Getting hired at Apple Despite a Bipolar Disorder with Cher Scarlett
We also talk about:
- the hiring process at Apple
- the tasks and responsibilities of a Staff engineer
- how to handle mental health, and bipolar disorder during job interviews
- and how the “disability” box can be a life-changer for getting accommodations for your special needs.
McKayla’s Code Review Workshops
Website of Cher
part 1 of this interview
Cher Scarlett is the Staff engineer at Apple.
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Read the whole episode "Getting hired at Apple Despite a Bipolar Disorder with Cher Scarlett" (Transcript)
( intro music )
Michaela: [00:00:03] Hello, and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. I'm your host, Dr. McKayla, before I start, I want to tell you that I locked in new dates for my next code review workshops. In these workshops I show you how you can make your code review faster and more valuable at the same time. The workshops are super interactive and very hands on, and do deep dive into a couple of different social technical topics. I show you how to give and receive respectful yet constructive feedback, how to resolve conflict, and also all about the latest research and best practices and how to conduct contributes. If this sounds interesting, have a look at them, website michaelagreiler.com/workshops, and also link it in the description. Well, but now let's talk about today's episode. It's actually part two of my interview with Cher. In the first part, Cher shared with us how she overcame hardship and abuse and worked your way up from a very difficult situation to now be a Staff Engineer at Apple. In this part two shares(??) with us all about her interview experience at Apple, why she left Webflow, and how checking the disability box string hiring has changed her life for the better. So let's deep dive into today's episode with Cher.
I would like to ask you a little bit about your job at Apple now. So what are you doing there? What's... what's I know it's the title is Staff Software Engineer, but what is, is Staff Engineer at Apple? What do you do? What are you responsible for? And also, I would like to hear everything about the hiring process because I'm super afraid of interviews and things like that, so I would like to know. How have you experienced that? And, yeah, also for my listeners that want maybe to apply at Apple, what should they do?
Cher Scarlett: [00:02:13] I'm kind of still learning what my role is. Cause I just, you know, just started, but, so I guess I'll start with the team I'm on. So the team I'm on is in legal and global security. And so I work on some tools that are specifically about, you know, protecting data that is secret( laugh ). You know, so, and that kind of reach out through the whole company. So my level is a level four, which is the level above three( laugh ), above senior for most places. So I'm still kind of learning like what that means at Apple. And I don't think that it's the same across the whole org in, you know, even within like the security, there's like a bunch of different security departments at Apple. I don't know that it's the same everywhere, but. Yeah, I, there is definitely this expectation when you, you get to a point who, you know, like I've been in the industry for 15 years, I've been coding for 20 years. There's this level of expectation that like, you don't need a lot of direction. And so, and then also, you know, you're, you're being vocal in your organization, you're, you're mentoring people. There's a, there's a lot of like levels responsibility above just, you know, writing code it's, it's being, you know, somebody who has ideas and, uh, waste execute those ideas, like sort of like an all encompassing of like, when you think of a senior engineer and then just, I guess, like a step above that, to where you're actually helping make, make those plans of like making those ideas happen essentially.
And the hiring process is very interesting because originally it kind of started as a joke between a colleague Devin, who works at Apple. And I have these jokes with a couple of other companies as well, like Netflix, like Ryan Burgas like, you know, he he's made jokes about like, Oh, like, We can't hire you because I really want to hire you, but we can't because we don't do remote. And it was like kind of the same banter with Devin. And in November she started like looking for a job for me with that would be remote because I can't move because of my child custody agreement with my ex. And I had gotten it email in February from somebody at Apple. And they're like, Hey, your resume, you know. Let me just get Devin just gave it to me. And you're exactly like what I'm kind of looking for somebody who, cause I've learned basically everything, all the programming languages I know on the job. And so that really like interested him, that I had like all of these kinds of like general skill sets and you know, like that's kind of what he was looking for.
So it was kind of definitely like up, uh, Beat(??) it it's very important to like, have networking and have like, you know, kind of like your, your stick, I guess like in mine is like that I can learn anything and, you know, work on anything in context shifts. My first thing was that I had like, like kind of like a screening call with the manager who had reached out to me just to kind of like, it felt like it wasn't really about my technical capabilities, which I really appreciated, you know, having been in the industry for so long. I think it's really important that we treat. You know, experience like it matters ( laugh ) and not just like, you know, everybody likes it, you know, engineering test to decide like, if they're the right person. So yeah, we had a conversation and just, you know, seeing if there was that. Yeah. I guess if we could like build a rapport with each other is like the, you know, if there's that comfort like, like, is this going to be a good fit, you know? Um, and that went really well. So then I had another screening with HR or like the technical recruiter rather, just to make sure I checked, you know, all of the boxes in their requirements, which obviously having a Computer Science degree was none (??) of them( laugh ).
And then, I did have a series of interviews and there were technical topics, but it was very much more like abstract. Like how did you solve this problem? Or, you know, talk about like some different, like situations that you've been in at work. So problem solving both around, you know, making technical decisions at a high level. And then also, you know, Being able to work with people. Like how did you work through problems that came up with colleagues and yeah, I think that once you get to like a senior or above level, for me, like I talked about helping other people who are more junior to me resolve problems, and I didn't really do that on purpose. It's just. Once you get to that level, like those are the things that you should be doing and you shouldn't be really like having your own problems quite so much. Um, so I talked a lot about like how I mentored and coached more junior colleagues through big problems that they have, you know, with colleagues or with code.
