Chicks That Rip: Brenda Strech

Last month, we kicked off Chicks That Rip, a blog series dedicated to utilizing our soapbox on the interwebz to showcase stellar, tech savvy ladies who inspire us. This month, we talked with Brenda Strech, who came highly recommended by her teammate Ilen Zazueta-Hall. Brenda deserves big ups for her ongoing contribution to cultivating and bolstering our Ruby/Rails community. We’re wowed by Brenda and are certain you will be too.

Brenda is what we like to call a double threat: a senior software engineer and a black belted jūdōka. After working with Java for many years, Brenda made the leap to Ruby on Rails when she joined Enphase Energy as their first female software engineer. When she’s not leading Rails Bridge workshops or working, you’ll find Brenda knitting or teaching Judo in Petaluma.

When were you introduced to Ruby on Rails?

_I was introduced to Ruby on Rails when I started at Enphase Energy in September 2008. I worked on Java based web applications for the 9 years prior. _ What was your first impression of Ruby on Rails coming from a Java background?

I was quickly able to be productive. The syntax was very intuitive and it was easy to develop new features. My first projects were prototypes of completely new features where I was able to work the whole stack from db layer to the view. It was a great way to learn and I was able to make mistakes and recover from them.

What is your team like at Enphase? What is your role?

_When I started at Enphase I was the first female software engineer. Our team has tripled in size since then. Females make up almost half of the team. Our team consists of QA, product management and a UI designer. I work the full stack of the application, but I am partial to the Controller and View layers. _

Has the team dynamic changed as your team has grown?

_I wouldn’t say that the dynamic has changed, but we have had to revise our processes for development. As the team and company have grown, we have adopted a Scrum development methodology as well as adding processes such as continuous integration and automated testing. _

Any advice for teams going through similar growth spurts?

Team flexibility is key. Team members need to be able to transition to new processes and roles as the team grows. Change things in small increments at the pain points. You should look at it the same way that you evolve your application. The simplest thing that could possibly work, then iterate on it.

So, what is your team’s focus at Enphase?

My team works on Enlighten, which provides a wide range of information on the performance of solar power systems and individual solar modules, and allows system owners to manage the performance of their Enphase solar power system. The system can detect irregularities in module performance and send alerts to users when it suspects an issue needs attention.

What makes you passionate about programming?

I am naturally curious. I really like organization, get obsessed with solving problems, and have a passion for learning/mastering a craft. Programming is a perfect outlet for these traits and I get great satisfaction from designing a solution and implementing it.

Based on your experience, what have you found defines an exceptional programmer?

Someone who never feels like they have learned it all, but is constantly trying. Whether it is researching new technologies, reading industry blogs or investigating how others have solved problems, this person has an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

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A good programmer is thoughtful and a good communicator. They think through problems and possible solutions and can effectively communicate their reasoning. Big egos are also definitely out. Good programmers accept when they make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. I am still working on developing these traits myself.

You’re leading a RailsBridge Intro to Ruby on Rails workshop March 11-12 in Petaluma. How do these workshops work?

They are am introductory class to Ruby on Rails. No experience with programming is necessary. Volunteers lead attendees through a hands on tutorial to introduce them to Test Driven Development, and help them learn to build and deploy a Rails application. The workshop is meant to be a catalyst to motivate people, women especially, to pursue programming.

How did you get involved as a workshop leader?

_I attended a workshop a few months after I started at Enphase. It was a great opportunity to learn some tricks and get introduced to the community. It was such a great experience, I wanted to get involved. _

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Ilen Zazueta-Hall had been helping out with other workshops, then she joined Enphase. We both wanted to get a workshop started North of San Francisco and decided to do it. We are thrilled Enphase has been so supportive by sponsoring the event and we are excited about the response to the event. We have 20 volunteers and the event is already full with a large waiting list.

I am hopeful that some of our attendees will find inspiration to pursue learning programming and pick up the baton to help out with this grassroots movement to continue spread these workshops further and further.

Are you motivated to participate as a workshop organizer, instructor or volunteer? To get involved like Brenda did, connect with the RailsBridge workshop folks at workshops at railsbridge dot org.

Do you know a righteous, awe-inspiring lady in tech that we should interview for a future Chicks That Rip? We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line!