Jen Dewalt is not your typical developer.
Unlike many of her peers who have degrees in computer science/engineering or received extensive training, Jen has a background in art and taught herself how to code.
Originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Jen moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the summer of 2011 to help launch a hardware company.
Although the company didn’t make it off the ground, Jen realized she loved working in tech and decided to find new ways to immerse herself in the industry.
After working on some user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) design in her next job, she had a revelation.
“I loved working on the products I was designing, but I really wanted to be able to build them myself by learning how to code. I tried reading textbooks and working through online courses in my free time, but nothing really stuck.”
Then she had a crazy idea.
“I decided if I was going to learn to code, I needed to do it seriously. I quit my job and decided I was going to do something self directed.”
Jumping right in, Jen came up with the idea to build 180 websites in 180 days.
“It was a great motivator to keep me on task and moving forward. Self directed learning isn’t for everyone, but I’m a huge believer in learning by doing. It’s the fastest way to really absorb something new.”
After several frustrations, mistakes and triumphs, Jen successfully built all 180 websites in 180 days.
When asked about some of her ‘failure days,’ she responded,
“In a sense, every day was a failure day because every website I shipped was unfinished. They all could have used more design, more features, but because I had a deadline for publishing them, I had to get comfortable with releasing something that wasn’t perfect.”
After she wrapped the 180 project, Jen started YumHacker, a restaurant discovery website, as a follow up project to explore how to build a full web product.
Then after a short stint as a hacker at Wit.ai, Jen co-founded her current company, Zube, a project management tool for software development teams that love GitHub. The core of the app is a board where you can organize and visualize the task your team is working on. Everything on your board is two-way synced with GitHub in real-time, so everyone has a clear picture of the project’s state.
“We started Zube after our experiences working on small to mid-sized development teams. We were having trouble communicating what was going on with bugs, features and other work that needed to be done…[so] we started Zube to make a project management tool that’s designed for the way developers work.”
Jen still codes every day to keep her skills sharp and takes on a lot of side projects. She has also spoken about the 180 project at conferences like South By Southwest (SXSW) and JSConf Argentina (watch it here).
Jen has come a long way since she first landed in the Bay Area, and she credits a lot of that success to her support system.
“I find my friends and peers are the best motivators and inspirers. Surrounding myself with great people who are interested in the same kinds of challenges keeps my creativity flowing. Seeing my colleagues succeed is a great motivator.”
The idea of learning how to code can be daunting, but Jen shared some advice for those who have thought about trying it.
“Do it! It can be super intimidating, but push through and get started. I’m a big fan of building real things. Setting your goal to ‘Make this thing’ rather than ‘Learn this fact,’ makes it much easier to push through confusion and frustration. Also, don’t feel like you have to do something massive to get started. Start with something small and then grow from there. But most importantly, #JFDI.”
Outside of coding and cofounding companies, Jen is an amazing volleyball player, which she says is a huge stress reliever, and has also been known to enjoy cigars and tequila.
Although it hasn’t always been easy, Jen is continuing to write her own code and shows no signs of slowing down.
Interested in connecting with Jen, learning more about Zube or recruiting her for your volleyball team? Connect with her on LinkedIn, Twitter and GitHub.