Nicolas Dular shares why he wasn’t happy as an engineering manager, even though he always dreamt of becoming one.
In this episode, I talk to Jess Rose, who specializes in community building, outreach, and developing better processes for talent in technology.
We talk about:
- her process of mentoring other developers – from junior to senior – via online 1 on 1
- how managers can and cannot advocate for their team
- how mobile devices are omnipresent as development devices, yet they come with a lot of challenges,
- and code reviews and the importance of a shared language.
[00:00:00] Dr. McKayla Hello, and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla and today I have the pleasure to talk to Jess Rose. Jess is a technology professional and keynote speaker specializing in community building outreach and developing better processes for talented technology. She is passionate about fostering more equal access to technical education, and digital spaces. But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring today’s episode Mergify. You know, I’m all about code reviews and pull requests. Having your teammates review your code can be super beneficial, but it also can create a bottleneck and slow down your software development. With Mergify, your team can be way more productive with GitHub. Mergify automates all about merging pull requests, you can specify the merge conditions, and Mergify will take care of the rest. Do you want a specific order for merging the pull requests? Should one PR be prioritized? Or do you need a copy of the PR and another branch for bug fixing? No problem. Mergify can take care of all those situations. By saving time, you and your team can focus on projects that matter. Mergify integrates completely with GitHub and your CI pipeline. They have a startup program that could give your company a 12-month credit up to $21,000 of value. Start saving time, visit Mergify.com to sign up for a demo and get started or just click the link in the show notes. I’m super, super thrilled to have Jess here with me. Jess, welcome to the show.
[00:01:38] Jess Rose Oh, gosh. And I’m absolutely delighted to be here when you said hey, do you want to come and talk about teaching and learning? Oh, I’m just going to be insufferable. Thank you so much.
[00:01:48] Dr. McKayla I’m really excited because I’m following you on Twitter. And I see that you’re creating spaces for people to learn to get better to grow. Right. So there are a couple of things that I want to touch base on today with you. One is the 1-1s that you’re offering. So maybe, maybe let’s get started with that. Because I see you from time to time you say, you know, I have some time available, why not hop over on a call, and I can help you with some career advice? How’s it going? What do you do with people? What kind of people are picking up on that?
[00:02:27] Jess Rose So I’ve been doing this for about, I looked the other day because I do, I do keep records and privacy-preserving records just like, oh, what kinds of things am I talking to people about? And I’ve been doing this for about eight years now. So just broke 1700 folks I’ve talked to over the years.
[00:02:40] Dr. McKayla Wow.
[00:02:40] Jess Rose And you would think oh, it’s going to be mostly juniors or mostly people trying to break into tech. But just the absolute vastness of experience is so dazzling and exciting and strange to me. I don’t see myself as especially well suited to give great advice. But on these calls, people are almost never asking for actual advice. So a lot, most of it’s just, I’d like to be heard and I’d like someone to confirm that my experience is unusual or isn’t unusual. Or getting sort of a level check for a different area saying, Hey, I’m based in this region, and I’m looking for work in your region. What’s that like? What’s the experience like? What’s the process like? I actually documented the whole process out because I want, I definitely want other people to be doing this if you feel like it. No pressure. And it’s on my GitHub. So GitHub.com/JessicaRose. And it should be right on there as 1-1s.
[00:03:37] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I saw that. I saw that on your Twitter feed. So it tells us how to do those 1-1s and how to, what questions to ask, and so on?
[00:03:46] Jess Rose Yeah. And mostly just about the tooling. So how to get it scheduled, how to get that sorted? And then because I’m a weirdo, how to get the records of who chatted to you deleted if you want to, like, yeah, I wouldn’t keep notes on somebody who doesn’t want me to keep notes.
[00:04:00] Dr. McKayla Yeah. And I think it’s good for privacy as well, right?. If people I don’t know which topics, they are coming to you, but I mean, some of them might be private, and you know, especially if you’re having maybe, like, I think if you need advice, you’re very often not such a good place, right? Probably more than being in a great place where you think, well, everything figured out, you know, things are going smooth than you’re seldomly reaching out to other people. It would be like I’m bragging now to you. You’re more probably reaching out if you have some problems with your team maybe or getting a job or something like this. Is that what people talk to you about in the sessions?
[00:04:41] Jess Rose So anything from, Hey, am I getting paid right? To, Oh, I’m getting screamed at a lot at work. Is this normal? So a lot of them are sort of, oh, gosh, but a lot of times folks just want to explore what’s going on next. I’ve managed people a lot in my career. And one of the things that I always, I always have a difficult time with, and I hope other managers do, too, is how do you deal with the conflict? And there’s always going to be conflict between what’s best to the individual person you’re managing, and what’s best for the company because those are those, And one of the big things I push when I do manage people is, hey, do you have someone external to the company to give you good advice when I can’t? Or I shouldn’t give you the advice that’s best for you?
[00:05:31] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, it’s a conflict, right? Because obviously, you don’t want to lose that person. But you see that they’re outgrowing, you know, maybe the position?
[00:05:42] Jess Rose Oh, I really just want to chase this up a minute. I’m always like, you don’t want to lose somebody, like, you don’t want somebody to move on for your team because they were unhappy or mistreated. This is definitely from me being a teacher for too long. I’m always pretty excited when somebody graduates up out of a team I run. Like, of course, you want to make sure that people have space to grow, of course, you want to be actively making sure there’s career progression and more things to learn. But and especially in a job market, like right now, sometimes people like oh, cool, I could make a bigger salary jump bracket, they could make your title jump by leaving. And I’m always pretty chill with that.
[00:06:24] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah. Me too. And my husband is also managing a bunch of people. And but I see tension there, right? So I think he’s always really behind the people. But then upper management would be, yeah, but you know.
[00:06:38] Jess Rose The business case for retention.
[00:06:40] Dr. McKayla Exactly. Right. And the same for, for example, giving your raise, right. And I think, especially maybe the managers, you know, that are really like first line, they are more for the people because they have like some personal relationship, and then one level up, it’s already like, yeah, but you know, we don’t have the budget or we don’t want or we believe we can still keep that person, you know, for this for this cheaper?
[00:06:38] Jess Rose Oh, well, you know, let’s give it another quarter or two and wait and see.
[00:07:08] Dr. McKayla Yeah, exactly, right?
[00:07:10] Jess Rose Baffling.
[00:07:11] Dr. McKayla how do you do that as a manager? How do you speak up for your, for your people, or for your team? And h ow do you deal with that conflict as well?
[00:07:22] Jess Rose So I think that’s a really challenging one because I think that the conflict there is still the same. What do you do as an individual manager when the y eah, when your contractual, your fiduciary duties to your company, run counter to your individual ethical responsibilities to the people you manage? And or what happens when there’s a conflict between the needs of an individual and the needs of a team? And it’s not a good answer. And it’s not a reassuring answer. But it depends. If somebody is facing treatment that feels unfair, or targeted, or they’re in a position that I, generally, if somebody is in a position, I’m not okay, with being much more lovingly strident around, hey, this is a topic I would really bring to your external mentor A well, and then setting really clear limits internally about what, even as a manager, you are and aren’t willing to do. So somebody saying, Oh, you get the idea that, Oh, maybe we want to manage so and so out, go ahead and write them up for stuff that the rest of the team routinely does. You still have consent as a manager. So you could say, like, yeah, no, I won’t work in a space that involves maybe this kind of behavior.
[00:08:45] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, I think this is really important that we are standing up for our own ethics and for our own beliefs and value and, you know, also behind our, you know, our people that we, you know, I think we have a responsibility as well for and yeah, so I yeah, I can totally see that.
[00:09:05] Jess Rose It’s easy to say in this kind of job market in the West as well. I think, a re you based perhaps in Europe as well?
[00:09:12] Dr. McKayla Yes. Yeah.
[00:09:13] Jess Rose Because, like, these days for many European job markets in tech, finding a new job feels to many people who are established for juniors or people getting your first job, It is hard. But for folks who’ve been in for a little while, and folks in different in high demand areas, getting a new job as a junior as a middleweight, or a senior, is not as difficult as it could be these days. Whereas if you’re having to engage in management behavior that you’re just not comfortable with, yeah, sometimes changing jobs is easier than making peace with uneasy ethical decisions. Yeah, sometimes that’s not true for everybody. And it’s a very, very privileged take for those of us who have a little bit of wiggle room.
[00:09:58] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think so. And it really depends on where are you located? And what is your personal situation, right? Do you have dependents? Do you have like family or people that you have to take care of? And so on, which I think makes it much harder to say, you know, I’m going to not do that. But I think there, you know, there are boundaries, it’s, it’s one thing is playing along, and just, you know, or letting the other person also, you know, know, in the space that you have, right? You’re also like, as a manager, you also, you can’t just go and, you know, give advice directly conflicting with the interests of your upper management because that, you know, is a problem, but you can, you know, talk a little bit about, as you said, maybe asking you an external person, or also I think very well, you can say I’m disagreeing with this decision, right? And I advocated for you, unfortunately, you know, these were my boundaries here, for example, and let them know, I think that’s, that’s perfectly fine. Yeah. And I think that the problem is that if more of those things come together, people start thinking about leaving, right?
[00:11:06] Jess Rose And that’s not always a bad thing. As a manager, if you’re not able to offer someone, a place that is safe, and productive, and non-traumatic to work, yeah, it’s okay, that your people move on, and actually kind of preferable?
[00:11:22] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, I think so, too. So another topic that I wanted to talk with you about, and it’s a little bit related to management, but it’s more related to teaching. So I don’t think you have to be a manager to teach, right? You can be, you can be, you know, Junior Dev, Mid Dev, senior Dev, right, so we can all learn from each other. But I really see you as a teaching, you know, expert here. Yeah. Because you’re, you’re bringing topics around programming, but also, you know, advice for hiring or you know, how to get hired. And to so many people, right, you’re, you’re also making these really mass, mass online learning events, right, occur online boot camps. So how is that going? Why did you start that and is that only for really junior people?
[00:12:12] Jess Rose So the first thing I want to do is like, I would absolutely love if there was an excuse for me, Oh, yes, I’ll just take all the credit. But the free online boot camps that I’ve started are absolutely not just me. So they started as 12-week boot camps, and they’ve been collapsed into a reasonably intense but still part-time, six-week boot camp. And this is built off of the freeCodeCamp curriculum. So they’re a registered nonprofit. They’re amazing. We could not do this without them and without their permission. But also the good people, I’m pointing behind me like they’re back there. The good people Class Central built a whole platform that lets us teach on so like, just really, and Ramon is my, my co-teacher. And he’s he’s just, it’s almost disgusting how lovely he is. Like, the learners love him and deservedly so.
[00:13:03] Dr. McKayla Cool. Yeah. So what do you teach there? Is it like really the 101 of programming? Or is it more advanced concepts? Who is your target audience here?
[00:14:49] Dr. McKayla Yeah, that’s, that’s really exciting. So I actually was thinking a little bit about learning on devices that are not high-end, right. And when I, when I started university, I couldn’t afford a really high-end computer not even a normal computer, right? So I was on this, I got, I got one of those really cheap computers from somebody that you know, gave it to me for free. And it was a nightmare. It was a nightmare to work on that. And nowadays, it’s obviously not the case anymore. And I’m really happy about that. But I was wondering what about, you know, people that don’t want to work on the phone or work to, you know, on a tablet, and I’m pregnant right now.
[00:15:32] Jess Rose Oh, congratulations. How exciting, how scary.
[00:15:36] Dr. McKayla Yeah. But it’s also a really cool experience because I’m thinking, like, this is my third child. So I know a little bit.
[00:15:45] Jess Rose Oh, you’re just fine. You’re like, duh, this happens.
[00:15:46] Dr. McKayla I know what’s going to happen, that I can sit here and you know, work on my comfortable devices. And so I tried a little bit to work on my phone and work on the tablet and so on, I still think it’s really difficult. What tools do your learners have?
[00:16:03] Jess Rose Did somebody, somebody did one of my friends talk to you about this? I’m deeply suspicious. So I’m going to try really carefully not to say too much. I’m working on a little side project around this problem. Because this is a problem I’ve been thinking about a lot. So right now, and if our dear listeners aren’t your viewers are, oh, gosh, what’s the noun? Our beloved audience, your beloved audience has a tool or has something in the space that I haven’t seen yet, please come and yell at me. But right now, I’m not seeing really good tooling. I’m not seeing a good way to write to the web from mobile devices.
[00:16:46] Dr. McKayla Yeah, it’s not there.
[00:16:47] Jess Rose And this is an ethical problem for me. Because right now we hear people talking about the next billion users, I love this. But in a lot of cases, we’re seeing people who are accessing the web for the first time, and I love it, and I live for it. But they’re accessing the web on a lot of constraints. So they’re usually on phones, they’re usually mobile-only is what we’ll call those kinds of learners. They may be accessing it in their third or fourth language, because you’re going to see global web primarily in English and French and Spanish. And they’re often constrained to really, really challenging limits on their, like their actual access to broadband or to mobile signal. And that’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot on the device level for this problem. If I went, I’m going to date myself terribly. But I got access to the internet, when I was maybe 13, or 14. And the device I use to access the web to read the web, I could also write to the web. And we’re effectively giving people this right only access to the web through smartphones. And that just, that doesn’t seem like enough to me. So there’s nothing great yet. And I don’t think I’ve necessarily cracked it myself. But in the next couple of months, I would like to, I’ve got a little thing I’d like to launch to see whether or not that might be a good tool.
[00:18:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah. Cool. I would be super interested in that. And I also think like, nowadays, I’m actually, I should actually be the whole day on bed rest. But two weeks ago…
[00:18:20] Jess Rose What are you doing? You should be doing this lounging.
[00:18:23] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I should. Right, yeah. But so now I’m allowed to be up a couple of hours per day, which is, which is great, but because I’m on this bed rest, right, and I only can lie down, I’m not allowed to sit actually, I experienced all these accessibility problems that, you know, couple of, you know, disabled folks also are experiencing and I’m like, right now, I really understand how difficult it is if you can’t, you know, type, write, if you have like these mobile devices. And I think there is really there isn’t a lot of you know, there’s so much space in there. And we should really be much more welcoming to people that can’t, you know, sit on this nice computer have their three monitors, right, the keyboard and the mouse. And it’s really I mean, it’s really frustrating for me to write a blog post to make an update on Git, right, to make a PR.
[00:19:12] Jess Rose I’m not ignoring you. I’m just grabbing a book to see, so rude, isn’t it? Turning away? Oh, heck, I must have hidden it somewhere. But there’s a really fantastic book from the late 90s that Tim Berners Lee wrote about the process of inventing the web. But I’ve got sort of a tab in the book because he said, Oh, okay, we had to sit down we had to define the bare minimum. What is the minimum viable setup you need to access the web? He said, Oh, you need to, you need some kind of CPU, we need some kind of monitor some kind of display. And one of the things that they specified as necessary for the web was, you’re going to need a keyboard. I think that’s the point that sticks me again and again, where I think, but we’ve gotten past the need for keyboard in so many other spaces. Yeah, it seems a bit lazy to have not gotten past it in sort of the ability to do simple web development.
[00:20:12] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah, it would be so great. Like, I would benefit so much from it.
[00:20:17] Jess Rose Oh, just the guilt I’ve got right now. I’m just like, yes, yes, I’ll get back to work. But we do currently have learned, well, in the last cohort, we had a number of learners who were accessing the course, all via smartphones. So they would post and we’d love to see them post, screenshots of their code to see, hey, where’s this gone wrong, but it’s going to be folks screenshotting their phone screen, and just the implication of how challenging it would be to write, I’ve tried it to write a bunch of CSS on your phone, oh, the absolute, like the strength these people have in their hearts not to throw it across the room.
[00:21:01] Dr. McKayla Yeah, definitely. Definitely. So another question that came to my mind is now you have this experience of, you know, teaching really beginners, and also in a different space, it’s a space of you are, you know, like this, this teacher now, and they’re doing an online course. But I’m also very interested in how can we actually bring back or coming back to the managing position, right, how can we teach and mentor within a team, right? How can we do that for juniors? How can we do that for mid engineers? Who mentors and teachers, senior engineers? How is that all, you know, the dynamic in a team? And I was wondering if you have like some experience around that and some thoughts around that topic as well.
