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Living by the Code

Before You Begin

Section 0: 4 chapters
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Section 1: 14 chapters
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Getting to Work

Section 2: 17 chapters
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4. An Interview with Lara Martin
Written by Enrique López-Mañas

Lara is a Mobile Developer based in Berlin. Her passion for programming made her transition from her background in science to software development. She’s currently working as an Android Developer and is a Google Developer Expert for Flutter and Dart. She has spoken in conferences like App Builders, DevFest Florida and Droidcon Berlin, and in many other meetups. Her dream is to make apps more accessible for everyone. When she’s not attending a tech meetup, you will find her playing video games, with her dog Lily or doing arts and crafts.

Lara Martin
Lara Martin

Connect with Lara

Twitter: @lariki




You’ve made interesting transitions in your career. You were first a biologist; how does a biologist become a software tester?

After my studies in biology, I tried basic programming, and I found it very fun. I wanted to learn a little bit more, but I didn’t know how. I enrolled in a master’s degree program in biotechnology so I could use my biology knowledge, more or less, hoping that it would be my thing, but sadly, it wasn’t. After earning my Master’s degree, I decided to look for something else.

I found out about quality assurance, this QA role in IT, and I started working as QA online to try it out and see if it was something I could do professionally. I found that I liked it. After getting some experience in the field, I started looking for a full-time job. It took several months to find a job, but I finally got a job as a QA in a big company here in Berlin, and I ended up working with a Mobile team.

“I don’t think it’s possible to know everything. There’s a tremendous amount of information we get every day because the technology is evolving so fast.”

That’s very interesting. You went from biologist to tester and then from tester to software developer. I’m assuming maybe the second transition was probably easier, since it’s there in the same domain.

I can’t say it was easy, to be honest. The very same week I started working in QA, I started attending a study group in my city. We met every two weeks for four months to learn basic Android development. I spent four months learning just a tiny bit of the basics of Android to try it out. It turned out I loved it, so I kept learning for a year and a half while I was working in QA. I had a full-time job in QA, and then I spent my evenings and weekends learning Android. The transition from QA to Android development was tough because there aren’t many open job positions for juniors without experience. It took some time, but I managed to switch.

You’ve been open about what it took to make these career moves. Imagine a person in your situation, who either wants to get a start in IT, or who’s working in QA and thinking about going into development. What advice would you give them?

One thing that helped me grow as a professional was connecting to the community. I started going to local meetups, and also, I started to go to conferences and meet people from my field. I also found people like me, with similar, non-technical backgrounds, trying to get into development. We grew together.

Having these connections with the community is important at all levels. I’ve seen friends that were doing development professionally but without any connection to the community. The moment they started going to meetups, reading blog posts, and the like, they changed. They started to learn faster. Also, it’s important to give back to the community. You can give back to the community by hosting meetups, organizing, and volunteering. You can write blog posts or give talks or lead workshops. That’s something I find important.

What advice would you give to people that are already in programming if they want to strengthen their skills and become better?

Get better at communication. Communication is a hard skill to master, and it’s almost 50 percent of our work. Our work is not only coding. Some ways to improve communication skills include going to trainings, reading books, and also teaching junior developers.

That’s an interesting approach. The teacher is also learning, then? Yes. I like to say that in order to master something, you have to teach it. Let’s talk about other ways to learn. What resources have helped you on your journey as a developer?

I don’t usually listen to technical podcasts or read technical books because I find it difficult to focus for a long period of time. I personally engage with shorter resources, for instance, blog posts or tech talks. Summaries of books can provide the main ideas and key points. I also like the type of content where I can watch a video of a topic, pause, and then try something myself. That’s how I learned Android development.

You’re a Flutter GDE. Do you see Flutter as a trend for the future? What are your thoughts on this multi-platform development?

That’s very difficult to say. There have been many attempts to create a good cross-platform framework, but in the end, developers have chosen to stick to native solutions. Some of these frameworks were not easy for everyone to learn. For example, I tried to learn React Native, and I found it very difficult because I don’t have a background in JavaScript and React. However, I found Flutter easy to understand. I think that’s one of its biggest strengths.

It looks like Flutter has a future because Google is developing Fuchsia OS, which runs native Flutter apps. Everything is pointing towards Flutter being the framework of the future and replacing Android.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier in your career?

In the beginning, I didn’t understand the importance of being able to communicate with people with different backgrounds, different cultures—different everything. That’s very difficult. I learned this the hard way.

Is there something or someone you can think of who has influenced your success and your career?

I cannot point to one person. I’m inspired by other women in the community. The Android community, for example, is relatively small, so we know each other, more or less, and we support each other. I especially appreciate and get inspired by successful women developers who help to push beginners. Stacy Devino and Chiu-Ki Chan inspire me. They promote beginners and elevate the work of others. They show us that what we’re doing isn’t a competition and that everyone is benefiting from it. I find that inspiring.

The cake can be very big and everybody can have a big piece.

Exactly. This is not a competition. We learn from each other.

What is your leadership philosophy?

As I’ve been growing as a developer from level zero, I find that a good leader is one who helps other people grow. For me, a good leader is one that helps their peers become better.

Is a good leader made or born that way?

I think that we all can learn to be leaders.

Are there any trends in software development that you’d like to change?

Yes. There are not enough junior positions in the industry. When I started looking for an Android development position, I could only find a few in my city for juniors, but without experience, there were almost none. This is something I still see. After two years of doing professional Android development, I still see that this is true.

For this reason, I recently created and gave a talk about the importance of hiring juniors and helping them grow. Ideally, companies won’t be afraid of hiring juniors and will see the benefits of bringing juniors to their teams. Ideally, there would be open positions for juniors as well as seniors.

One of the problems in our industry seems to be the lack of developers. We need more developers, but we want them to come to a company with experience.

Exactly. There’s a huge demand for developers, and there are not enough developers, but it seems like all companies want to have seniors. Companies may see junior developers as students who need a lot of training and teaching. But seniors were juniors once.

What do you think about the trend toward remote work?

I hope it’s a trend that is here to stay because I like remote work. I have a job in the city where I live, but I still commute for an hour and a half every day. If I work from home, I have one hour and a half more every day to take care of my family, the house, do errands or self-care. I hope that remote work is here to stay so everyone is able to enjoy life. Not everything is work.

How do you keep yourself up to date with the latest trends?

I don’t think it’s possible to know everything. There’s a tremendous amount of information we get every day because the technology is evolving so fast, but there are several ways to keep up. I attend conferences, watch talks, and consume a lot of information. I attend local meetups for the same reason, so I get to know what the local community likes or is doing. This way, I also connect with local people in the field.

Finally, I subscribe to newsletters, read blogs, follow development-related YouTube channels, and use Google and Twitter. I’m a heavy user of Twitter. I follow a lot of people that are creating blog posts and content. I keep up, more or less, with what people like and what people are doing.

Lara’s Recommendations

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