And so I did have like a technical. A interview, but it was not like white boarding or like solving an algorithm. I actually reviewed a fake PR and I apparently discovered some things that were wrong in the code that they didn't do intentionally. So I think that that was like a big signal to them that like, and this is kind of how I feel too, when you learn something from somebody you're interviewing, especially for like a senior above role. Like to me, that's a signal that they're like the right person, um, To hire and I say the right person, but I think a lot of people can be the right people. And it's definitely more of like a, a combination of like, you know, opportunity and also feeling like comfortable with people, which I'll touch more on that, that later. Yeah. That was, that was the process. And they ended up making me an offer and because of like, COVID-19 going on, it was very slow. But then I also had a lot of time to like, make a decision. So.
Michaela: [00:07:31] Yeah. That's good also. Yeah, because you were actually working at Webflow at that point, right?
Cher Scarlett: [00:07:38] Yeah. And I, you know, I wasn't super sure about leaving.
Michaela: [00:07:43] So why did you in the end, why did you actually leave? I mean, Webflow for example has also this very positive image. So it's one of the companies that are on is on my list that if I would get a job, I would probably apply there as well. What were some of the reasons behind changing that job? Why did you leave Webflow and took that, that opportunity at Apple?
Cher Scarlett: [00:08:07] So, yeah, Webflow is such a fantastic company. They're led by, you know, people who, you know, have either experienced hardship or work really hard to understand the hardships that other people have. And so, you know, when it comes to. You know, accommodating like mental health or work life balance because of your kids or your pets. Like, it doesn't really matter. They try really hard to make an equitable, positive experience for everybody and even, you know, the, their mission, you know, in creating tools that. Allow people who traditionally haven't had access to turn their ideas into reality. Their mission is to unlock that, you know, for everybody and that in of itself, like, you know, obviously speaks to me in terms of like wanting things to be, you know, equitable, you know, across the globe. But. You know, one of the things that's really tough in software is that there is still so much of a lack of representation of, you know, women and people of color, and especially like black women in our technical space, especially in engineering roles. And so for me, you know, when I started, like, I was very vocal about, you know, things that I thought were, you know, needed. Changed in the hiring process and trying to bring more diverse candidates in. And I did that. I was successful in bringing in a lot of really diverse candidates who were, you know, fantastic for Webflow. But the, the process is, was still broken, you know, because at the end of the day, the people that, like, for example, like, let's say you and I were interviewing somebody, if they were a white woman. That's the person that we're going to feel most comfortable with because that's the person that we most relate to. And it's, it sucks. The humans are like that, but that's why, like we have to just accept that that's the way things are and put things like processes in place to ensure that okay, if you know, a black woman is interviewing. She needs to be interviewed by at least one black woman. Right. And, you know, having, you know, female management and people of color in management, there's all these different steps along the way that will lead you. A person saying no to a company or a company saying no to an employee or, you know, a potential employee that would have been fantastic just because there was, you know, an unconscious bias that wasn't prevented in that process. And so for me, it just got to a point where. The engineers, we were hiring, weren't reflective of what I felt like I was working to achieve. And like I could celebrate, you know, all of the strides in, you know, the more diverse hiring outside of like who we hired as engineers, because they actually hired two women and a person of color into, into the engineering management roles, which is great. But it's still, you know, I'm not an engineering manager. I don't want to be an engineering manager. Like to me, That's a place that where traditionally orgs I've tried to shove me into, instead of letting me like flourish more on the technical side, where, where I it sincerely belong. And it just wore on me to a point where I felt like the best way that I could help make that change was to leave and have people, you know, kind of have like a moment of like revelation of. Clearly something went wrong and we didn't see it. And now, you know, cause I got interviewed by exited view by a lot of people. And so getting to have those conversations and like they, they were, you know, aware of the issue and like lots of people in the work were like, you know, trying to work on making those changes. And I, I do a hundred percent believe that they will make those changes. It just, you know, like I'm a human being and it's just I got to the point where like, I wasn't excited. You know, when a new hire got announced for the engineering or that was, you know, in an, in an individual contributor role, because I knew before they even said anything, that it was that it wasn't going to be a woman or a person of color.
Michaela: [00:12:27] So it feels a little bit to me. I don't know if that's the right impression that you put a lot of energy into that and, you didn't see really, it, it it's going somewhere or not fast enough in the right direction. Is that? Is that what happened?
Cher Scarlett: [00:12:43] Yeah. Yeah. And like, I definitely, it's hard because like I believed that they would get there, but it weighed on me so much that, that I, I felt like I was putting all of this effort in, and there wasn't really a whole lot of accountability for. The lack of conversion from having a really diverse hiring like candidate pool, and then seeing that conversion of that same diversity into who we are actually gave offers to. So again, it's like that, that division. Yeah. Yes. I believe this is going to change. And out of all of the companies I've ever worked at, I believed that they are the company that's going to do that. But at the same time, like I can't change like how I'm not no longer excited about. You know, people coming to work for a Webflow in the engineering department, and nobody wants to feel that way about their job, especially when they really like care about the people that they work with.
Michaela: [00:13:15] Yeah, exactly. I think it has to do with a lot of really deeply caring, right. That you are feeling that you're really part of the whole thing. So somehow this probably. Is then heavier on you than on somebody that can detach themselves a little bit more.
Cher Scarlett: [00:13:31] Yeah, exactly.
