From Ballerina to Developer. Meet Kara Luton.
Welcome to our interview series, where we introduce you to developers of all levels from all walks of life. Prepare to be inspired!
Meet Kara Luton, ballerina turned developer! She walks us through the why and how she chose such a drastic career change, as well as her favourite part of being in the tech industry!
What is your position and company? What’s your day-to-day like?
I currently work as a UX engineer. I’ve been on this team for a little over a month now so I’m still figuring out what my day-to-day looks like. Lately it’s been working on some of the smaller UI fixes within our product but I’ll be starting on a new project soon!
How did you get started in a coding career? Why did you choose this career path?
I’ve had the weirdest path to tech but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I grew up pursuing a career as a professional ballerina. I even moved to New York City by myself at 17 to train full-time with the Joffrey Ballet School while I finished up high school through an online program.
I loved ballet, but I realized that I’d be lucky to have a career that lasted until I was 30 because it takes such a toll on your body. I decided to move back to my hometown of Nashville, TN and go to college.
I majored in public relations with a music business minor and was one of the lucky few to land a job in the music industry after graduation. I really enjoyed working as a music publicist. It was a glamorous job with a lot of fun perks, but it was also really stressful. I was getting burnt out quickly.
I knew I needed a change and decided to look into coding after stumbling upon CodeCademy. Soon after I enrolled in a front end engineering bootcamp. Fast forward three years later and I’m still loving life working in tech.
I chose this career because I love the feeling of solving an error – it’s so satisfying! I love how there is always more to learn. Sometimes It can be overwhelming, but it’s also amazing since I know I’ll never get bored with this career path.
You were a ballerina and a music publicist. How have those experiences help you in your career as a developer?
Ballet taught me how to pick up on things quickly and how to pay attention to the little details. When a teacher shows you a combination in class, they show it to you once and then you need to immediately do it. You have to pick things up fast and pay attention to every single little detail.
That’s really helped me with learning to code, especially when I was at my bootcamp. You get thrown so many things while learning at a bootcamp and having those skills really helped me get through.
Music publicity taught me how to interact with clients. I talked to clients and journalists every single day as a music publicist. I feel that’s really helped me with my public speaking.
I’ve presented at a conference and a few meet-ups and I would never have done that while I was in college. I was actually pretty shy, but music publicity forced me out of my shell. I had to talk to so many different people and personality types on a daily basis.
I imagine that training to become a professional dancer is very intense. Would you say that ballet training was more or less difficult than training to become a developer?
This is a tough question – both industries are very difficult and each definitely have their fair share of difficulties. Ballet was particularly challenging because of the physical aspect.
Training to be a professional ballerina requires you to greatly enhance your exercise regimen and perfect the artistry of movement. You feel bad if you take even one day off. Physical injuries are also a common obstacle that can prohibit your practice. I was constantly getting shin splints which led to several stress fractures. There’s only so much your body can take.
What is your favorite part of being a front-end developer?
My favorite part of being a front-end developer is seeing the things I create come to life. It’s a great feeling!
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in code?
I think the biggest challenge for women in code is breaking the stereotype of what a typical developer looks like. I still see job postings where the language only includes “he/him”.
When I first told my music industry coworkers that I was switching to learn to code, they told me “But you don’t look like someone who codes.” What does that even mean?! Anyone can code.
What advice would you give to a woman at the beginning of her coding journey?
Don’t give up on yourself. You may walk into a room and be one of a handful of women but never stop. You’re paving the way for other women to pursue this path in the future.
Quick fire round
When I can’t solve a bug, I… take a break. I grab a snack or go take my dog on a quick walk. There have been so many times when I can’t solve something, take a quick break and solve it immediately.
My favorite programming language is… CSS!
Dream company to work for… one that really values their employees work/life balance. I’ve been lucky to find that in both of the companies I’ve worked for within the tech world. It’s something really important to me.
If I had unlimited resources, I would develop … an app to remind me to water my plants and notify me when they need to be repotted. I think someone may be doing this though!
In 5 years time, I want to… be a manger or a developer advocate. I love helping people pursue this career and I believe either of those roles would help me do that more.
Your favorite quote… “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain