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Spotlight 38: Linda Liukas

It’s already time for Spotlight number 38! And yet again, I’m very excited to publish this interview with one of my favourite persons in the world: Linda Liukas. Linda is a programmer, book author, storyteller and illustrator from Helsinki, Finland. She is the founder of Rails GirlsDigitial Champion of Finland and she’s an amazing speaker! Want to know more about Linda and what her working day looks like? Read all about it this week. Thank you Linda for sharing your story!

Name: Linda Liukas
Job: Children’s book author and illustrator, a little programming
Twitter: @lindaliukas
Site: lindaliukas.fi

What inspired you to pursue a career in IT?
That’s a great question – I’m still not sure if my career is in IT, early-childhood education or children’s brands. But I think what drew me to technology originally was the sense of wonder: how these tiny machines make our lives better, how big things are possible when you set your mind to it and how there are almost no limitations.

Technology is the interface to my generations imagination and our world is increasingly run by software. That’s why we need more diversity in the people who are building it.

What does your working day look like?
My days are very different. Some days are all about creating things: drawing, writing, coding, structuring. Others are about talking, traveling, explaining and inspiring.  I’m learning to say ‘no’ more, hide from my e-mail, keep my calendar empty and just appreciate the fact that all of this takes time.

I’m incredibly slow with getting started. That’s why I head to the office early. I usually start the morning with some quick sketches about nothing in particular to get myself going.

I tend to be pretty introverted. I hate talking on the phone and usually turn it off the first thing in the morning (sorry!). I crave space and luckily in Finland it’s ok to be silent. My inner life keeps me pretty entertained: the other day I laughed alone at an animation I made for the whole evening.

What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
It must be Hello Ruby, the world’s most whimsical way to learn about technology, computing and coding. It is a story about a little girl with a big imagination who knows even the biggest problems are just small problems stuck together. The kids get to go on an adventure with Ruby and her friends – all while learning the basics of computational thinking through stories and exercises.

“Programming is a mean of self-expression, just like legos and crayons. If we think JavaScript will be the lingua franca of the future, instead of only grammar classes we should be teaching our kids to write poetry.”

I feel like I’m very much at the beginning of this journey with Ruby and the possibilities and directions are so many. The project feels motivating because the mission is big and I’m constantly learning new things.

Do you have a hero, or someone who inspires you?
So many! I’m a total fangirl, and I get very inspired by people. Some of my favourites are Sarah Kay (the poet), Alan Kay (the scientist), Yaqui Kusama (the artist), Saul Griffith (the inventor) and Björk (the musician).

Why do you love working in  IT/Tech?
I think there are very few things that have been set to stone in the world of technology: you can reinvent yourself and your work. And the whole field is very young and very old at the same time.

Do you have a degree in IT? If so, what taught you the most? And if not, did you miss some important knowledge?
I’m self taught and in some ways it’s a blessing and a curse. I definitely feel like an imposter much of the time, like there are tons of gaps in my knowledge. On the other hand sometimes people with a lot of knowledge lose the beginners mind and the childlike sense of wonder. As a children’s book author I feel like those two qualities are very important to me.

What would be your advice to everyone who is interested in a career in tech? (or learning to code?)
Kind of continuing from the previous question, embrace the unknown. Computer science is such a vast field and odds are others don’t know everything either (I certainly don’t!). I still keep a list of things I don’t know, or need to learn more about, like data structures and algorithms and systems programming. Somehow it helps to ease the anxieties.

Another advise is to apply what you’ve learned as soon as possible in another area of life you’re passionate about, be it biology, theater or ancient Greek. I think we’ll need much more people who have a deep understanding in several different fields, to create these weird combinations. Because you’re not learning to code for the sake of learning to code alone, you’re learning it to solve problems in the world.

Extra question from Miriam: Are you afraid of breaking things during your working day? If so, how do you deal with it? Any advice? And if not, were you ever afraid of it? How did you make it disappear?
I break things constantly and bring down the site a few times a week, but it helps that I’m the CEO :) I try to think of it as setting a culture where it’s ok to fail, as long as you learn from your mistakes. Shipping gets easier over time. And with web/mobile you can always fix your mistakes: I still found a few errors from the printed book, which are much harder to fix.