[00:21:47] Jess Rose So I was really lucky. I was on a team several years ago now out at FutureLearn. With oh, gosh, Nikki, What’s your surname? I’m so sorry. I swear I know it. I’ve just forgotten it, because I’m a bad person. And Belinda Sockington, who are both unreasonably brilliant and fantastic managers. And a lot of that work on that team was around, because I have FutureLearn was that it was a MOOC platform. How do we, how do we encourage learning? How do we incentivize it? How do we balance it? And really, what kind of landed for me is it’s an ongoing conversation between the folks running these teams, the individual people, I think it may be one of those issues where there’s just no one size fits all. It’s a combination of saying, Hey, we have these options. Here are some off-the-shelf learning experiences, with starting a conversation and keeping up a conversation of what do you want to learn, what works for you? What’s best for you? One thing that I’ve encountered a couple of times in my career, which I’ve had a really, really hard time with and my opinion on it has really radically changed, is every now and again, I’d meet somebody who’s sort of mid-level or senior, so they’ve they’ve gotten themselves into a secure role. They’re feeling okay with it. And they wouldn’t be that excited about learning where they said, Yeah, I just want to do my job. But I want to go home. And I think the first couple of times, because nobody tells you, but you’re not going to start managing people and get it right right away. I’m going to stay awake late tonight absolutely obsessing over the ways I’m still not doing it right. But back then I was thinking, Oh, how can I, how can I make this person care about their learning? And these days, I think with the, with the world having gotten much more stressful, and me having enough experience to see that I think now that I was wrong. These days, when I meet somebody who’s like, well, I’d like to do my job. I’d like to do a good job at my job. And I’d like to go home, I don’t really need to move up. I don’t really want to stretch and learn more. I’ve gotten, yeah, like, that seems increasingly chill. I think it might be cultural as well, I think. I’m from the States originally. And I think there’s quite a bit more fear around employment in the States. Almost everybody can be fired at any time and that makes everything very exciting. And generally your health care is associated with your employment. So I think I see when I was younger and based in the States, there was a lot more. Of course, you have to keep learning, of course, you have to keep running, you have to progress. Otherwise, something bad could happen. And yeah, I think I’ve just gotten increasingly excited to see people set boundaries around where they put their learning and where they put their interests. Yeah. Yeah, that’s a very strange take for a teacher.
[00:24:47] Dr. McKayla Yeah. So actually, I was talking to Cat Hicks, just a couple of weeks ago. Yeah. And so we were talking about learning debt. And this whole topic brought us to something where I think, you know, learning is often something very externalized, right, where you say, Oh, I’m learning, let’s say I’m learning React, or now I’m learning Remix, right? So maybe the newest framework or, you know, a new a new approach for DevOps or whatnot, right? So it’s something that’s out of what you’re doing right now. And it’s a new technology, very technology-oriented as well, whereby I think at the company, there are so many, a little bit more how to call it but informal, or, you know, a little bit more tactic, learning experience that you actually have every day, right, which is, how do I communicate with this new person on the team, right? How do I, how do I understand parts of this codebase? Can we change the architecture for that without breaking something? And all of these are also learning experiences, which we are often not declaring as that right, so we are not saying, oh, you know, McKayla, today learned about new ways to do this architecture for us or to refactor that code, or, you know, she did, she learned about how this API works over there that she hasn’t worked about, right? This is very often not, I don’t think it’s so visible in the learning experience than if I would say, Oh, me, hey, let’s sit down and learned React. Yeah, you know.
[00:26:25] Jess Rose And I think that’s really valuable. Because even when you say something, somebody say, I think, oh, you know, I’m just going to chill and do a good job. And it’s so easy to generalize about brains and learning to, say, Oh, we know what we know about learning. In so much as we’ve learned anything about learning like self-assessment’s messy, the study of, I’m not nearly clever enough to have a good handle on neuroscience and learning. But there’s actually a fantastic researcher and author, Dr. Barbara Oakley, who does a lot of work on learning how to learn. And she’s been doing some work with Zack Caceres who’s a programmer, and I’m not going to tell, talk out of turn. But I believe they may be launching a project around how we learn programming skills relatively soon.
[00:27:11] Dr. McKayla Yeah, nice. Yeah.
[00:27:11] Jess Rose But we’re primates in changing environments. Even if we don’t think about it as learning, we are getting new situations and new stimuli, just like you said, I’ve got a new teammate, I’m going to learn to work with them. Oh, I’ve got this API. Oh, I finally understood what’s going on under the hood. Regardless of whether or not we’ve set ourselves a mountain path to hike a declared learning journey, there’s still learning happening. Yeah.
[00:27:37] Dr. McKayla Yeah. And I think that those chill folks, how you call them, right? Maybe they have also more capacity to actually see things that are, you know, people that are very on their journey of, oh, I want to learn React and the latest, you know, whatever, technology comes out right now, maybe don’t have the capacity to see, for example, oh, you know, now that the market changed a little bit, budget shifted, we have to work a little bit different with this team, or, you know, how can we make sure that our deadlines are, you know, approachable, and so on? So, yeah, I think learning really happens in so many forms. And, yeah.
[00:28:14] Jess Rose And I, yeah, I’ve always been really excited about that as well. I think resilience is undervalued in teams often. Sorry, this isn’t very confident or it is not very definitive, but I’m going to waffle about my biases as part of this. I really like thinking about resilience in individuals and in teams as a resource available. And I like thinking of people as resources, but like, someone being rested, somebody having the capacity, somebody being ready for a little tiny crisis, or a little weird thing. That feels like a resource right there. But I think often we really lean on productivity so hard. How can we get. what kind of developer experience tooling can we use to get 20% more? How can we make sure people are focused? How can we cycle our meeting? And we’re so focused on developer productivity and the productivity of technologists, I think we often sacrifice that flexibility and that resilience of having somebody who’s not under these productivity pressures to such a high degree. Like, we learn better when we’re chill.
[00:29:25] Dr. McKayla Yeah, yeah. And I think it brings us back also to, there was this blue code, right? People that are taking on responsibilities, right, blue work, sorry, blue work, that was what it was called, right? But people that are taking on some invisible work that are, you know, good for the team. And, and so yeah, I think this also for teaching, mentoring, learning, I think this can be one thing, and obviously, we shouldn’t get outdated too much. And, but I also think that it’s not changing every minute, you know, like, sometimes we believe, or we were made to believe, or this story lines around time, Oh, my God, you know, if you’re not doing every day something and..
[00:30:11] Jess Rose What do you mean you’re not using blank? I’m like, look, I’m very old, and I’m very tired. Like, I’m good.
[00:30:18] Dr. McKayla I think it’s totally fine, right. And there are a lot of technologies, that I mean, if you’re working on PHP, you know, a lot of the web runs on PHP, and it’s still, you know, a good technology, and it’s okay.
[00:30:33] Jess Rose Like, if you want to stretch a little bit, getting into some Laravel is really, really exciting. But if you write PHP, you can hang out and get better at the core stuff of what you do. And do a good job. Like, you don’t have to run as hard as you can, as fast as you can forever.
[00:30:51] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think they’re, they’re, you know, good choices to make. And I’m definitely for growth and for learning. But sometimes people are just burning, you know, mental calories. I learned so much. I mean, I’m actually a learner, right? I love to learn. But most of the stuff that I learn, I never used. It’s not very productive, right?
[00:32:59] Dr. McKayla She’s from Leiden University.
[00:33:01] Jess Rose Yes. You’ve talked to her already. I bet.
[00:33:02] Dr. McKayla I did my PhD with her in the same room. Roommates. Yeah.
[00:33:06] Jess Rose Did you? Did you?
[00:33:06] Dr. McKayla Yeah, we were roommates. Yeah.
[00:33:07] Jess Rose Oh, is she just as delightful to study with?
[00:33:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah, she is wonderful.
[00:33:13] Jess Rose But yeah, so really getting through the basics of well, I set out to do X, I’m doing X. Now it’s time for me to go look through my link dump file, and see, wow, it looks like I’ve got like 40 different articles about Angular. Maybe that was important that that’s enough for what I want to learn next. Yeah.
[00:34:47] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think so too. Yeah. When I was starting to learn programming, I struggled a lot with abstractions because I just wanted to know, or not only with abstractions, but also like, there wasn’t a lot of abstractions. It was actually very, very raw, right? It was like, Oh, you have an Eclipse IDE open and you’re writing Java code. Bbut then you have like, oh, let’s say, you know, public wide string, main, whatever, right? And it’s just like, you just do it, right. And I’m like, why? What does it mean, don’t worry about it.
[00:36:22] Jess Rose And then we’ll cover this later. And so by the time, we will have covered it, yeah… Having been a linguist, I fear that I mentally map language learning to programming language learning, even when it might not be entirely suitable. But I see this happening in human language education as well, where we say, okay, cool. Here’s how, we keep we start people in the present perfect tens for a lot of languages, I see the cat, I drink the water, I walked to the store. And we don’t send them into a present perfect world. And I think that’s true with programming as well to say, Okay, well, we’re going to give you this sandbox, or we’re going to give you this framework, which abstracts away a lot of the complexities of the grammar or the the nuance of, and I think it’s really valuable to talk about the culture of the language we use around programming and really the culture of, of the structures we build, because it’s not transparent to people. I met with a learner in person, what a delight, in person last week. And without thinking about it, I said, yada yada yada bikeshedding. And thank goodness, this learner was confident enough to be like, cool, what the heck are you talking about? I was like, oh, gosh, that’s just something we say. We say it as though everyone’s going to understand it. And it means to get sidelined to get distracted with little unnecessary details. Just like okay, cool. You should just say that, it’s less complicated.
[00:37:55] Dr. McKayla Yeah. I think it’s not always that easy to be always aware of how you do it. But I recall the time that I started at Microsoft, and, you know, when you start there, it’s full of acronyms. And they mean, they mean something completely else inside Microsoft and what it would mean outside, and it really takes quite some time. And then a lot of people get very blind to it, and you know, just start using it as well. And you know, you start talking this gibberish. Nobody else can understand. Yeah.
[00:38:32] Jess Rose But like, from a linguistic perspective, that’s because that’s identifies you as a member of the in-group, doesn’t it? How fascinating. Yeah, incredibly interesting. Oh, no, no, I absolutely refuse to spend the next three days hyperfocused learning about weird Microsoft acronyms. It’s so tempting.
[00:38:49] Dr. McKayla Yeah, there are a lot. But I think it’s the same with code reviews, right? And with sometimes how people say, oh, you know, we have this style of giving feedback to each other. And in my code review workshops, I always talk You know, I always try to have people come to an agreement that we need to use language and also, you know, phrase that in a respectful way, that’s not only for the internal, you know, internal team to understand. Because there are newcomers, you know, in the team, maybe somebody will look at that, what you wrote two years from now, right, and still should be able to understand it. And so I think it’s really good if we be clear about those bridges that we built that, you know, are this internal behavior and language that we are using that it’s only, you know, it’s an insider joke, and so on.
[00:39:47] Jess Rose Yeah. Yeah. And I think we’re often really chill about that in tech. Yeah, oh, here’s a glossary of technical terms you need to know to do the thing. We’re, we’re cool about that. There seems to be a bit more resistance around when shared language or shared norms, or shared language structures around things like code reviews are proposed because we don’t need that we know how to talk to each other. I hope I’m not putting you on the spot. Are you one of those lucky people who speak like nine languages?
[00:40:15] Dr. McKayla No, not nine.
[00:40:15] Jess Rose Oh, only five?
[00:40:17] Dr. McKayla Maybe, yeah. German is my mother tongue, right? English, Dutch, Italian, and a little bit of Spanish.
[00:40:28] Jess Rose A little bit of Spanish. Look at that. The fantastic thing about chatting to many folks from Europe is, is y’all always have this very, very beautiful, very casual, like humble brag at the end, you like, you know, just a little tiny bit of Croatian. I’m terribly jealous. Yeah, like recognizing that folks aren’t going to be coming to, coming to these code reviews. And I really liked that you highlight that they’re going to be coming to the uncoupled in time. I love this idea that when you leave a code review, when you leave feedback, when you leave a pull request, when you leave code, you’re leaving a little artifact of understanding behind. So to say, Cool, we’ve standardized how we talk about these, we’ve created a shared language for them. Because when we go into the far scary future, we want these to still make sense.
[00:41:23] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I think this is really important.
[00:41:26] Jess Rose But also making them like giving a shared language around, hey, maybe English, or if we’re doing the, if we’re doing the code review, in Dutch, I’m in a bit of trouble. But maybe the language this code review is in is your second or third or fifth? Let’s go ahead and have some shared language have some shared structures around feedback to lower the cognitive load? Yeah, well, can we talk about cognitive load? I imagine you’ve done it tons of times on the podcast. I imagine many programmers are familiar with it.
[00:42:00] Dr. McKayla Yeah, we also have to be a little bit careful of the time now. But maybe the last thing that I want to add here is I’m writing a book on code reviews, right?
[00:42:10] Jess Rose Are you?
[00:42:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I’m right now in the middle of the feedback section, right? So how to give feedback, how to give respectful feedback, and how to communicate with each other and also cultural right? So how do we deal with, it gets really hairy there, right? So yeah, what are different cultures are expecting, what’s respectful there, you know, how much you know, how harsh should a feedback be? Or can it be or, you know, what is seen as polite and so on? And this is not only, it’s not only, it’s not one standard thing, right? It depends on who’s on the team, what’s the background? What’s the culture? But I think the expectation, setting the right expectations, and, you know, explicitly stating that, and talking about that, reflecting on that, and, you know, learning how others see those things and learning how, you know, like, if I would talk to you I’m originally from Austria lived in a couple of countries, right? You’re from the States you’re, you’re in the UK now, right?
[00:43:12] Jess Rose I am, yeah, everything’s just fine here. Very chill. Not weird.
[00:43:10] Dr. McKayla Yeah. And then maybe we have another person from Croatia and then somebody from India, right. And so I think it would be really important for us to talk about how we understand different terminologies, how we understand different you know, expressions in my career workshops, sometimes I have discussions about looks good to me. And I love those discussions because, you know, it’s just a simple term looks good to me. Most of the time, people just, you know, have the acronym for it, right?
[00:43:47] Jess Rose Like it’s the thumbs up emoji in my head.
[00:43:50] Dr. McKayla Exactly or you know, LGTM, right? And then some people are like, oh, yeah, this means you know, that I looked through it and you did a good job. And then the other person has no, you know, looks good to me means that you haven’t looked at my code.
[00:44:07] Jess Rose You just glanced at it.
[00:44:07] Dr. McKayla Yeah, you just want it out of your way. Yeah. And the other person says, Oh, this means, I don’t care.
[00:44:07] Jess Rose Sometimes, sometimes.
[00:44:16] Dr. McKayla And having those discussions in the team, you know, and understanding where everybody is coming from, and that they actually use, you know, one simple terminology. And everybody on the same team understood something else about it, I think it’s so valuable, right? And only by these discussions, you know, we can really understand what’s behind those terms and the way that we are communicating. But I’m also getting a little bit carried away.
[00:44:45] Jess Rose No, no. So I’m going to ask you about your book. And yeah, I’ve just had a friend tell me that there are some questions you’re not supposed to ask about someone’s book. So I won’t ask any of those. Instead, I’ve been told you’re supposed to say, I hope it’s going well. I’d like and I think it might be useful for hopefully some of the audience as well. I had an idea for a book that sounded really fun in my head. And I’ve sort of broken it down into chapters into essays and trying to write a couple of chapters. And my goal in writing a couple of essays is I’m trying to talk myself out of writing a book.
[00:45:22] Dr. McKayla Yeah, I’ve heard that. Yeah.
[00:45:23] Jess Rose Do you have any advice for not, like, it’s the worst. It’s the worst idea ever. No one wants to write a book like, please, please, please.
[00:45:32] Dr. McKayla No, I don’t have.
[00:45:32] Jess Rose No, I want to know what you’re doing.
[00:45:34] Dr. McKayla But I saw on Twitter that you said that and I thought, like, yeah, you won’t be able to not write a book with this approach, right?
[00:45:42] Jess Rose I love that it sounds like a th reat, where you’re like, you’re going to write that book.
[00:45:45] Dr. McKayla Yeah, it looks like. I think if you’re breaking it up in essays, that become more manageable. I think you will write this book. Yeah.
[00:45:55] Jess Rose But for our beloved audience, for your beloved audience, they shouldn’t write a book, they should, they should definitely do things that are not writing a book. Like, it’s a terrible idea, isn’t it?
[00:46:04] Dr. McKayla I can’t, I can’t say it’s a terrible idea.
[00:46:06] Jess Rose Are you enjoying it?
[00:46:08] Dr. McKayla I don’t think it’s a good idea. But I think a lot of people would like to write a book and I would be the last person that would discourage them. Because I was always discouraged to write a book, right? But I think I know what mess I got myself into.
[00:46:25] Jess Rose That’s what I’m looking for, there we go.
[00:46:26] Dr. McKayla I would just tell the people that you’re getting yourself into a big mess. But it’s okay. You know, it’s okay. I think people can write books, and people should write books.
[00:46:36] Jess Rose The world is messy. It’ll be fun. Oh, no, this is the opposite of what I was looking for. But it’s so delightful.
