Meet Marge Black, our Ambassador. This is her story SO FAR with CFG!
✨ From Kickstarter course to instructor and now CFG Ambassador, with a CFG journey that started back at university, find out more about Marge below and her tech journey!
THE HOT SIX QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS!
- Favourite coding language? Right now it’s TypeScript!
- What is your drink of choice for coding? Always a massive mug of tea – bonus point if it’s a Disney mug! 🍵
- Desk setup – RGB, Minimal or my aesthetic – My aesthetic – I’m bad for having lots of clutter, but everything is in it’s place!
- If you had to only use one for life: Laptop or PC? Laptop for sure! 💻
- Are you most productive in the morning or evening/night? Usually first thing in the morning, once the caffeine kicks in!☀️
- What do you listen to whilst you code and where? Spotify, radio, vinyl or fave CD? I’m a big Taylor Swift fan, but a good 80s music playlist is great for motivation!📼
Before I went to University, I knew I wanted to work in software engineering. But even so, it was still a pretty intimidating experience as I’d never programmed anything before! I had already heard about Code First Girls whilst I was still studying at Uni and knew they had the Web Dev Kickstarter course. Even though my degree was in software engineering, there wasn’t a module on web development. So, I signed up for the CFG course and I haven’t looked back since. For the first time I was in a class that was all women, and the sense of community was so amazing. That really inspired me to give back by using my programming skills and to continue working with CFG.
Around 2020, I started instructing with CFG on a number of the Intro to Python classes. As an Ambassador, I’ve had the opportunity to instruct on a few classes and host some of the MOOCs – chances are you’ve seen me around somewhere! I decided to become a CFG Ambassador because I feel as though I’m reaching the point in my career where I’m more comfortable sharing my experiences and supporting others with the knowledge I’ve gained. I still have a lot of learning and progress to do, but it’s great to be able to give something back to the community – especially as it can be intimidating for women being in the minority.
Outside of my time with CFG, I’ve worked in a few different roles, and I’m now a Senior Software Engineer at Insider, Inc. (aka Business Insider). I’m also a STEM Ambassador here in Belfast, aiming to promote software engineering to primary and post-primary students. I really want to give as many people the opportunity to work in STEM as possible – it’s been an incredibly rewarding journey so far!
🚀You've had a truly fascinating tech journey, from your studies to your current role as a Software Engineer at Insider Inc. We'd love to know more about what aspects of your job you find most fulfilling? AND Looking ahead, where do you envision yourself developing over the next five years or so?
One of the things I find most exciting about my role is that every day is different. The team that I’m part of looks after a variety of different services, so each sprint might look at one or two of those at a time. Prior to my current experience, I would have comfortably said that I was simply a Back-End Developer. But my current role has given me a lot of opportunities to push my own boundaries and encourage me to develop my front-end development skills. I wasn’t sure if this was something I would have leapt at before, but thankfully I’ve had so much support from my team to succeed, and equally the safe environment to be able to fail and learn from my mistakes.
For the first time in a long time, I don’t really have a plan in terms of my career progression! I know that I enjoy the software engineering aspect of my role the most, so continuing to code and develop my skills will be my main focus. I’ve been fortunate to have exposure to a lot of different programming languages through my roles – I’m currently working with TypeScript and Golang. I’d like to spend more time becoming more proficient with these languages and bringing my code to a higher standard.
I would also like to focus on providing mentorship to others who are just starting out in their coding career. I’m not a newbie to this anymore, and I know I have a lot of experience that I can share with others to make their journey a little less daunting. Having a mentor really changed how I perceive myself, and gave me so much more confidence – I would really love to do the same for others!
👓Being a Software Engineering requires a lot of screen time! What do you like to do away from the screen?
I try to do as many things as possible that don’t involve screens – I’m very guilty of endlessly scrolling through Instagram or playing the Sims for way longer than I should be! In my spare time, I love to bake – I make a really mean chocolate Guinness cake! 🎂
I also really love to be as creative as possible, so I enjoy taking the time to do things like reading and painting, as well as playing the piano. I also made a New Year’s resolution to be a bit more active this year, especially since I’m working from home and it’s easy to spend all my time stuck in the house! I actually started kickboxing at the start of this year and I have a yellow belt, which is something I never thought I’d say! 🥊
🤝You’ve been a CFG Ambassador since 2022! And since then you’ve also taken part in our Instructor Academy. Can you please tell us why you wanted to become an Instructor with CFG AND what is something you wish to gain from this experience?
