of development that I would need if I were to get hired and gave me a personal mentor, which was unbelievably helpful. Understanding git, learning about the back-end, how to write clean code, etc. All of these things I learned with their curriculum and mentorship program.

My mentor Adam Louise was the best! It’s so much easier to have your questions answered 1-on-1. He hit a lot on philosophical points, like best practices that you wouldn’t necessarily know about, and was really good about explaining why things are done and why you should do them a certain way, instead of just how they are done which is really important and helpful.

When you’re lost or confused, people in a classroom of 30 aren’t going to put themselves out there to ask questions. Any opportunity to have a smaller learning environment with an open-door 1-on-1 policy is better. I always felt comfortable to ask questions and felt like I had a real support system from my mentor who knew my pace and abilities.

TMS: How was the job hunt?

Levier: Not easy! I sweat through a lot of interviews, but I finally hit my stride and had three job offers and a plethora of opportunities!

My boss at SCHAWEL+COLES told me that they were really hoping to hire a full-stack person, so for me to now have those skills was a huge factor in me getting hired. They really liked how they could pay me a front-end salary, yet I could still learn the back-end. I was an investment and as I learn more and gain more skills my position and responsibilities will grow and evolve.

The Mary Sue: Are you still involved with GDI?

Levier: I still attend the GDI hack nights in Salt Lake City. It’s a great place to always go for help, and now that I know rails, I can help others too. I encourage everyone to join a hack group of some sort. Having a community or place you can go is really motivating when you have a problem.

TMS: As an African American, what are your thoughts around diversity in tech?

Levier: Utah is pretty homogenous, but the Silicon Slopes is bringing a lot of tech companies here, which is helping promote diversity. In Utah, you don’t see a lot of minorities, but tech is pushing diversity here.

TMS: How’s the tech scene in Salt Lake City, Utah?

Levier: I think in the last 5 years, Adobe, HP, Ebay, overstock, and Discover have all moved here. If you look at job boards in Utah, most jobs are in technology. There are so many opportunities!

I’m originally from Lake Charles, Louisiana, and the only way you can get a job in tech in that area is if you went to New Orleans or Houston and even then the opportunities and salaries aren’t so great.

TMS: What advice would you give to other women and minorities?

Levier: It’s really important to be confident in yourself and your abilities. As long as you put the time in, you can do it. You shouldn’t give yourself any excuse not to become a developer. If you are looking for a job while taking a bootcamp, be upfront about where you are with your course. Let them know what you have already learned and what you will learn.

Drew Sing covers today’s changing education landscape and currently works on the growth team at Bloc, the mentor-led, online coding bootcamp. 

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