[00:46:42] Dr. McKayla Yeah, well, Jess actually, this brings us to the end of our show, I really enjoyed talking with you about all of that. And I think we should talk about cognition and cognitive load, and you know, all of that. So maybe I will invite you again, to another session
[00:46:58] Jess Rose I’d love to come back any time. But I’ll also pass you some contacts for folks who are much better at this than I am, I would just go back and be like, so books. And really, your audience deserves better.
[00:47:13] Dr. McKayla Okay. And we will both all the things that we talked about down there also, maybe the Twitter handle or LinkedIn profile or whatnot, from the person that you mentioned in the middle, where you forgot the last name, I put it there. So she will be there as well. And then, yeah, so is there something that you want to wrap this episode up? Or?
[00:47:36] Jess Rose Oh, gosh, can I bully your audience? Is that doable? Is it permitted? I’ve been doing advice calls all this week. And the big thing that I keep coming back to when I chat to people, I do do them just to be mean to people who are smarter than me is right now everything, everything is just so big and so loud and so stressful. One thing I’ve really enjoyed exploring with people is looking at ways that what they have to do, what they think they have to do can be smaller and softer and quieter. And I think that yeah, I’d love to gently bully folks to consider how what they need to do could be a little less. Maybe you don’t have to write that book. It can just be an essay.
[00:48:24] Dr. McKayla Yeah. Yeah. I like that. I actually did that this week with myself and just gave myself permission to let go of a couple of balls that I was juggling. And I think it’s delightful. We should really do that. And I think it’s it’s the time that we are many people needed. Not everybody, right. I think a lot of people needed.
[00:48:41] Jess Rose There’s going to be one person out there who’s having a real good week. I just haven’t met him.
[00:48:46] Dr. McKayla Or yeah, or that cat very nicely distracted by all of the work and don’t have to think about the stuff that’s going on. Yeah. Okay, so Jess, thank you so much. Thank you. It was really a pleasure talking to you.
[00:49:01] Jess Rose Thanks so much. I’ll let you go and thank you again. I won’t get into a thank you loop with you.
[00:49:06] Dr. McKayla Okay, bye-bye.
[00:49:06] Dr. McKayla This was another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please help me spread the word about the podcast, send episode to a friend via email, Twitter, LinkedIn. Well, whatever messaging system you use, or give it a positive review on your favorite podcasting platforms such as Spotify or iTunes. This would mean really a lot to me. So thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe and I will talk to you in two weeks. Bye
In this episode, I talk to Dagna Bieda. Dagna is a software engineer turned career coach who has mentored 50+ clients, some of whom worked at big brand names (such as LinkedIn, Amazon, Google, Disney), as well as much smaller businesses. Whether it’s for promotion, salary increase, landing a new job, or becoming a CTO, she’s committed to helping her clients reach their full potential.
We talk about:
- how Dagna experienced a plateau in her career as a software engineer
- what she did to overcome this stagnation
- Cultural differences in the US and other countries
- how she helps immigrants like her fit into their American workplace
- and common limiting beliefs engineers have and how to overcome those.
This episode is sponsored by Tonic.ai – where your data is modeled from your production data to help you tell an identical story in your testing environments.
[00:00:00] Dr. McKayla: Hello, and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Dagna Bieda. She’s a software engineer turned career coach for software engineers. She’s been coding for over 10 years and has been a coach or has been coaching for the past two-plus years.
[00:00:24] Dr. McKayla: And today I will learn everything around how to get a job, how to be successful as a software engineer, and how to advance your career. But before I start, let me introduce you to an amazing startup that’s sponsoring today’s episode, Tonic.ai, the fake data company. So what does Tonic.ai do? I’m sure you know how complex and cumbersome it is to create quality test data.
[00:00:51] Dr. McKayla: It’s a never-ending chore that eats into valuable engineering resources. Random data doesn’t do it and production data is neither safe nor legal for developers to use. What if you could mimic your entire production database to create a realistic dataset with zero sensitive data? That sounds amazing, right?
[00:01:10] Dr. McKayla: Tonic.ai does exactly that. With Tonic.ai, you can generate fake data that looks, acts, and behaves like production data because it’s made from production. Yet, Tonic.ai guarantees privacy so your data sets are safe to share with developers, QA, data scientists, heck, even distributed teams around the world. Visit Tonic.ai to sign up today or click the link in the show notes to get a free two weeks trial sandbox.
[00:01:38] Dr. McKayla: Well, Dagna, I’m, I’m so excited to learn everything that, you know, you have been through. in your career as a software engineer and how you actually help software engineers get the most out of their career. So can you tell me a little bit, how did you go about to this shift from, you know, being a software engineer, yourself to being a full-time career coach for software engineers? Why did that happen and how?
[00:02:03] Dagna Bieda: Absolutely. And first of all, thanks so much for having me on your show, McKayla. Essentially, you know, in my own career, I have seen some incredible accelerated progression in my own career. When I started programming, I went from a junior engineer to a senior engineer fairly quickly.
[00:02:22] Dagna Bieda: It happened in less than three years, which, it takes a lot more for a lot of engineers in our industry. And it was all because of the people that were in my corner that supported me, that mentored me. And because I was very relentless about asking them for feedback to tell me how I can improve, how I can do better.
[00:02:44] Dagna Bieda: And as I kind of like, went up in my career in my senior engineering role, what happened is I experienced this plateau, you could say. And I recognized, later on, you know, in hindsight that I was just working really hard on the wrong things, but I didn’t have that kind of support that I needed that would have showed me like, Hey, Dagna, what you’re focusing on is not going to take you to that next level.
[00:03:11] Dagna Bieda: So after having that aha moment, I recognized like, okay, I was going super quickly, advancing in my career in the early, in the beginning, because of that support. Later on, I didn’t have that support. I had to figure it out by myself. And so , it was so much slower of a process when I was trying to figure it out myself.
[00:03:32] Dagna Bieda: So I decided that, you know, this is a great idea for a business because not everybody, being a software engineer, has that support network that they could lean on. So I could step in and become that support network for my clients. And that’s exactly what I do today. And it’s just amazing. And I’ve helped so many clients, you know, I’ve had over the past three years that I’ve been coaching, I’ve helped over 50 engineers.
[00:03:59] Dagna Bieda: They had various backgrounds. Some of them work at fan companies. Some of them work for like small mom and pop shops, and they had experience ranging anywhere from 2 to 20 years of experience. Some were self-thought. Some had college degrees, some are boot camp graduates. And you know what I do right now as a coach and that lits me on fire and, you know, brings a lot of fulfillment to my life is to help my clients find that in their life and in their career.
[00:04:28] Dr. McKayla: Okay. And so, what does it take from a junior to become a senior? And why was there no support for you when you were a senior to get, you know, to the next level? Maybe what was your next level? Was it like a staff engineer that you wanted to become, or is it more in a managerial role that you wanted to develop yourself? So what’s the next, the next step?
[00:04:52] Dagna Bieda: I wanted to become a team lead and team lead is like a mix of both, right? On one hand, like from an HR perspective, maybe you are not on the org chart on top of like a team, but you are leading your team with your technical expertise. So like it’s a mix of the managerial and the engineering responsibilities.
[00:05:09] Dagna Bieda: The big reason why I had the plateaued is because I moved from Poland to the United States. And as an immigrant. I didn’t realize that, you know, the way I was thinking and going about work, while it made perfect sense back in Poland, it didn’t necessarily set me up for success in my American workplace.
[00:05:30] Dagna Bieda: And also like right now, a lot of my clients are immigrants moving from one country to another. And what I help them is to understand how their cultural upbringing affects their performance at their workplace. Because for me that was one of the blockers, right? I had to really kind of like understand my new situation, my new culture, how I was fitting in what was stopping me, and for example, there’s this one situation that I can, that comes to mind is when, when I posted a joke in slack that I thought was super funny and, and being an Eastern European, we have this dark sense of humor.
[00:06:06] Dagna Bieda: And, you know, in this new American company, what happened was I was called to HR and I was told that that was inappropriate. And I was like, what? That was super funny. What are you talking about? So, that was like one of the things that I had to realize, like, okay, This is the type of sense of humor that just doesn’t go with my workplace.
[00:06:27] Dagna Bieda: So I can, you know, keep doing that on my own and private, but this is not going to help me in terms of work advancement, right?
[00:06:34] Dr. McKayla: So can you, can you go a little bit more into this in this cultural aspect, right? Okay. There are the jokes that obviously, there are cultural differences. What’s funny, what’s not, what’s inappropriate, right, and so on. But is there also like for leadership because you were talking about tech lead, right? So it’s, how, how can you show the outside world that you’re ready for it? Is there a difference in your experience?
[00:06:58] Dagna Bieda: Yes. So that’s another like cultural aspect, you know, like, there’s this specific tool that I use for analysis that helped me really map those differences. And it’s called the Hofstede model. And essentially, it has, like, this database that compares different countries on, like, six different dimensions, right? And one of the things for the United States specifically is that individualism is super highly rated, right? And Poland is more rated closer to being like a collective culture, right, where we work together towards success. And I can tell you, for example, there was this initiative that I was leading in my American workplace.
[00:07:45] Dagna Bieda: And what happened was I was talking to different people, different types of stakeholders. They agreed with me. So I thought, okay, if I have a buy-in, something’s going to happen now, right. Because that’s how it would have worked back in Poland, right? In the American workplace, I was expected to, once I picked up the initiative to lead it from end to end. And, you know, I wasn’t aware of that. So, you know, I got all the stakeholders on board. Everybody agreed to my idea and then nothing happened, and I got so frustrated. I’m like, why there’s nothing happening? Like, didn’t we all agree, should we all collaborate together? And because they didn’t realize that my cultural upbringing was different, nobody could give me that kind of feedback, right?
[00:08:29] Dr. McKayla: Yeah.
[00:08:29] Dagna Bieda: They just didn’t know how to support me there.
[00:08:32] Dr. McKayla: I think this topic is so interesting because right now I’m working on the book on code reviews and I’m working a lot about feedback and disagreements, agreements, and how to solve that, right, how to collaborate together.
[00:08:45] Dr. McKayla: And so one book that I’m actually deep diving into that I found really interesting was The Culture Map. I don’t know if you are familiar with, from Erin Meyer, and there she…
[00:08:55] Dagna Bieda: Oh, that’s interesting. Okay.
[00:08:56] Dr. McKayla: Yeah, you can have a look at it and she also looks at a different perspective. And one is, for example, agreements, how are people from different countries agreeing? And for example, Germany or Austria, right? It’s a little bit more collaborative or, you know, collective, right? Collective agreement.
[00:09:11] Dagna Bieda: Exactly.
[00:09:12] Dr. McKayla: It’s really, really important. So it takes a very long time until everybody agrees. And it’s a little bit an upfront process, right? Whereby in America, it’s more, well, one decision is made by the leader, but then this decision can also be questioned along the way, right? And so it’s quicker, quicker to get started, right? And one person brings up and says, okay, this is how we are going to do it.
[00:09:34] Dr. McKayla: And then people are working on this vision. This is how she explains it, right? But yeah. And then over time, you can actually challenge that a little bit, right? You can say, but maybe, you know, we should change course because we have more information now and so on. And in Germany, it’s exactly the other way around, right? So we are investing a lot in this process of collective agreement, on this is the right way to go. But because there’s a lot of, you know, a lot of time and information that goes into this process, it’s really hard to challenge that later on, right? So after three months of discussing that we are going to do that.
[00:10:09] Dr. McKayla: It’s really hard to say a month later, oh, maybe you should change that again, which I think is perfectly fine in America. I don’t know. Can you see that as well? Is that something that…
[00:10:20] Dagna Bieda: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And another interesting thing is like, for example, in terms of the short-term versus long-term orientation, in the United States, the culture as a whole is on the Hofstede model described as a more short-term oriented. So the company would be more like working towards your quarterly goals, right? And when I work, for example, with some of my clients that have Asian upbringing and working in the United States, that their cultures tend to have this long-term orientation.
[00:10:51] Dagna Bieda: What happens is, for example, in an interview, whenever they present themselves, they’re talking about, you know, building a solid foundation for a long term. But what happens is. American companies don’t necessarily value that, right? Because, and they even have this, this saying here to hit the ground running, right? So when I work with my clients, I tell them, look, if you’re starting to work in a new workplace, American workplace, you want to present yourself as someone who’s operating fast and can bring results really quickly because of valuing of that short term results rather than long term.
[00:11:27] Dr. McKayla: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can totally see that. So you are working as I understood it, you’re working with a very range of experiences, right? So you said people are coming from boot camp, but it’s just coming from boot camp with no experience and want to go into the workplace or is it more, are they already, you said two years, something like this.
[00:11:48] Dagna Bieda: Yeah.
[00:11:49] Dr. McKayla: Is it really an even distribution here or do you see that it’s cooling in one direction, right? More the junior engineers in the first, let’s say, five years or more the senior engineers or midterm, maybe?
[00:12:02] Dagna Bieda: I would say that the majority of my clients are the mid-level professionals and the more senior professionals that are kind of like finding themselves a little stuck, maybe not sure about their next step.
[00:12:13] Dagna Bieda: And they’re looking for, you know, figuring out first of all, how are they stopping themselves? Second of all, how to find fulfillment in their career rather than chasing money or promotions. And, you know, the truth is there’s, to my knowledge, nobody else that offers the type of services that I offer, which is working on the engineering mindset for success, right?
[00:12:36] Dagna Bieda: And you know, what got you to that senior engineer position was very likely your technical foundation. And I do not work on that technical foundation while having been a software engineer myself, I can definitely send my clients some pointers, like what are the gaps that they have in their skill set that they should, like, fill up in terms of you know, career advancement, but what I really am passionate about and what I really love to focus on is that mindset piece, right? Like, what kind of blind spots do you have? What kind of limiting beliefs do you have? I actually like to say that I moved from programming computers to reprogramming human minds. And it really beautifully describes what it is that I do, because once you change your mindset, I put it this way.
[00:13:21] Dagna Bieda: How you think is how you act. And how you act is the results that you’re getting then from, you know, the reality, the real world.
[00:13:31] Dr. McKayla: Yeah. Can you tell me some limiting beliefs? I also regularly reflect on mine and, right now, you know, I’m also in a, this state where I think, because of the pregnancy and the very new birth, I think this is such an inward-facing period in my life again, right, where I’m thinking, like, what are the beliefs that I have, and that are holding me back and so on. I would be really curious, can you give some examples of beliefs that engineers have, maybe that you have seen patterns?
[00:14:00] Dagna Bieda: Absolutely.
[00:14:01] Dr. McKayla: Yeah, that hold them back.
[00:14:02] Dagna Bieda: There are two that are super common and super popular. Number one is believing that your work speaks for itself, which it doesn’t. It does not. Like, okay, if someone else works on the same code base with you and they can look at your code, they could see the value that you bring to the table if they put in the work and effort to actually go into the code, look up what it is that you committed and, you know, have some thoughts on that.
[00:14:28] Dagna Bieda: But, in order to be successful in an engineer’s role, what you really have to do is market yourself. You have to talk about your achievements and accomplishments and not expect everybody in the company to just know what it is that you’re doing, because people just don’t know. They have their own work that they’re prioritizing.
[00:14:44] Dagna Bieda: And it’s very critical to figure out if you have that limiting belief of work speaks for itself because again, it doesn’t. That keeps a lot of talented engineers stuck in their career. That’s number one. The second one, which always cracks me up, but I used to think that way too. There was a moment, and I have to be honest with you, there was a moment I thought the same way. And the second limiting belief is essentially, that you are surrounded, as an engineer, with idiots that just don’t want to listen to your amazing ideas. And here’s the thing, whenever, as an engineer, you have an incredible idea and you want to pitch it. You want to get people on board.
[00:15:25] Dagna Bieda: It’s super important for you to communicate about it in a certain way. You have to be able to negotiate. You have to be able to like really describe it, but describe it in terms of the priorities of your stakeholders, right? So if I’m going to, and I’m guilty of that as well. Like, there was this two projects that I worked on in my most recent engineering job, and I was responsible for taking care of a mobile app.
[00:15:48] Dagna Bieda: And it was a pain in the butt that the build of the app was taking a few minutes, you know, and I just felt it was so inefficient. So I went ahead and I refactored how this particular app was built. And I reduced the build time from few minutes to, like, 30 seconds. And I was so proud of myself, you know, I was so like, yes, this is amazing in reality, what happened is, that what I did that work that I did, impacted my life and one other engineer. Nobody else cared. It didn’t matter. Then I had a second task or project that I worked on in the same company, which was creating a deliverable for a client, super boring, a lot of copy and pasting, a lot of like following steps. I did not enjoy doing that at all, but guess what?