Michaela: [00:13:33] So do you have the feeling that at Apple that's now better? I don't know the the numbers, but I feel that they have somehow the same problem as almost all tech companies, or even companies of the whole world. ( laugh )
Cher Scarlett: [00:13:53] So, I mean, I will say that like, I have a significant amount of debt from the life that I was living before. And I, I've had a lot of people telling me that I should just file bankruptcy. Cause I mean, I'll just be transparent. I'm like $128,000 in debt. That is not from my home. I've had a lot of cars, repossessed and things of that nature over the years. And so I have. It's a lot of debt. And I, because of the things that I did wrong that I never was, you know, caught for or whatever, I feel like it's really important to me that I take responsibility and pay those things off instead of, you know, filing for bankruptcy as it were, you know, I just, I want to be clear in my conscious and feel like that I am a responsible person who's like accountable for her actions. And so that's, that's a part of that for me. So obviously, you know Webflow, you know, they're a startup that's doing incredibly well. But so startup, so Apple could pay me a lot more than Webflow could and of course, offering the, you know, I see for a position right off the bat(??), instead of having to, you know, try to get that promotion that I really decided I was going to get this year. Like it definitely played a part as well. So there was like those two aspects that made the. You know, the same lack of diversity in engineering problem, a little less important to me. Well, it's still important to me, but less of a it's like a, you know, like a combination of things.
Michaela: [00:15:21] I think it's the decision is really going one step further in your career, right? I mean, there is, there's a difference between the job that you had and the job that you are now, you got at Apple.
Cher Scarlett: [00:15:32] And I think that part of it is too is like this. At Apple, even though, cause I mean the problem exists in our whole industry. Right. And so the problem thus exists at Apple as well. But I do think that I had this level of fatigue of like being so vocal and then having nobody being accountable for it. Whereas Apple is a much larger company and has. A lot of processes and accountability in place. I'm already that I don't have to have that extra level of fatigue. You know, like it's something where like I can be a part of it and then step away from it and progress will continue to be made. Somebody will continue to be held accountable for it, you know? And even by getting hired, you know, as a part of that, A part of that progress. Cause the team I work on, I'm the only woman, of course.
Michaela: [00:16:21] So I right now really vocal in that area already. Or how do you, you know, when you're just starting? I remember my time when I started at a large corporation, it was Microsoft and it was very overwhelming because every large corporation really has their own culture and they have their own terminology. And then really understanding how the systems work, even the processes and. You know, where's the right person that I could talk to, you know, who is actually, you know, how, how are those? It's a little bit like invisible lines, right? There are these org charts, but they are not, they're not a true reflection of how communication channels actually work at orientation, things like that.
Cher Scarlett: [00:17:02] Who has the clout to make the changes, that's what you really need to know.
Michaela: [00:17:09] Yes, exactly. Right. Yeah.
Cher Scarlett: [00:17:13] So I haven't yet, mainly because. I, I don't have the, I guess the insight or the data of like what exactly those numbers look like, what changes have been put into place to, you know, make tiring more equitable. I don't have insight into that stuff yet. And I don't like to get involved before I know. What exactly is going on, but I have been involved in a couple of others, things already, which is talking about like, you know, mental health and offering myself as like an advocate for other people. And then also inadvertently the trans community because of things like deadnames, my legal name, first name is actually Cheryl and obviously like, you know, you have a bit of insight into my past. I don't have any connection to that name. And it brings up a lot of really negative feelings for me. So I use the preferred name Cher, but you know, whoever input my information, they took my legal name instead of my preferred name. And so now I'm having to do a lot of work to change it so that people don't call me that. And so, so, you know, inadvertently. That's something that less affects people like me and more effects like trans people. So finding out like, you know, what's being done about that. How can I get involved? And, you know, it's important to me specifically, obviously, but like I recognize that, okay, it's incredibly more important to people, you know, who are hurt. By, you know, people using their deadnames a lot more than me.
Michaela: [00:18:38] Yeah, I think it's so when I, when I talk with you, what I really see is that all of those very different experiences in your life, right? The very different circumstances that you're. In those give you incredible power to see things that, you know, somebody else cannot see. Right. So to be very honest, I didn't even, I mean, English is not my, my first language either, but I didn't know that the term deadnames even existed. Right. So I know for example, that people are changing their names and things like that, but it's very important that we have people that are telling us about things like that. Right. And are outspoken about it. So I think this is. And, and this is why diverse workplaces are so powerful because everybody's coming from a different perspective. Right? So if we would work together, I would bring all my perspectives from, you know, being in European. For example, speaking another language, what it means to speak, you know, a German as a mother tongue, and then how to deal with all these English. Code base, ( laugh )right? For example, or, or how to pay, or for example, if you're, if you're not, if it's not your mother tongue and you learned it in a different language, and then you have to talk about a full loop(??), it's really difficult. You're somehow thinking in German and you know, things like that, but this is again, a very. A very different perspective on the world. Right. And so your perspective is also so, so important, I think, and I really liked that you are not only keeping it to yourself, but that you're speaking about it. And so when I started you're at Apple now, and then I think it was maybe if week later or two, I don't know, I, you know, time and Twitter and things like that are really hard, but, and then you were talking about your mental health and I was like, wow. Cher is already sharing, you know, something very vulnerable. And I thought, would I be able to do that? And I wasn't sure. I cannot say that. No. Or yes, but I was really like, I, I'm not sure if I would be able to say it, I would be maybe scared. Right. Feeling, not safe to say something like that. Because as you said, very often as a woman, you have it. Also quite difficult at the beginning, you have to prove yourself, you know, there are all these eyes on you, does she even deserve to be here? Does she know what she's talking about? And things like that. And so I would probably feel very, very insecure sharing topics, for example, about mental health, but you did. And so why, why are you doing that? Why are you sharing that? And what gives you the strength to do that?
