git init derby

by Brittany Martin in

Lead jammer. Grand slam. Cherry popper. My sister has won me over and I'm giving Roller derby a go with the Pittsburgh East Roller Villains (PERV).


As I'm trying to jam roller derby rules into my head, it occurred to me that I have felt this way before: when I was learning to code. As a coding mentor for Bloc, it is beneficial to be placed back in the beginner's mindset. There are clear parallels that can be drawn from learning roller derby to learning to code. 


Roller derby is incredibly time consuming, and on top of practice, I need to spend extra time on my core skating skills. Roller derby can completely take over your life, and what’s more, I bet I will gladly let it. When I was learning to code, I remember waking up early, going to bed late and trying to sneak any available downtime to study.

A funny paradigm exists when you are experienced. Training is recalled as being fast and easy when a lot of of commitments were sacrificed so you could practice. 


You have to be able to get hit, and get back up quickly. If you can’t take being hit, sometimes illegally, this is not the sport for you. As the famous philosophers of Chumbawamba chanted, "I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down".

When I took on an assignment I couldn't solve during my coding apprenticeship. it felt like I have been smacked back to square one. When we were young, we were bad at everything we tried but didn't care. As adults, we have few opportunities to be bad at a new interest. Embrace that learning to code is going to be more stops than starts at first.


I've already gotten frustrated and had a bad derby day. But if you can’t shake it off and approach learning with a positive attitude, you’ll hurt your team’s morale. I love PERV's attitude around this:

Everyone is welcome regardless of abilities. We all are here to have fun! No negative Nancys allowed. Laughing is strongly encouraged!

The normal experience of programming is to try to solve something, get frustrated, try harder, pause, have an epiphany (for me: overnight or at the gym) and suddenly my code will work. Feeling frustrated is completely normal, and will never completely go away since you will just choose harder problems to solve. In some ways, the frustration makes the success that much sweeter. 


Roller derby is a real sport and the training is hard. If you’re not interested in being an athlete, this is likely not the extracurricular sport for you. The same goes with being a developer. You're inevitably going to crash your program in production. Dust yourself off, learn from your mistakes and deploy again. 


I'm privileged to have the financial resources to pursue my interests. Roller derby is not a cheap hobby. Depending on your league, dues alone can be between $25 - $50 a month. Purchasing a lasting pair of skates and thick safety padding can add up. Before you commit to joining a league, ask a current skater (hi, sis!) about what kind of expenses you will need to budget for. 

A full-time developer bootcamp will typically cost $10,000-$20,000, but there are a lot ways to learn the fundamentals of web development through a self taught regimen. Don't forget to purchase a robust computer and invest in a strong wifi connection. 


Roller derby is hard and time-consuming but I know I'll get to do something really fun and rewarding with an incredible group of skaters. Learning to code was the one of the best decisions I have ever made. I love my job(s), developer community and the opportunities coding has opened for me.

Remember, it’s hard to be a beginner. It’s scary, embarrassing, overwhelming, and intimidating to try new things but we've got this!



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.