Getting to Know Leah Pope

Leah Pope joined the Ed Farm team in October 2019 as Programmer in Residence. Since her first day with the program, she has been a force of positivity and strength, and has supported all 40 adult learners who participated in our Pathways classes. Leah took a few minutes out of her day to talk with us about her passion for coding and her journey to Ed Farm.

Leah grew up in West Central Alabama, between Sumter and Pickens counties. “I went to Judson College in Marion. It’s the only women’s college in Alabama,” said Leah. “I was a first generation college student. The fact that Judson was a women’s college was a positive experience for me. You never felt self-conscious about speaking up in class — you saw women taking the lead.”

She earned an English degree at Judson with a minor in technical communications. “I took my first computer programming class because of my minor.” After college, Leah landed a job in Montgomery, Alabama writing and editing for a publication at Maxwell Air Force Base. Little did she know that a career in coding was on the horizon.

After working in Montgomery, Leah moved to Northern Virginia and continued her career as a technical writer, this time in a data management role for a small defense contractor. During that time, she was surrounded by software and hardware engineers building systems to be installed on Navy surface ships and submarines. This exposure reignited her interest in coding. “My husband encouraged me to learn Java with him so I started taking some classes with him.”

Leah’s employer was supportive of her learning journey, and, after attaining her new programming skills, she moved into a software development role. “Soon after [starting my new role], I wrote code that was used underwater in a nuclear powered submarine used by the U.S. Navy — that’s pretty cool to think about,” she said.

She continued to deepen her coding skills, and, when she returned to Alabama several years later, she sought out a new challenge: working in the nonprofit sector. “When I’m looking for a job, I ask myself if it’s something that interests and if it scares me a little bit,” said Leah.

When asked how this litmus test related to her coming to Ed Farm, Leah shared that “I had not worked with the Swift programming language or adult education — it was outside of my comfort zone.” She did not let that stop her from quickly developing a new set of skills and putting them to work with adult learners.

Through Pathways, Leah commits many long nights to teaching the Swift programming language and other essential skills, and the hard work has paid off. Numerous Pathways learners have said that Leah’s willingness to work alongside them and provide one-on-one support has been unlike anything they’ve experienced in other classroom environments. When we asked Leah what brings her to class each night, she responded, “The learners show up for us, so I show up for them.”

Leah’s final words for women of all ages who are considering pursuing a STEM career: “Just do it. If you have the smallest bit of curiosity about it, just try it. You don’t have to be perfect at it — just explore. Open yourself up to the possibility.”

If you’d like to connect with Leah, you can reach her at leah@techalabama.org. For more information on Pathways, click here.

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