[00:16:36] Dagna Bieda: Whenever it was deployed and the client could spread the mobile app to their own client base, I got praise from the sales representative from our BA, from the project manager. My tech lead was like, wow, Dagna, that was a super fast turnaround. You know, everybody across the organization was like, yay, success.
[00:16:57] Dagna Bieda: And I’m thinking to myself, Wow. I would have never in a hundred million years figured this out on my own. If, if you ask me as an engineer to like put a value on this project versus that project, I would’ve thought that the refactoring was better. So here’s long story, but essentially what I’m trying to say is, it’s very important to understand how what you are doing trickles, like, how what you’re doing fits into the business as a whole, the business that you’re working for and how to communicate about it. That’s the, really the key of what I was trying to say here.
[00:17:35] Dr. McKayla: Yeah, I think that’s really, really important, but I also found myself working at companies where. You are assigned things, right? So you’re not really asked for your opinion. if this is now really helpful or not or, or something like this. And then maybe reassigned as well, right, which I think there are, there are several impacts to that. First of all, what would be your advice for people that are assigned projects where they also know maybe doesn’t look like this has a big impact on the company, right? So it’s also limiting my ability to advance my career here. What should you do? How do you communicate about that? What’s your advice?
[00:18:18] Dagna Bieda: Yeah, we’re kind of going back to, you know, to that communication piece, right? So, first of all, one thing that I want to share the assumption I’m coming here up with is that whoever assigns you that work is not a mind reader, so they would not necessarily have your priorities, your career priorities in mind.
[00:18:37] Dagna Bieda: So it’s important to, whenever you are asking for work to kind of like be proactive and say, Hey, I am really working towards becoming, let’s say a staff engineer, becoming a team lead, becoming an engineering manager, can you help me out and assign the kind of work to me that will help me achieve that goal, right?
[00:18:58] Dagna Bieda: Asking for that help and support because most of us are nice and friendly people, and we want to help. But we don’t always know what’s the best way to provide that help. So being kind of like your own advocate and talking about what it is that you want to do is really critical here. A second thing is, you know, whenever you’re in those one-on-ones with your manager, is to really ask for feedback. How are you doing, how you could be doing better, and creating that safe space for feedback. You know, something that is my strength actually, and really helped me with accelerating in my career early on was that relentlessness in asking for feedback. Like, I had this team lead that worked with me that helped me become a senior engineer because he kind of vouched for me in the meetings that I wasn’t part of.
[00:19:53] Dagna Bieda: And he really said like, Hey, she’s ready. She can handle it. She can be a senior engineer. I think she’s ready. And that’s what got me the promotion. But when him and I worked together, I was telling him, look, I really want to know. Don’t worry. You’re not going to hurt, hurt my feelings. I want to advance, I want to be hitting the ground running, and I want to really work on the things that are holding me back.
[00:20:16] Dagna Bieda: And, you know, one of the critical pieces of feedback that he initially didn’t want to give me, because it felt like maybe he would hurt my feelings or maybe was too much. I don’t know. But after I was pushing and pushing for that feedback, he essentially told me, Dagna, fast is great. But reliable is better.
[00:20:35] Dagna Bieda: And that advice changed how I was thinking about writing code, because I was really prioritizing being fast, delivering as soon as possible, right? But sometimes my fast solutions were not fully thought out. And a senior engineer really has to have that understanding of how the engineering decisions impact business, the team and what it is that, that they’re trying to accomplish as a team.
[00:21:03] Dr. McKayla: Yeah, I’m thinking back of a time, right, where I think it’s totally true that we have to go and advocate for ourselves, but I also wonder how many people are a little bit stuck in that, well, this is what the business needs, right? I understand that you want to advance your career. You want to become, you know, a senior engineer or a tech lead or whatnot.
[00:21:27] Dr. McKayla: You know, saying that the project doesn’t seem to have such big impact, right? And big impact, I think has to do with the stakeholder. Who is it visible to, right? Who is going to see and hear your name and, and so on. I thought, I think there’s a little bit of political background towards that as well. Have you worked with people that are just really stuck in a situation where there is nobody that really advocates for them too much, or they are assigned a project that’s, you know, low visibility and they’re stuck there. Would you say the best is to move companies or?
[00:22:01] Dagna Bieda: The short and sweet answer is yes. And, you know, in the very first meeting that I have with my clients whenever we start our coaching sessions in the program, what we do is we figure out what are their specific life and career goals, and what are their values and, how their current workplace supports those values. And then we measure them in a specific way. And after that, specific exercise, we’re able to confidently say whether it’s worth staying in that place or if it’s time to move on.
[00:22:38] Dr. McKayla: And so, whenever I see, like, in my Twitter bubble, right? I’m also very much in the American, you know, world somehow. And everybody is like, oh my God, the marketplace is, or the market is so hot now. And, you know, jobs are everywhere. I don’t know in Europe, I don’t feel that way.
[00:23:00] Dagna Bieda: Got it.
[00:23:00] Dr. McKayla: Is, is it like this? Do you feel like right now, it’s so hot and everybody can, you know, change their career in a second and get better and you know, why would you even stay there? I feel like even if you have a good place, let’s move because you can make more money and so on, which is a very different mindset.
[00:23:18] Dr. McKayla: I don’t see that here in Europe so much. It doesn’t feel that hard or it also feels like if I’m at the good company and, you know, I make a market okay salary, I don’t feel that people are looking forward, changing every one and a half, two years, more.
[00:23:34] Dagna Bieda: Yeah. So two years is very common for people who are very ambitious.
[00:23:39] Dagna Bieda: I want to try to see how different companies do different things and gain those experiences across a variety of industries or companies of different sizes. So, two years is definitely something that’s seen as fairly normal. And I feel like you touched on an important subject there, it’s very important to realize that the European job market is much more fragmented, right?
[00:24:03] Dagna Bieda: Because we have different countries, different cultures, and it’s not as easy to, you know, have access to all those opportunities. In the United States, it’s way more streamlined because you know, it’s one country and people mobility is also completely different. So like if you live in LA and then next year you get a job in New York, it’s much more likely that you’re just going to pick everything up and move for that job.
[00:24:30] Dagna Bieda: In Europe, we are not like that. so it’s more like choosing a town you want to live in, and then you find a job within that town, say, for example, right? So in that sense, we have just different priorities in Europe, and there are different priorities here in the United States, and that impacts that job market, absolutely. With that being said, with the COVID, the pandemic, and the acceleration of the remote workplaces, there’s more and more opportunities for the Europe software engineers, for example, or anyone else really to access those American jobs. I cannot think of, like, anything in particular, but there’s more and more companies that are supportive of those remote jobs and help pair American companies with offshore workers.
[00:25:18] Dagna Bieda: And it’s kind of like in that saying where Europeans work to live and Americans live to work. There’s definitely something in that, some truth to it. I mean, I remember when I moved to United States and I was, you know, trying to get my very first engineering job and, on the phone interview, someone would tell me, like, we offer three weeks vacation, we’re generous.
[00:25:42] Dr. McKayla: Yeah, it’s different.
[00:25:43] Dagna Bieda: Yeah, right? It’s different. It’s different. There’s so much more vacation time back in Europe, back at home. In the United States, even though they are coming up with, like, this unlimited time off policies it really depends on the company. Some companies are just trying to not pay you out the accrued time off.
[00:25:59] Dagna Bieda: So you have to like really be wary when you are verifying if it’s really unlimited time off. But with that being said, I had a client and she took like 10 weeks off within a year. So you know, there are companies that, yeah, there are companies that really kind of like honor that.
[00:26:15] Dr. McKayla: Okay. Okay. Well, I have a last question for you, actually, and it’s about code reviews because you were touching upon communication and also showing your work and what you are doing. How do you think can people use code reviews to do that, to accomplish that, to, you know, make their work a little bit more visible? Is it something that you thought about? How that fits together?
[00:26:39] Dagna Bieda: So in terms of code reviews, the advice that I really give to my more inexperienced clients who are earlier in their career journey is to not take them personal.
[00:26:51] Dagna Bieda: Just take it in as an information, as a guidance and, you know, earlier in their career, a lot of software engineers tend to take those comments, that feedback very personally, and they have their feelings hurt. But in reality, it’s just feedback. It’s just objective information that you can use to better yourself.
[00:27:11] Dagna Bieda: Now, in terms of my more senior client, their skills are at the level that, you know, I don’t see code reviews being very critical there because they already, you know, have mastered that technical foundation. So what I focus on really is those skills that are missing: the people skills, the communication, how you market yourself and all the things that we talked about today.
[00:27:34] Dr. McKayla: Okay. Okay, cool. So, Dagna, thank you so much. Maybe you can also tell us a little bit how people can follow your work can find you, and maybe something that you want to. You know, give on the way for the engineers on how to find the career or the next step that makes them happy.
[00:27:56] Dagna Bieda: Yeah, absolutely. So the best way to really get in contact with me is through my LinkedIn profile. You just can go to LinkedIn and find me under Dagna Bieda, D A G N A B I E D A. And then you can also go ahead to my website, the mindfuldev.com/podcast, and you’ll find there a case study. And that case study beautifully explains the process that I follow with my clients and how it helped them really level up in their career. For one client, it meant going from an underappreciated senior engineer to a startup CTO in three months. For another client, it meant moving from a senior engineer to a VP of engineering and innovation at his company. For another client, that meant doubling his salary as we work together. So, you know, if that case study is something that you’re interested in, you can then reach out to me and we can see if we’re a good fit to work together and how I can help you accelerate your career.
[00:28:57] Dr. McKayla: Okay. Cool. Thank you so much. Thank you, Dagna, for being on my show.
[00:29:01] Dagna Bieda: Absolutely. It was a blast. Thanks for having me, McKayla.
[00:29:04] Dr. McKayla: Yeah. Thank you. Bye.
[00:29:06] Dr. McKayla: This was another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please help me spread the word about the podcast, send the episode to a friend via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, well, whatever messaging system you use. Or give it a positive review on your favorite podcasting platforms such as Spotify or iTunes. This would mean really a lot to me. So thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe and I will talk to you in two weeks. Bye.
Learn how engineering values can help you build a strong engineering culture and empower your developers to make decisions that are aligned with your goals.
In this episode, I talk to Patrick Wagstrom. Patrick is the Chief Data Officer at Brightcove. Before that Patrick was the director of emerging technology at Verizon, meaning that he leveraged AI/ML, augmented reality, blockchain, IoT, quantum computing, and even 5G. Before that, he was a senior director of data science at Capital One. Even before that, he was a “research nerd”(his own term) at IBM working on the Watson project.
We talk about:
- his role and responsibilities as a chief data officer,
- the difference between building systems that support machine learning and systems that don’t,
- distributed software engineering,
- data governance and GDPR,
- and how to make sure your AI model is unbiased.
In this episode, I talk to Karls Hughes. Karl is a software engineer who turned into an entrepreneur in the midst of the pandemic last year. His start-up draft.dev creates content that reaches software engineers – which means he combined his two passions, development and content creation.
We talk about:
- his transition from developer to CTO, and then to the business owner,
- value-based pricing and how to focus on the customer segment that gets the most value out of your product,
- how to scale as a bootstrapped business,
- why blogging is such a career changer for developers.
Transcript: How to build a profitable content business as a developer
[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Karl Hughes. Karl is a software engineer who turned into an entrepreneur in the midst of the pandemic last year, his startup draft up that creates content that reaches software engineers, which means that he combined his two passions development and content creation.
Today, I will ask him all about his new business and what he ambitions and what he wants to reach. So like,
[00:00:31] Karl: Thanks for having me Mikayla.
[00:00:33] Michaela: So maybe I introduced you a lot with this new startup, but actually what I want to start off with is the startup or the side project that I know you from, and that is CFP land call for paper land.
Right? How do you pronounce it thing? You see a few?
[00:00:48] Karl: Yeah, we, I, I say, I say CFP land for short, but CFP stands for call for papers or call for proposals depending on who you ask.
[00:00:56] Michaela: Exactly. So it’s, it’s a sideways. I find all the relevant tech conferences. Right. And then know where to submit it, how to submit.
And so I think from that, I know actually your activities a little bit. And so, so how is that going? Like it had had to been really hard for the pandemic and everything. No, no, no conference.
[00:01:17] Karl: Yeah, it’s been a weird year and a half for CFP land. So I started the kind of backstory on that. I started speaking at conferences a few years ago and just for fun and to kind of get out there and meet more people and learn things.
And so it was great. I had a lot of fun, met a lot of people, but one of the challenges, a lot of the speakers. And we would always talk about it. It’s like, where do we find all the CFPs that are available when they close? Like where do we apply? What kind of speakers they looking for? Things like that. And so I started off CFE land.
It’s just a simple newsletter, just running it. You know, it was very much a side project and eventually I got. It grew. And it’s now a website with a newsletter it’s well, over 2000 people subscribed to it. So it’s a pretty popular, I mean, this is a small world [00:02:00] of tech conference speakers, but it’s pretty popular within that small world.
So a lot of people do hear my name from it, but it’s always been just a thing to do on the side. I actually, the year, the beginning of last year, when right before the pandemic happened, I was thinking about, as I was thinking about starting with. Maybe I would make CFE land or something like it, a full-time thing, which was fortunately, I didn’t go all in on that site because it was really, I mean, it went from, you know, we were getting consistently growing traffic to all of a sudden, just almost to zero overnight and yeah, I mean, I’m glad it was just a hobby project.
It’s starting to come back. Now. Things are starting to, you know, conferences are starting to like look at coming in person. And also just the virtual events are starting to get more predictable. People are figuring out how to work them. So all of it I think, is going to come back and it’s going to be, you know, I’ll put more effort into it this year, but yeah, it’s been a tough year for, for the project and for anybody who’s into event marketing and.
Yeah, I can
[00:02:56] Michaela: imagine. I mean, I started off with on-site trainings and it wasn’t like good starting March, like grew up. So. And how, why do you change from like you were employed before, right? You were a software engineer, you were a manager. So how did you change from that to become your own boss? So why, why during the pandemic, was that something that you did deliberately or something that, you know, just the events happened and this is how it go.
[00:03:30] Karl: Yeah, that’s a good question. So, you know, I’ve been with the startup. Uh, I I’ve always worked in startups, tech startups, like small companies, less than a hundred people. And so I started off just as a software engineer and was then most recently like leading a team of engineers. And I really enjoyed it. I actually liked my company a lot, but unfortunately the business was pretty strongly affected negatively by the pandemic.
And so myself and the rest engineers went down to half-time to kind of conserve money and make sure the company. Get through it and figure out what we’re going to do next. [00:04:00] And so in that half-time I started to explore, well, what do I want to do? Maybe, you know, maybe I’ll do something different next.
Maybe I’ll try a career shift. So I started writing for fun on the side, just, just kind of called up some people I knew and started writing technical blog posts for them. And then I found some lists of places you could write technical blog posts. And I realized there’s a lot of people who want engineers who were willing to write some blog posts on this.
I figured it was a good mix of my skills and it also was not negatively affected by the pandemic, like speaking was and things like that. So I started doing it and I realized quickly that there was a lot of companies that wanted this kind of content and that I could work with other engineers to sort of increase my output.
Knit draft out dev was kind of born out of just seeing so many people ask me, Hey, could you write for us? And I just realized I only had so many hours, so I better start bringing some other people in on this. So yeah, that it was really. I needed something to do on the side. And then eventually it became a full-time thing within three or four months.
I think I had transitioned out of my old job and was doing draft out dev full-time with a very small team at first. Yeah.
[00:05:01] Michaela: And so right now, are you still writing content? Are you mainly managing people that write for you?
[00:05:07] Karl: Yeah, mostly managing now. So it grew pretty quickly this year. I think it’s about quadrupled in size from what it was in January, which is, feels surreal.
So I’m almost exclusively managing hiring and kind of helping other people get unstuck. I still do a lot of sales calls as well, but the, yeah, the bulk of our work is done by software engineers. Blog posts around the world. And so for them, it’s a nice little nice and weekends thing they can do. They make some extra money and they get to learn new technology and write about it.
Show what they know for our clients. They’re getting experts who are interested in their tools and their tech tech that they write.
[00:05:45] Michaela: Yeah. Cool. That’s really cool. So how do you make the match between the people that you know, right. And the people that want things written?
[00:05:55] Karl: Yeah. We’ve got kind of a word it’s still an evolving process for sure.
[00:06:00] We do some recruits. Of writers that are in specific skillsets when need be. And then we put all of our writers into a list, and if you’re on our writer list, you get an email every couple of weeks. That’s kind of like, here’s all the open opportunities for writing. And we have people sort of like give us, just basically apply to, to write for each of them.
And so it makes it easier once you’ve got a pretty good volume of writers. Pick up the assignments.
[00:06:45] Michaela: Okay. And do you vet them somehow? Do you look at the can right or that, I mean, there’s also like a reason out there. Right? So people just call from the side.
