Norma Driske

A humanities scholar who programs

Skills: Python, Django, JS
Meet me at: OpenTechSchool Leipzig

A few words about you, who are you?

Hi, I’m Norma. Once I studied Sociology and Indology, and there were two other Normas in the course. That was pretty crazy and the first time I ever met someone named like me. But for much, much longer I didn’t meet anyone who was in love with the internet and the web just as immediately as I was after I had plugged a 56-k modem into my analog telephone jack for the first time. And that’s why I’m so happy now that there is this site, where you can meet many internet lovers :-)

I currently enjoy working four days a week as a full stack developer at EntwicklerHeld in Dresden, partly remotely and partly on-site. Full-Stack means here that I program both for the frontend with JavaScript and for the backend with Python/Django. I am a member of the board of the German Django Asssociation, mentor and organizer for the OpenTechSchool Leipzig, Django Girls and other events, also I am an Individual Member of the Django Software Foundation.

My creative phases like to start after 8 pm, but I’m almost useless early in the morning. Some people accuse me of a certain addiction to caffeinated cold and warm drinks, occasionally also to pink jelly piglets and nachos, but I don’t listen to rumors ;-) Oh, and I like cats, Alf, and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

When and how did you get interested in coding?

At school we learned the basics of Basic and Pascal. The first time I dealt with the web was during my non-technical(!) studies and the real reason was my laziness: in my circle of friends we had a Bundesliga soccer betting round, and every week Excel sheets were sent around where the bets had to be entered. Terribly cumbersome, error-prone and tedious, because of the secrecy of the tips, you always had to copy everything together on the match day, terrible! I really wanted to do this over the Internet and automate it somehow, including the scoring. So I started to see how this could work and Stefan Münz and were my best friends!

I have never lost interest in the web and its technologies, nor the love of free knowledge on the net and free software in general. Due to my work after my studies, I didn’t have time to deal with everything more intensively for a few years.

After a long break travelling, however, I decided not to return to my old job as a project manager, but to apply to IT companies and learn programming properly. Many people found that a bit crazy and risky, because I was already over 30 years old and “you should have finally settled in life”. But this thought is stupid, as the Zen of Python also states - Now is better than never.

I then began and completed a dual study of computer science alongside my work in an IT company in Leipzig. But I’m still not sure if this study was so necessary. Most of the things I can do today as a programmer I taught myself, and was shown and explained by my mentors at work <3. And so my lonely hobby has become my absolute favourite profession today!

What do you like about coding most?

I especially like programming when something I didn’t know about before works in the end and solves a problem. Also, I find all automations great and enjoy the time savings or the fact that you don’t have to do boring repetitive tasks anymore. It’s also creative, because I can solve a problem in different ways and with different technologies. And I also like that I only need my laptop, and no matter where I am, I can dive into a huge, colorful world. But what fascinates me most is that programming is cross-border and connecting, people “speak” Python in Bangladesh and Nigeria as well as in Leipzig; it’s great when you can develop and create something together.

What is currently your favourite project? of course!

What do you like to try/learn/know?

There are so many things I still want to try and learn, not only in IT! But in the future, I would like to work more intensively on the evaluation of data, calculations and their presentation.

What is your biggest challenge as a programmer?

I think the biggest challenge was to allow the idea to myself that I could be a programmer at all. Personally, I didn’t know anybody who worked in IT, whom I could have asked or share thoughts with. Even speaking about the plan was difficult; I was afraid that everyone would laugh themselves to pieces seeing that a humanities scholar is now doing things in IT. But so what, it’s me who laughs now. :-)

The longer journey has helped me a lot, to gain distance and to think about how I want to live, what I want to work on every day, why and how, and with whom. The result was pretty clear, but the first step (shaking off all the concerns) was still difficult.

Do you have role models?

No. I always associate this question with the German word “Vorbild”: that you want to be like someone else or want to do something exactly like someone else did something once. Personally, I have rather an island philosophy: every person is their own island, so comparisons and cults of followers, what I somehow connect with a “Vorbild”, are not goal-oriented. What is important in my eyes is that you listen to yourself, what you want, what your gut says, what is important to you, and be honest with yourself: make yourself a role model for yourself, make your own island beautiful, so to say. :-) And sometimes, it helps a lot to read or hear other people’s stories about how they have made their islands nice and they can help you implicitly in certain situations. That’s what this project is for!

If you understand role model in this abstract form, then I love stories of courageous people in every situation. I find whistle-blowers courageous, people from the LGBTQ movement, first-time speakers at conferences, people who make fun of their illnesses and countless other everyday heroes whose names I often don’t even know.

Which stereotype of a programmer can you prove wrong?

I often hear: Programming? Isn’t that boring? - NO! On the contrary, it’s the most varied thing I can imagine: creative, communicative, thoughtful, surprising, never monotonous, and always in flux!

Can you recommend a book / podcast / tutorial / film or event?

I generally find conferences useful when you want to get new input and meet people who are working on similar problems to yourself. The best way is probably to go to conferences in other countries, to meet interesting people and new perspectives. I have been to conferences in the Django and Python community so far, which I can highly recommend. Especially if you haven’t been in the tech sector for so long, the welcoming culture is very much cultivated there. If you have the opportunity, you should definitely treat yourself to attending the Congress of the Chaos Computer Club, a great, colorful and very special event!

If you want to learn programming and maybe don’t know anyone around you, then meetups are a great thing, e.g. here in Leipzig the weekly OpenTechSchool meetups. To get started, participation in a Django Girls Workshop is also very suitable.