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Katka Nagyová
April 16, 2015

Meet Melanie Thewlis

Artist, teacher, web developer and political scientist Melanie Thewlis does it all. She will combine some of these skills and teach a 5-week-front-end-web-development-course at betahaus. We wanted to know more about this smart and versatile young lady, so we asked and she answered. Read up!

Can you tell us about your background?

I grew up in Melbourne and moved to Berlin five years ago. I don't have a classic computer science background - in fact I wanted to be an artist, and I studied art for six months after high school.

I didn't enjoy the course though, and swapped to studying history and political science. Through this time I was continuing to paint, and my partner and I decided to move to Berlin. We trained as English teachers, and I taught English to international students for about a year while we saved to come to Germany.

How did you end up doing web development?

When I arrived in Berlin I thought of myself as a painter/illustrator. My plan had been to pursue art and support myself teaching English.

I was still working in a marketing role for my family’s business back in Australia, and as a part of that I started to do work on their website. My first job took me about 100 hours and I earned €200, but I slowly started building up a freelancing portfolio and at one point I realised I was lying awake at night thinking about my latest website and not about my latest sketch, and I would wake up itching to start coding, not to pick up a paint brush.

In 2011 my partner Paul Zubrinich and I founded Little Web Giants, an online marketing and web development consultancy. Since that time I've built around 50 sites as sole or lead developer, working on a really wide range of projects.

For the past three years I have also been studying Creative Computing through Goldsmiths in the UK. Although most of the subjects don't have a direct impact on my day-to-day work, it's been a good process to go back and study a lot of foundational concepts in a theoretical way after building up a practical working knowledge of web development.

And what inspired you to start teaching it?

There were a lot of things I really enjoyed about teaching English – putting together the lesson plans and coming up with fun activities that really explain or cement a concept, seeing students collaborate and gain confidence in new skills, all of those aspects I really loved.

So when the opportunity came up to put together a front end course at betahaus I was really excited. I felt it would be satisfying to put together a lot of resources that I could have used when I was first starting out, and I was excited by the challenge of designing lessons and activities to convey the various core concepts we are going to cover.

You're an active member of the female tech community in Berlin, do you have any tips for girls/women who want to get into web development and coding?

I love coding, and I never expected to end up where I am now, so I would encourage anyone who's curious to give a try at least once. But particularly to women and girls I would say to just dive in and give it a go. I think you learn best by doing, so certainly online courses like Codecademy or Team Treehouse are really valuable - but I think nothing is as effective as setting yourself a goal and doing whatever it takes to get it done. The first thing you build will be a total embarrassment. That's great - next time you'll do it faster, better and more elegantly.

The other thing I would suggest is to get social with your coding as soon as possible. Join one of Berlin’s many, many meetup groups, from Rails Girls Berlin to Open Tech School, and start learning from others. It's such a relief to be able to just lean over and ask for some advice from the person sitting next to you. You will learn much faster and it's a lot of fun. This is one of the main reasons I think the Geekettes are such an awesome organisation – their female only events created a really safe space for me to get out there and start experiencing all the amazing things on offer in Berlin's tech scene.

There's no doubt that tech is a very male dominated field, but I've met many female developers with really diverse and fulfilling careers in tech. There's also a huge demand for skilled developers – so for women considering a career change, web development and programming in general could be a really great option.

You'll be holding a 5-week Web development Course at betahaus starting in February. Could you tell as a bit about your teaching methods and the knowledge the attendants will gain by taking this course?

Yeah sure, so the focus will be on front end web development. That’s the content of a website and how it’s presented to the user – text, images, graphic styles, animations and so forth. The great thing is that with front end skills alone you can build a simple multipage website that you could use to showcase a portfolio or promote an event. So that’s what we’ll be working towards building over the five weeks. As I said, I’m a big believer in learning by doing, so the course will have a real emphasis on doing useful stuff right from day one.

I think there will be a mix of needs from the group, and I’ve tried to come up with something for everyone – In the mix there will be plenty of social coding, group work, and peer learning, as these are really important aspects of developer culture. I’m also enjoying coming up with activities involving Lego to help explain things like debugging and control loops – because why should kids have all the fun? We’ll be using professional tools such as CodePen and Browserstack, running though coding exercises, and then putting it all together for a final project. I’m really excited to see what everyone comes up with!

Now for all of you who are curious about the course and want to meet Melanie in person check the course HERE!

interview by Hana Hariri

Join the people of betahaus here! 

Toni: Currently, we’ve somehow ended up in this niche of building a lot of internal tools for startups and teams. But this is not the only thing we want to do. What I like about it is that we’re starting projects from scratch and we have full control over them. 

Martin: The first project we worked on was a tool for a large scale real estate development company. What they needed was a tool for their Sales people - to be able to mark their different spots and locations at different stages of the sales funnel. So we created a tool that helps them in this process.

Toni: And this one actually served as a starting point for the tool we’ve developed for  betahaus, which aims to allow the Sales and Management team to see which team rooms are occupied right now, which ones are free or will be occupied in a few weeks or months, so no double bookings appear. 

Alex: These two projects were more focused on real estate, let’s say, but we’ve also done more design-heavy projects like the one we did for Artique which is an online artists agency. For them, we built a whole website and an online system to present their artists starting only from their logo. It had to be very flexible, because the artists needed to be able to edit their own profiles, putting their resume, changing colours.

Toni: Honestly, we have skillsets that you don’t usually find in developers. Because we've had lives that were not just about computer science. I think to some extent this is what makes us different. 

Martin: I believe one of the reasons why people pick us over other studios is because it can be very hard working with developers. If you’re not understanding their work, if the communication is not flowing, you, as a client can feel lost. We're easy to communicate with and we’re always open to feedback and we're open to discuss anything. In the end, after all iterations, if you say we need to start the website from scratch and that you don’t like the idea, we won’t take it personally. 

Alex: Also, I think, since we all work as coding teachers, we are officially qualified to explain what coding is to people who don't code, which is actually really rare because a lot of developers, as Martin says, don't want to, or literally just don't know how to articulate what they're doing. Whereas we are trained in articulating what it is that we're doing, why it's meaningful and why it takes a certain amount of time.

Photo by Lea GK

Alex: Zimt & Mehl - the Turkish bakery around the corner. It’s just soo good.

Martin: Oh, there is this Italian restaurant called Ristorante del Arte

Tony: Oh, my God, this place is so funny. It looks like a pretty average Italian restaurant, but the whole interior design inside is just decorated in such a weird way. The entire place is covered in frescoes. They have crystal chandeliers and Easter bunnies. Some Greek columns. It has a different name on the menu, on the side and on the Internet. And it was an ex-shoe-store.

Want to get in touch with Obst Digital? Come around betahaus | Neukölln and meet them here or send them an email to contact@obst.digital !


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