[00:06:57] Karl: It’s a huge, that’s a huge undertaking. I mean, this is why this is why clients like working with us because it is a lot of work to try to find and vet good engineers who are also good writers.
So we do have a process. We start with a rubric, a skills rubric, but one thing that I learned as an engineering manager was it’s really helpful to hire people based on objective criteria, as much as possible. That’s not, you know, there’s always a little bit of fuzziness when you’re working with humans, but like we try to have like a pretty objective rubric that allows us to.
Great or rate each applicant based on specific criteria around like, how good did they do at writing? How good are they do explaining deep technical topics? How good were they at? Uh, things like communication and answering emails promptly, just, you know, being in touch. Uh, and then we evaluate each candidate and we’ll accept or accept or ask for more samples from each one.
So we do ask for existing published samples or sort of written sample of their work. You know, most of the engineers who were. Pretty experienced as far as writers and engineers, because we are a lot of the topics that we cover are kind of [00:08:00] hard to cover, uh, sort of things that most junior developers would have a hard time maybe picking up on the first try.
[00:08:06] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. So maybe one thing that comes to my mind. I’m also like a intrepreneur and I’m doing mostly workshops and cultural workshops. I’m also doing consultancy right now. I’m doing quite a bit of research again. And so that’s, that’s exciting, but on the other hand, but I’m always feeling like I always have this urge I have to program again.
Right. So I’m not constantly programming because while that’s not my job right now, but if I like, if I’m in one source, Six big of a dollar 3d programming, something. I feel like, oh my God, I’m losing cash. And I really want to go back into it and I’m coding something on the side and I’m always like, I’m, I’m still struggling with how to, you know, make that a habit that it’s always constantly there because I feel it’s so, so important.
I mean, especially for me, but I think also if you are, you know, if you’re a Def shop for writers, I think it’s important. Stay at death somehow. I don’t know. How, how is that for you? I think it’s also the same for managing, right? If you’re in a managerial role and you’re managing people, how far can like a CTO or a engineering manager?
How far can they be away from actually doing the stuff? Right. I think it’s so. Um, I spent a lot of time, the last couple of weeks, really getting, knowing everything about the latest code review tools that are out there and, you know, all the studying and Ella analyzes again. And you have to do that, I think periodically because otherwise you really lose touch.
How do you think about that and how do you, you know, how do you combine that with what you do right.
[00:09:41] Karl: Yeah, I agree. I think that there’s a lot of value in staying in touch with the technical skills. Even if you like, I’ve always admitted to my employees and myself, I’m not the best engineer who’s ever written code.
Right. Like that’s okay with me. It’s okay. Really love working with people who are good because they are way better because [00:10:00] then you get to see sort of like, oh man, humbling experiences. Right. And reminds you. But I do think it’s important for engineering managers, CTOs, who are at least at smaller companies, CTOs to stay at least somewhat connected to what’s going on on the ground.
So the way I do that, A couple of things. First I do occasionally for fun, write my own technical articles. So I do it for say like guest posting on, uh, on different blogs or maybe on my own personal site or other sites around that people ask me to write for. So I do that some just to keep up with what’s going on.
I think I did pick up like a client article a couple of weeks ago because I thought it was an interesting topic and I wanted to get my feet wet in it. And then the other thing. Is I, well, what I find is that it is easier to pick up new tech when you’ve already picked up several things along your career.
So unlike when you’re first learning to code, you know, a lot of junior engineers always ask like, well, how do you, how do you just pick up a new language so quickly? I’m like, well, when you’ve learned four or five, the sixth is not that much harder because a lot of the same paradigms, the same concepts apply.
The same is true. If they. When you’ve used six different web hosts in your career, likely the seventh one is not that much different so that you probably don’t have to learn everything from scratch. Same like any CIS CD tools, testing tools, whatever, like, yes, there is some difference and yes, there’s subtle things that are important to know the differences between, but like, you don’t have to always be the, you know, you don’t have to know everything from the root level.
You just kind of have to get a good high-level sense of how is this different from the other things I’ve done in the past that are similar.
[00:11:31] Michaela: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, as I said, I was looking at study analysis tools recently and obviously it’s different. Right. It’s different because it’s more integrated in.
In dev ops, for example, in CII CD. Right. It’s a little bit more automated, but in the end it was the same, like the same as 10 years ago. Right. So, yeah. Yeah, I totally, and, and the same, like for languages, [00:12:00] I feel that picking up, and this is something that I really, I mean, I love to talk about it because I feel like you can pick it up.
Fast, but then really getting really good at it. It’s even, I think sometimes a little bit harder if you have a lot of baggage, right? So like coming from the object oriented Java and C-sharp world. And I recently it’s not recent anymore, but like two and a half years ago, I started with. And I mean, obviously I could program and I could, could really productively do stuff within really short amount of time.
I mean, it was days that I, you know, and, but then I feel like stuck and I feel like, oh, it really took me quite some time to understand, you know, and feel comfortable really that I know how to architecture and I’ve heightened. I could architecture, but it was like it was a job or a C sharp application heightened.
Which didn’t feel like it’s not by tonic and it’s not like how you would do it in that language and learning that and changing the mental models that you already have. I found that quite, quite interesting and tricky. How, how, how has that.
[00:13:06] Karl: I agree. I, that is tricky. I think one thing that I’ve thought about in this transition from being like engineering leader, who’s expected to still really know the tech to more of a business owner is that I, I don’t necessarily have to be the best at those lower level, that lower level of knowledge, right?
The specific implementation details. I may not always be the best, but at a high level, I shouldn’t have. How does Python work versus Java? Like I should know that it’s almost like knowing what you don’t know is good. So knowing that I’m not going to write Python at code, like you call it is maybe helpful more than just knowing like exactly the best way to write Python, because you can always, when you’re, again, kind of going back, putting my business owner hat, My goal is to make the company run well.
So that might mean hiring somebody who knows these things better than me. It might mean hiring technical reviewers in the future. As I get less connected to the day to day, it might mean hiring well, we already do this. We hire a lot of [00:14:00] writers who are experienced in languages and frameworks that I really haven’t used much if at all.
So yeah, it’s definitely important to like, know where your limits are and then be like, ask yourself the question of, you know, is this the best thing for me to learn myself? Or can I hire someone? To who knows it already and get even more, more bandwidth out of this.
[00:14:20] Michaela: Yeah, I like that mindset. I mean, in general, maybe that’s what I want to deep dive a little bit with you.
Is that mindset of, you know, the manager, a CTO or also a business owner? I think I’m, I’m, I’m still struggling with that. I like two years ago with this one. I totally didn’t feel like it. And so even though I started already my business, I would never say to myself, like, I’m the founder or, you know, business owners thing.
I always say like, I’m a software engineer. Right? Like, and, and it really took me one and a half years to say, okay, I feel a little bit comfortable. You know, I’m doing now my tags and all of that, but I still, I still struggle with, for example, sales. Right. It’s just something that. I dunno, like, and, but you were talking about Sage, like I’m doing sales calls and all of that.
So how do you get into that mindset of actually doing the stuff that a business owner does versus, you know, doing the stuff that an engineer does?
[00:15:17] Karl: Yeah. I mean, there’s nothing, so I’ll just like play the other side and say there’s nothing wrong with becoming a, a business owner consultant who stays. Very much a software engineer.
Let’s say, you know, I have several friends who are consultants or freelancers that essentially like they, they have a very flexible, interesting work where they can do, you know, work for several different clients, but they don’t really have a bunch of employees there. It’s kind of just them being a freelancer.
And that’s a great, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you sort of. If your goal is to build a company that runs either without you, or it runs with you being able to take a vacation, things like that, then you kind of have to step out and figure out what it means to be [00:16:00] a business owner and a team leader rather than a.
Team like a doer, you know, the person who’s touching every piece of content or whatever. So it just depends your goals, right? Like there’s nothing wrong with either path. My goal went in starting draft was, I mean, it was initially just like figure out if this was like something I wanted to do. And then I realized, yeah, it’s something I want to do.
There’s a lot of people who want it. So I kind of, my long-term dream has always kind of been to start my own company and run it. And so this has just been like a really good opportunity at the right time and place, but it is hard. And one other thing that’s really hard about it. Letting things go to other people when, you know, you could do it better yourself.
And I still struggle with that. I mean, like there’s some articles that come through and I, I read what the writer wrote and I’m like, yeah, it’s not bad, but you know, I know I would do this better this differently or whatever it is. It’s so hard to let that stuff go. And I, I don’t know what the answer is.
If you get yourself booked so solid that you can’t possibly do it all yourself, that will force you to get good at delegating or you’ll just fail. So that’s one way you can do it too.
[00:17:06] Michaela: Yeah. True. True. Yeah. I think I’m like right now, I’m also in a place in my business that I’m thinking. What are my next steps, right.
So I grew to a capacity level where I just can’t, like, I’m saying no to a lot of things, but I’m not set up in a way that I can take that on and delegate. Right. And, and I, and I know maybe it’s also mindset again, it’s not only mindset. It’s also like, if you’re already at capacity, how do you get a person?
And how do you know, you know, like how do you get them to the point that they could actually take off and do stuff. Right. So even for the podcast, I actually have like, And little advertisement out there that, you know, I want somebody that helps me with the podcast. I haven’t found anybody yet, so yeah, I’m really admiring that you say, well, you have like a couple of full-time engineers, right.
That are writing for you. And then like these large network of people that [00:18:00] are working with you a little bit more in a loosely coupled way and was just in a couple of months. Right. So how did you get the first.
[00:18:08] Karl: Yeah. So this is my process for this. I I’m a huge nerd for process. So like it it’s, it’s excessive at times, but I’ll just like, be bare it all out here.
What I do is I track my time. So I’m pretty diligent about that. And that tells me like, am I spending say eight hours or 20 hours a week writing articles. So at some point I reached a critical mass where I was writing. 20 or 30 hours a week. And I realized, okay, if I want to spend 10 to 20 hours a week on sales and marketing, I cannot keep writing.
I have to stop and pull this out. So I started to look for other writers. And so that was my first step. What I first did to, to hire the very first one was looked into my network and people I trusted already. So I was like to think of the first hire for any position is kind of your trailblazer is how I call what I call them.
And that means. You’re going to give them very imperfect information, but you need them to be smart enough or have worked with you enough to have a high level of trust with you. Like, you know, this kind of goes back to your point about the podcast person. You do want to be picky in that very first hire because they’re going to help you set forth a process, then you’ll be able to imprint onto other people in the future.
So that very first, right? Yeah. Was a friend of mine who I knew could write, well, he had a similar background in writing engineering and he was, we were in the same city. So we could talk if we need to did a great job, he helped me figure out what things are clear and not clear when I pass work over to a writer from a client.
So that was my first step. And then the next thing is to build like a template for what this work looks like in the future. And me and him just kind of like trial and error basically figured out what, what worked and what, didn’t, what I needed to give him, to make him. All the information you needed to write articles.
And then we start, I started to test it out with other people. So I found people outside of my network, who slightly, I didn’t know, quite as well or didn’t trust quite as much, or didn’t have as much experience. I just started to try them out and see what happened. And then [00:20:00] that helped me refine the process even further.
And so by December of last year, I was starting to ramp down on my writing and ramp up with these other writers. I found a new bottleneck and that new bottleneck was, I was spending a lot of time editing and editing was also very tedious detail oriented work that I tend not to be the best at or the, like, it doesn’t, it doesn’t get me excited.
It just drains me. And so I started looking for an editor and I kind of did the same thing. I started with someone, I knew someone I trusted and. Pay them really well. And I was like, look, I don’t know how to edit, but you’ve done it professionally for years. Could you edit this article? And like, help me come up with a process and style guide.
And she’s now our managing editor and she’s full-time and she has a couple other editors she works with now or under her. So I kind of followed this exact same process every time I want to make a hire, just do that account manager. I’d done like a marketing person. And it is hard. It is definitely something that you’re going to like, you have to be okay with that person, screwing some things up.
You can’t expect them to pull everything out of your head, but if they free you up to say, spend more time on the growth side of the business, the sales, marketing, the stuff that generates new business and keeps clients really happy. And coming back then it’s worth those slight hiccups that are going to happen because that’s the only way you kind of get a bigger company.
[00:21:14] Michaela: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah. But you know, the funny thing is that, you know what I did, I started to automate.
[00:21:22] Karl: Well, that’s a bad, yeah. I think that’s a really viable option if you, I mean, this honestly, like hiring people should be like your second resort. Like the first resort should be automating everything as much as possible.
[00:21:34] Michaela: That’s what I tried to do. I honestly, when I looked into that, I thought that couple of things you can really automate very well and they’re nice tools around and a couple of things were still really imperfect, right? So like the editing for the podcast. For example, even though I upgraded my tools and my process.
I actually have is a step-by-step guide, how to do that. Right. But the automation is not completely, like, you cannot really [00:22:00] automate that too much. There’s so much manual, still manual thing. But for example, the whole booking guests and things like this, there is a lot of potential for automation that you can actually do before hiring somebody.
Maybe another topic that I want to pick your brain on is, well, when you hire, right. Do you have also to think about how much of the money that you get from. Business. Right. Are you investing in the higher again? Right? Which for me is also a little bit tricky to do. I mean, especially podcasts, it’s not really making money.
Right. So it’s also harder than to say, well, you know, like you’re hiring people, but how has that for you? Like. Would you say that at that point it’s okay. If the company’s had a loss or does it have to be, you know, positive or neutral or, you know, what is your thinking about how much do you spend for hiring and growth and how much does the business have to, you know, sustain itself as a, as a bootstrap business?
Right. So funded business. Yeah,
[00:22:57] Karl: it definitely, this definitely depends on the kind of company you have and the way that cashflow works and the way that if you’ve raised money, it’s a different thing than if you’re bootstrapping or self-funding. And so I’ve seen it done both ways. Like when I’ve worked at funded startups, the way they did it is, you know, we raise a big chunk of money and that sits in the bank essentially.
And then we start to hire a head of where. It’s like basically you hire for what you want to be at in a year. So we bring on five or 10 people all really quickly. And then we try to like get to the point where we can actually support them. So that’s risky obviously. And if you’re you’re bootstrapping, that’s not really an option.
I didn’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars sitting in the bank to just work from. Right. So, so the way that I did it was sort of when I started draft, I started to think about. Okay. I don’t have a lot of money. How could I build a business? Basically, clients helped me pay for these things. So what we do is we, we get, we get clients pay upfront and that helps us know we’ve got the cash in hand to pay the writers, editors, and anyone else supporting staff that we need.
The. Three or six months of execution. So it’s like, we kind of [00:24:00] make the plan with the client up front and then they pay us and then we actually get into production and then we start paying people, but the client’s already paid us a large portion upfront, or they’ve been on a payment plan or whatever. So that helps a ton with being able to know that what we’re doing is profitable.
The other thing that I do is a forecasting. So basically looking. How much, it costs us to produce an article, how much we can have to charge for that. And then where’s the like margin, you know, the profit essentially, but in how much that margin goes to other things like support staff, other support staff that isn’t really counted there, or services or tools to your point about automation.
I’m big on that too. I spend a lot on. SAS tools that automate a lot of these little things behind the scenes. Yeah. So Zapier and even Calendly and having all that stuff, just kind of automatically do this little administrative work is really, really helpful. And I think it does allow you to run a lot leaner business.
Even if you pay all the subscription fees, it’s still cheaper than hiring people.
[00:24:59] Michaela: Yeah, exactly. That’s that’s also what I. Especially when you’re like, when I was completely bleeding footsteps and, you know, even a $10 subscription somehow really string because they add up, right? Like they add up and if you’re really making zero money, it’s like, oh my God, how I’m going to do that.
But then if you, if you’re a little bit profitable, I think automation is really a. You say, well, I’m paying like 10 bucks for Kalindi, for example. Right. And now it does all the magic and sends email reminders and whatnot. Right. And thinking about how much time I would have to spend here to do that. Yeah.
So in the end, you’re always, is it something like, would you say that you are getting a salary right now? Do you try to, to really you are sustain it as well? Or are you saying well I’m as a founder right now, I’m investing my time before.
[00:25:48] Karl: Yeah, I do take a salary, you know, since the, since it started one of my, I don’t know, one of my, my goals with it was like, I do want to pay myself something.
I, I definitely make less than I did as a CTO to start out. I’ll [00:26:00] say that, but you know, to your point, like I’m investing my time centrally into the business. So I’m working at a discount to pay for the company to grow, which is, you know, a fair deal for a lot of entrepreneurs, you know, with a service business like ours.
Uh, there’s different kinds of companies, right? Some companies like a software as a service kind of tool, you can probably take, you probably have to take no salary for longer because it takes a long time to ramp up to the amount of revenue that you can then pay yourself. But with a service business like ours, that’s pretty high dollar.
