Author spotlight: Julie Lerman - Programmer, EF expert & mountain dweller

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Julie Lerman

With a ski-in-ski-out back door, a great, big dog named Sampson and a fantastic tech community, Pluralsight author Julie Lerman “has her cake, and gets to eat it, too.” Julie gets just enough Internet access in the boonies of her mountainside abode to create courses for Pluralsight, serve as a tech community leader, write regular columns for MSDN Magazine, and basically be the leading independent authority on Microsoft's Data Access Technology: Entity Framework. You know, no big deal.

If you've ever watched one of Julie's courses (which you should, obviously), you may catch a glimpse of Sampson or even hear birds tweeting in the background of her Vermont home. But, for an even closer look into the world of this self-proclaimed “geek,” we've posed a number of questions that you may have wanted to ask the Pluralsight author, developer and fellow techie. Enjoy!

You've been a programmer for nearly 30 years. How did you get started?

Oh gosh, I feel so old! I started being a geek back in high school without knowing it really, and then evolved after taking a college programming class on a hand-built computer constructed by the math professors. I majored in history, but picked up a programming book at my NYC ad agency job-it was called Programming dBase 3 or something. And from there, I basically taught myself.

How did you teach yourself how to program?

At my previous job - my first out of college - there was one computer in the whole company (a company of a thousand or so), and it was on my desk when I started. I wasn't really coding per se, but macros, etc. and just figured out how to trick the computer into doing what I needed, then helped others as they started getting more computers in the company. Then when I got to the job with the dBase III book, I used it to help me create a database to replace the company's 50-year-old filing system. That's when I realized that I loved manipulating data.

Julie Lerman

After picking up that book, it seems as though you never looked back. How did you find the FoxPro community in NYC?

I don't remember *how* I found the FoxPro community, but it was a lifeline for me to finally be among my own people. This was before the internet, so it was the best way to connect with others. The experience was so critical because it taught me about community, exposed me to some wonderful women who were doing big things, and introduced me to a way of learning that went beyond just reading and experimenting to solve immediate problems.

There were “three really strong women in that FoxPro community.” Would you say these women served as mentors to you in a sense-being a young woman in the early days of tech?

Yes, they were great role models. I would have felt lost in that sea of men if it weren't for them being there and making it clear that I certainly hadn't wandered into the wrong room. They were book authors, speakers and magazine article authors. One, Tamar Granor, was a magazine editor and I wrote my first tech article for her. Years later, when I started speaking, I was at a conference that was for FoxPro and .NET developers. She was there (I was in .NET by then) and even then she sat me down and gave me some wonderful advice that helped me with presenting and my confidence. We follow each other on Twitter and she's like a little bird on my shoulder when she tweets to me occasionally.

What advice would you give to other women in tech?

Well, the early days [in tech] were very different. But back then, I just walked into rooms feeling like I belonged, and I think that's an important thing today, too. Even though for me, I'm in a different position now, I still kind of walk in a room and count the women just because I'm curious to see how it's evolving. And the important thing is not to worry: “I'm the only woman here; I don't belong.” Just forget it. You're a programmer. You're a geek. You belong.

And in honor of Women's History Month this March, who is your biggest female influence and why?

My mother. She's a writer and a brilliant and very independent woman. While I was growing up she was traveling, going to Hollywood, invited to lecture in India, etc. etc. – always so many fascinating people traipsing through our house. So I never grew up thinking: girls don't do this or that. It was just: do whatever you want, so I did. I still do, and she still does too!

Of all the paths within the tech industry, why did you choose programming? And why Entity Framework particularly?

Not to sound cliché, but it chose me. I've always been a data geek and since I started playing with it early on, it was fun to be on a path of discovery where I knew I was doing original work, unveiling what EF could do and helping others figure out how to use it.


As a programmer and EF expert, who or what is your worthy adversary?

Time. Definitely. Never enough and these days I don't want to spend *all* of my time at the computer. But with things always moving so quickly, you can't afford to get lazy.

With time being your adversary, how do you stay ahead of the curve?

I can't stay ahead of the curve on too many things, so I have to focus. So I do that with EF and make myself try to keep up. On the other hand, I've also been doing a lot of work with DDD. That's a 10-year-old technology so I'm not ahead of the curve on that, however I do feel that I'm helping introduce a lot of developers to DDD.

When you're deep in the depths of a complex programming problem, what do you do to reset?

If I'm deep in it, I have to stay there. But if I get stuck, then I must walk away from the computer. I try to avoid the kitchen and the evils within (e.g. potato chips). I can't tell you how many moments of clarity I have arrived at while walking the dog or riding my bike.

What album will you put on to get the creative juices flowing?

Probably something from Colombia ala Joe Arroyo, but then there's no working because I'm up dancing around the house. For working, I need quiet.

How did you become a Pluralsight author?

It was funny timing; I had just agreed to do a series of videos on EF4 for MSDN when Pluralsight sought me out and asked me to produce essentially the same content. So that first set of videos, which eventually got bundled into a course, were contracted by Pluralsight and produced as Pluralsight videos (and available on Pluralsight), but also freely available on the MSDN website-a bunch of those are still there. 

Of the courses you've authored, which is your favorite and why?

I'm really proud of all of my courses-especially the one that I co-authored with Steve Smith on Domain-Driven Design Fundamentals. But my favorite course is Automated Testing for Fraidy Cats Like Me. I refer to that as my “passion course.” It's definitely not a top 10 and it's short. It's not for everyone, but for the target audience, it can really help them get over a scary hump that may be preventing them from benefiting from testing. The DDD course is like that in a way because Steve and I hear from people that the basics of DDD finally make sense to them and they plan to return to the other DDD resources they found elusive in the past.

What is your biggest career highlight to date?

I had to think about that for a good 30 seconds. The winner is holding the first copy of my first book in my hands after it being nothing but Word docs and PDF files for a year. That was astonishing. But that reminds me that I had the same feeling when I had my first article published in MSDN Magazine. I guess over the course of so many years, it's hard to remember and rank everything very quickly to come to the winner.


What are the top qualities you think every successful developer has?

Curiosity, ego (me vs. computer), perseverance, SQUIRREL!

An obvious next question then; what's your spirit animal?


What advice would you give those who are trying to get started as developers or who want to advance?

Soak in information, but don't worry about memorizing it all. Be aware of what is possible, what is out there, and that you can always find the details as needed. Also there is no such thing as a best practice. It's all guidance. Find guides you trust.

Why do you love tech?

Making it bend to my will.

See if you catch a glimpse of Julie's dog Sampson or hear the birds tweeting in her new course, Looking Ahead to Entity Framework 7; and for more info on Julie, visit the links below!

KEEP UP WITH JULIE LERMAN: Website | Blog | Twitter | Google+ | CoursesGitHub

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Whitney Larsen

is the Dev/IT Content Marketing Manager at Pluralsight. With a background in communication and writing, she has a strong affinity for the written word and all things content marketing. Follow her on Twitter @whitney_larsen.