From babies to software development: A quest to afford all the cupcakes

An abbreviated timeline of the past 6 years of my life.  I was just catching up with someone that I hadn’t talked to in 6 years, and I realized how much I love my life currently.

January 2008: homeless.  Possessions include: a pair of clothes, winter coat, and an iPod photo.

March 2008: Apply to go back to college despite overwhelming suggestions that I work as a waitress/seamstress/maid, etc.  Get a rejection letter from Michigan State.  Appeal the rejection and find out it was a clerical error.  College bound (again!) if I can afford it!

April 2008: Put up an ad on Craig’s List for nannying/babysitting.  Respond to everyone in the mid-Michigan area for being a nanny/babysitter, personal assistant, and/or maid.  Have a couple of short stints until I get a full time babysitting position for the entire summer.  Upon reflection, the number of exclamation points in my response to getting the job reflected only a small sliver of my excitement.

Summer 2008: Move into my own apartment.  Live in a constant state of disbelief that not only do people trust me to take care of their baby, but they’re also just ridiculously good people.  Start to have a restored faith in humanity, not just a faith in individual people.  Save money to go back to college!

I have an apartment!

Fall 2008: Start at Michigan State University!  Major: Family Community Services.  Start therapy for PTSD.  Work for the same people but this time as a lab tech in Genomics, Evolution, and Development (GED) lab — picking up chicken eggs, filing expense reports, building chairs, and doing some PCR.  Odd to say it now, but I loved that lab in 318 Giltner.  It was my home away from home.  I can’t tell you what classes I took that semester, but I still perfectly remember the first time I had to extract a couple dozen chicken embryos out of the eggs on my own.  I also might remember mundane things like calibrating pipettes for the first time and how I organized old lab equipment.

Spring 2009: Do research in the Child Development Lab on campus to determine when kids learn to differentiate their letters and when they can follow instructions.  Continue doing work with chickens — embryo extraction, PCR, gels, you know.  Decide that I *really* enjoy science and how repeatable it is over social science.  After soliciting advice from others, make the jump to change majors to Genomics and Molecular Genetics.

Summer 2009: Full time summer research internship at the GED lab (electroporation!  fluorescent microscopy! So cool!) while taking summer classes like organic chemistry II.


Fall 2009: Take my first intro to programming in Python class.  Experience guys either refusing to pair with me on the programming labs or ask me out or both (I was the only female in my lab section).  Towards the end of the semester, many of the guys who initially assumed I was too stupid to program were asking me for my help.

October 31, 2009: Go trick or treating for the first time!  People thought that I was 12.

Spring 2010: Receive Barry Goldwater scholarship!  Finally feel like I can breathe and that college won’t be taken away from me at any moment.  This is the same semester I lose my 4.0 GPA.  Get to go to Friday Harbor Labs for a week!

San Juan island

Fall 2010: Start applying to graduate schools all on the west coast, seriously worry about not being good enough to go to graduate school.  Do research on the evolution of higher mutation rates in Lenski’s lab.

Early 2011: Start doing digital evolution research in the DevoLab as a complement to the research I was doing in the Lenski lab.  Get graduate school interviews to every single school I applied to! Go on said interviews, being away from school and on my own for roughly a month for all of the interviews.  Learn a lot about myself — I’m not terrible at interviewing, I’m relatively decent at befriending new people, and most importantly, I’m fine being out in the world by myself.  Get an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship!

April 14, 2011: Make a last minute decision to go to University of Washington – Seattle over my previously choice of Caltech.  I remember thinking that this was a pivotal point in my life, and that if things didn’t work out, I would look back on this decision and question it.  Now, I don’t question it at all.

May 2011: Graduate with a bachlor’s degree in Genomics and Molecular Genetics! Do the commencement speech for the College of Natural Science — definitely cured my fear of public speaking.  I think I messed up my speech in the first ten seconds and then everything was fine after that.