Cher Scarlett: [00:21:40] So, when I was at USA today, I had. But, you know, obviously I still had mental health problems back then and they were in a worse shape than they are now. And so I frequently, you know, would wake up with like intense anxiety or if I like was going through like a depressive episode to where I could not go into work, like physically couldn't even get myself out of bed. Like, you know, now knowing that I have ADHD, if that makes sense, but like, I just, I couldn't do it. And so. I could never imagine, like anybody calling up their boss and being like, I can't come into work today because I am physically unable to get out of there. But because of some sort of mental issue I'm having, you know, like that's not something that I had ever heard anybody say. And so, you know, I would lie and I did not feel good about that. So like there was, you know, like I would say that like I had the flu or. You know, some other like illness, you know, instead of saying like, Hey, you know, I feel like completely debilitated today. And after. That like I got put on like a PIP, which is like a Performance Improvement Plan because I was out sick so often and my performance was suffering and like I was, I was struggling internally and I wasn't dealing with it. So the next should I go after that was a blizzard. And I was still kind of in that same mindset, but I had a manager who, um, was a woman for the first that's my first female manager. She wasn't my direct manager. She was a level above that. But nonetheless, she was somebody that I talked to about. I didn't tell her that like, I had bipolar disorder or anything like that, but there was definitely like a level of like, where I was like, I'm so like exhausted. And like, I get overwhelmed and she's just like take a day. And it wasn't anything where I would be like, Oh, I'm taking a mental health day. I just be like, okay, I'm taking the day off. And I would take like, you know, I would use my PTO for it. And I wouldn't say what it was about. And so it was kind of like a little bit of building. And one of the things that I have learned in my career is the most important aspect of every single thing is like being authentic and honest. And this was around the time where I started to see the parallel and okay. I think I got the job at USA today because when they asked me about something and I didn't know it, I said, I didn't know it. Right. And so you. Yeah. Instead of being seen as like, Oh, you're in competent. Cause you don't know that thing. You actually build a relationship with somebody that they feel more comfortable with you because you're letting you're letting yourself be vulnerable. So, so I was at. Blizzard. And I was taking mental health days, but I wasn't calling them mental health days, but I kind of recognized at that point that like my performance was a lot better. I still felt the same way about myself. Like, you know, like I still had that very much imposter syndrome where like, I, you know, if I made a mistake or like, didn't. Catch something I would go into, you know, a review cycle and, you know, asking, you know, you're supposed to like rate yourself. And I would, I would rate myself really low in technical ability like that. I had a lot to learn and my manager was like, no, Like you, I rate you very high in your technical ability. And I started getting a lot of positive feedback about my behavior as well. And I, I related that to the communication of taking that time for myself, when I felt like I was burning or, you know, woke up and had like a weight on my chest that wouldn't allow me to get out of my bed. I recognize that. And I started kind of talking to HR a little bit about like, Things that like I needed. Yeah. And it was, it became very obvious to me that I was reaching a barrier with like a legal process that they didn't have to. Accommodate me. Right. You know, like I wanted more sick time essentially. Like I didn't want to have to take my PTO when I was feeling this way. And I wanted more opportunities to work from home, especially when I was having these days where like, You know, I couldn't imagine driving literally the 10 minutes to work or getting ready or showering or anything like everything was too much. But the thing that I could do in that time was code. Like I was like, I know when I'm feeling like this, I can do that. I just need more opportunities to work from home. And they're just kind of like, sorry, our hands are tied. So when I left that job and then I will completely skip over, I had a horrible experience. So when I came back, um, to St. Louis. It was because of a situation with my ex and my daughter. And so I kind of was in a position where I had to leave lizard and I had to come back here, like otherwise I would no longer have custody of my own child. So I went ahead and did that. And I got a job at an org that I'm not even going to name because it's not worth talking about, but it was very toxic for me with my bipolar disorder and apparently ADHD that I didn't know about. And there was. There was people who were understanding, but it wasn't anybody who was in management or HR or anything to the point where they were telling me I couldn't work from home and putting all of these arbitrary rules on me that I did not deserve. Cause actually performed very well. Well, but nobody cared about the work I was doing at that place. Like in the org, like there were no real stakeholders. They cared about the product they wanted to use, like, you know, some third party product. And we were forcing them to use our homegrown one. So it was a very like toxic environment. And. That is the only job I've ever had, where I quit with since I've changed my life, where I quit with no other job. To have so, but I, but I know that I recognize it because my mental health was deteriorating so badly. And again, it was like, I was running into this wall where I'm like, Hey, like you can not treat me like this. Like I'm a person and I have this, that, and the other thing. And they're like, well, sorry, like we don't, we don't have to accommodate you. Like you need, like, we hire you to do a job. You need to come in and do it in the way that we tell you to do it, you know? And that's the bottom line. And I just was like, gosh, like I have never felt like, so dehumanized. By people that like, I am, I'm working really hard to like, you know, help make your company more profitable by, you know, being, I worked in like basically like logistics tools. And so like I was facilitating, you know, and I am a person who has like really big ideas. So the value that I was bringing to them, they simply did not recognize because I was consistently, right. Like making changes to the UI or the user process on my own idea. You know, to make it better, faster, more efficient, easier, you know, to connect to the customer, make the customer more engaged, like all of these different, you know, tools that I was like coming up with on my own. And they didn't see that value on top of the fact that my mental health was deteriorating because they treated like it. Did not matter. And so I quit that job and worked some contracts over the summer and then ended up having start. So Starbucks had been reaching out to me a bunch to work for them. They really want to meet you. A lot of them like follow me on Twitter. And they were just like, we really want you like here as a lead. And I was just like, yeah, I cannot move. And David Brunel, who is now the VP of customer experience engineering, he was like, I. I will try to make it happen for you. He's like, I just, I really want to hire you. And so at that point, I decided to go through with that process with them. And when I was filling out my paperwork, I saw the disability box and I was like, saw the word, like making like legally, they have to make accommodations for you if you check this box. And so I was like, Okay. They HR have been throwing that word at me for three years now that they can't make accommodations. Does that mean that they're saying I don't have a disability, so they don't have to legally accommodate