Ginny Hendry: A Legacy of Learning

Ginny Hendry, an 8th Light Crafter and Owner, passed away Monday, February 6. Ginny joined 8th Light in 2012 and was a great mentor and friend to many of us at 8th Light and in the Chicago community.

Throughout her career, Ginny made it a point to reach out and mentor young women who were interested in technology.

Among her many contributions to the community, she ran multiple weekends of RailsBridge in Chicago, and served on an old 8th Light University panel on women and programming.

Ginny was a true lifelong learner.

In a 2014 interview with Mike Hall, Ginny recounted her history of growing up with three brothers and no sisters, attending a college that had only begun accepting women the year before, and majoring in a science field that had hardly any other women.

In college, she took the one programming class offered: Fortran. After launching her programming career with that skill, she went on to learn dozens of other languages as she programmed for early travel technology and the Pentagon. She coded her way through the Internet bubble of 2000, and emerged to work on large-scale ERP systems for another 10 years.

In 2010, she reinvented her career by learning Ruby. She became active in the ChicagoRuby community, where she met Ray Hightower. He recalls her love for teaching and her ability to get things done:

As we got to know each other, I learned that she had decades of dev experience on multiple platforms. One day, after a downtown ChicagoRuby meeting, Ginny approached me and said, “Ray, we should have hack nights.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said, “and you should run them.”

Ginny didn’t flinch. That’s how Ginny joined the ChicagoRuby Organizer team. Within 30 days, she launched our first hack night. Attendees loved it. Ginny’s hack nights were consistently the highest rated of all ChicagoRuby events … Our entire community will miss her.

Ginny first joined 8th Light in 2012 because she wanted to continue learning and coding. Her mentor, Eric Smith, remembers her humility:

When we met, her reputation preceded her. She was well known in the community, well liked, and was far more qualified than our apprentices were back then. As I told her fairly early on, under normal circumstances she would have been my boss. Which she knew full well, because she’d been a boss before.

My concern was, would she be willing to go through the apprenticeship program being mentored by me? After all, she might have been insulted, or felt she was too good for that kind of position. My worry was misplaced. In addition to being an excellent programmer and a ton of fun to work with, Ginny had a kind of natural humility. No false modesty or self-deprecation—she knew what she was good at, knew what she could learn, and matter-of-factly took to the apprenticeship without the slightest hesitation. Ultimately, she mentored me more than I her, and it was my privilege to know her.

Paul Pagel recalls what was a common experience whenever you sat down to talk to Ginny about code:

Working with Ginny was a pleasure. One of my greatest memories with her was walking into the team room and her talking to me about her prior work in the travel industry. She would explain how poorly this or that feature was done by another company (because of their bad managers). Then, after the story was five bugs deep, she would proclaim, “I’m just getting started!” and continue on.

Elizabeth Engelman joined 8th Light in early 2014, and recalls the influence Ginny had on her as a new apprentice:

When I first started as an apprentice at 8th Light, I gained so much insight into the software industry from Ginny. I loved sitting at the lunch table hearing her stories, and would marvel at how strong she was. Here I was just starting out and already noticing the challenges a woman faces in this industry—Ginny had not only been really successful, but was also able to recount all of those challenges with wisdom and humor. She was involved in the software community, wrote great code, and would sometimes stick around after work for a beer on Friday evenings. It was clear that she was someone to look up to. I can’t think of a better role model than Ginny. Not only as a woman who had a successful career in technology, but also as a patient and generous person who had a great sense of humor and a refreshing approach to life.

Mike Ebert recalls her great sense of humor, and ability to remain light-hearted even in the depths of the most frustrating codebases:

Ginny could curse at code with the best of them, but her laugh was without equal. May her loud “HA!,” her boisterous chuckles, and even the occasional giggle resound in the minds of everyone who knew her. Especially at those times when we are most frustrated and most doubtful, because that’s when she laughed, when we needed it most.

Diana Calvache remembers Ginny as both a mentor and a friend:

When talking with her, I could always count on receiving the most complete answer that she could possibly give. As a mentor, Ginny encouraged me to set the bar higher for myself as a crafter, but at the same time she valued the need to step away from the computer. She was a person who always had a story to tell, and always made it interesting to listen to.

Erica Garcia remembers Ginny similarly:

When I first joined 8th Light, there were fewer than five women writing software. One of those women was the tenacious Ginny. She was a role model for all of us.

I remember one specific day when Ginny, Diana, and I were craving hamburgers for lunch. It looked like it was going to storm any minute, but we all stubbornly sat outside until the last possible moment. When a flash flood warning chased us into the restaurant, we were relieved that our burgers weren’t ruined. Then, out of nowhere, a water drain burst and shot water four feet into the air directly behind Ginny. We screamed and then laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes. Ginny then reassured us by telling all the ways to take care of a flood and survive a fire. When we weren’t eating together, she made me late for dinner countless times because I couldn’t stop listening to her awesome stories.

In Ginny’s last blog post on the 8th Light blog, she turned the concept of “legacy code” on its head. She asked readers to think of their code as the legacy they leave to the developers who follow:

Imagine if legacy code was like other legacies in our lives—like the antiques, heirlooms, and stories that are cherished and lovingly passed down from one generation to the next. What if legacy code was something we took pride in?

Ginny did take pride in her work, and she helped those around her to do the same. Later in the blog, she asks:

How would our code change if we remembered that at every step in our programming career we are creating a legacy for the developers who follow us?

Ginny’s legacy at 8th Light and in the Chicago programming community is vast. She challenged us to never stop learning, connect with the people around us, and always strive to write better code. Thank you, Ginny, for the legacy you’ve left us. We will miss you.

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