The Developer Fountain of Youth

by Brittany Martin in

In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.
— Phil Collins

On my teaching nights, I traverse the country coaching perspective developers from my house. Mentoring at, a remote developer bootcamp, has been the number one reason I have leveled up as a developer. 

My TLDR Developer Origin Story

  • Non-Technical Product Manager in Pittsburgh 
  • Moved to San Francisco 
  • Couldn't locate a Non-Technical PM gig, enrolled into Bloc's Rails Fundamentals course while working in Marketing
  • Became a Support Engineer, laid off after a year when company shut down
  • Joined a dev shop as a remote PM/developer
  • Became a mentor at Bloc
  • Moved back to Pittsburgh
  • Joined my current day job as Lead Ruby Developer

Three years later, I still feel that learning to code is one of my best decisions. That enthusiasm spills into all of my mentoring sessions.

How Mentoring at Bloc Works

Students enroll in Bloc through a Student Advisor. Once they are a week away from their start date, they are asked to choose their mentor, usually based on their appointment availability and the mentors' profiles. You can check out my profile here

Once a student and a mentor are matched up, the mentor receives an email that links to the student's profile so we can learn the basics: why they want to be a developer, their experience level and their location. Mentors will send a welcome email and explain to the student how their weekly appointments will work. 

Once the student's course starts, they can immediately dive into Bloc's curriculum to complete checkpoints and assessment. I receive an alert every time they have material for me to review. I give the checkpoint a passing or needs a revision grade with detailed notes. As they progress, we move more of our communication away from the Bloc platform and on to Github so they get a real feel of a developer's daily life. 

As far as the weekly half hour appointments go, I encourage my students to be in charge of what they want to cover. Sometimes this is reviewing quiz and assessment scores, pair programming on a project or assignment or advising on career growth and networking. In between appointments, students can message me with any questions they have. 

Why Mentoring Rocks

 Meeting all my students!

Meeting all my students!

I'm assigned a wide range of students: some whom are already working in technology to those whom have never written a single line of code. Because of this, I often get insightful questions that cause me to step back and think about how I understand a concept. Even better, I'll show my student how to implement a solution in a different language/framework and they shout with joy. Being in touch with what it feels like to be a new developer is the key to staying young in this field. 

I can't grow old as a developer as long as students are pushing me to stay on top of the latest trends. Just because appointments are a half hour long doesn't mean I won't spend several hours of research time to be prepared. I listen to more podcasts and read more newsletters than ever so that I always have new topics to discuss.

While all of Bloc's mentor work from the same curriculum, we have the opportunity to throw in extra advice to help guide the student to meet their goals. I found myself relaying my own personal advice to so many students and mentors that I created a repository to share. 

While talking online is fun, meeting in person is my favorite. It always feels like I'm meeting an audio pen pal. I love that I have a friend in almost every major city because of Bloc. 

Bloc happens to be hiring mentors. If you're interested, feel free to reach out to me. 




A Pittsburgh Bridge Clojure

by Brittany Martin

user=> (prn "Hello ClojureBridge Pittsburgh")
"Hello ClojureBridge Pittsburgh"

The first ClojureBridge Pittsburgh is a wrap! Strangely, the Liberty Bridge caught fire while workers worked on a renovation project last Friday afternoon. The bridge had to be closed along with the Liberty Tunnel, causing long traffic backups. That didn't stop us!

For a rundown of why I chose to organize a ClojureBridge, you can read more here. I am going to share what made the event a success, what could be improved for next time and whom I owe a mountain of gratitude. 


What Worked

  • I wanted to run another workshop after Railsbridge Pittsburgh and Startup Weekend Pittsburgh: Women's Edition were a success but I needed a host partner. Elisa from Truefit proactively asked if I had an event in mind. Truefit is located in the gorgeous newly rennovated Union Trust building downtown. Not only did we have a brand new lecture room to teach in but Elisa herself put a lot of time in to make sure the event ran smoothly. 
  • The students asked thoughtful questions and were so excited to continue learning Clojure that they are taking on a bonus project at Girl Develop It Pittsburgh.

