Want to make big bucks as a coder? Just learn how to Google

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Programmer Jessica Dennis at AltConf
Programmer Jessica Dennis at AltConf.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Coding is intimidating. It seems preposterously hard. So technical. You need degrees and training and a certain kind of brain.

But Jessica Dennis, a programmer working in upstate New York, says that’s not true.

To become a programmer, you just need to know how to Google.

In an empowering talk at AltConf, a technical conference running in parallel to Apple’s WWDC, Dennis explained how she went from English major to programmer by faking it.

Dennis said a lot of people have the notion that becoming a developer seems like a ridiculously huge task. But, it’s not really.

“No one is actually born good at tech,” she said. “We can all be developers if we want to. We just have to figure it out.”

Dennis described how she got her first technical job in tech support — by, you guessed it, Googling what she needed to know. She steadily rose through the ranks of her employer — which she didn’t name — by, again, searching for whatever she needed to know.

“At the time I knew almost nothing,” she said. “I figured it out as I went along.”

She was always nervous that her bosses and coworkers would realize she didn’t know what she was doing, but she was never called out. In fact, when she told her boss she needed a few days off to travel to San Jose to give a talk, he asked her what her talk was about.

“Imposter syndrome,” she replied. “The feeling like you don’t know what you are doing, but you do it anyway.”

“It’s not just me?” her boss relied, which surprised her. He seemed very technical and accomplished. But he, too, felt like a fraud.

The feeling is nearly universal, Dennis noted.

“Tech is awesome and you can totally do it,” she said. “I, an English major, am proof that you can do it.”

Dennis said that the only constant thing in tech is change: Technology changes all the time. And if you don’t “feel like a big dummy,” it means you have stagnated. You’re not learning any more.

“Google is the single most important tool in your life in tech,” she said. “We all Google Stack Exchange (a programmer’s website) all day long.”

“Don’t worry,” she concluded, “you will eventually figure it out.”