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Ways We Work

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Bobbilee Hartman

Software Engineer at Intuit, Organizer of Railscamp USA

Bobbilee grew up in Minnesota playing a lot of sports, learning about photography, and going to her family’s cabin up north. After high school and a stint at Brooks Institute of Photography, she attended The University of Arizona. After college she worked as a designer at a tech startup and after being inspired by her developer friends, she quit her job to learn how to program at The Starter League. From there she landed her first junior programming job at Software for Good and became the Web Director for Girls in Tech Minneapolis. With an itch to work at a product company and escape the winter, she moved to San Diego, California to work at Intuit. Bobbilee is currently still in San Diego and when she isn’t working you’ll find her running on trails, swimming in the ocean, or at the airport.

What do you do?

I’m a Ruby on Rails developer at Intuit focused on an enterprise service called Live Community/AnswerExchange, which enables the exchanging of advice, questions, and answers between users, super users and Intuit employees for all Intuit products including but not limited to TurboTax, Quickbooks, Quicken, and We are a team of 25, which includes project managers, QA engineers, frontend and backend Ruby on Rails engineers.

I also work as a mentor for an online web development boot camp school called Bloc. On average I mentor 4-7 students at a time for their full stack web development course.

And lastly I’m the organizer of Rails Camp USA West Coast. Rails Camps are unplugged developer retreats typically based in beautiful remote locations. The existing Rails Camp brand was born in Australia in 2007, and has been happening twice a year there ever since. There have also been Rails Camps in the UK, New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Poland, and Denmark.

How did you go about starting Rails Camp? What have you learned through organizing an event like this?

After attending conferences across the U.S. for the past three years, I’ve met incredible people and formed great friendships as well as seen some very beautiful places. However, it’s been difficult to be fully engaged in the learning opportunities, and when all is said and done, I find myself leaving with only one or two fundamental takeaways.

Seeking more, I thought about what drives my own gratification in this environment and how I could translate it into a unique experience for others in the same boat. I went to camp every summer growing up and have fond memories of canoeing, fishing, swimming and getting to know people around a campfire. So I thought it’d be neat to mend a technology-focused group of people in a fun, relaxed outdoor setting. My goal was to create a small, unplugged retreat/conference where people come to enjoy the outdoors, learn new skills, and make connections without the typical distractions of everyday life.

Fast forward a couple weeks and I started talking with some friends who have produced conferences of their own to get some feedback on my idea. Next thing you know, RubyConf was being held in San Diego and I was randomly introduced to Philip Arndt and Amanda Wagener who run similar events (Rails Camp) in Australia. After chatting with them quite a bit and gathering a bunch of great insight, I sat on the idea for about a month to let everything marinate. Then one day I just came to the realization that I’ll never be less busy that I am now, and while it'd take a ton of work, my passion for it helped me overcome my hesitation and that's how I got started!

It’s easy to make excuses to not do things - maybe for the fear of failure or the fear of added stress - but what this project has helped me realize is that all you need is the discipline to stay organized and the patience to take things one step at a time, (oh, and a solid support network). With the support of the Ruby community and past Rails Camp organizers, I’m thrilled to host the first West Coast, Rails Camp USA retreat, coming this September. As of now, the camp is nearly sold out and multiple sponsors have stepped up to support the event (there are still a couple of areas we could use some help in) ☺!

What are your top five tools that you use on a regular basis?

Spotify, Slack, Sublime, Wunderlist, Pen and Post-Its.

Rails Camp USA 1
Rails Camp USA 2

What do you find the most rewarding about what you’re doing? Most challenging?

At Intuit, what’s most rewarding is working on an application that actually makes people’s financial lives easier. We provide answers to questions related to personal and business financial issues. During this tax season specifically, I flew to a call center in Arizona to help TurboTax with their influx of calls. I worked the phones and answered questions via Live Community/AnswerExchange - it was gratifying to bring peace of mind to people and small businesses during a high-stress time of the year.