me reading the fine print. I find some mental health problems on there. One of which is bipolar disorder. And I was just like, it was like a light bulb went off where I was like, I can check this box and legally, if I go in and say, I need this accommodation for my mental health problem, you know, for my disability to be able to perform my job at the level that you expect, they have to legally do it, or I can Sue(??) them, which, you know, I wasn't thinking like, Oh, this company is not going to accommodate me so that I'm going to, I won't have to work anymore. It wasn't anything like that. It was just like, For me, like, I want to do my job and I want to do a good job. And if I'm going to be, you know, accountable for that, like you have to be accountable for that too. And I'm going to be very clear with you that this isn't, this is a disability that I have, and there are things that I need. That maybe, you know, different than what other people need to do. My job at the level that I endure both expect. And so I check that box and my life changed. I felt empowered not only, you know, to be like, okay, I'm taking PTO, but to say like, Like in group chats. Yeah. On Slack with the whole company being like I'm taking a mental health day today, I'm having a lot of anxiety. I feel like going into a manic episode, I feel like I'm going into a depressive episode and I need to focus on myself. Or, you know, I, working from home became a part of an accommodation. So it was easier for them to hire me because I checked that box that they're like, listen, like, you know, she has, you know, these mental health problems, which. I could go on all day about the fact that, like I was a single parent and had a custody agreement and I couldn't move. But the fact that like working from home, it was an accommodation for bipolar disorder because the date and ADHD really that the days where my, it was so difficult to get out of bed, you know, or, or get dressed or take a shower, I didn't have to do those things. Like I could just code, which is the only thing when I'm. Super super far into, you know, mania or depression or, you know, my executive function is failing. I can get on there and do my job. That is something that I can do. And so, it, it just became so like empowering for me that I wanted other people to share it. And that was the first time I went on Twitter and started saying like, you know what? I have bipolar disorder. It's a disability. I checked that box and these are the ways that my life changed. And then that kind of kickstarted something in Twitter tech or at least web dev Twitter tech, where other people started talking about their mental health and saying like, you know what? Yeah, like, I. I struggled so bad to drive, to work some days that I just call in sick and I'm like, yeah, exactly. And so if the more of us that started talking about like, you know, this is, this is what I'm going through. The more comfortable everybody else to kind of like let their guard down and be like, yeah, this is the waste that I struggle. Maybe not exactly the same ways that you struggle, but like I'm also handling having these struggles and now it's starting to get into. I mean, especially right now with everything we're going to wear VPs and C level executives are talking about the ways that they are struggling with their mental health. And it's just so apparent how important it is. And then also having that education out there, that's like, okay, like check to see like, is your mental health condition listed as a disability? And if it's not. Let's talk about the ways that like this mental health condition that you have affects your ability to do your job from time to time, int the way that, you know, would normally like be excellent. Like what kind of accommodations would help you do your job better? And let's advocate, you know, for, for those things that even though. Uh, right now, you're not legally protected. Maybe you can become legally protected or we can find some kind of loophole so that you are legally protected. And then as a whole, our industry embraced it and being like, you know what? We want people who are going to stay at our workplace. We want people who are going to do be their most productive. And instead of focusing on, you know, the 10 X engineer archetype, who. Has no mental health problems and never burns out. And you know, that doesn't exist and focusing on like, okay, actually, like we have the most efficient and productive work coming out of our people when we actually care about their work life balance and their mental health.
Michaela: [00:33:17] Yeah. I think it's so important. And somehow I think if you're more aware of the mental health, you can also be more aware of many other things. Like. People that have family that have like kids at home, which are also things that you can accommodate in, in work. Right? Maybe not. It's definitely not the same thing. Right. But you are a single mom. And I think also this one, probably something that if you are getting some flexibility, if you're getting some hands from your workplace to make your life easier, you can be much more successful, successful, you can strive much more. What do you think about this?
Cher Scarlett: [00:34:06] Yeah, no, I totally, I totally agree. And you know, it's, it's definitely that and I think that it, they kind of inform each other too, right? Like the, when I was feeling like guilty because I had to leave my office to go, cause my daughter was sick at school or something and people, you know, in theory on paper would say like, Oh yeah, I totally understand. But you're, if you're working with people that the only people that have kids are married and their wife. You know, is the one that, or their husband is the one that goes and does takes care of the child while you stay at work. Cause you're like, you know, the, the main, like income earner. They actually don't understand because in their head they're like, Oh yeah, I have kids. I totally get it. But yeah, I actually don't get it because they never have to. They're never the ones that have to leave their job and, you know, have other people being like, gosh(??), she is going all the time. And really I wasn't. And. So I have like shared custody agreement with my ex and he has her own Mondays and Tuesdays, and I have her on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and then we go every other weekend. And so on Thursday, specifically, like I could not be in the office before a certain time. And my team would not change our standup time and traffic around where I live is really, really, really bad. So it would take me two hours to get from her school to. Work on the worst possible traffic day. And they knew that. And the, my, my manager's manager just leave earlier and I'm like, I can't, where am I going to take my eight year old? Like, she can't be at school before this time. This is the time I can drop her off at school. This is the time I could be at work. You know, we, and it's just a standup meeting. It's not like a you know, it's not like an important anything it's just like, and your status update for the day. Like we can move 15, 20 minutes, 30 minutes even, and not be like that shouldn't be an issue, but they were so unwilling to budge because they could not understand why. I had to like come in later than, you know, 15 minutes, 20 minutes later on that day, because I had to be the one to take my daughter to school. And she could not be there before a certain time because there are not staff there, you know? And on Mondays and Tuesdays, when she was with my ex, I was staying late on those days, you know, but I'm there after they leave. So that doesn't like, Registered to them as like a part of the time that I'm spending. So they're only seeing I'm coming in late on Thursdays. And then I leave a lot during the day, you know, when she's sick or whatever. So they're just like focusing in on those things. And so all of a sudden, now they have this picture of me that I'm less productive than the rest of them, even though that absolutely wasn't true at all.
Michaela: [00:36:51] Yeah. Yeah. I think especially productivity and you know what you can do very often. It's very tinted, but whatever you want to see. Right. So depends on the perception that you have and that sometimes people make up their mind just independent of what you're actually doing.
Cher Scarlett: [00:37:10] So yeah, exactly. They like fill in the holes with their own. Thoughts and biases that they have.
Michaela: [00:37:19] Yeah. Yeah. So I actually asked a lot of people on Twitter, what they would like me to ask you. And, uh, one, one common theme was people wanted to know if you could give yourself one piece of advice, you know, to your past self and you were just starting out, what would that be?
Cher Scarlett: [00:37:41] I guess, find your. Thing and believe it. So like, for me, like, obviously like, you know, once I got to USA today, like I started to recognize that like, people specifically like thought of me as an authority on a couple of subjects. But prior to that, like, so when I first started in 2006, I was the second Google result for front end developer. And the person who was in front of me, I don't remember his name now, but I know that like he went, like, he was basically like famous in the development community because when people typed in this very new, you know, title, he was the first one in the list. And I was the second one in the list. So I was known pretty well, the Ruby community at first, but I did not take advantage of that. And so I think that. If I could go back in time, I would have seen that as, you know, potential and kind of, you know, capitalized a little bit on that to pull myself out of the situation I was in, but I wasn't in that head space yet. So I don't think I, I definitely did not believe in myself. It was more of like, I was definitely like trying to fool people into believing that I was, you know, this college educated. Super smart, you know, developer extraordinary or something that, you know, didn't come from poverty and a toxic traumatic life. So I would definitely go back and tell myself to like, notice that you're the second Google result and make something of it, like make people like, you know, capitalize on that. Definitely. Would have had a lot more years of a successful career. ( laugh )
Michaela: [00:39:19] And so do you have also advice specific for women in Thai that are maybe at the beginning of their journey or I would also be interested for. Women that are mid(??) in their mid journey, because I think that those are often also forgotten. Like we bring them in and then they are juniors. And somehow there isn't a lot of advice for, for women then to, you know, get to the next level and really to get, get to that, to the higher, higher up career letter positions. ( laugh ) You know what I mean.
Cher Scarlett: [00:39:52] I definitely think like getting a job where you have a female manager if possible, and it doesn't have to be like your direct manager, but maybe like a manager level above that or advocate, like in your org that there needs to be like female leadership in specifically in engineering and then actually taking advantage of those connections, because those are the people that you're like, you know, like. Are going to learn from, and they, it's not just that, you know, they can give you like advice on how to navigate like difficult situations that pertain, but you know, the male engineer, engineering managers, like wouldn't know or understand, but it's also you building those relationships. So that's a part of like, networking. Like you're going to feel more confident in when you decide to like, try to take another step somewhere else, or, you know, try to get a promotion inside of your own org. You're going to have somebody there that's like. Kind of sponsoring you to help you achieve those goals, whether that's within the org you're already in or in another org outside and they'll help you. You know, see things that you're doing and places where you can grow that. Well, won't feel as like condescending or patronizing as they can feel from a male manager because they, they know what you're going through. They've been through it probably for a long time. And so they can help you to feel more confident about yourself and find your own place, like in your path for growth. So I think just building those relationships is just super important, both for networking and sponsoring, and then also. Being able to kind of breathe a little bit, you know, where you kind of feel like you're this impostor who like is working, you know, two to three times as hard as your male colleagues, you know, 50% of the recognition, if you're lucky for the same stuff that they're doing. And just having a manager say like, Hey, you like. You're, it's not just you, like, this is, this is a problem in our industry. And like my first female manager, she had been in there for 10 years longer than me. So, you know, to hear her say like, yeah, it's been like this the whole time. And once she got to where she was right. To be a group technical manager, and I saw her as like incredibly smart and hearing that there are people out there who didn't see her that way was like, okay, so. People see me in this way, but it's not necessarily reflective of the truth.
Michaela: [00:42:15] (??)Yeah. Yeah. It's definitely something that I think I see a lot of people struggling, including myself. So just thank you so much for being on my show. I have one last question for you and then I'll let you go. And it's maybe just a summary of your. Interview experiences, because you told me so much about all these different jobs that you have been, and you're interviewed for Google and you shared a little bit how that was. What, what are, you know, what is the most memorable interview, the experience that you had? This was one of the Twitter questions. So maybe we wrap it up with this one and also your advice for, for interviews.