We, you know, we make a lot of cashflow into. We’ve got to like, essentially I wanted to build into our cost structure, a person like me to run things because it’s not like I, even if I didn’t work in the company, somebody would have to do what I’m doing. So I don’t think there’s a way that you can run this business as a real business without having somebody in that seat.
Even if I’m working at a discount. You know, keep things going a little longer. I still have to budget something for this in the future. So I think that’s important. I also think that it, again, like, kind of is like business fundamentals. You want to set your business up in a way that can, that it is realistic.
Like if, if you make a small business and it. Like pays you anything like you’ve just made yourself like into a, I mean, that’s, that’s really terrible, you know, that’s a lot of work to get nothing out of it. You may never get to a point where you can sell it or whatever you don’t know. So I think you at least have to cover your basics, but I do, you know, I think it’s also, I would prefer to invest more back into the business than to take more out at this point.
Now I don’t really need a ton of cash, I guess.
[00:27:30] Michaela: I personally always think that you have to love the way and the progress, right? Not only that, because otherwise you could really end up with a lot of regrets. So unless you sat, right, you probably don’t. I mean, it depends on how much you need right now from a supportive perspective on no, how much money cashflow do you need right now to feel that.
And then you can invest into your business and the growth and that’s the end goal. But I also think like if you’re starving on the way, it’s not that it’s not just the [00:28:00] right. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:28:01] Karl: I mean, it depends, you know, if you’ve got a bunch of money that you’ve saved up and that can be your bankroll for a while.
Sure. You might be able to do that. But yeah, everybody’s circumstances are different. Like I knew that I didn’t have that, so I couldn’t start a business that was going to take me two years to pay myself. It just, wasn’t an option. I’ve got a family to help support, you know, so for some people, I think.
Engineers who want to become entrepreneurs? They think like, oh, I’ll just build a software product. And that’s the, you know, I’ll, I’ll grow it. But like the time required to grow, that is huge. And the amount like you have to think and be realistic with yourself, about how much runway as we call it, do you have to make no money?
And if you don’t have a lot of runway to make no money, then maybe that’s not the right kind of business for you. Maybe you need to think about like, eh, is there another more service business where you can get some more cash in the door early? Or is there a. Info product or a course kind of business, you can start where you get more money in the door, early, things like that.
[00:28:55] Michaela: Yeah. I also think that, I mean, even if you do a software product, really trying to gab people paying for it as early as possible is super, super valuable because it keeps you honest. Right? Like having 200 people sign up for freestyle. You know, feels really good from, from an endorphin perspective or dopamine, but is it, is it, is it I actually underwrite way, right.
And you don’t want to feel like invest all the time three years and say, well, you know, I’m, I’m investing all of my time and you know, which is, I think a very noble goal to do, but. Three years you realize, actually not that I want to charge for it. You know, nobody’s really interesting. So actually starting with something and putting a price tag on it, I think is a really good.
Strategy also to know whether or not that is valuable, right. Or, or how to tweak it, that it becomes something that people want to also pay for. Or, and for engineers, it’s not that easy. I think engineers is a specialist species that are, I was actually talking with my [00:30:00] husband lately about what are we paying for?
Right. And there are a couple of. The IDs are all free. I mean, he’s actually paying for it for his
[00:30:09] Karl: ID. I pay for mine too,
[00:30:13] Michaela: but a lot of them are free and they’re really good. And then the other tools are all also free or either the organization pays for it. Yeah, I dunno. I think we are, we are too bunch.
[00:30:27] Karl: Yeah. I mean it is. But the other thing to think about one thing I’ve found that was surprising until I started the, this business was that your pricing will determine your. In a lot of ways. So for example, just in draft dot Deb’s case, if I charged half of what I do, I could probably open myself up to different kinds of customers that I don’t have today.
But the downside is, you know, we wouldn’t have the money to hire other people. So we wouldn’t be able to do things at the scale we’re doing. And so we’d have to scale way down. We’d have to be very limited in who we worked with and it would just be a different company and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There, it just is like different price points end up enabling you or pushing you into different market segments. And so when you go with the free market segment, like you said, that may not be the people who you actually need to pay you later. So companies that do freemium, a lot of times, what they’ll try to do is roll those free subscribers up into a company plan later.
But if you don’t have outside investment, that’s really hard. It takes a long time to get there. Yeah. Yeah. So it, again, it kind of goes to like, be realistic about if you’re bootstrapping and self-funding like, can you really afford to do that kind of freemium strategy? And like, usually the answer is probably not.
[00:31:42] Michaela: yeah, exactly. Yeah. You’re right. So. When I get from what you’re explaining here is that you also have a little bit like higher paying clients, a little bit companies that you have contracts with. So how do you get them? You were talking about sales. How do you do sales? And you [00:32:00] know, like how did you get that?
[00:32:02] Karl: So early on what I did was I said yes to anyone who wanted me to write an article for them. And so what I started to learn was which kinds of companies, what size of companies, what kinds of teams that are hiring me are the ones who are least price sensitive or most willing to pay the highest dollar amount, because they got the most value from the article.
So. You know, for example, I could write the same great article for a team, like an engineering team that wanted some content for their blog. As I could write for a marketing team that wanted content to put out to the public to make sure that engineers knew about their product. It could be the same article that was just as good.
But that marketing team would pay me two to three times as much as an engineering team would because that article leads directly to revenue for the company. So it’s a totally different business model and sit like you have to think about that. When you think about pricing services, there’s a guy out there named Jonathan Stark who talks a lot about value based pricing.
And while I don’t, I wouldn’t say we’re like a value based price service entirely. We think about that a lot, because what he’s saying in value based pricing is you should charge. The amount of value a client gets from your whatever work, your service. If an article is, let’s say for our case, like if a company can clearly make $2,000 of revenue from one article, we write over the course of a year or two, let’s say our articles are a great investment.
You know, that is a clear winner and they will pay us, you know, up to that, whatever, probably half of $2,000, a little more or whatever. So that’s that side one. If on the other hand, the company is not sure of their revenue per article like that. They don’t know how many visitors it’s going to attract.
They’re really nervous about that. Or maybe. They know that each article only gets $300. They’re never going to pay for our services. They’re not a good fit. And so that’s where, like, to me, the, the, the hard part of sales quote unquote, is figuring out who the ideal target market is that has the willingness to [00:34:00] pay and actually gets a good value out of our service.
Um, and so the clients that, you know, sure. I have people all the time and say like, yeah, you guys are too expensive. That’s totally fine. Like, Set up to do that kind of low cost work, but I have a lot of clients that think we’re a great value and they probably would pay more if we charge more. But like, you know, there’s a sort of a limit to where yeah.
The pricing pushes you into different markets. And so anyway, I think that the big part of sales is figuring out how to narrow down your market as much as possible. And so for us, it’s like started off as just like, we’ll write any technical content and then it got more narrow and it’s like, Technical content aimed at software engineers, but then we started to narrow down even further to like start ups who are trying to hit, trying to get in front of software engineers from their marketing teams.
And so now we’re like super narrowed down and it makes it really easy to have sales calls, like, because I basically know there’s only a few hundred companies in the world. Need to work with us anyway. So it’s a really small list. They all know each other’s, there’s lots of introductions and referrals. So you know what, we’re not going to be like the next Facebook size company ever.
That’s fine. We’re doing really well in the small thing that we’re good at.
[00:35:01] Michaela: Hmm. And so you’re also Dan, redirect, you going to a marketing head of marketing and pitching deeper, or how do you, and do you use like LinkedIn or sites like that to find those.
[00:35:16] Karl: I don’t do a lot of outbound like that. You know, there’s kind of two kinds of sales and marketing and it’s called outbound or inbound.
I am not much of an outbound outreach to people kind of sales person every now and then I we’ve tried it a couple of times. It’s just like, I don’t like it. It doesn’t seem to be that productive. We do mostly inbound and referrals, which means that people see the content we’re writing out there in the internet and they say, oh, that company did a good job.
Let’s go talk to them. Or they see, they talk to a, another client of ours who gives them the recommendation or they see maybe my, I share a lot of things on LinkedIn and Twitter. And so they, they see that and they contact me directly through that. We’re also doing some like meetup groups and conferences, things like that too, to kind of get the word out a little more.
To be [00:36:00] honest, like at this point we’ve had enough business from this inbound stuff that we haven’t needed to do a lot of direct outreach. So I think that’s ideal if you can get that set up, but it does take, I mean, I spent a lot of time building a reputation and the connections and networks. So like, that’d be hard to replicate if you were somebody earlier on in your career.
[00:36:17] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. I’m also completely a hundred percent invalid because there’s just like this. I don’t want to do it. Like I, you know, whenever I get an email from somebody, I don’t know, it feels like spam, but I don’t want them to be that person. Right. Like, I don’t know, like it’s also mindset obviously, right.
Because I know a couple of really, really wonderful, safe people that I also tried to learn a little bit about, and it never feels like they do it in a way. That it doesn’t feel like, you know, it’s this LinkedIn message that you get like that, you know, went out to 1000 people and drinks the same rate. So, but yeah, I’ve never, I’ve never tried it and I’m not really eager to try it anyways, but yeah.
So it’s, it’s inbound. Right. So do you write on your own blog as well? Do you write content for yourself or content
[00:37:08] Karl: Yeah. Oh, quite a lot. I try to write at least an article or two a week, sometimes more. Yeah, I, so I write for my own personal blog and then the draft.dev company blog quite a fair bit, although I’ve been trying to get more writers for that as well.
And then guest blogs, whenever they come up, whenever people just happen to see something and want, want me to write about? Yeah. I think writing is a really powerful career booster. Even if you don’t become self-employed as an engineer, I was just talking to one of our writers the other day and they were telling me about how.
Writing this article on some new technology. I don’t even remember what it was, but they got to write this article on a cool new tech that they’d never used at their day job. And they now get to put in their resume, you know, Hey, I’ve worked with this and look, I can prove it. I’ve got an article out there that I wrote, and that’s really powerful because like at our day jobs, like as a software engineer, I would usually get to work in like one or [00:38:00] two languages, one or two frameworks at a single company.
Company doesn’t want to have 30 different tech tools they’re using. They don’t always want to experiment with the newest things. It’s not worth it. But with, uh, with written content, a blog posts, you can go explore and try the try five or six new things over the course of a year and get those published.
And now you’ve got proof that, Hey, I know all the cool new stuff that’s been happening. So I think even if you don’t go, the self-employed. There’s a lot of advantages to writing, but if you do go the, like become a freelancer or consultant or starting a business, having all this writing out there on the internet is extremely powerful.
I mean, there’s people who reach out to me because of articles I wrote three or four years ago. And so it’s just this like compounding interest effect of good content being out there. And so you just never know when that stuff’s going to really pay off.
[00:38:48] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah, I totally totally see that, but it also takes really long time.
Like if you want to run, you have no idea about that tech. It really takes time, right. Especially if you want to. I mean, probably an introductory to something is quite easy to ride, but when it gets a little bit more. Substantial that it’s definitely like, for example, I’m thinking about all studying analysis tools that I analyzed over the last weeks.
Right. So I’m thinking about what I’m going to do with it. And if I’m going to create a YouTube video out of it or blog posts, definitely. I mean, I don’t know how long are you people spending on a, on a Blackboard. Probably would spend from my own block bars. It would take me several days to do that. Right.
To have that blog posts that you want to bring out there. How is that for you? How long do you spend on a. Well, it
[00:39:39] Karl: does get passed. Yeah. There’s definitely different kinds of articles that require different levels of time, commitment and research and all that. But I think you do get, I’ve gotten faster at writing since I’ve been doing it more.
I’ll say that I, you know, before this year I probably wrote a blog post a week on average, you know, maybe. 2000 words or a little less [00:40:00] now I, you know, writing a couple of week and having written even more, some at some point throughout this year, I’ve really taken that average time way down. So I don’t really have a, I don’t know what, I don’t have an hour number or anything like that, but I do know it’s like usually with a good solid day, I can finish up a single blog post unless it’s something really, really specific.
And then maybe it’s a two day thing and you know, it. Uh, you know, whether you should invest the time to get faster and better at writing blog posts. I don’t know. That’s, uh, you know, depends on what your goals are and what you’re looking at do, but even just writing one a month, you know, you think about, again, like this compounds over years.
And so one blog post a month is only 12 a year, but then you do it for five years. And now you’re talking like 60 blog posts. That’s a lot, like a lot of people never write 60 blog posts in their life. So I think there’s some just, you have to think about doing things consistently over time and the value of.
[00:40:50] Michaela: Yeah, true. And do you, do you use any software for, you know, helping you with the writing process? For example, the Rome research would be one, or I’m using obsidian. It’s a, it’s an open source version, which is very similar to it, which I think is a good way to, it’s like a second brain and you can link your resources.
And I think it helps with writing. I recently started like half a year, but do you use something like that for your, for your process to, you know, keep track of what you read and what you want to write about your idea?
[00:41:20] Karl: So definitely I keep a journal call called like a swipe file or marketers called swipe file of ideas and things that I think about throughout the day or week or year, I do keep a swipe file.
And then I also, as I start to like refine a topic, I start to create an outline of like, what ideas do I need to include in this article and how do they link together? So it’s, it’s really hard to write. Just boom, like bam out of blog posts without doing some research and, and outlines for me first. And actually I think this is one of those, like, time-saving hacks that a lot of people don’t do, they just jumped straight into writing.
And so then they get this mess of like ideas and then trying to fix it all later. It’s really hard. If you spend more time researching and outlining organizing, [00:42:00] it usually comes out better. And then I, you know, on the back end of things, like I use Grammarly pretty heavily because I go into back to my, I’m not a detailed person.
Like I I’ve gotten better and faster at writing, but at the same time, I missed punctuation and like spelling and all the little stuff. Right. So Grammarly is kind of my savior there. I always highly recommend if you’re going to write consistently, I think it’s free. You usually, so there’s no reason not to use it.
And even if you pay a few bucks a month, that’s it very well.
[00:42:30] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. I also use Grammarly and it helps quite a bit. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:42:35] Karl: It’s not perfect. And I mean, we have like re yeah. We have like real editors, human editors as well, because there’s definitely things that won’t catch, but it does, it can get some little things that are, yeah.
[00:42:46] Michaela: It’s really nice. Yeah. There are a couple of things that, because I’m not a native speaker, right. So sometimes it corrects me. I think you’re right, but I’m not right now. Like, and then sometimes I go with Grammarly and sometimes I just leave my stuff because I feel like it’s not always correct. Right. But, you know, yeah.
I really like it. I can recommend it as well. Yeah. It’s really cool. Cool. So maybe the last thing that I wanted to ask you is, so you transitioned from software engineer to CTO, right? So it means a lot of managing as well. People managing and. You know, doing your own thing. I guess this people managing already at the, at the startup already helped you to get a lot of those skills that you need now to delegate, to understand, to hire people and, you know, to have this, I mean, you have brilliant large company already within a couple of months, right?
So do you think that the CTO role and the managing role really prepared you and.
[00:43:47] Karl: Yeah, definitely. There’s a couple of key things that having some roles with startups helped me with. So first I came in as the first employee, basically at the last two startups I was with maybe first engineer, [00:44:00] but whatever is like within the first four people at the company.
So I got to see everything. I mean, you get to see the founders going through raising money and pitching the investors. I got to see how they hired people, how they dealt with. Cashflow and like deciding, you know, how who’s going to do their accounting. Like all these little nitty-gritty things that are not engineering, but at the same time, you just get exposed to, by being in a small business.
So getting to see that firsthand kind of gave me like, oh, okay, those are the things I would think about. If I started my own business, you know, that was part one part two was it gave me a huge. A lot of connections in software startups, which are now kind of my target market for the clients we have. So that has been really good from that standpoint as well as well.
And then the last thing was not being afraid to hire. People, have to fire people have to give them performance evaluations. Like all those management tasks you just said, it was super helpful to get the opportunity to do that in a protected environment. That wasn’t my own company where, you know, I think I tried really hard to be a good manager.
There’s a little less pressure when the company doesn’t depend on you being a perfect manager, you know, like there’s, there’s kind of a, I could have made a bad hire and that’s going to happen. It didn’t feel that high stakes. Now it feels a little more high stakes. Cause it’s my own business and this is kind of how, you know, make a living.
So I do think that that helped a lot. Now there’s plenty of people who do it without that experience. But I think for me that having that like level of experience and background. Did it give me a lot of confidence to make this easier than it would have been had. I just started this straight out of college or something.
[00:45:34] Michaela: And so what is it, what is the end goal for that company? How, how large do you want to grow it as large as possible? Or, you know, like, is there, is there some other areas where you think you could expand to something different, like other services or other products that you could.
[00:45:53] Karl: Yeah, I don’t, I don’t know.
