Q&A with Tiffanie Johnson

Tiffanie Johnson is a developer who made a late career change after working for a defense contractor. She is currently working for Forum One, a 21 year-old digital company that helps organizations build and extend their reach through innovative web design and development.

Tell me a little about yourself.

I was born in D.C., but my father is in the Marines so we moved around a lot. I consider San Diego, California to be my home town. I miss it, especially on days like this when it’s humid, hot, and sticky.

Were you working in web development when you were out there?

No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t really interested in web development at school. I went for Physics and Math. I got my Associates in Electrical Engineering and I got my Bachelor’s in Mathematics. So I’m not a classically trained computer scientist, like a lot of my colleagues are. My senior year of college, I was trying to decide if I wanted to go to graduate school or if I wanted to teach. Neither of those really sounded appealing to me, and that’s kind of what you do if you have a degree in STEM. I was like, I better teach myself a skill. And so I started watching tutorials on YouTube about web development and I sort of taught myself. Through my school I was able to obtain an internship with a defense contractor. That’s where I got a lot of experience from. Things just kind of snowballed after that.
The job I have now, is the first one that is web development focused.

Where are you working now?

I’m at Forum One.

How long have you been at Forum One and what has your experience there been like?

I’ve been at Forum for a little over a year and my experience there has been mostly positive. So even though I’m not doing defense contracting anymore — you have to get the contract to get the work and that’s something to do — in the private sector it’s a lot like that. We have to win contracts. There are down times. When you’re busy, you think about all the things you could do if you had a little more time. And then when the slowdown hits and you get all that time, it’s so boring.

What is it about web development that you really love?

I think the fact that I’m able to touch so many people with the work that I do. When I worked in defense contracting, if I was building an application, 20 people would see it. With the work that I do, billions of people see it every day. So we build the new Smithsonian African American History Museum’s website, the Red Cross’s site, and Peace Corp. So I’m not only building these websites, but I’m also helping to spread goodness.

What are some of the things that frustrate you about this field?

Being new to web development is difficult because there’s so much technology out there. And that’s fun and it’s exciting, but it can also trap you. You start researching. For example, for JavaScript there are gazillions of frameworks out there and you start researching them and it’s like, which one do you use? Why were these created in the first place? What problem are they trying to solve? What are their pitfalls? Why might you not want to use them? Stuff like that is frustrating to me because the answers are not always clear. It isn’t alway clear which solution is best. That could be because I’m fairly new. As far as web development is concerned, I have about a year and half of experience. I’m sure that I’ll get better at it, but technology’s changing very quickly.

So if you come into web development with an open mind, know that what you learned today might be obsolete in three months. That has to be okay with you. Otherwise you’ll get pretty discouraged.

In your profile on Forum One, it says that you are working toward becoming a Subject Matter Expert. What is this position and why do you want to be one?

I want to teach people how to use it and I don’t want to have to ask anyone for help. So if I’m the expert in that field, then all the JavaScript decisions would come through me. I want to be an expert at it because I want to know more than the person next to me who’s doing the same job. JavaScript is the language of the internet really. I think that’s the perfect language to do it in.

What projects are you working on now?

Have you been introduced to StackExchange? It’s a forum where you can ask other developers questions if you’re having problems? So I’m building a copy of that. Not to really put it out there, but for myself to play with.

Any advice for anyone who is just starting?

Yeah, code every day. Code something, even if it’s a “Hello World”, or something like that. Read an article everyday. Because it’s very easy to forget why you made a decision. Always comment your code, for you and for the person after you. Realize that everybody that’s coded before you has felt the way you felt so don’t give up. This is just the process of becoming a developer. And it’s fun too! It’s a very powerful feeling to control a computer and that’s what you do.

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