Cher Scarlett: [00:42:55] Okay. So I definitely think that Apple has been the best interview process that I've had just because I felt like it instead of, you know, trying to make me pass a test, they wanted to see like how I would work with their team. And not in a way that felt exploitative or a lot of like pressure, you know, just like looking at a PR and being like, okay, this is what I think or whatever. I think that the information that you're trying to find, which is, is this person right for my team and is this person a good fit for our team is the right question to ask. And that it felt like that that was what they were trying to answer versus is this person capable of doing a job? Right? I will say that something I really wanted to touch on during this was. Something that I learned that I've adjusted over time, which is this touches on the mental health stuff too. It's just that interviewing is more than just like proving that you're capable of, you know, solving some algorithm. It's about building a relationship with the people that you are talking to. And the most important aspect of building relationships is honesty and authenticity. When you're vulnerable with people there. They feel able to be more vulnerable, so they stopped projecting their own insecurities onto you. So if I come into an interview and I'm like, okay, like if they ask me something and I either am unfamiliar with the topic, or I haven't worked in that thing for a long time, I'm just going to go ahead and be honest about like, the fact that. You know, I'm either really agreeing with it. I've never seen it before, or I, you know, I'm rusty with it. Just say that and it'll make the other person feel more comfortable. And I've thought about a lot about, the two interview experiences that I had that were really awful, um, where Twitter and Riot Games. And I've actually interviewed with Riot three times and all three times they were horrible. And it's interesting because at the same time that I was interviewing for, you know, Twitter or Riot, I was also interviewing at other places where I was seen as very technical, highly, technically capable and very empathetic and honest person that would be, you know, that everybody would love to work with. And at Twitter, they turned me down because they said that I was defensive and lacked empathy. And I, this is like the most upsetting, you know, response I've ever gotten. They were like, we thought that you were incredibly talented and highly technically capable. Definitely like a level four engineer they're like, but you know, like you're. Your social skills made people really uncomfortable, or I think it was like one person in particular uncomfortable. And that like really hurt me because I think I felt like I was very like authentic and honest and vulnerable. Like I, you know, just who I am as a person. And so like, That was even harsher than possibly getting any sort of like, Oh, you're, you know, you, we didn't like the way you solved this white boarding problem, you know? And so that like really hurt me. And I felt like, I don't think that whoever came up with that, clearly wasn't asking me the right question or listening, you know, to me, because that's not who I am. And then with Riot, you know, I, they rated me as like very low technical skill, which like. You know, I'm solving essentially the same sort of algorithmic problems. So these orgs and, you know, working with, you know, like promises and stuff like that. So I'm solving the same type of problems. It's but it's there, it's clearly like the fact that you can go to two different places and they rate you so starkly differently is assigned. Yeah. That like, something is wrong, like with the process. So, but. You know, in those situations, like I can recognize that there were moments where I was uncomfortable. And I do think that that played a part in how they viewed me, you know, on top of any, you know, biases that they, that they may have had. I can point out specific times where I was uncomfortable in the interview. And I think that. In the times where I've been completely comfortable, even if I was anxious about something, when I was just like, you know, just was like, Hey, like, I don't know the answer to this question. I don't know how to use this thing. Can I use something else? Like, you know, whatever, you know, the various situations have been, but I've been, I've been like, Oh my God, I totally bombed that interview. But they've been like, no, we thought you were like, fantastic. Like, and super like capable. They were able to see potential in me, despite not knowing how to do something or, you know, being rusty at something. They were able to see that, like I have that potential because I was able to build that rapport with the people I was interviewing with and in those situations where I was rated. So lowly it's because I wasn't able to build that rapport. Right. Like there were situations where, you know, they're their own biases and then, you know, my discomfort. Creating kind of like, you know, that, I don't know something, I don't know what the right word for it, but creating that discomfort on both ends, like made it to be like, Oh, this is not a good fit, you know, because people get reservations like that. So they're going to be like, I don't know, just something wasn't right about it, you know?
Michaela: [00:47:57] Yeah, no. Yeah. I mean, there are so many factors at play into that, and there are a lot of studies also that showed it. Yeah, really? Maybe, maybe it's the first, second, right. That you're coming in and they're looking at you and it just triggers some memory of something else. Right? Not a person that they had a negative experience with.
Cher Scarlett: [00:48:16] Exactly.
Michaela: [00:48:17] It can be so much, that's going wrong in an interview that has. Absolutely nothing to do with you, with your abilities, or also, probably not with, with the other person, right. It's just, you know, wrong, wrong place, wrong time.
