Meet a Maker: Rebecca Qu

Welcome to our second instalment of our alumni spotlight series! Rebecca Qu attended June 2015’s Web Development cohort. A graduate of U of T's Human Biology program, Rebecca was a research analyst for mental health non-profit Blu Matter Project. She is currently a Full Stack Developer at LookBook HQ.

Q: What made you shift from science research to development?

Rebecca: While studying sciences in university, I grappled with the lack of creative outlet available. Though I really enjoy biology, I couldn’t reconcile not regularly utilizing my artistic capacity.

I found Bitmaker when actively seeking out development education to flesh out the self-learning I had started online. Through online tutorials I had absorbed basic syntax, but I couldn't get to the point where I felt "job ready", or readily build a project that interested me.

I love the problem solving and logical elements of development. It's satisfying to be continually presented with challenges and have the creative tools to solve them.

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Bootcamp learning can be a wild ride at times. Were you ever overwhelmed? Did you experience an 'aha' moment?

We were working on a Customer Relationship Management app during the second or third week. At that point we had gone over the basic syntax of Ruby and were then thrown into the project. It wasn’t clicking for me. My project was a week overdue, which can be bad news in bootcamp time. I was stressed out and feeling defeated.

I grabbed Natalie after class one day. She’s one of my favourite instructors, she’s amazing. Natalie sat with me for almost half an hour just answering my questions and reassuring me that I could actually do this.

As we walked through the assignment, something started making sense. I found myself talking out loud while working through the problems and the solutions just started to flow. After finishing, I thanked Natalie for her tremendous assistance – but she said “Actually, that was all you, I just sat here.”

This moment gave me a lot of confidence; I realized that I was capable of solving problems and building a real product. The combination of emotional support and a small amount of technical guidance was all that I really needed to get back on track.

You ended up picking a final project that was not just challenging in development scope, but also tackled what you knew was a real need from your prior education. Can you talk me through it?

My final project in the Web Development course was a reproductive health app, intended to track the user’s menstrual cycle, fertility, and how they feel from day to day. We created an integration for allowing your physician to your data over time. Patients usually have very little face time with their doctors, so the app aims to provide more comprehensive information to lead to better diagnosis.

I come back to the code on occasion and consider refactoring it. Now that some time has passed since its completion, when I look at the code, I start to see where I would do things differently. For me the project highlights both how much I learned in such a short time in the course, as well as how far I’ve progressed in eight months of working as a developer.

In those formative first 8 months in your new career, what elements of the Toronto tech community have engaged you? What are your impressions since you've entered it?

The social community is amazing in Toronto, I try to go to as many meetups as I can. You can easily connect with people who share your interests. This being said, there are moments where I don't feel like I fit into the culture around me.

Making a big career change through a bootcamp puts you in an unique situation. You have to learn and adapt very quickly on your feet and often confront a lot of self-doubt. Sometimes I think I need to be hacking on side projects every weekend, watching 'Silicon Valley' in my spare time, and engaging in lots of opinionated conversations about text editors. While they're all good things, it can be draining over time if it’s not what you really want to be doing.

What reassures me is meeting incredible developers that are not what you'd imagine people in the tech industry to be like. It’s liberating to see a wide range of people who have made a career out of programming – while also being artists, scientists, teachers, mothers, and yogis. It's given me motivation to figure out how I want to authentically navigate my way in this industry.

Check out Part 2 of the interview with Rebecca covering her career since Bitmaker!