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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

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