PyDev of the Week: Rachell Calhoun

This week we welcome Rachell Calhoun (@Rachell_Calhoun) as our PyDev of the Week! Rachell is active in the Python community and the Django Girls community. You can see some of the many things that Rachell is working on over on Rachell's website.

You can also check out Rachell's GitHub profile to see what cool project's Rachell has been working on.

Let's spend some time getting to know Rachell!

Can you tell us a little about yourself (hobbies, education, etc):

I’m from Kalamazoo, Michigan, and graduated from Western Michigan University with a BA in Spanish and French, and a minor in Arabic. Then, I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I taught English as a Foreign Language. Seoul is an amazing city, it has great public transportation, reasonably priced healthcare, great food, and tons of opportunities to learn or do anything. I was able to participate in various interests and hobbies like salsa dancing, and guitar lessons. Since I was a child I did TaeKwondo, and so it was a great opportunity to keep practicing. I was also able to do boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Hapkido. I also enjoy traveling and was able to take some great trips while I was in that part of the globe.

These days I still have the same interests but have less of a chance to practice them. I work remotely and have for six years, so I like to run or do yoga mid-day to break up the day and move a bit. Recently when the weather is bad or I need to mix things up, I use VR on my elliptical machine and let the apps bring the sunshine to me.

Other than that, for the past three years, I have been working toward my Master of Applied Data Science degree at University of Michigan, and that has taken up quite a bit of my time. I have a final capstone then I will officially be done, hopefully, I will be able to take up some more of my hobbies again.

Why did you start using Python?

I had reached the farthest I could go in my teaching career and I wanted to try something new. I had an interview for an EFL e-publishing company that was interested in hiring someone with tech, EFL, and also a bit of business experience. I had some of those skills but I laugh now thinking of how I stumbled when they asked me what HTML was. I realized that tech was everywhere so I decided to try my hand at programming. I joined a couple other people in Seoul that had just started a group using Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) to learn Python on the weekends as a hobby. From there my interest and involvement in the community only grew.

How did you get into organizing a Django Girls meetup?

After a year of doing various projects with Python with my community in Seoul over the first year, we decided to do a Django project and one of my friends recommended we try to host a Django Girls Workshop. We thought there would be a handful of people interested in it but in the end the event was huge. We had about 100 people in total over two days. We had enough interest to do a weekend mini “coding bootcamp” style of course as well. And this was all free, volunteer lead movement. We had a great team of organizers, each had their own specialty like design, networking, tech etc, so it worked very well.

From there my involvement grew in the Django Girls community. I helped with translations, coached in a few other locations, and now I’m on the board of trustees for the Django Girls Foundation.

Do you have any advice for other developers who would like to start a Django Girls or PyLadies chapter?

It is a bit hard for me to give advice to developers that want to start a Django girls or PyLadies community because I started the community and then became a developer. But I would say if you can’t find your community, build it! If you can, find one or two other people to help you get started. If you don’t know anyone, maybe start the community and invite active members to join as organizers, because it can be easy to get burnt out if you are the only one organizing events. I would also say listen and follow the lead of your community for what their interests are or what projects they’d like to focus on.

What other programming languages do you know and which is your favorite?

I mostly work with Django on web apps so I have worked with Javascript on a few different platforms. I use what I need to give a specific project but of course my favorite is Python. It’s what I got started on, I’m most familiar with and very versatile. Because I know Python I was able to jump right into a data science degree. Most importantly, the community is rock solid. I have gotten so much support throughout my career from various people in the Python community.

What projects are you working on now?

I’m really excited to get started on my Capstone to round out my Data Science degree over the next four months. Instead of doing a project just for the degree, my goal is to try to collaborate with a non-profit or local journalist organization that maybe don’t have the resources to hire data scientists. I have always loved using opportunities to learn and grow as a developer, and in this case data scientist, to help others where I could. My first project was looking at quantifying the need for Quantifying the Need for Attorney Pro Bono Services in Connection with the Social Determinants of Health. My second project focused on predicting text difficulty to aid in ensuring text available to the public is written in clear, concise language as to remove some barriers for ESL readers to access information.

So if you know someone in need of my final project, feel free to pass it along!

Which Python libraries are your favorite (core or 3rd party)?

I don’t really have any favorites, my favorite depends on the task at hand with the resources and stack I am working with.

Thanks for doing the interview, Rachell!

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