Nikole Gipps recently joined X-Team as a WordPress engineer. She's been working remotely for over fifteen years and teaches code to young kids when she's not programming. Here's how she got into coding and why she believes teaching kids how to code is important.
What motivated you to get into programming initially?
It's really been so long that I can't remember. I mean, I was a kid. I had the means and a book from the library, I guess. Although we struggled financially, I grew up with several privileges in life - a grandma who worked at Apple and brought home computers for me to play with, a mom who broke gender barriers by putting herself through a civil engineering program when I was a kid, friends with video game systems that let me play, and simply growing up in Silicon Valley.
All of this combined into an early love of technology that friends who grew up in other locations didn't experience during the same time period. I feel like I was also blessed with the freedom of free time. I did activities, but I also found myself with a lot of unstructured free time to just play with a computer.
And how did that lead to WordPress engineering?
You have to take many stops between "when did you start" and "how are you here now" 😀. Before college, I went from Pascal as a kid, to some basic (VERY basic, like Netscape 1.0 days) HTML and DOS in high school. In college I did C and UNIX scripting, expanded upon the HTML and learned CSS and JS, and started diving into other tech like Cold Fusion and PHP.
I found WordPress around 2003-2004. I have been a WordPress dev ever since, with more of a lean on the server and backend side of things. I've recently dived into other technologies, like JS frameworks, Python and R, but I keep snapping back to WordPress. I guess that ended up being my one true love.
What's your favorite memory or favorite project working as a WP engineer (or as a programmer in general)
As I have worked on so many projects, it would be nearly impossible to pick just one. There is a certain pattern I love though. When I have a client who has been somehow wronged in the past - whether it's a developer that did a poor job, or something super frustrating that no one helped them with, etc - and I can leave them in a better place than they started, that is what makes it worthwhile to me.
If the site is a better user experience, or the workflow has been streamlined to increase their productivity when using the site, or the site is more secure - or even if they, themselves, feel like they are coming from a place of being empowered and educated on their own technology - then that is a huge win for me. That is the kind of project that makes me happy to jump out of bed in the morning.
That's a wonderful pattern and a great reason to want to work with clients. Now let's talk about remote work. Everyone has different reasons to work remotely. Why do you work remotely?
I have been a remote worker for over 15 years at this point. The initial move to remote was when I was pregnant with my firstborn, to allow me to work at home while taking care of my pregnancy and then my baby. I left a job with a very rigid work and travel schedule that I enjoyed, but that wouldn't support my personal family goals.
I continued doing that through another child, a move across state lines, illnesses in the family that involved travel, and many other things. Being able to work around my life and not being tied down to a specific location made everything possible for me.
My kids are older now, but the remote work is still about flexibility. I don't have to spend time every day commuting to work, so I can spend that time on things that are important to me. I can take my work with me, so I can check my messages between classes while I am teaching kids to code at a local elementary school.
If I have a kid who has to stay homesick, I don't have to haggle with my office about needing time off ... I can just let my kid sleep in and camp out with some soup and a movie while I'm working in another room. (I even had a kid with an extended illness and was able to work from the children's hospital so she didn't have to stay alone. Parents without that flexibility have the heartbreaking decision between their child and income to care for their family.)
If I want to go to a conference or work on my own education, I can just take my work with me. It's really just what works best for my goals in life and the needs of my family. Plus, my dog gets super mopey when I leave him alone too much.
I'm sure many people share the same reasons for working remotely. Do you have a favorite place to work from?
I tend to move around a lot. Sometimes I'm at home, hanging out with my dog. Sometimes I need a change of scenery to jumpstart my brain, so I head downtown. I don't enjoy the quiet - I find it too distracting. It seems contrary to what you'd think, but my best work gets done while there is noise in the location or people watching to be done.
I also get to work inside the schools and with educators all over the place, which is simultaneously energizing and exhausting. I designed a LEGO-based robot that we use with curriculum I made to teach kids coding. My kids named the robot Jimmy-Kyle, and anyone can build it using the instructions I've provided for the EV3 kits. I wanted to make this available as an open-source project so that everyone had access to it.
Locally, I enlist my industry friends to go into classrooms with me and work with these elementary school kids. The kids learn the building blocks of coding without realizing it, but they also get to learn to see themselves in these jobs in the future by meeting the local pros. I think the pros learn a lot too, because they get to experience something through the eyes of someone doing it for the first time and see things from a whole new angle.
I tend to come back from my time with the kids all fired up and ready to tackle my programming workload. There is one downside to that workplace though - I tend to wash my hands hourly so I don't get sick!
Impressive what you can do with LEGO. Jimmy-Kyle reminds me of Wall-E. Apart from moving around to jumpstart your brain, what's your routine for staying productive?
I am not sure I have to try hard to be productive - I am worse at relaxing than I am at making things. I seem to always have something - or 20 things - going at all times. I do tend to cycle through my current projects in my head while looking at my lists to prioritize and then tackle the most important things first.
I also try to remember self-care when my brain starts lacking - do I need to eat, or change my location, or take a break to walk the dog? I find that naps are excellent for mental productivity. If I am super stuck, I just look at the issue, lay down for an hour, and come back with an answer.
I'm a big proponent of naps too. Twenty minutes and you're good to go again. Finally, what dent do you want to leave in the world?
I grew up without many role models to help me along on this journey. I feel like that pushes me to turn around and help pull up others that are behind me. When I learn something, I share it with my colleagues or the local tech community. I work with women in tech programs here in Eugene and at the colleges to try to help those who don't have a lot of industry role models.
I work with high school kids to help them figure out their path, as many come from families who don't understand their nerdy interests. I work with young kids to help normalize diversity in tech, in hopes that it makes the future better someday.
I'd like to say this is entirely a selfless effort, but that wouldn't be the whole truth. Maybe I just want to protect the future of tech and bring really cool people into the industry so I can collaborate with them someday. It's also a bit that I just don't want to feel alone in the industry - being female, sort of a tech OG, and of Mexican descent is a unicorn intersection that can be quite isolating. I want a future where that is not the case.
The tech industry needs more people like you. Thank you for your answers and best of luck with your future endeavors!