Jessica Ralston describes her academic and career interests as having come full circle: While she began her undergraduate studies in architecture at Kansas State University in the mid-1990s, she would ultimately graduate with a Bachelor of Arts from the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at K-State.
Following a three-year career in public relations, Ralston worked as a Senior Web Technician and User Experience Designer at the American Academy of Family Physicians before working at Intouch Solutions, where today she is Associate Director, Development.
A mentor for Coding & Cupcakes, Ralston also served as a Django Girls mentor in summer 2016 and is a past Tech sHeroes mentor. She also enjoys serving as a Girl Scouts Brownie leader for her daughter, as well as maintaining the website for the PTA and PTA Foundation for her daughter’s school.
How did your interest in coding begin?
In college, I had one assignment to make a web page. At my first job, in the Shawnee Mission School District communications office, I was supposed to update phone numbers and addresses as they changed jobs. It was so disorganized that I convinced my boss to let me redesign it. I made the second version of the Shawnee Mission School District website, and as I was working on it, I guess I enjoyed it more than other aspects of my job. I really liked the creative and technical aspects of building the website. My next job was at UMKC in the School of Education, Continuing Education department. I was the marketing coordinator. At that time, UMKC had one person in charge of the website. If each department wanted a web presence, they had to do it on their own. So, I did it, and word got around. I took a couple of computer science classes at UMKC. I got my job at American Academy of Family Physicians, and I got my job as a web technician. I was there for 11 years. It wasn’t like there were classes at the time to learn front end development. Everyone I know my age basically taught themselves the material.
How has your technical knowledge transferred into other aspects of your life?
I was really good at math in school, and I when I started college, I started as an architecture major. I feel like I’ve really come full circle, because architecture is technical and creative in the way that front-end development is. When I was in college, I had a couple of jobs where I basically taught myself a lot of things, through several different jobs.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
My job now is really making sure that my team knows what they need to be doing, has the support they need to get their jobs done. I feel like now, the most rewarding thing about my job is when the people on my team are successful. And, we build some pretty cool stuff, too.
What are the more challenging aspects of your career?
Things are always changing – new clients, new projects, new technologies to learn how to use. But, that’s also what makes it interesting.
What advice would you offer your younger self today, or to someone who is looking to shift careers into one more coding-based?
Just try stuff out. Start building stuff. There are a lot of resources out there on the Internet that are free and accessible. It doesn’t have to be for a client. You can make something to just show that you know the technology.
If you could tell the general public one thing about software engineers and what it means to write code, what would it be?
People don’t always realize how creative it is. It’s all about problem-solving.
How do you envision STEM continuing to evolve into our daily lives?
Of course, some people think that everything is going to become automated. With people my daughter’s age, they’ve grown up with the Internet. It’s just going to become ubiquitous, and I feel like all kids should know how to code just a little bit. It’s not magic; it’s something you can do.