I, I’m not like a, this is funny because like most startups, like they go into it, like the funded [00:46:00] startups, they go into it with a very clear idea of like how big they want to go and where they want to be, what their target total addressable market is. Like, I don’t really know all that stuff. This is a, like, it’s a lifestyle business in that.
It’s fun to run. It’s really interesting and challenging, and it is paying me enough to get by. So like, I just kind of want to keep doing that. Now I do like the sort of growing, because it exposes me, it forces me to learn new things. That’s been really fun. So like growing up. Like account managers had never hired an account manager before.
So I got to learn what that’s like and how do I give them work? How do I keep up with them? How do we pass things? Right. Like all this really interesting, but yeah, I just want to keep doing it as long as it’s interesting and fun to, to run and figure out is and provides challenges. Yeah. And we’ll see, maybe in a year or two it’ll it’ll get, it’ll just keep getting bigger and I’ll be out of my control and I’ll have to like, let somebody who’s more experienced, run it or maybe in a year or two it’ll.
Like the same diseases today. It’ll be fun to run. It’d be interesting. I really don’t know. To be honest.
[00:46:59] Michaela: Yeah. I think it’s perfectly fine. Not to know. There are so many interesting paths that, you know, life can take. And so, yeah, I’m really, really excited to talk with you about all of that and to see how it grew out of.
Keep looking out for the business and probably checking in and ask you, like, how many people do you have now? And I think it’s, it’s good to be open and just explore and have fun on the way up, but there’s not one, one right. Way to do things. Right. So everybody’s,
[00:47:28] Karl: yeah. That’s what I say to engineers all the time who are like, aren’t you afraid you’re getting out of the tech or you’re getting out of engineering.
It’s such a good feeling. I, yeah. I mean, maybe at first I was a little nervous about that, but to be honest, like your career can take weird paths. Like a lot of people have like winding career paths that don’t necessarily just go linearly from engineer to senior engineer, to lead developer, to whatever.
Like, so sometimes taking in diversion and doing something different for a few years or months or something can like open up new [00:48:00] opportunities if you come back. So if I came back to software engineering, Jump into something a little different than I was doing before, or maybe I’d get into the technical documentation or some con you know, hybrid skillset.
Like, so anyway, point being that, like, just because you studied something once for a few years, doesn’t mean you have to do it the rest of your life, that, you know, you don’t have to commit forever. There’s a lot of tangential skills that are, it’s good to be, have some familiarity with software engineering, you know, in the background.
Right? So what’s like me writing Java script for. You know, 15 years or 12 years, what’s the difference here? Right? So where where’s the difference? Well, when you’re exploring something else, suddenly you have a complete different mental model. Again, you have seen so many other things and then you’re coming back, you’re bringing actually so much value to the business, right?
And I think you are probably even a better engineer than just spending your time just doing this engineering thing without trying to be. Focused on the one thing that you’re doing. So, yeah. And the other thing, maybe so we can wrap that up is that when I started, when I started my business, I was really like, oh, there’s a ride in the wrong way to do things right.
Or listen to podcasts and read books and picked how others are doing it. Right. And I mean, there are so many things you can be on Twitter, you can do condom marketing, you can do DSR. And so it all felt like, oh, if you don’t do this right, if you don’t have thousands of followers on whatever, right. Then you’re not going to make it.
And you know, this is all not true. You can do your own thing in so many ways. You can have a wonderful business without being really [00:50:00] online without having an online presence. You can have like a huge online presence and not as driving business. Right. So. I think it’s really important to understand what drives you on one thing that you said is like, what gives you energy and what drains you?
And I think this is more important, and obviously you will do things that drain you for a short time, but you should really try it. Get rid of them and get more energy flowing activities and maybe hire people or turn your business into something else when you’re, when you’re facing those draining moments.
[00:50:33] Karl: Yeah. Yeah. Those were, that was my exact struggle. When I first started was feeling the same way. It’s so funny you say that like, there is a quote unquote right way to run a business. I thought, you know, and I thought like, oh, well, if I don’t follow the template, whatever that template is, which you can’t find, you know, like I follow that.
Yeah. I’m going to screw the whole thing up, but like, yeah, you’re exactly right. Is everybody carves their own path. And one of the hardest parts to me about starting a business was not having a boss up the chain to just ask questions about like, I’ve always been a very independent employee, but at the same time, it’s nice to be like, So, what do you think we should do here?
You know, like, look up, look back and just ask your boss questions. There’s nobody to do that to anymore. So now, I mean, I bugged my wife a lot. I bugged my friends a lot, but like they don’t, they’re not going to know the same thing. They don’t have the same interests. So like, Hey, anyway. Yeah. Getting over that is tough.
And it is something you just have to overcome and just be like, you know, go all in on. Once you do accept it though, it’s really liberating. And yeah, to your point, you can run a business a lot of different ways and it’s fun if you pursue it that way.
[00:51:35] Michaela: The most important thing is there is no right way. And there are ways that worked for one person.
And it’s not only how did executed it or the ideas that it had, but also the circumstances that they have been in and so on. And, and I think it’s just being sensitive. I think that I’m sometimes a person that pushes really hard, which isn’t always a good thing. Right. So if it [00:52:00] takes so much. Maybe, you know, another pass would be better, right?
Like if it, if it takes so much effort, this is something that I try to, to realize early on that, you know, if this is now really hard, maybe it’s not the right thing. It’s not meant. Right. So try something else, go step back and try it in a different way. And then, you know, and then it will work out better, I think.
[00:52:24] Karl: yeah, yeah. Uh, that, that’s definitely true too. There’s a lot of people who start businesses and think that it must be a. You know, grinding uphill, battle, both ways. Like it’s gotta be so hard and they have to eat ramen for years. And like, I mean, I just don’t think that that’s a hundred percent necessary if you’re willing to be a little flexible in like what you do and who you serve and how you serve them, because there’s.
Ways out there to make a living, you know, with your own business. And they don’t, you know, you don’t have to just pick one and stick with it forever. You can kind of pivot around and move and figure out what works best. Find out places where you can actually make a living and not have to work 80 hours a week every week.
So yeah, definitely want to purse. Well, but again, that kind of comes back to your goals. Like, what do you, what are you thinking you want to do? Like, do you just have some idea you can’t let go or are you trying to just make a good living and have a lifestyle? Business. Like maybe I am. So, you know, everybody’s different.
Everybody’s got their, their grand vision, I guess. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:53:23] Michaela: That’s really true. So thank you so much. I think we are in the, at the end of this show today, is there something that you want to tell my listeners, something that you want to give them on on the way, if you haven’t
[00:53:35] Karl: talked about? Uh, no. I mean, yeah.
If anybody ever wants to. Chat more about this stuff. I’m on Twitter at Carlisle Hughes. And then, you know, I’m happy to talk to you about like, if you ever wanted to write some for draft, we always are looking for writers or just want to talk business stuff or whatever else, engineering stuff. I love helping people out.
[00:53:54] Michaela: Yeah. I will link everything in the show notes. So thank you so much for being on my show to. I have a good [00:54:00] day. Thanks. Bye. Bye. I hope you enjoyed another episode of the sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I talked to you again in two weeks. Bye.
In this episode, I talk to Annie Liew, who works as a web developer at a startup called Pastel. She transitioned from Design to Engineering, and I want to know how she experienced this.
We talk about:
- about her experience transitioning from Designer to Engineer,
- the role her Juno Web Development Bootcamp (formerly HackerYou),
- her new role as the first engineering hire at a startup,
- her drive to learn and level up in public,
- and how she managed to build a large Twitter following.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Botany.io – Botany is a virtual coach for software engineers that unblocks essential teamwork and levels up careers!
Transcript: From designer to web developer
Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla, and today I have the pleasure to talk to Annie Liew. But before I start, let me tell you about botnay.io, yho sponsors today’s episode. Botany is a virtual assistant and personal coach for engineers. It helps you adopt better habits, improve your skills or automate your workflows. So how does that work, you ask. Well, great question. Botany connects to the tools that your team uses and crunches through the data to find opportunities for you and your team to improve your skills, strengths, and collaboration, and improve processes and automate workflows. By gently and smartly nudging or reminding you, you stay on top of open tasks and learning and growth opportunities. In this way, Botany smoothly drives your new skill and habit acquisition. I love how it makes code reviews, and giving and receiving feedback a better experience for the whole team. But I guess it’s best you try it out for yourself. For that hop over to botany.io to request access to the tool. So that is botany.io, but now back to Annie.
Annie is a designer who transitioned into software development. I want to talk with her about how she got her first engineering job and how she now build soften his startup as the first engineering hire. So I’m super excited to have any year with me Annie, like come to the show.
Annie: [00:01:27]Thank you so much so happy to be here.
Michaela: [00:01:30] Yeah. I’m really, really glad that you joined. So you have been a designer and then one day you wake up and you say, I now want to be an engineer, or how, how did that happen? And what did you do about transitioning from design to engineering?
Annie: [00:01:47] Yeah. So it’s a bit of a long winded process. To be honest, I studied multimedia design at university and I worked for several years as a designer in Australia and in England. And after that I decided, okay, I wanted to change a pace. I really wanted to move to Japan because traveling is something that I really enjoy. And so I actually went from design to being an English teacher for several years and then decided, okay, I’m going to move to. To Canada and try to get back into design, but because the landscape had changed so much, it was a real struggle. And I didn’t know anybody in Toronto as well. So I basically was in this position where I was just like freelancing on the side, like trying to get my design hustle going. But I was also lot working a bunch of minimal low low-paid jobs to kind of pay the bills at the same time. So I was kind of in this place where I was like, okay, this is not where I want to be. What can I do? How can I level up, how can I get the skills that I needed? And I looked into something called bootcamp. At the beginning, I looked into a lot of UX boot camps, and then I found a school called hacker youth. They’re called Juno now. But at the time, the only. The only boot camp that they offered was a front end web development boot camp. But I really, really liked the community that they built around it. So, you know, I’ve, I’ve built websites in the past before, and it wasn’t something that I really enjoyed. I really enjoyed the designing part of things, but I was always happy to hand off the coding. You know, part two, the developers, however, I did have to build websites and when I did them, I didn’t enjoy at the time, but this time I thought, okay, let’s try again. Let’s see if something has changed. And so I started attending. Small kind of little free, not seminars workshops around the Toronto area. And I was like, okay, what is this? Flexbox what is this? And everything had changed. And so I started getting really curious about it. And so I remember it was really interesting because I never, never thought that I’d be interested in code. But after doing the workshops, I was like, okay, maybe I can do this. And so I applied for the bootcamp afterwards, got a subdued. And as they say, the rest of the street,
Michaela: [00:04:10] Okay. Okay. And so you said you were mainly interested by the community. How did you, was it an online community or was it an offline community and how did you get in touch with the community? How have you, you know, like, I imagine that you get access to the community after you joined, but it seems like you have, you knew the community exists even before you joined this particular
Annie: [00:04:33] bootcamp. Yeah, that’s a really, really great question. And that was a reason why I joined the community. I always have this idea that it’s less about what you do and more about who you do it with. I really, really liked this idea. And so the way like the hacker U has a really strong junior college has a really strong community because there’s a lot of past alumni who shared about the journey. So I, I started contacting them and say, and asking them. Hey, how was your experience? Would you meet up for like a coffee so I could talk to you about it. And I, and I went to several events and talk to a lot of them and every single one of them said, this was something that I don’t regret. I a hundred percent recommended it. This was pre COVID. So the bootcamp was an in-person boot camp as well. So it was nine weeks of 10 to six. And then on top of that, you have your assignments and classes. So it was just like a full-time in-person bootcamp.
Michaela: [00:05:30] Okay, so it’s nine weeks. So you make a commitment for nine weeks. You leave everything other aside, right. And you just go and do your work there. And I don’t know. Do you have homework then? Or is that, do you do everything in class and then you go home and then that’s it the next day you do it again.
Annie: [00:05:48] Yeah, well, it started easy, like off pretty, you know, easy where it was just like the 10 to six, but there’s so much work. And the way that works is that you’re, you’re constantly building, um, projects. So there was no way that you would have been able to do everything just in the 10 to six. There’s been like, it’s, it’s such a fun little, like, it’s almost like a summer camp experience because we all had access to the school basically. And there’ll be nights when it’s like midnight and there’s like all my classmates around me and we’re all just working hard and we have like pizza coming and it’s just a really fun. And that’s what I mean about community as well as it has a really fun atmosphere where you’re doing something difficult. You’re trying to transition into this new career. But they’re doing their best to, you know, support you along the way and make it fun. And, yeah, so it was, I don’t think I actually went to the grocery store for about eight weeks because, and I’m really lucky to have a partner who could do that, but it was just so intense, like the work that I was doing, the purchase that I was doing and what I was learning, I just really didn’t have time. And a lot of people just didn’t really have time to do other things. And
Michaela: [00:06:58] so do you still have contact with a few of those people that you met
Annie: [00:07:02] there? Yes. Yes I do. Yeah. And there’s still a very strong alumni network as well. There’s like a Slack alumni network. I Stu. Do some mentoring and I go back and help, like, you know, current students and I’ve spoken on some panels with them as well for people trying to get their first jobs. So yeah, I’m still an active part of the community. And that’s something I like about the school is that a lot of us alumni are still very active. Yeah.
Michaela: [00:07:31] That’s really nice. And so this thing had helped you also get your first job or how did you make that transition now from, okay. You’re doing this nine weeks and then what happens then?
Annie: [00:07:41] Yeah, definitely. It helped me to get a good job because the school has a lot of industry contacts. And one of the things that they did was that we had an industry day where they invited a lot of potential employee years to a. An industry day where we all kind of showcased our work. It kind of almost works like a blind date. If you think about it, where we all the students were sitting around tables and we had like a, a minute to give out pitch and to talk about ourselves and to share a project that we’ve really proud of. And then the bell rings and then they kind of let go to the next student. So it’s like speed dating. Yeah, it was completely like speed dating, but for employers versus, you know, and like potential employees. So it was really, it was like very stressful because all of us were trying to like practice our speeches and our pitches and, you know, like try to finalize the work that we wanted to show. But as a result of the industry day, I got invited to, to. Interviews with some companies. And I ended up getting an offer, which I accepted a week later. So I was actually the first person from my cohort to accept the job.
Michaela: [00:08:52] Yeah. Very cool. Very cool. And so how long has that a goal?
Annie: [00:08:57] That was, I graduated in summer of 2019 and I started in August. Yep.
Michaela: [00:09:03] And then you worked at that company as a software engineer. Front-end software engineer.
Annie: [00:09:09] Yes. So I was hired as a front end developer and I was there for a year and a year and a quarter. Was
Michaela: [00:09:17] that experience, was that good? Did you feel like now you deepening your, your knowledge or did you learn a lot?
Annie: [00:09:26] So the, the first job I had as a software developer basically was a, I worked for an agency. And what that gave me was a lot of structure around things that you don’t learn in bootcamp. So I got introduced to like agile methodology and stand up and the process of, you know, tickets and JIRA and a lot of soft skills that not soft skills, but a lot of processes, internal company processes that don’t. That you can’t really learn in a bootcamp, but you have to learn them on the job. I also got exposure to one of the very big things was I got exposure to a lot of big, large code bases, some with legacy code, and I also had to build architect sites from. Like the ground-up. So, and I work with so many different websites. It was a, they are a WordPress, VIP partner. So all our sites were done in WordPress, but I was doing like the architecture and, you know, like patient, most CSS and some Jacory as well. But because I had exposure to so many different types of websites and processes, it was a really big, yeah. It was a really big boost I would say, and definitely helped me to get my next job for sure.
Michaela: [00:10:38] And so is the next job that you done accepted? Is that the one that you’re currently at is that the startup that you’re working
Annie: [00:10:44] for? That’s correct. I’ve been there about four months.
Michaela: [00:10:48] And so how does that happen? Like why did you change and why, why did you go from an agency to a startup? What was, what was the interest for you?
Michaela: [00:12:58] So now you are working in that startup and what are your responsibilities?
Michaela: [00:14:10] Yeah, I think that sounds like really good next step for you and the ability that you can grow in that role so much, how old is the startup and you know, how does that work? A startup I imagine, right. Like extremely stressful and a lot of pressure or we have to ship. So how does that work in a startup that there’s so much time for you to learn things and how, you know, Is everything actually running smoothly. And so it just doesn’t need that. There’s not too much presser pressure or how does it work?
