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From a Degree in Psychology to Founding the Larabelles Community: Zuzana Kunckova Discusses Her Journey

Updated on April 5, 2021

6 Min Read
Zuzana-Kunckova

Zuzana Kunckova is a full-stack developer who moved to a career in web development after studying psychology. Her background helps her bring a unique sensibility to her Laravel projects, as she’ll talk about in this interview. In that vein, she even started her own community to promote work from developers that have not had the easiest time in the tech world. So let’s get into Zuzana’s experience and her career as a web developer and community builder.

Shahzeb: Zuzana Kunckova, it’s lovely to have you for this interview. Could you please tell our readers about yourself? What is your background and how did you first get involved with Laravel?

Zuzana: Hi Shahzeb, thank you for having me! I am a full-stack web developer living in the UK. I chose web development as my second career, I have a degree in psychology, and I used to work with children and adults with disabilities before becoming a web developer. I started as a WordPress developer and the agency I worked at used Laravel for some projects. This is how I got involved with it.

Shahzeb: I understand you received a scholarship from Google for Udacity’s Mobile Web Specialist Nanodegree. Could you tell us more about it?

Zuzana: Yes, this was an amazing experience and something that really started my career in web development! I knew about Udacity’s Nanodegrees already, and I knew that paying students would receive feedback from their mentors and tips on how to improve their code. This made the Nanodegrees different from any other online courses I took before, and an attractive alternative. When I saw the ad for the Google scholarship on the internet, decided to apply because the cost of the Nanodegree was more than I could afford.

The application process was quite thorough and two-stage. Lots of people got accepted into the first stage which consisted of just one module but only the top 10% (or it might have been 5%, I can’t remember anymore) went on to the second stage to complete the whole Nanodegree. I moved on to the second stage and managed to complete the Nanodegree successfully. I learned about accessibility, performance, progressive web apps, and how to use the browser’s local storage to enable apps to work even with limited internet connectivity. It was a great course, and it increased my confidence as a web developer.

When I finished the Nanodegree, I decided to take my newfound knowledge and volunteer to give a talk about web accessibility at my local WordPress meetup. It was at this talk where I met a digital agency owner who eventually offered me a job!

Shahzeb: Zuzana you are a full stack web developer with a university degree in Psychology. Do you think your background in Psychology helps you be a better developer?

Zuzana: I hope so!

At first, I was keen to work in web accessibility, organize training and audits, because I felt like my Psychology education was being wasted by moving away from my previous career and becoming a web developer. Accessibility is not just about following rules and ticking things off the must-do list; it is about real people. Because I worked with people with disabilities in my previous career, I saw the things they struggled with, and I could take this knowledge and apply it in my work as a web developer.

However, I quickly realized that I didn’t want to limit myself and that I enjoyed the whole process of building web applications, not just the accessibility aspect.

As I went on to build websites and web apps, it became clear to me that understanding human behavior, knowing what makes us tick, and, more importantly, what makes information harder for us to process, made the development more real and relatable.

I understood that being a web developer is not just about writing code that works, and launching projects that look good. It’s about writing code that is easy to understand for other developers, and about launching projects that are easy to use for people with various abilities and in various situations.

Shahzeb: Could you tell us a bit about Larabelles? Who can join this community and how it helps the developers and PHP users?

Zuzana: Larabelles is a community for women, trans, and non-binary Laravel developers. The aim is to help women, to promote them, amplify their voices. The general Laravel community is lovely and welcoming, and Larabelles is trying to make it even better by making women feel supported and helping them to succeed as Laravel developers.

Shahzeb: What challenges did you face in building this community?

There have been some people questioning the need for our community and wondering whether having a community just for women isn’t damaging the general Laravel community. Some people didn’t understand or were aware of the issues women face when working in tech. As long as women feel uncomfortable, feel that they are not heard or that they don’t have the same opportunities as their male counterparts, there is work to be done.

The issue is not specific to the Laravel community, gender imbalance is prevalent in the tech sector in general. Tech is a male-dominated industry, and it can be hard for women to even consider becoming web developers. I hope that by providing a support system and a safe place for women to get together, chat or ask questions, I can encourage more women to consider a career as a Laravel developer.

Shahzeb: Would you like to tell our readers about some of the Laravel projects you’ve worked on?

Zuzana: I worked on a travel agency app, a password manager app, and more recently on an app for e-commerce stores on Shopify. In my own time, I’ve built prototypes of other apps as I was learning Laravel, anything from a simple ToDo app to my attempt at CMS – which was not very successful I have to admit. But every project taught me a great deal about Laravel and web development in general.

Shahzeb: What do you enjoy doing when you’re away from your laptop?

Zuzana: I am an equestrian, which means I spend a lot of time around horses. I don’t have my own horse, but I look after four horses together with other people. I spend at least two mornings a week at the stables, doing various yard jobs and going out on rides. I took a long break from riding and only returned to it a couple of years ago when I realized how important it was to have a hobby, to get out of the house and away from the computer.

Shahzeb: With kids, Larabelles, and your professional commitments, how do you maintain the work-life balance?

Zuzana: I don’t have a very good work-life balance, to be honest! I work all the time, especially now that the schools are closed and children are learning from home, I have to work around them and their needs. This often means working during the evenings, weekends, all sorts of hours. It’s not been easy and it’s definitely not healthy, but we are living during a global pandemic so I do what I can to make things work. I hope once the situation improves, I’ll go back to having weekends to myself. This is why I’m so grateful for having the horses because they force me to take some time off, even when I think I don’t have any. After all, those stables won’t muck out themselves!

Shahzeb: Which type of web hosting would you prefer for your clients or community members? In your opinion, is conventional shared hosting viable for the projects that you do?

Zuzana: It depends on the kind of project I am working on. There is such a great variety of clients with different budgets and requirements, and not everyone needs a dedicated server. I will probably choose a conventional shared hosting next time I’m launching a community project, especially if the hosting solution is flexible, with great support, and is easy to scale up or down.

Shahzeb: What are your thoughts on hosting solutions such as Cloudways? Do you think these solutions add value to PHP projects?

Zuzana: I think it is important to offer as many options to users as possible. I haven’t used Cloudways before, so it is hard for me to comment on this specific service, but shared hosting solutions definitely add value to PHP projects. PHP projects can be anything from a simple website to a WordPress eCommerce site, or a complex Laravel app. Each project has specific requirements, and flexible hosting solutions such as Cloudways that offer various plans are needed.

Shahzeb: Whom should we interview next & why?

Zuzana: Shruti Balasa! Shruti is a full-stack web developer, a mentor, and a course creator. She has her own YouTube channel called Thirus and she does an amazing job at creating all sorts of web development tutorials. She is a true inspiration!

Shahzeb: To inspire our readers, I would appreciate it if you could please share some snapshots of your office space or your current workstation.

Zuzana: I’m afraid I can’t share a photo of my office space because I’m currently working from my dining table as my office is being re-decorated! Here is a photo of my work companion instead.

Zuzana-Kunckova-cat

Thank you once again, Zuzana!

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Shahzeb Ahmed

Shahzeb is a Digital Marketer with a Software Engineering background, works as a Community Manager — PHP Community at Cloudways. He is growth ambitious and aims to learn & share information about PHP & Laravel Development through practice and experimentation. He loves to travel and explore new ideas whenever he finds time. Get in touch with him at [email protected]

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