I completed the Web Dev Kickstarter course back in 2016 (I feel old just typing this!) and knew that the format of the classes worked really well for me. So when the opportunity to take part in the Instructor Academy presented itself, I knew I wanted to do it. In the past I’ve found that the classes can be so inspiring – seeing students go from being beginners in a brand new language to building their own apps and websites within just eight weeks. I can’t emphasise enough how happy it makes me to see women get stuck into learning, and ultimately building something they’re very proud of.
I think another aspect of wanting to be an Instructor with CFG was becoming part of such a welcoming and vibrant community. CFG has a diverse range of women, from different backgrounds and different career paths. I’ve spoken to many people through this experience and although everyone comes in with a unique story, we’re all collectively here because of our shared experience and passion for computer science. It’s important for women to see ourselves already within the community – not as a token representative – because then we know it can be a safe space for us. For me personally, CFG has really given me that sense of community – I don’t think I’ve made as many friends through a single organisation!
The training was definitely challenging as there were some concepts that were new to me – particularly some of the teaching techniques. That being said, all of the instructors were incredibly supportive, assisting us any time we had any questions. It was also a really great opportunity to meet new people who were aiming for the same goal – I’d definitely recommend going through the Instructor Academy programme if you get the chance!
“I know I don’t have the skills to be a doctor or build solar farms, but I can take my programming skills and use them to help people in these different industries as part of my job. “
💻 It’s awesome how involved you are within the tech community! What is your favourite thing about Comp-Sci and what are some key points you would give to other women in our community who might be looking to switch to this field?
My favourite thing about computer science is that once you learn the fundamentals you can be as creative as you want. Since graduating, I’ve been a Software Engineer in lots of different industries – from healthcare to energy and now journalism. I know I don’t have the skills to be a doctor or build solar farms, but I can take my programming skills and use them to help people in these different industries as part of my job. Through a role as a Software Engineer, you can choose to work in so many different sectors – it may be based on your hobbies and interests, or you can choose to support issues that speak to you, such as the climate crisis, women’s health or racial equality. If you’re not sure where to start on your software engineering career journey, it’s great to look at the companies or organisations you support, look at their careers pages and see what roles they offer and what experience is required. Chances are you already have a lot of the skills they’re looking for, and anything missing, can be a goal to hit later!
One point I’d definitely emphasise when you’re switching to a career in Comp-Sci is don’t work about ticking every box in the criteria on the CV. In some of my roles, companies might ask about specific programming languages or frameworks that you have little or no experience with. Rather than ruling yourself out, emphasise your ability to learn. All those CFG classes, from MOOCs to the CFGdegree require a lot of self-motivation – and if you can learn what’s in those courses, you can definitely do the same in any role!
One final thing I’d say is that no one expects you to be an expert right away. Some days in my role I feel like I know what I’m doing. Other days, I have no clue and I need to ask people for help. It’s all part of the learning process – a good company will nurture your skills and support you as you gain knowledge and experience.
💘 As a CFG Ambassador, what one piece of helpful advice you’d like to share with our community? It could be career, life, coding, learning etc. related.
I couldn’t narrow it down to one piece of advice, so I’ll give two!
The first piece – which I’m really trying to live by myself – is to shut down the negative voices in your head. Most of us have experienced imposter syndrome at one time or another, and it can be quite overwhelming, sometimes paralysing us in fear of making a mistake. I’ve found that reframing my internal narrative into something more positive has had a better impact. For example, rather than worrying if someone on my team is annoyed with me about something I did, I’ll remind myself that if the scenario was true, they would come to me about it. But, if they have not mentioned any problems, then I shouldn’t be worrying. I also use daily affirmations – cheesy as they are – because sometimes you really do have to be your own cheerleader!
My other piece of advice is to not be afraid to say no 🙅♀️. As women we often take on additional roles on top of our main role – we can be volunteered into doing things like organising team days out, or sitting on panels and committees as a minority representative. I’ve seen a lot of women (myself included) become exhausted by the additional responsibilities given to them, often because a role wants to be seen to have more women front and centre. It’s definitely not a bad thing to volunteer your time – and if you’re passionate about something do it! But don’t be afraid to say no if the additional responsibilities become overwhelming.