Tech Talent: This Junior Programmer Uses Improv to Be a Better Team Player

Improv comedy is not the first thing that you think about when referring to programming. However, DigitalCrafts student Valerie Thoma has figured out how to apply spontaneous comedy principles to coding.

For example, improv’s “Yes, and…” principle applies directly to being open-minded while working with teammates on projects. It’s about listening to your product’s needs, and then responding with more feedback. “My favorite applied discipline of improv is the truthfulness that your best performance is one that is always, always, always about your scene partners,” says Thoma. 

A computational media class in college led Thoma into the world of technology. After completing DigitalCrafts’ 16-week Full-Stack Immersive program, she’s ready to build on her Javascript portfolio and take a job with a company that makes work culture and mentorship a priority. Is that you? Check out how this junior programmer can add value to your team. 

What is your previous education?

I received a Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video with a concentration in Television studies and New Media from Georgia State University. Previous to that, I was pursuing a B.S. in Criminal Justice at Kennesaw State University. These seemingly disparate goals continue to influence my career ambitions today and I see technology offering many tools to build a bridge between the two.  

Why the interest in the technology field?

Growing up, computer programming was never presented to me as a viable career choice. It wasn’t until a Computational Media class in college, in which I was learning and using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, that I found I really like doing this. It took a couple more years and a series of self-motivating pep talks, breakdowns, and breakthroughs before I acted on my curiosity. I am confident that technology is the right space to merge my existing talents with my recently developed skills to accomplish some really wild stuff.

What projects have you worked on?

My favorite project to work on was The Shoebox Project, a full-stack group project completed at DigitalCrafts. We had the opportunity to use so many of the technologies and frameworks taught in class including Express, Node.js, MySQL, AWS S3, Multer, Bcrypt, Google Maps API, and good old reliable JavaScript, jQuery, HTML, and CSS.

For me, the inspiration behind this project was equally as cool as the multitude of technologies used. My friend and partner Eddie and his wife Crystal, the owners of Ella B. Photography, have long wanted to start a non-profit company whose purpose is to provide professional photographs and memories for children in the foster care system. I’m happy to say The Shoebox Project is as viable as it is public-spirited.   

What tools are essential to you as a developer?

Understanding that instead of obstinance and frustration, reframing a problem is often the best solution. Also, the practice of going through my code line by line and learning to identify and correct my mistakes continues to be my most consistent teacher. No matter how many slick new developer tools become available, other people will always be my first and most dependable resource.  

How do you stay on top of emerging trends?

I currently identify Slack and its many unique workspaces as one of the most advantageous tools available for staying informed. I spend most of my time in Women Who Code Atlanta, Tech 404, and my favorite workspace — DigitalCrafts. The inspiring team I worked with during the 2nd annual WWCode Atlanta Hackathon and I still share meetup events and pass around ideas in our private channel. I can always rely on my peers at DC to share links to their favorite resources and offer advice and encouragement on any given problem.

What are your best technical or creative skills?

The skills I acquired while studying and performing improv are easily the most valuable in both my personal and professional life. The most important and employable tenet of improv is listening. An improv scene, a project, even a simple conversation cannot move forward if one or more participants is not listening. My favorite applied discipline of improv is your only job on stage is to make everyone else look good. You learn to make choices that serve the scene (or project) and not yourself.

What’s next on your list to learn?

I’m enjoying developing in JavaScript and I’ll be dedicating some time to learning Angular and Vue while also leaning into building more single page applications in React. I fantasize about writing super-savvy, envy-inducing SQL queries and stupefying regular expressions. However, in base reality, I resolve to commit to time-tested techniques like practice and yes, more practice.

Are you interested in working for a startup, mid-sized company, or a corporate giant?

There are appealing benefits for joining teams of all different scales. Ultimately, finding the right culture fit is a high priority. I am seeking out companies that intentionally create opportunities for mentorship and continued learning; however, it is a chief concern of mine that I add value in all settings. I practice visualizing how my strengths, skills, and unique perspective could contribute to and grow with a particular project or company.

Interested in looking at Valerie’s credentials? Here you go! LinkedInWebsite, and Github.