Cher Scarlett: [00:48:38] I think the sooner that like our, like, you know, our industry recognizes that. What they're really looking for is the person who feels like they're the most comfortable with that can also, you know, do the job, which is hardly(??) informed by how comfortable you are with the person that that's the person you're hiring and not the, you know, ( laugh ) like, I feel like I just always see these orange(??), like, they're just constantly like, Oh, we hire the smartest engineers. And I'm like, you know what? Like, I'm not saying I'm not smart. I was in gifted classes, whatever, like I get it. I know I'm smart. And I don't mean to like, make people feel like, Oh yeah, this is easy. Like anyone can do it. But I do also feel like anybody can learn as much as they're capable of learning to do various levels of this job and, you know, barring any differences in intellectual ability. I do think that for the most part, like. Whatever resources you were given to learn. Like anybody can really learn those resources, how they, you know, apply those things is going to be different between different people and their abilities, but everybody brings something special to the table. And so for me, it's like the combination of like my, you know, my being like a, a visionary who has a ton of, you know, initial inertia from being ADHD, but then also my OCD brain that lets me see like, The way that a bunch of things fit together and putting those things together is my shrink. And I know that that's a value that I bring, but a weakness that I bring is that I am, I struggle with delegating that execution to other people and out because I want to do it all myself. And that's, that's something that, you know, that I have to work on. And so that's a negative thing, quality that I have. And then I have other positive qualities. It's not just about like, you know, Oh, Cher, Cher is really smart, that's why she does this job, but it's not. It's not that. And I don't like, in fact, a lot of times that's like a negative thing because that's(??) something I really struggle with is being able to gauge(??) what other people know and what they're capable of learning, which in a leadership role. And once you get to this point is, is a really hard thing to deal with because I am coming from a position of authority because of a ladder(??), but, and you know, and I'm trying to like, kind of. Help people, you know, learn something or solve a problem. It's a very delicate balance of trying to, to not make somebody feel like I'm expecting them to know something like in a condescending way. Versus I actually just feel that like, Everybody around me is capable of learning just as much as I do you in a positive way. So like, it's this kind of, I feel like everybody is just as smart as I am, which is sort of like an imposter kind of thing, but it's, it's, it's just, it's a deal difficult balance. And I think that a lot of people don't recognize that, you know, being like really smart or, you know, having a lot of like big ideas, it doesn't make you. Like this perfect, you know, engineer, extraordinary, like, you know, I can walk into anywhere and like get a job there. There's things that I have to overcome too. And that's everybody and that's you too. So you have to just, what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses and how can you work those things into your day to become, uh, the most valuable person for yourself that you can be that feels productive in, in that job environment.
Michaela: [00:52:06] Yeah, I think being reflective. And as you said, seeing your weaknesses, understanding your weaknesses (??) your strengths, but also what really, you know, what you're striving at. Maybe you're not perfect. You really like to do it. I think that's also very informative of what you should be doing. And you know what, it reminds me a little bit of something that I'm confronted very often with my kids, because they are, they're very comparative. I hope this is an English word. So the whole day about who is stronger, who is faster, who gets more, who gets less, you know, who is louder. And I, I was talking with my husband today about this again. And I was like, is this natural? You know, is this something that comes natural or are we emphasizing that? Or, you know, amplifying this. And I think it's, it's, it's probably natural because it was there very, very early on. But very often we're also amplifying it. Right? So I think it's, it's, it's a mixture of both. And I try to teach them that everything, you know, like for example, they are trees and it's also something that I teach myself because I'm also, I grew up in a very competitive environment and my parents were a lot about, you know, who's stronger, who's faster, who is the first and. But do you know if you have like a tree or if the forest suddenly your whole mind shift and did not about, you know, what's the most beautiful tree here, but it's the whole trees that all trees are here that actually makes this so beautiful. And the same with the flowers, right? If you get a bunch of flowers, you normally not wondering which one of those is the most beautiful one, but each one of those, even though they are completely similar. Are beautiful flowers. And so what I think here is that on one hand it's humans, right? We are so different, right? So everybody has very, we're looking different. We are in different strengths. We are in different perspectives. And so I think, yeah, it becomes very easy then to compare and say, you know, what's better. What's what's not so good. But I, but I think that's not the right thing. It's more, where do we fit together? Like, it's a bouquet, right? So how can we compliment each other? And even if we are thinking, wearing the same strings, it's okay. There can be two beautiful flowers ( laugh ). You know.
Cher Scarlett: [00:55:01] You know, you think about like art, like photography, I mean really a lot of different arts. And we talk about like, how. I mean, even like interior design, we talk about bringing different textures together, different Heights(??) of things, things we have to have groups of things. You can't just have something by itself floating. Like it's, if we bring that into what we're doing, where we talk about like how. All of these different elements coming together, make a whole picture or a whole piece of art or a whole, you know, kind of mood in a room. Like that's the same kind of thing that, that we're trying to build is something that's incredibly capable, beautiful. And to do that, you need, you know, Differences. That's what makes something great.
Michaela: [00:55:49 ] Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I whole heartedly agree. And so maybe we are ending it with, with that, cause it was a very beautiful last sentence ( laugh ). So Cher, is there something that you want to remind us off or something else that we haven't covered that you want to say? To my listeners before we are ending.
Cher Scarlett: [00:56:10] So I guess I want to just remind people that you don't know what somebody else has been through or what they're going through. And when you see something like a woman on the Internet who is really high up in whatever it is that she's doing. And she says, I dropped out of high school instead of. Applying what that means to you, ask a question. Why did you drop out of high school? How did you overcome that? And really learning about other people to understand why they've done the things they've done or how they got to be, where they are.
Michaela: [00:56:50] Yeah, it's really beautiful, compassionate curiosity. I called it very often ( laugh ).
Cher Scarlett: [00:56:59] That's that's beautiful. Compassionate. Be compassionately curious. It's funny. I have a tattoo on my arm that says that I'm passionately curious. So maybe I should add on the COM in parentheses ( laugh ) in front of that. I might actually do that. You might have just given me my (??)
Michaela: [00:57:18] ( laugh )that's really good. So. Cher, Thank you so much for being on my show. It's really, really lovely to talk with you. That's why I think it has been the longest tour(??) that I ever recorded.
Cher Scarlett: [00:57:31] That's (??) ( laugh ) If there's anything I can do is talk (??)
Michaela: [00:57:40] ( laugh ) Very good. Okay. So have a good, have a good day and talk to you soon.
Cher Scarlett: [00:57:47] Yeah. Thank you so much. Have a great evening.
Michaela: [00:57:51] Yeah. Okay. Bye. Bye.
Cher Scarlett: [00:57:54] Bye.
Michaela: [00:57:56] I hope you enjoyed another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. Don't forget to subscribe. And I talked to you again in two weeks.
Cher Scarlett: [00:58:08] Bye. ( outro music )
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