What Was Hard

  • This workshop was aimed at intermediate female developers. Unfortunately, they are hard to find in Pittsburgh. We reached out to via StartNow Pittsburgh, Girl Develop It and Code & Supply but in the end, ended up with a class of 10, instead of 30. 
  • Clojure is still obscure in Pittsburgh so I was worried about locating teachers. While we ended up with 4 wonderful teachers, I spent a lot of time trying to locate female teachers in surrounding cities. Even with an offer to pay for them to travel to Pittsburgh, no takers. The students agreed that being taught by male allies still carried the mission of diversifying tech. 

What Could Be Improved for Next Time

  • Pittsburgh can feel small at time but I was amazed that the majority of our attendees did not know each other. Since we stuck to a lecture style format, we missed an opportunity to create groups to do more project based learning. 
  • Our attendees were intermediate so it would have made sense to assign homework covering the basics of Clojure so we could have tackled harder material with teacher assistance. 

Special Thanks

  • My co-organizer, Jessica Nebgen
  • Host extraordinaire, Elisa Llera
  • Our teachers, Benjamin R. Haskell, Bruce Adams, Katrina Hall & Matt Enright
  • Our ten students (shout out to Katelyn Hertel who flew in from New York City for the workshop)
  • ClojureBridge HQ, especially Yoko Harada and Katherine Fellows

I'll be pondering on my next workshop for 2017. Please leave a comment with your ideas and your offer to help!



Abstractions & Pittsburgh Pride

by Brittany Martin

I had a lot of conversations like these last year in San Francisco: 

    Me: "I'm going to move back to Pittsburgh."

    Friend: "Why??! That is right next to Philly, right? I have a cousin there. You must know her."

     Me: "Pittsburgh has improved a lot in the last 2 years since I've been gone. Now that I'm a developer, there is even more opportunity for me there. Also, Philly is a 5 hour car ride away, you goof." 

     Friend: "Oh OK. Have fun in the City of Brotherly Love!" 

     Me: t(- n -)t

 Friday Hug with Aaron 

Friday Hug with Aaron 

Abstractions, a polyglot production of Code & Supply, wrapped up on Saturday and it was a whirlwind. It was incredible how much thought, care and kindness must have gone into producing such an inspiring event. From tech leaders flying in from around the world to gentle therapy dogs to raise our spirits during the homestretch, it was my favorite conference this year. It certainly helped that it was located at the end of the Cultural District, the arts and entertainment section of town I'm proud to work in. I had the honor of introducing a few of my programming heroes like Aaron Patterson and Saron Yitbarek

I particularly enjoyed meeting developers that had never considered visiting Pittsburgh and were delighted by our neighborhoods, dining and culture. Tweets like these brought a smile to my face. 

 My good friend, Jackie Vesci, made an excellent point after it was announced that the Uber CEO and the Pittsburgh Mayor took the first inaugural ride in an autonomous car in Pittsburgh in the same week.

Unfortunately, we need to address why so many visitors were surprised by how strong our community is. I (happily) attended Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally's Summer of 69 tour on Sunday night. During the show, Nick yelled to the crowd, "What's the slogan of your city?". He got a resounding reply of "STEELERS". I felt a bit nauseous. We're better than this, Pittsburgh. 

As the thousand visiting attendees from Abstractions journeyed home, I held some hope that they will spread the word about how far our city has come. This is a call to action to the Pittsburgh community to be more vocal about why Pittsburgh is the perfect place for technology, innovation and culture to flourish.

A very special thanks for Code & Supply and the Abstractions organizing team. You created something very special and I suspect it will be the forward momentum we need. 



TLCC2016 and Me

by Brittany Martin

I finally get it. My co-workers at the Trust have been insisting that the Tessitura Learning and Community conference is the highlight of the year. Having just arrived home from Washington D.C., I'm already counting the days until we head to San Diego for TLCC 2017. 