August 2011: Take Evolution and Development of the Metazoans class at Friday Harbor Labs for a month.  I like to call it my stint in marine biology because we went on boats to dredge and got up early to walk down the beach to beat the tide to find particular organisms in the sand.  I didn’t know how to swim and I definitely got seasick a lot.  On the bright side, I got to explore the beautiful San Juan Island and eat amazing seafood.

Trying to beat the tide

Fall 2011: Move to Seattle!  Start graduate school at University of Washington under Ben Kerr.  Start to feel the stress of graduate school — that there is so much to get done and so much potential for things to get done but no time to do it all.  Have the feeling that everyone is working not only more hours than me, but also getting more done per hour.  Get kittens!


April 2012: Move to back East Lansing.  Get my first paper accepted – The Evolution of Temporal Polyethism!

July 2012: Cut off over a foot of my hair.  Buy a car.  Successfully have my Master’s thesis defense.  All in the same week.

Thesis defense!
Thesis cupcakes

August 2012: Start graduate school again at Michigan State University with the idea of getting a PhD.  My plan was to eventually go for a computer science PhD with a focus in evolutionary biology.  Have a surprise birthday party thrown for me by all of my friends.

Surprise party!

Winter 2012: Start recognizing that feeling of guilt that plagued me was rooted in being in graduate school.  I always felt guilty because if I was having fun, then I wasn’t doing research.  And if I wasn’t doing research, I wasn’t living up to potential.  If I couldn’t push through the feelings of guilt and exhaustion, then I putting myself on a trajectory that would never lead me to getting a tenure-track professorship.  I didn’t love the research enough and I couldn’t seem to do anything to force myself to love it.  I was decent at doing research, but I couldn’t wake up and feel excited about it.  Someone put a novel notion in my mind that I could quit and try to find something else I loved more.  I felt like I would be disappointing so many people if I quit, but the idea was becoming more and more lucrative.  I felt like I was failing myself because I couldn’t love the thing that everyone wanted me to love (or at least I felt like everyone expected me to love graduate school).

Baked dozens of pumpkin breads to let off stress

February 2013: Pack up things in car and move to St. Louis with the plan to quit graduate school.  Decide that I want to get a job as a software developer.

March 2013: Shockingly get more than one job and have to pick.  Relief that I didn’t screw up, and I made the right call to quit grad school when I did.

Cocktail party for moving to St. Louis

April 2013: Start working at Asynchrony as a software developer.  Asynchrony does all paired programming and agile and test-driven development.  I love paired programming for getting up to speed on a new language and programming practice in general.  I really love the idea of weekly retrospectives as a commitment to not stagnate but always strive to get better. After I got my head around test-driven development, I appreciate it for forcing me to write simple, easy-to-read code that was maintainable by other team members.  Now, I can’t imagine writing code that doesn’t have tests around it.  The company itself had a very flat structure so there weren’t levels and levels of managers that you had to go through to get things done.

View from Asynchrony

March 2014: Start working at MasterCard as an iOS developer.  Co-wrote the iOS SDK for Simplify.

This upcoming week: Get to go to WWDC!


Sometimes it feels like nothing went according to plan, but I don’t have many regrets about it.  I’m very happy with the choices I’ve made, and I really truly love iOS development right now. Most importantly, I can buy all the cupcakes I want.  Just kidding, while that’s a perk, it’s not the most important thing.  Most importantly, I know that I can stand on my own and pursue whatever I want to pursue.

4 thoughts on “From babies to software development: A quest to afford all the cupcakes”

  1. <3 Everything looks so well planned when laid out like this 😀 Also we should talk about iOS development because Apple is driving me crazy….

  2. Of course, we can talk whenever! My head is still swimming from all the new information from WWDC

  3. Wow. So many accomplishments. It’s weird to think that you could possibly lack self-confidence after reading this. Brains are weird.

    1. Thanks! The evil voice in the back of my brain says that I only got this far from luck. I have a really hard time seeing what I’m good at versus how much worse I am at things than other people.

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