Sarah Duitsman’s initial interest in computers began at an early age. Her mother was an art teacher with a computer in classroom, and her family always had a computer at home, as well. Duitsman and her sister utilized the computer mostly for playing games, but Duitsman also took an early interest in how computers worked. Growing up in Ames, Iowa, Duitsman also attended conferences at Iowa State University for women in science and engineering known as Taking the Road Less Traveled. “Looking back, I think that probably had a good influence on the direction that I took,” she said.
In her initial studies at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, Duitsman took an Introduction to Programming course that only further solidified her serious interest in computers. She transferred to the University of Iowa, where she graduated with a degree in Management Information Systems. Duitsman is a software architect at Cerner, where she has worked for the last nine-and-a-half years.
In mid-2015, Duitsman was seeking something to help her further her career, adding, “I was feeling a little bit lost in my career. I kind of felt like I didn’t know how to find the right resources to improve my skills.” Jordan Svancara presented her talk “The Next Generation of Software Engineers” at Cerner’s DevCon that year, and Duitsman visited with her afterward to learn more about the need for mentors within Tech sHeroes. After Duitsman attended TechTalks, as well, the progression into Program Director for Coding & Cocktails seemed like a natural fit.
“I just love that we have so much fun introducing people to a new skill. It’s such a fun environment, but we are still able to talk about the technical topics,” Duitsman said. “The women are always so excited, and everyone is so friendly, too. We have such a great group of mentors, and it’s been really fun building the program.”
How did your interest in coding begin?
I took another couple of classes, and I really enjoyed some of the database concepts that I was introduced to. I just really dove into the additional classes that I could take to learn about it. The database side of things was really in my wheelhouse, and I was excited about the kinds of things that you could do with data. I just really enjoyed the problem solving and trying to figure out the most efficient way of doing something.
How has your technical knowledge transferred into other aspects of your life?
Knowing that I can do something and persevering when I get to a sticking point or something I am struggling with, that I can work past it, whether it’s home improvement or other things.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I enjoy that there is always variety. There is always something different to solve or create a solution for. There is always a new technology to learn and new skills to pick up. It’s just so limitless.
What are the more challenging aspects of your career?
Not always having the right answer right away. Technology is always changing, and there is not always just a single way of getting to your end goal — though some ways may be better than others. As time has gone by, I’ve learned that is OK to not always be perfect right out of the gate, as it opens up learning opportunities. I think the most important thing I’ve learned as my career has grown is that even if I don’t have the right answer right away, I do have the capability to figure it out and knowing that has become so much more important to me than always being able to be right all the time.
What advice would you offer your younger self today, or to someone who is looking to shift careers into one more coding-based?
I would definitely recommend getting involved and finding a community to be a part of. Getting involved with KCWiT has been so much fun and getting to know people who think the same way and in bouncing ideas off of them. They are so supportive and helpful, and it’s been a lot more fun. Teaching the skills for others has helped solidify the skills in my mind for me, too. I wasn’t really expecting that, but it’s been a pretty cool discovery.
If you could tell the general public one thing about software engineers and what it means to write code, what would it be?
It’s a lot of fun. It’s exciting when you work through those problems and get something that you were stuck on. There are so many different people that are involved in it. That’s another benefit of KCWiT: You get to see other women and their outside interests. People have a diverse range of interests within the community, as well.
How do you envision STEM evolving into our daily lives?
It is engrained in everything. So many people are working with technology in their jobs; even non-developers have to work on their jobs with their computers. It’s kind of all around us, and I don’t think it’s going to change any time in the future. People are always thinking of creative ways to solve life problems through technology, whether that’s through an app or a device that is connected to technology.