What is Tessitura, you say? The Tessitura Network is a company formed by the initial users of Tessitura Software, the API and client that fuels our website and box offices. Their goal was to set up an open model, nonprofit technology and services company that avoided the pitfalls, disappointments, diversions and high fees experienced with traditional for-profit software companies (cough cough Ticketmaster).

The conference (TLCC) is an annual event where hundreds of arts and culture organizations come together to learn from one another and listen to what Tessitura HQ is working on in their next release. It's more loving than a highschool reunion. The TLCC staff makes sure that your trip is personalized and optimized for making connections. TLCC's special events (5k, First Timers lunch) and sessions (Open Space, you choose the topic) that fostered these moments.

 Right after my co-worker and friend, Danielle, gave an excellent talk on our website refresh 

Right after my co-worker and friend, Danielle, gave an excellent talk on our website refresh 

This is the first year that the conference had a track for the developers that either work within their hosted solution (TNEW) or develop custom websites plugged into their SOAP API (like us, at the Trust). Leading up to the conference, the Trust web team met each day about a feature we are eager to implement so we arrived with a laundry list of features we wanted to get opinions about.

Without further ado, these were my favorite parts of the conference: 

Web Developers Forum: All Things HTTP(S)://

We joined the members of the Tessitura web team for an intense roundtable discussion on all things technical. This was my first session of the conference and it was a great way to put out our wish list of goals and to meet our fellow developers. It got a bit heated but that was needed in order to break the ice. I earned my induction into the community Bitbucket organization and Slack channel. 

Hands-On Developer Workshops

The next big developer feature is Tessitura's new REST API. For the first time, there was hands-on workshop to implement and test the REST API in a mock web app. While the workshop was conducted in Visual Studio, I was able to follow along in Ruby. If I was stuck, it was easy to flag down a Network developer. 

 6am start on Tuesday 

6am start on Tuesday 

Tessitura 5K Fun Run 

It was a blast joining my Tessitura colleagues for this walk/run along the Potomac River. I came in 37th place, 8th placed female. Not bad for just starting my (challenging) career as a budding runner. 

Tessitura's Innovator Series Live at TLCC

The Innovator Series is a spotlight on the insights and innovation in the business of arts and culture. This was a presentation shared between three different organizations but Opera Philadelphia really stuck with me. 

Opera Philadelphia has been garnering attention as a high-energy producer and fervent proponent of opera as an exciting and relevant art form, capable of meeting a wide range of audiences wherever they are – from the opera hall to some of the most unexpected places. In her talk, Annie shared how Opera Philadelphia consistently creates the opportunity for imaginative and inspired work to happen by being what she calls “a partnership ninja,” equally deft at co-commissioning with another opera company as co-creating with a group of talented and passionate high school students. OP depicts how much creativity matters when keeping a non-profit relevant and thriving. 



Tessitura Hackathon

Experienced developers were able to get more hands-on experience with the REST and SOAP APIs, while collaborating with fellow community developers around a shared project or problem. I ended up bringing a coding problem (I'm learning Javascript at the moment) that I paired with Danielle on. Definitely not a traditional hackathon so I got to leave the ninja-rockstar pressure at home. 

Tour of Ford's Theatre

After the conference wrapped up, we traveled to Ford’s Theatre, a working professional theatre that just integrated with Tessitura (and ditched Ticketmaster!). In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth while attending a performance of “Our American Cousin” at the theatre. Lincoln died the next morning in the Petersen House, a boarding house located across the street. During our visit to Ford’s Theatre, we explored the museum, which details Lincoln’s presidency and the events of the assassination, walked through the Theatre, entered the Petersen House where Lincoln died, and explored exhibits addressing the aftermath of the assassination and the evolution of the Lincoln legacy.

That's a wrap on TLCC2016. Spending more time with not only my Trust co-workers but District employees I haven't gotten to bond with was a highlight. I am incredibly proud of my District co-workers who spoke, moderated and guru'd sessions. My goal is to join you all next year!