Chatting with Shane Kerwin, Intro to Web Languages Instructor

Girls in Tech recently sat down with Shane Kerwin, who will join us on September 26 at 11:30 a.m. ET to teach a virtual course called Intro to Web Languages. Shane has been working as a web developer since 2012. During that time, he has worked in large publicly traded companies, small tech startups, and as a freelancer. He talked to us about his career path and the tools he plans to share with our members.

Girls in Tech: How did you get into software development? What did you study in college?

Shane Kerwin: I studied product design in college in London. In the US, I think it would be called industrial design, as I was learning to make 3D physical products. At that time, I also began learning to program microchips for electronics to make things move. I would say that was my introduction to programming, though it was on the hardware side. I didn’t use those skills much until I came to New York. At that point, I ended up working with a fashion designer to put LED lights in stage costumes and make them blink on and off to music. It was amazing to see how much that industry had changed. In college, you’d need at least $1,000 of equipment just to get started programming a microchip. When I began doing it in fashion, the Arduino Revolution had happened, and for about $20, you could do anything you wanted. I didn’t move into web development until a few years later. I was looking for work, and a friend of mine suggested I make the jump. I had a foothold in programming but for hardware, so this was really a shift for me to web development.

GIT: What advice would you give to someone looking to switch industries and get into web development?

SK: Code something. The best thing about writing software, especially for the web, is you don’t need much equipment. All you need is access to a computer with a web browser and a text editor, and you can do all the things a professional software developer can do. So much of what I learned was from online sources for free or nearly for free. There is an amazing range of online resources to learn software development, and there’s a lot of help from the open source software community. It’s an engineering community, so it’s built to help you with that obsession for efficiency engineers tend to have. You’re stepping into a world where you will have a lot of questions and those with the answers are not only willing to share but also have built tools to share them as quickly and as efficiently as possible for free. I don’t think there’s an example like that in any other professional field; it’s really great.

GIT: If you could recommend one language to master, what would it be?

SK: There are good reasons to learn specific programming languages. I write a lot of JavaScript, and it’s the only programming language that runs in every single web browser. If you want to program for the web, you can’t get around JavaScript, so perhaps I’d recommend that. But there isn’t really one answer; it depends what you are trying to do. You can’t program microchips to make LED lights blink on and off in JavaScript, for example.

GIT: If you could go back to when you were just getting into the field, what advice would you give your younger self?

SK: I would want to tell myself what to learn and what to skip. When I was learning about web development, I didn’t know what was important information, what would help me, what was more of a rabbit hole. And there’s just so much you can learn about. I feel like I didn’t actually go to bed for over a year; I’d just pass out every night trying to understand one more thing I came across about php, or JavaScript, or how the web actually works. I didn’t know what to hone in on. So, I would tell myself what to focus on. And that’s definitely one reason why I want to teach a class. I think I took a long and meandering route, and there’s really no need to pass out every night reading about something else you don’t need to know on your laptop.

GIT: What’s the most rewarding project you’ve worked on as a developer?

SK: One of the first things I ever made was an admin tool for a company to manage product IDs. Think about the SKU codes for thousands of products like printers, cameras, things like that. After I made it, someone forwarded me an email from a user complaining about it. He had made a screen recording showing how it took 3 minutes to add a new product into the system, something he had to do hundreds of times a day, and I think the rest of the email was in all caps. Anyway, I watched everything he did in the screen recording and tried to think of a way to make each step faster. A few weeks later, I had a new version and sent him an email of me adding a new product in just a few seconds. So, one of the rewarding things about software that’s fairly unique is that you can make lots of things in a short amount of time, and there’s sort of an instant gratification. But what I also realized was that no one was expecting this improvement. This user, like millions of other people everywhere, was expecting to have to use this terrible interface that I made everyday at work until he just couldn’t stand it anymore, and someone else would have to do it. I see interfaces like that everywhere. It’s rewarding to see someone’s daily task and just make it so much better for them.

GIT: Tell us a little bit about the course you plan to teach.

SK: I’m going to provide an introduction to coding and programming using a web browser and text editor, which is what industry web developers use every day. The course requires no background or prior knowledge, and you will definitely finish having made something. It will focus entirely on HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. These are the three languages that the whole web is built on. Every browser can run JavaScript, and everything you look at is HTML and CSS. These are incredibly common, useful languages to understand.

GIT: What makes you most excited to be involved with the GIT community?

SK: After all I got from online resources, the open source community, and fellow engineers, I feel that I really owe something back. I want to bring those skills to anyone who is interested in doing this. I want to make it easier and more accessible to everyone and show it’s a great field to work in. I’m thrilled to be able to team up with GIT, which has a similar mission.

Shane’s course will give participants a look at how websites are built and then help them build their own. This class is a hands-on introduction to HTML, CSS and Javascript: the three frontend languages that power the modern web. You can sign up here!

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