(Photo by Brady Dale)
How many programmers in New York can say their last job was at a hair salon? It’s true for Greenpoint’s Hannah Nordgren, though her career trajectory has more twists and turns than that. Nevertheless, when she looks back, she can see a certain logic in her move from fashion design to hair styling to her current job as a front-end developer at Wizard Development. She also does freelance and contract work.
We met up at Pudge Knuckles in Williamsburg where she gave us the story of how she ended up reinventing herself as a software developer after years in fields not usually associated with coder culture.
It’s a story that might not have happened elsewhere.
The city’s commitment to making it possible for people to break into the world of coding played a critical role at a key moment for Nordgren — in the form of Workforce1 and the Flatiron School‘s inaugural NYC Web Development Fellowship class. Students that met income requirements were given a scholarship for a 22-week full-time course that normally costs $12,000. We introduced you to some of the students in the program’s first class here.
Nordgren came to New York from Washington State to attend Pratt, where she graduated with a degree in fashion design, during the first dot-com bubble. She ended up spending most of her years freelancing as a technical designer. Technical designers are sort of like the developers of fashion (our words, not hers). They take the designers’ lines and sort out how to actually make the clothes at scale. “It’s a lot of spreadsheets,” Nordgren told us. They find the sources, the materials, which colors pieces can be offered in, direct the making of the prototypes and then sort out production.
Nordgren was ready for a career change after an attempt to expand her business to the Bay Area didn’t work out. So she moved to L.A., and started working for Buffalo Jeans by day and attending cosmetology school at night. It was 14 months of 16-hour days. As soon as it was over, Nordgren moved immediately back to New York in 2008.
When the economy fell apart, she took her cosmetology license to Soon, a salon in the East Village.
“It sparked a creative side,” she said. Nordgren also liked the fact that hairdressers end up playing a connector role in community. People tell her about what they need or what they are looking for and she helps people make connections. After several years at Soon, one of her clients ended up helping her find work at a startup called Nifty Thrifty. She was working with clothes again, but Nordgren was in a more Internet environment. She’d met some developers since then and started to teach herself some HTML and CSS on the side.
She had come to feel more and more like she wanted to make one more big career transition, and she saw something about the Flatiron School’s free program on Twitter and applied. “It was one of the best experiences I have ever had,” she told us, “It was such a positive environment to be in.”
Relationships she built there helped Nordgren open the door to Wizard Development, a company that works to pair junior developers with senior developers, so that they can build stronger client projects. She said the company excels in doing project sprints, filling in gaps for small and mid-sized startup teams.
Wizard takes a test-driven development approach, where coders build tests around new features. The program or site will initially fail; the developers then build the code to pass the test. “It’s a better way to develop because it forces you to think out your approach before you do it,” Nordgren said. She also said it helps to make sure that everything keeps working as a project grows.
Nordgren is also working on some sites on the side, including the website for Amy Van Doran (an elite matchmaker) and one for a local puppeteer, using Parallax. At work, she built a front-end developer prototyping tools she calls Old Fashioned. You can see that and other things Nordgren is developing on her Github page.
When she looks back now, Nordgren realizes that from fashion to hair to development, she kept gravitating toward the structured, logical, detail-oriented part of the work. She still wants to make beautiful things, but it’s the building of it that she appreciates. In that way, the whole trajectory makes sense.