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Three years ago I attended a coding bootcamp. Today I became a Google Developers Expert.

This is the story of my journey and how I got there

I am a Google Developers Expert in Web Technologies

What is a Google Developers Expert?

Let me start with Google’s official definition, and then I will follow with my definition.

A Google Developers Expert (GDE) is a person recognized by Google as having exemplary expertise in one or more of their products. The Google Developers Experts program awards GDEs. Google established and administers the program.

For me, a Google Developer Expert is a person who is a leader in their area of specialization. This person also contributes to the tech community. Contribution can consist of any combination of speaking, writing, open source contribution, training courses or maintaining a repo.

How Do You Become a Google Developers Expert?

To earn the GDE distinction, other people that are GDE have to agree that you are an expert. You cannot apply for the program. You have to be nominated by a current GDE.

Once you are nominated you have to complete an application form. This form shows your level of expertise and your level of contribution to the tech community. If your application passes then you go through many rounds of interviews. You will be interviewed to judge your contribution to the tech community. Other interviews will evaluate your technical knowledge. The technical knowledge is done by a Google employee who is an expert in your area of specialization. If you pass all these steps then Google will recognize you as a GDE.

A Quick History of My Background

Many many years ago I was a Lotus Notes Developer. I did this for 10+ years. I specialized in Lotus Notes deployments on IBMs AS/400. As a result, IBM hired me to write a book on Lotus Notes development. If you read the book “Developing E-Business Applications Using Lotus Domino on the AS/400” then you have read my book.

If you have ever used Lotus Notes, I bet you are probably not using it today. It was because of this decline in usage that I stopped being a developer. I moved on to other areas.

During this time I started learning about internet marketing. I built up an internet marketing business that allowed me to retire at the age of 51. The last job I had before retiring was as a Project Manager in the training department at Aaron’s.

A year and a half after I retired I purchased a book for $1 on JavaScript programming on the clearance rack at Barnes & Noble. This was November 2014. For the next month and a half, I worked through the book and completed all the exercises. It was at this point that I remembered how much of a passion I had for programming.

My Journey to Becoming a GDE

In December 2014 I decided I wanted to get back into programming. Going back to university to get a four-year degree was completely out of the question. Luckily for me, coding boot camps were starting to emerge. I applied and was accepted into a coding boot camp in December 2014. My boot camp cohort would start in March 2015.

If you are not familiar with a coding boot camp, it is a three-month training program that teaches you how to be a developer. The boot camp I attended was pretty intense in that training was 12 hours a day six days a week. I graduated in June 2015. Exactly 30 days after graduating I started a job as a developer at CNN.

To become a GDE, you have to have strong technical skills as well as contribute to the community. Let me share how I worked on greatly improving my technical skills.

Improving my technical skills

When you work for a company that gets over a million hits a day you can imagine that their applications have thousands and thousands of lines of code. Coming out of a boot camp, saying I was overwhelmed is an understatement. If I wanted to contribute at a level that I expected of myself, I needed to improve my JavaScript skills quickly. To strengthen my skills, I completed training at CodeSchool (now PluralSight), freeCodeCamp, Lynda, treehouse, and Udacity. The two that provided me with the most improvements in my skills were CodeSchool and freeCodeCamp.

I adopted the game plan that I used to build my successful internet marketing business to help me improve my skills. This meant spending an hour every morning before leaving for work. Then also spending an hour every evening after work. At a minimum, I was spending 10 hours a week on training. On weekends I would spend every minute possible for training.

freeCodeCamp

freeCodeCamp’s original curriculum had fewer certifications than it has today. The number of hours required to complete each certification was also longer than it is today. freeCodeCamp estimated that it would take 1,200 hours to complete all three of their certifications. I completed them all in six months.

After completing all three certifications, I was selected to work on a project for a non-profit. A fellow camper and I created a conference scheduling application for Crimes Committed Against Women. You can watch this video to see a demo of the app we created.


CodeSchool

I also completed the entire JavaScript training track on CodeSchool. (NOTE: Recently PluralSight purchased CodeSchool, so the original training program is no longer available.)

This training coupled with what I learned in the coding boot camp provided a great improvement to my skills. The CodeSchool JavaScript track covered JavaScript, jQuery, Node.js, Express.js, Angular.js, and Backbone. All this I learned in my boot camp. It was invaluable to complete the training to bolster what I had learned and to apply it.

Community Contributions

It is one thing to be a solid developer. A GDE is also evaluated on how they contribute back to the community. As I mentioned earlier, contributions could consist of any combination of speaking, writing, open source contribution, training courses or maintaining a repo.

My first speaking event occurred less than six months after graduating from a coding boot camp. I spoke to soon-to-be graduates from my coding bootcamp about what they could do to improve their chances of getting hired quickly. I talked for about 45 minutes about how to trick out your LinkedIn profile and how to improve your GitHub repos.

Most people worry that they are not “expert” enough to speak on anything. That is not true. I talked on something I had just gone through which was getting a job after graduating from a coding boot camp. The students who would be graduating in less than a month greatly appreciated that I shared my first-hand knowledge of the hiring process.

Speaking at my first Tech Conference


After that initial speech, I went on to speak on local meetups. The first three meetups where I spoke, were the AngularJS, Women Who Code and NodeJS meetup groups. I spoke about using Postman to test your APIs, Using LinkedIn to get hired and NPM as a Build Tool.

I spoke at my first major tech conference later that year. I would speak at my second tech conference just a few months later. In the past 35 months, I have spoken 27 times. This is an average of almost once a month for three straight years. If you want to know where I spoke or what I spoke check out my speaking page here.

Women Who Code Atlanta

I joined Women Who Code Atlanta in January 2015. There were six people present at my first meetup. There was Erica Stanley who founded WWCAtl, myself and four other women. Two years later WWCAtl created the WeRise Conference for 400 attendees.

This conference was created by women for women in which 85% of the speakers and attendees were female. This year the number of attendees increased by more than 25%. I am proud to be able to give the keynote speech at the conference this year.

I am a member of the leadership committee for WWCAtl last year, this year and will be again for 2019. I am a tech lead for the monthly “Code Jams.” My job is to help anyone that needs help in learning something or working on a current project. In addition, I have taught several three-hour workshops on NodeJS/ExpressJS/MongoDB and Advanced JavaScript.

I have also spoken multiple times at the monthly meetup and served on panel discussions. I spoke at the inaugural WeRISE Conference, and this year I did the keynote speech as well as taught a half-day workshop.

freeCodeCamp

I have already mentioned that I completed all three certifications in the original freeCodeCamp curriculum. (NOTE: they have revamped their curriculum, and today it consists of 6 certifications.) I also contributed to a non-profit project for freeCodeCamp. When I was working on the curriculum, I was very active in their forum. I would answer questions, provide encouragement and give code examples.

freeCodeCamp also has a publication on medium.com. Users from all over the world submit articles. Volunteer editors edit these articles before they are published. For the past year, I have been an editor. I will edit anywhere from 7 to 30 articles a week.

Earlier this year I created a series of videos that demonstrated the “whiteboarding” process of a tech interview. I went through hours of actual interview questions I have been asked and showed how you could answer the question. I even showed how you could refactor your code, explain my thought process and address possible ways my code could be tested. This video series covered interview questions on HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and jQuery. freeCodeCamp picked up the videos, and you can watch them here.

For the first time in the history of freeCodeCamp, Quincy Larson, the founder, recognized those campers who had contributed the most as “Top Contributors.” I am proud to be recognized as a “Top Contributor” in the inaugural year the award was given. I was able to attend the award ceremony in New York earlier this year.

Writing

I started writing while I was in my coding boot camp. After graduating, I continued to write about things I was learning. I would write about what JavaScript books I recommend for learning programming. I did a three-part series on creating your first app in Angular and adding features to it.

Today I write my articles on medium.com and then cross post them on my personal blog. As part of my application process for GDE, I had to provide a link to every article that I have ever written. I also had to provide statistics on the number of people that have read them.

At the time I submitted my application my articles had been viewed more than 260,000 times. I am proud that more than a quarter of a million people have read my articles. I average more than 1,000 people daily reading my articles on medium.

Training

Another area where you are measured is whether or not you have created training courses for others. I have already mentioned the three-hour workshops and half-day workshops that I have done through Women Who Code Atlanta. In addition to this, I have three websites with training that I have created.

The first website is in5Days.tech. The URL is specific because you can sign up for a quick introduction to a wide range of topics. Just enter your email address, and for the next 5 days, I will send you an email teaching you about that topic.

The next website I created to give a crash course introduction to Functional Programming in JavaScript. I was teaching an Advanced JavaScript course, and people wondered if their skills were strong enough to allow them to attend an advanced course. So I put together a short training course on functional programming.

The last website will be my official website with all my training courses on it. You can sign up for a course and then watch a series of videos to learn more about the topic. (NOTE: if you visit the website and not all the training courses are available, then give me time. It takes hours to record, edit and publish video training courses which I am doing outside of my day job. So please keep coming back and checking out the progress.)

Teaching and Mentoring

Another area that I have contributed is being a teacher at Tech Talent South in Atlanta. I have taught courses for them. I have been a mentor for Thinkful online coding bootcamp. I would mentor student three days a week as they worked their way through the curriculum. There have been many Women Who Code Atlanta members that have attended coding boot camps. I have mentored six of them while they were attending their coding boot camp.

NodeJS Mentorship Program

The NodeJS organization is trying to get more people involved with contributing to NodeJS which is an open source project. They are about to announce a program where current contributors will be paired up with several people that are interested in contributing. They will be paired for six months. After they graduate, the expectation is they will become contributors to NodeJS.

To start this program, they ran an initial Beta Mentorship Program where they selected just four people out of more than 800 people that had applied. I was in the initial Beta program. I kept a diary of my experience in the program which you can read here. I also created a series of videos about what I learned and recorded all my meetings with my mentor which you can watch.

Conclusion

Google recognizes people as GDEs in a wide range of technologies. Some of these areas are web, Angular, Android, Google Maps, Chrome, and Google Cloud. You are selected to the program in one of these areas. I was chosen for Web Technologies.

I wanted to share with you my journey and what I have done to get to this point. The combination of my technical skills, my speaking, my training and my contributions to WWCAtl, freeCodeCamp, Thinkful, and Tech Talent South is what propelled me to earn this distinction. Currently, Google only recognizes 59 people as GDE in the Web Technologies area. I am proud to be number sixty.

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by Jennifer Bland

I am a Google Developers Expert. Entrepreneur. Mountain Climber. Neil Diamond fanatic. World traveler. MBA grad. Software Engineer. Interested in hiring me? Contact me at ratracegrad@gmail.com

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