From Kitchen Floor to Front End Developer

This time last year Kristen Kagei, sat in her pajamas on her kitchen, in the middle of the day, covered from head to toe in flour. She cried as she attempted to bake cookies to comfort herself from being let go from her job, one that she had started just months earlier. Unsure what she was going to do, Kristen dodged calls from her parents because she knew for certain she didn’t want to return to home to Tokyo, not yet at least. Desperate to find something, Kristen began a 24-hour job hunt, and in the middle of the night she thought to herself “coding.” Fast forward a year later, and Kristen Kagei is currently a junior web developer at National Public Radio (NPR) located in Washington, D.C.

Kagei’s journey into web development is an unconventional one and not the one she set out on when she traveled to the United States for school. Born and raised in Tokyo by her Japanese father and American mother, she left the only home she knew in 2009 when she enrolled in Georgetown University to study linguistics. Upon the completion of her degree, she thought she would travel the world, possibly teach in another country—the possibilities were endless. Infatuated with D.C., she decided to stay here and see what the city had to offer.

In August 2017, Kagei was let go from her job when the market research company she was working for was acquired during a merger. At the research company her desk was positioned next to the web development team and she was often intrigued by their work, citing their multiple monitors of “colorful gibberish” as what sparked her interest at first. Thinking that coding could be her next move, Kagei enrolled in coding school to learn as much as she could about the subject. She describes coding school as “the most grueling process of my life.”

Since Kagei entered coding school with no working knowledge or computer science background, she would look at the coursework and compare it to things in life she was familiar with. She often compared the systemic process of coding to the processes in the restaurant industry, an industry she worked in before. Viewing the customer’s order as the desired webpage action and the kitchen as the back-end frame. Kagei also came to understand coding as a method of solving problems mathematically. When trying to grasp new concepts she would ask herself, “How do people solve problems? How can they do that with technology?”

Upon completion of coding school, Kagei began a web development internship at NPR, working with their podcasts, community of radio station and apps. She worked on projects that made sure their products were accessible. This included developing bypass mechanisms within the app for users with limited or reduced mobility. She accomplished this by creating menu options that allow users to skip ahead, instead of having the entire page read to them.

At the end of her internship, Kagei was brought on to the development team full time as a junior developer, which involves working on emerging platforms. She described her new role as finding ways “to sync the information [content] with the new technology.” One of the platforms she works closely with is their new app, NPR One. NPR One is described as a constantly evolving platform that allows listeners “a whole new way to listen to stories, shows, and podcasts.”

Each day she asks herself, “How do you get people the news they want?” Kagei’s job is to work on NPR One and introduce its content to new platforms like Fire TV and Amazon’s Echo. Platforms like these allow the audience to engage and consume their favorite outlets in ways like never before. Kagei works to ensure that their user experience is the same regardless how it’s accessed: their website, app or an outside interface.

Kagei says working on code that someone else has written is one of the hardest parts of her job. Often she finds herself trying to manipulate long chunks of code without breaking it, but making it do what she wants.

Although she has had great success thus far in her career, Kagei still views herself as a beginner with a lot to learn. For example, she still spends some days learning code or tools of the trade to make sure she is up on all the latest things.

A year into her new career, Kagei is enjoying herself. She appreciates the flexibility she has to work in any industry and values her role in a large media company where she feels she can contribute to “a bigger cause.” She hopes from her story that others learn that they’re capable of anything and there is an “infinite amount of possibilities among these ones and zeros.”

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