Annie: [00:14:43] Yeah, that’s a great question. So this startup actually started in March, 2017 and I got hired and started in October, October last year, October, 2020. So they have been going strong for just over four, almost four years, by that point that they hired me and they were. Basically profitable at that point. So they decided to, you know, start growing and becoming like an actual company. So just to give you a bit of context, there’s actually just three people in the startup. Before I got hired, it was the CTO and the CEO and the product guy. So a designer and engineer and operations. So. As they were growing, they realized they needed more help. And that’s kind of what I got hired for, because we’re profitable at the moment. And we have a, our motto of, we have a SAS product that is a subscription model. We know that the money is coming in all the time. So while there is a bit of pressure to ship features and I definitely feel it, I think a lot of the pressure is more the internal pressure that I feel too. Kind of validate that I belong here by shipping features, but I’ve had a lot of discussions with my, my CTO. And basically he said, one of the things that is important is that I’m able to learn to like, basically start slow to speed up later. So. They understand the importance of learning and growing as a junior developer was someone very early on in their career. And they’re thinking the long-term game it’s, you know, I can like probably like try and just like really hustle and ship a lot of features, but would they be like really good features? Well, I actually learned the things I need to learn so that I can do it a lot better. You know, like later on for the company, I think it’s like for everyone involved is really important that we have like a strong foundation built first so that we are able to then, you know, become a lot better and faster later on, I really
Michaela: [00:16:49] liked this long-term vision and long-term thinking it’s something that I think is quite the rare. Even for large corporation that could definitely, you know, invest into their employees. There’s often, you know, a very shortsighted action that I, that I feel like you have to provide value and you have to provide it now. But there are companies that I, that I hear really provide value also to the employees, like for example, automatic and all from several peoples that work there, they have also, for example, I think a really great place to work because. When employees are in trouble, I always heard like they are there, right? Like they give you paid time off or like some time to breathe and to think and so on. And so I really liked that mindset as well, that, you know, they are getting someone on the team and they’re investing in the person and I think. I don’t know about you, but probably it also makes you very loyal to that, to that
Annie: [00:17:46] company. What you said about investment, because that was basically in some of my discussions with my CTO. They are definitely investing in me. So when I got hired, they knew that I had the skills coming in from as a designer and. You know, they didn’t, they wanted someone who could basically have ownership of the front end and not have to worry about, Oh, can you move this pixel here? Can you move that? The light that’s all taken care of. I’m very, very pedantic about those details and let the UX and UI or things. They don’t have to worry about that at all. So he says it’s a lot easier to teach someone to code than to actually care about the product and how it looks and how it feels. So, yeah, totally resonated with everything that you said there. Yeah.
Michaela: [00:18:29] Yeah. And I think this is a really good perspective as well. Right? So you want action to the right people that are caring. And I think also people that feel cared for, and at least from what you’re telling me here, it feels like you, you feel cared for which I think trans translates back. Right. So it’s, it’s like giving and taking. So one thing that I’m super interested in as well is how do you experience. Developing software in a startup, like, what are the processes there? Is it very flexible? Do you have like mentorship? Do you have like code reviews? What about testing? You know, like what you’re telling me, it’s like two people, right? So it’s the CTO and you, so how do you do that? How much, how much formality is there and, and, and who takes over what.
Annie: [00:19:18] Something that we discussed at the very beginning is that with processes, we don’t have processes for processes sake. So that’s because as a startup, we want to basically move fast and iterate on things and be able to push things up. We basically follow a, although not formally, we follow an agile process where we have stand-ups, we do the sprints and we do retroactive at the end of the week to see what has gone well, what could be improved and then kind of reiterate on that. In terms of the, the product development process. We basically have roadmap meetings, roadmap, plannings, every one or two months, basically when we kind of look at the roadmap that we’re building and seeing what features need to be built. And the way we decide what features need to be built is based on the kind of two ideas. The first idea is a, is it something that has been requested? Is it something that customers have requested or is it something that we have some data around how customers are using our app? Is that something that they’re doing often enough? And then the second part of that is what is the potential impact of this feature? So for example, like maybe customers like request something and they requested a few times, but is that going to have a big impact on the company on like the usability of the, uh, like, will it help us to get more potential clients or, you know, so kind of those two things are two things that we think about when we, when we plan out our roadmap and look at all the features that we have available and we didn’t do like a kind of one. One, usually a one month plan where we work on, we prioritize the features that we’re going to work on, and then we just basically go for it. In terms of mentorship, I have a very close relationship. I would say with my CTO slash manager, we do our one-on-ones. We talk very, very openly about things like imposter syndrome, how we want to shape the, the culture of the company, what kind of company that they want to be. One of the things that really impressed me from the beginning was that they said, okay, and this was during the interview process. They said, we are very keen on building a great company culture. They’re kind of the kind of company that people want to come and stay, but we don’t want to have like high turnover. We want our people to feel valued and we want them to have autonomy over their workflow and the things that they do. And we want them to have an impact, but you can definitely, definitely make an impact in our startup. So the TIFA. Management style that they have here is very, very suitable for me because I tend to get bored easily, but in a startup because I’m doing so many different things and have such a, I guess like impact or influence or ownership over the product is I feel very invested in the job and in the company.
Michaela: [00:22:08] When, when I actually started out of university, I thought like, what kind of company do I want to work for? And I was very impressed by these large corporations, but I think it was more the names than everything else. Right. And now over the time, I think my view shifted quite a bit because at a startup you can maybe make the whole, the whole half of the product, right. Or maybe the whole product. There’s definitely something there, which also right now fascinates me more like having more impact, having more, you know, like. Yeah, contributing more and also maybe different heads. That’s something that I liked a lot. Actually, when I was working at Microsoft, I wasn’t a very specific position. Right. It was in the tool engineering teams. And so there, there was a lot of research, a lot of innovation, and that also had like a lot of hats, a lot of flexibility and a lot of impact, to be honest. But then when I wanted to transition, I looked at other teams and said, Oh, I don’t know. I, this is a little bit too restrictive for me. How is that for you? Do you have like several hats while do you have like probably designer hat, then you have maybe the developer hat, but other, other hats, I don’t know, responsibilities that you take over in the
Annie: [00:23:24] company? I wouldn’t say that I have like responsibilities per se, but I would say that I have the flexibility to kind of shape the role that I’m in and. Look into things that I’m interested in. So for example, one of the things that I did probably in the first couple of months is that I joined because with our clients, with our CEO, so that I could like talk to the client specifically and ask them questions about how they’re using the product, how they like it. And so that gave me a lot of. I guess empathy for our users and how they’re using the product. And actually this product is something that I use myself. So I is like, I am the user at the same time as something that I’m building for myself. So it’s interesting, but I also. Yeah. Like, because it’s such a small company, we do a lot of different things. For example, I don’t have to do this. My core responsibility is to build features and like be in engineering. But one of the things that I also do is that. I, you know, sometimes I’ll reach out to people. I think that we get a benefit from, from using pastel. And so that’s something that I do as well. It’s very, very, very, very flexible. It’s I’ve actually never worked in a company that has been so flexible before, like that, like any hierarchy, like structure is like quite flat. So everyone’s just going responsible for everything we have. Like, we communicate very openly and discuss things and it’s very much a process where it’s very collaborative. We all work together. And we’re very intentional about the things that we do that would move the company or move the product forward. So, and also just going back to what you said about mentorship, and one of the things that. Attracted me, I guess, about large companies was the idea of mentorship. And because like, traditionally we feel like large companies have very formal processes in place for mentoring younger developers. So it was something that I was very, very worried about when I first, when I was talking to the CTO, because there is no formal processes. It’s a bit, it’s a bit chaotic in many ways. So I. Asked him about that and we have code reviews. So I think maybe you’re familiar with the idea that code reviews are in many ways, a form of mentorship anyway, because you know, you’re getting your coffee with you. You’re getting a lot of feedback. He’s very good at the feedback as well. He just, he doesn’t tell me, just do this. He tells me the why. And yeah, it’s like very, very detailed and it’s, it’s really helpful. But the other thing that we do very consistently, at least twice a week, if not more, is that we pair on a very regular basis. And that’s been an immense source of mentorship as well.
Michaela: [00:26:04] Yeah, I think to be honest in a company like that’s that small, right? And you have like the CTO as the main engineering person, you have excess. To the CTO, right? I mean, it means that it’s the person that shaped the whole product that knows the architecture. So which means in another company, there will be several layers that you have maybe to go through, or people are really busy maybe also, and here, because there is an investment from the CTO also in you. Right. It’s in both interests to be like pairing and exchanging ideas and learning. And so, yeah, I can imagine that this is actually a really good spot to be in and have like. Almost like, like a really personal mentorship, you know, th there are mentorship programs in larger organizations, but I don’t think that people are that invested right in their mentees. Then probably your CTO is in you. Right. Because there is like higher stakes to make it work for that person. Right. So. One thing that I wanted to touch base, which is a little bit out of context, but you mentioned it at the beginning. And I think it’s interesting for a lot of people that are looking for jobs maybe that are coming out of would come, you know, coming or transitioning or coming out of college or whatnot. Right. And getting a foot into Tash, you said, well, actually by Twitter was super helpful. So. How, how, how are you using your Twitter or how are you building your following? What’s the value that you get out of Twitter and how can you, you know, how can others maybe also benefit from that and let it help them also a little bit in there in the job search.
Annie: [00:27:46] It’s interesting because I was never really a social media person. I had to open our, my Twitter account because my bootcamp made us open the account. And I remember in the very early days, I had no idea how to use Twitter. I was like, okay, I have to tweet something. What do I talk about? How do I connect with people? It was a very confusing kind of landscape for me because it was just a platform that I wasn’t familiar with. And I hadn’t used it before. When it started to change was when I, when the pandemic started and I’d been in my job for awhile and I was very comfortable with what I was doing, but I really wanted to level up. So I joined a hundred days of code and I started sharing my process on, on Twitter. And that was when I started to meet more people, build a community and. Basically, that was how, like my following grow. I, I guess it was very unexpected. I wasn’t expecting it. And it was very intimidating at the beginning, but in terms of why our boot camp made us open a Twitter account, it was because they knew the value of having a online, personal brand. And your Twitter account or any other, like your LinkedIn and stuff, your website is all part of that overarching idea of your personal brand. And it’s really helpful because a lot of companies do checks on you to see what kind of person you are outside of just the code that you do. And people hire other people for soft skills, not just, you know, like they can like, do like a for-loop and stuff, but it’s actually like what, what you bring to the company and. Twitter as is a way to not only kind of show the projects that you’re working on, which I was doing. I was like doing a lot of projects and just showing them, or freely on Twitter and on cold pen as well. But it’s also a chance for them to see who you are as a person. And I think that is the value of like Twitter or some of the other. Um, social sharing social networks as well. Yeah.
Michaela: [00:29:46] Okay, cool. So any, thank you so much for taking the time talking with me. Maybe I want to use the last few minutes to just catch up with things that you wanted to say to my listener, or, you know, like something that you want to leave. People were, I think especially people that are coming from bootcamps would be interested, people that are transitioning. Right. What is your advice for them? What do you think? What should they, yeah. What, how do you think that they could make themselves successful? I set them up for success.
Annie: [00:30:21] One of the things that I heard over and over again was that your network is so important and I really, it was something I really, really. Um, felt when I started to get into coding because when I came to Toronto and I didn’t have a network, it was extremely difficult for me to get into design. I didn’t know anybody. And once I tapped into a network and a community, everything became so much easier. So there is a lot of value in reaching out to people, because at the end of the day, you do the things that you do, you don’t. Build features and products and cold by yourself. You build it in a team with other people and having mentorship and a mentor can also be just someone like who’s a little bit ahead of you. If you can look on your current journey and give you advice on what you can do and just talk to them and kind of encourage you as well, having that kind of connection with someone who is already in the field or with a larger community, I think has a really large impact on, I would say a developer’s career. Something that I heard from somebody I remember this very clearly was that he said that the most successful developers, uh, people who have a large network to draw from, and also they’re not kind of tied into one specific like technology or something. They’re always kind of learning. They’re always open to hearing about like more things and they have like a large depth or breadth of knowledge and. They’re successful because they can draw from all districts areas. And I think that’s, that was like something that had always stuck with me. So. Yeah, like reaching, reach out to people, get involved in community, but also actually do work. The only reason that I was able to probably attract the attention of my current employee was because I was like really, really putting into putting in the hours of all the projects I was doing. And I think it shows as well, like the kind of work that I was sharing. Like I had spent hours and hours on them and just kind of refining my skills, getting better and improving each time. So. Those are things that come across when you’re sharing. And it’s very easy for people, I guess, like as new devs to become very discouraged. When, you know, you’re looking for your first job and you get a lot of rejections and it’s like, it’s really hard. It’s like so crushing, but you kind of have to understand that rejection is not. It’s not personal. It might be just that the company didn’t, it’s not the right fit at the right time, or there’s a lot of different factors and it’s not like really personal and cut you kind of, kind of help you to get over that hump is just to do work that you want to be hired for, or you want other people to see. And I think being able to show and share your work and show that you’re passionate about what you do and that you’re willing to learn is very, is very important.
Michaela: [00:33:24] And so was that work that you showed and that you did, was that outside of work or were you able to showcase the work that you did for work?
Annie: [00:33:34] It was outside of work and that was because the work that I was doing at work belongs to the company and. I was comfortable with the job that I was doing this. So I wanted to learn other skills beyond the work that I was doing at work. And actually this brings out a really good point because something that, that maybe like you kind of feel, feel this as well, like tech is one of those industries where there’s almost an expectation to work outside your job. And I just want to clarify and say like, that is not expected and you definitely shouldn’t do it because like a doctor doesn’t, you know, practice like operations in like his or her free time. And like, I don’t like the feeling that I have to, you know, work outside of my job, but it was something that I wanted to do personally to kind of level up because I wasn’t getting the kind of skills I needed. At my current job at that time. So that was the reason why I did it.
Michaela: [00:34:35] I also think like building up those profiles, then we just touched on before, right. Is something that’s really hard if you’re employed, because most of the time the code doesn’t belong to you. Right. And it’s not something that you can easily share and say, Oh, look at my guitar. There’s my code that I write for my employer. That’s confidential. Right. So if you want to fill your GitHub with nice stuff, it somehow. It means that you are doing stuff outside of work, but yeah, we have to be ready. The realistic that a lot of people are not, you know, they don’t have the position to do because they have like a full-time job they have to care for. Right. So, yeah, I think I understand. And they understand that this probably has a big impact, but it’s also. I also, as you said, I’m not advocating or at all right. That people should, should need to do it, but it’s, it’s definitely interesting to, to hear that that’s the way how you grow your following, how you grow your skills, right. So there is a trade-off that you have to make and, you know, if you’re in a position to do it, then that’s great. And I think it’s okay. Also not good to forbid people to do something outside. Right. I mean, sometimes it’s what you have to do. That’s how it is.
Annie: [00:35:48] Right. And in lieu of that as well. I also think that’s why having a network is so important because that’s how you can get your next job without having to do all the extra work of learning outside of your full time job. Yeah,
Michaela: [00:36:00] exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Any, thank you so much for taking the time and talking with me today, it was really a pleasure to have you. I wish you all the best for your job and that you learn a lot and I will. Continue following you on Twitter and see what you’re doing. And I’m really excited for you. Thank you so much for being on my show.
Annie: [00:36:20] Thank you for having
Michaela: [00:36:20] me. Yeah, it was my pleasure. Okay,
Annie: [00:36:23] bye.
Michaela: [00:36:26] I hope you enjoyed another episode after sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe and I’d talk to you again in two weeks. Bye.
Episode 37: Underrepresented, Underpaid & Undervalued – Having to change jobs to advance your career
In this episode, I talk to Jenn Creighton. Jenn is a Senior Staff Engineer at Apollo. Jenn specialized in frontend-end development is currently working on the open-source work for Apollo GraphQL.
She also is a frequent conference speaker, an authoritative voice in tech, and recently started her own podcast called single-threaded
We talk about:
- what a senior staff engineer does, and which responsibilities this title entail,
- why she needed to frequently change her job in order to advance her career,
- how gaslighting, bias, and being underrepresented, underpaid, undervalued is part of her decades long experience as a developer
- and how she makes sure she is helping others to enter tech and have a better experience.
In this episode, I talk to Natalie Davis. Natalie is a recent Bootcamp graduate that managed to get hired quickly after graduating. She is vividly sharing her knowledge on Twitter and started to make real waves in the dev community within just one and a half years in tech.
We talk about:
- her experience at a developer Bootcamp,
- how she managed to quickly get hired after graduating,
- how she keeps up with all the stuff she has to learn,
- how she decides to adopt best practices,
- and how to overcome rejections by staying positive and focusing on growth.
In this episode, I talk to Tomasz Łakomy, a senior frontend engineer at OLX Group. Tomasz is fascinated about teaching everything he knows and has over 170 video tutorials.
We talk about:
- how they develop, test, and reviews software at OLX group,
- what war rooms are and how they help to combat technical debt,
- how he managed to create over 170 video tutorials about software engineering,
- why he is AWS certified as a front-end engineer, and
- how skydiving helped him to be a better software developer.