I swore I would never write a book about computers

My two lives, coding and writing, had always been opposites: I did them at opposite hours of the day, on opposite days of the week, and they even used opposite halves of my brain. And I liked them being opposite! Programming was my “real” life, and writing was my “someday” life. And I spent so much time doing each, why would I ever want to let one bleed into the other?

In college, writing was my break from coding. As a computer science major at Brown University, I was spending upwards of sixty hours a week in the computer lab, and at the end of a long programming session, having a story to escape into (whether I was writing it or reading it) was a necessity. And as time went on, and I started my first software engineering internship, writing became even more vital as an escape.

The first real software engineering job I had was boring. So boring, in fact, that I decided to write a book. I spent hours a day in front of my computer, a coding window hidden just behind a Word document. By the end of that summer, I had written the first draft of my first novel.

That novel was awful—really, truly terrible—but I spent years on it. Writing it, revising it, re-revising it… over and over and over again, until in my senior year of college it became my senior thesis.

That novel is sitting in a dusty folder somewhere on my laptop, and it’s never again going to see the light of day, because that novel served its purpose: writing was, and would always be, my escape hatch from coding.

Luckily, computer science turned out to be far less boring as I continued to pursue it. When I graduated from Brown, I went to work at Facebook, and writing took a backseat. Writing would be there, I reasoned, after I’d earned some money, made some friends, and learned how to be a functioning adult with a Real Job and a 401k.

And writing was there. Writing was there during every breakup, every quarter-life crisis, every Sunday night when I couldn’t bear the thought of spending another entire week without exercising the right half of my brain. I wrote in bits and pieces: poems, short-stories, and even one full-length novel that I still love and will one day return to. I wrote and wrote and wrote to escape the rest of the world, and when I had used up all the words I had in me, coding was waiting with open arms and a steady paycheck on Monday morning to take me back.

When I started to feel unhappy at Facebook, I began the process of looking for another job. As I explored opportunities, people began to ask me if I would consider a career in technical writing. But, to me, writing and coding were still opposites. If I absorbed writing into my coding job, what would I turn to when it wasn’t going well? What would be my escape hatch? I couldn’t risk losing my love of writing, and so my two lives remained separate.

And so, I left my software engineering job at Facebook for a software engineering job at Uber, and around the same time I made a second big decision: to get my MFA in creative writing for children and young adults from Hamline University.

As I worked towards my masters, I wrote dozens of projects: picture books, novels, poems, essays. I was writing constantly. I was analyzing my craft, reading critically, and I was surrounded by people who hoarded writing time like I did, tucking it away in every nook and cranny like a hungry squirrel. And for a while, I loved my writing time. I loved having permission to write forty hours a week. I loved teasing through plot threads in my sleep and writing analytical essays about the nature of gesture in Gary Schmidt’s books. And I loved having stacks of JK Rowling and Phillip Pullman and Laurie Halse Anderson next to my bedside to be read as “homework.”

But the rose-tinted nature of being a Real Writer didn’t last forever.

For the first time in my life, I was serious enough about my writing to get frustrated by it. To need coding to be an escape. To immerse myself in my day job so completely that I forgot about plot holes and jagged character arcs, poorly turned phrases and tired metaphors.

Coding and writing needed to remain opposites. It was more important to me than ever, and no one could break through it. Not even when STEM started to trend in the kidlit world, or when people would approach me with proposals to write a series about teen girl coders. I didn’t even like reading books about code, why would I want to write one?

It wasn’t until my final semester at Hamline that the idea for EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE hit me, and once it did, it wouldn’t leave me alone. I knew it had to be written, and even more than that, I knew I had to be the one to write it. I had to swallow my pride and finally combine my two lives: coding and writing.

Through the process of writing EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE, I realized that coding and writing have more in common than I ever thought they did. When it comes down to it, both use words, symbols, and whitespace to convey meaning. Both are little more than a language used to encapsulate an idea, story or iPhone app. Both involve synthesizing large amounts of data into concise phrases, and both require the creator to hold giant maps of dependencies in their heads.

But most importantly, both are things that are such a part of me that combining them—once I gave myself permission—felt as natural as breathing.

EMMY IN THE KEY OF CODE is the book of my heart. It’s something that only I could have written, and in so many ways it feels like a culmination of everything that has ever mattered to me: music, friendships, family, and finally, the combination of writing and code.

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