With Bloc, it’s been inspiring to work with students going through the same process I did just a few years ago. Having come from a non-computer background, I love connecting with students in similar shoes. I encourage hard work and not being afraid of vulnerability; that is to say, put yourself out there, meet people, and never stop asking questions. Believing that anyone can become a developer is one of the messages I love to send and helping people understand principles that were once fuzzy is something that makes me very happy!

Overall, the biggest challenge I’m still dealing with is my everyday imposter syndrome. After completing a difficult task, I get a short boost of confidence and think I can work through anything that comes my way. Then the next day I get assigned a bug that rocks my mind and I fall back into feeling incompetent. When that reality check happens, I try to relax and remember how far I’ve come in just a couple years and that asking questions does not mean I’m a failure – it’s just another opportunity to get better!

Is it difficult managing a full-time career and organizing an event like Rails Camp? How do you handle juggling both?

Unfortunately, I did have to decline an invitation to be a board member of a ‘girls in technology’ group in San Diego and I had to step down from being a co-organizer of the San Diego Ruby Meetup I was passionate about.

But, overall it hasn’t been a huge struggle thus far. Many of my friends are entrepreneurs so we motivate and inspire one another.

What’s the structure of a typical day like for you?

Lately I’ve been traveling quite a bit so I don’t really have ‘typical’ days/weeks. I’m either on the road or in the air to meet with friends or family at least once a month, but ‘typically’ my days go like this: Early wake-up to work on Rails Camp stuff or review Bloc student’s homework. Then a quick run or hike on the trails down the street. I get to work around 9am in time to get settled prior to our first daily stand up at around 9:45am. I’m at the office until around 5pm and then head home or to the beach to play with friends.

Bobbilee's running route

What are your top five tools that you use on a regular basis?

Spotify, Slack, Sublime, Wunderlist, Pen and Post-Its.

Do you find it important to stay up to date with what’s happening in your industry? How do you go about doing that?

Yep, it’s important to stay up to date, but I don't stress out by trying to be good at/know about everything. It's important to focus your skills and to become proficient at a limited number of them.

Mentoring has made it easier to stay current on a lot of new technology as the curriculum is ever-changing. I also love Ruby Weekly emails and the Ruby Rogues podcast. I follow some movers and shakers on Twitter, like Sandi Metz, Sara Mei and Corey Haines, and also continue to attend conferences.

What is the greatest piece of career advice/wisdom you’ve ever received?

I struggled early on with comparing myself to others. I remember breaking down one day and asking myself things like, “What the hell am I doing?” and “Who do I think I am getting into this industry that I don’t really belong in.” Then one day I realized that those I compare myself to may talk the talk, but that doesn’t always mean they are ‘smarter’ than me, they’ve just read more about a certain subject than I have. That shift in mindset allowed me to break through some self-doubt and keep learning.

Another struggle has been in accepting the speed at which I work. Being six to ten years behind most of the people I’m surrounded by, it’s been challenging to not get down on myself. One of my mentors recently told me that it’s not speed that makes you an asset; it’s about whether or not you’re able to persist through difficult, long-lasting problems without giving up. The process of problem solving is arguably one of the most effective places to learn, and when you cut yourself short by giving up too soon, you’ll never reach your full potential.

What’s one thing, personally or professionally, that you’re working at improving on?

Professionally: I’m focused on doing, sand boxing and trying things on my own rather than asking for help too soon. Having learned to program at an age where Slack, Screenhero, and G-chat are at my fingertips 24/7, I developed some habits that I am now keen on breaking.

Personally: I used to feel like I was in a race, a race where I didn’t even know whether or not I’ve won. I’m practicing living in the moment and realizing that the past is over and I can’t change it. The future is an illusion, a blank piece of paper, and in every moment I can choose what I want to bring in from the past and what I want to create for my future. No more pushing things to tomorrow because all that is real is right now.

Who would you want to see on Ways We Work?

One: Taylor Peden and Jen Munkvold of Peden + Munk. They're family friends from years ago and their work ethic has inspired me for many years. They are food and lifestyle photographers. Two: Eli Rubel. A dear friend whom has inspired me since we went to photography school together. He’s a successful entrepreneur who ran and sold his startup a little over a year ago.