In this episode, I talk to Emma Bostian, who recently started as a software engineer at Spotify. And Emma is the kind of person, that not only applies and interviews for jobs, but at the same time writes a complete book about her interviewing experience hunting for this dream job. This book sold so well, that she could pay back all her medical debt. Before joining Spotify, she worked for LogMeIn, and IBM. She won competitions and moved countries several times.

We talk about:

  • her interview experience with Spotify and Google,
  • her experience moving countries during a global pandemic,
  • what makes for a great onboarding experience and
  • how we can take action to make sure workplaces are friendly and welcoming.

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Links:

Book your awesomecodereview.com workshop!

Transcript:

[This transcripts is the result of a community effort. You can help make it better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.
Special thanks to Florencia Silva Olivera for helping improve this transcript.]

McKayla: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Doctor McKayla and today I have the pleasure to talk to Emma Bostian. Emma recently started as a software engineer at Spotify, and Emma is the kind of person that not only applies to interviews for jobs but at the same time writes a complete book about her interviewing experience. Well, this book sold so well that she could even pay back all her medical debt. So she’s also a vivid blogger and speaker and the co-host of the awesome Ladybug podcast. Before joining Spotify, she worked for Log Me In and IBM, won competitions and moved countries several times. And she loves cats. Well, what should I say? I’m super thrilled to have Emma here with me today to talk about her amazing journey. Emma, welcome to the show.

Emma:[00:00:45] Hey, thanks so much for having me.

McKayla: [00:00:47] Yeah, I’m really thrilled. So Emma, one of the topics that I really love to talk about with my guests is how they landed their current and past jobs. And naturally, I want also to ask you about how you came to work at Spotify. Can you tell us a little bit about your interview experience with them, how did you get in touch with them and yeah, how was that whole process for you?

Emma:[00:01:10] Yeah, so I was actually doing my Twitter thing and I received a DM one day from an engineering manager at Spotify, Shaun Bent. And he said “Hey, I think you’d be a really great fit for our design systems team”, I at the time was doing design systems work at Log Me In, and he said, “would you be interested in interviewing?”. And so I had my initial phone screen with Spotify and I did, it was kind of like a, a time challenge for logic puzzles, so I had to like solve a series of logic puzzles, like here’s a pattern of four things or three things fill in the fourth one. Um, and that went really, really well. But you know, at that time I actually just moved to Germany, so I wasn’t looking to relocate to Sweden at the time. And so I ended up pulling out of the interview process, and that was in 2019. In 2020. I’m just, wow. When was it? It was probably like early this year. I reached back out to Shaun and I said, “Hey, do you have any openings? I’m looking to move to a new country. I want to stay in Europe. Spotify is an awesome product. I would love to work with you”. And they said, “Sure, yeah. Would you want to interview?” So, I had already had that internal contact, which was very nice. And that’s when I went through the process again. So I had the same recruiter as I had the year before. Um, so that recruiter call was pretty, pretty easy just given that I already had a standing professional relationship with her. And after that I had a coding challenge, everything was virtual just given, you know, the fact that COVID was happening, it was, we were in the depths of COVID at the time. And so everything was virtual. I had my first coding challenge online, and it just covered basic web development. it was really all encompassing, which I thoroughly enjoyed it wasn’t just like heavy JavaScript algorithms. and that went really well. I had two interviewers. I thought it was fantastic. And after that went well, they got back to me pretty quickly. And they said, We’d like to move you into, I don’t think I had to take them project, I think it was just onsite, what would have been an onsite. And, I think I have a series of three or four interviews that encompass that. It was comprised of data structures and algorithms. There was a systems design interview and another JavaScript interview. So it was about three to four more. and then I, you know, I got to meet some of the team members. I got to talk with the hiring manager and things of that nature. And then they got back to me very, very quickly and made me an offer.

McKayla: [00:03:34] Yeah, that sounds really cool. well, there are so many things that I wanted to talk to you about because, going and saying, well, I’m going to move to Sweden, especially Sweden, because I think they were really in the headlines of, you know, having a very drastic, different approach than the rest of the world, but in general, making such a big decision, during really uncertain times. But let’s look at that a little bit later. I want to ask a little bit more about this interview experience. So these onsite was there not an onsite, it was still in a remote interview, I guess. And how did it work? Is that like you have a Zoom call or a Skype call or a Google Hangouts and then you see each other or do you have, like, do you have like some dock opening that you’re looking at from both sides? Or how does that work? Emma:[00:04:20] I’m trying to remember all the specifics because I also was interviewing with Google at the time. And so I’m trying not to get them mixed up, but, I believe it was a Google Hangouts call and there were two interviewers. One was the primary interviewer and the second was there to kind of shadow and just, they gave their feedback separately. So they didn’t. They weren’t allowed to talk about it, which is really nice in terms of bias to prevent anything, you know, bias related to happen there. And we were in Hangouts and then there was, an online code IDE, a code editor. And so everything would compile, in the browser. And so I could actually see what was working, what was not working, I think it was similar to like a code sandbox type of environment, or a CodePen.

McKayla: [00:05:02] Okay. Yeah. And it’s really nice.

Emma:[00:05:04] Yeah. And then what was also really nice is that, like I had the ability to ask them to look things up for me. So if I needed to know, is it array splice or slice, or I needed to know the exact, you know, function call. They would actually look it up for me. It was more of a conversation than like a quiz.

McKayla: [00:05:22] okay. And why would they look it up and not you?

Emma:[00:05:26] um, I think they just wanted to prevent candidates from like Googling the solutions to things. So if I had specific questions, they were more than happy to like, help me out with that. but yeah, I mean, yeah, I’m not super sure

McKayla: [00:05:39] is that, is that because they only could see probably the IDE, but they couldn’t really see all your desktop?

Emma:[00:05:43] yes, exactly. Like I wasn’t sharing my screen. Exactly.

McKayla: [00:05:47] Okay. So he couldn’t really, because otherwise could, you know, observe the person even, you know, Googling and see or searching, see what they type in and what questions they would come up with, which sites they would go on. I think it would be interesting to see, you know, like wait, which links are they clicking. Okay. Interesting. And so you mentioned that you were also interviewing for Google, were the interview somehow comparable or were they very different in nature?

Emma:[00:06:15] I would say the setup was very much the same, very standard software engineering, front end development interview process. It covered basically all aspects from systems designed to, you know, UX design to JavaScript. But I would say that Spotify’s was more well rounded and they focused on things and challenges that I would see in the real world versus Google’s. it was I think the one that I went through originally was actually just the full software engineer interview and not like the UX engineer interview. So that was a miscommunication. but yeah, the Google interview was definitely more algorithms focused and more recursion and more to me, like, I don’t agree with it, but it is what it is. So yeah, I appreciate it, the Spotify process solely for the fact that it was all encompassing of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, animations, UX, all that stuff. and it was real world.

McKayla: [00:07:08] okay. And so I was interviewing with Google, but that’s quite some time ago. And at that point we were typing code on a Google Doc, so there was no compiler. You couldn’t, you didn’t have an IDE, there was no completion and things like that. How was it now? Is that, was it also a Google Doc that you were coding in or did you have a full support of an integrated development environment?

Emma:[00:07:34] so I did two, two interviews with Google; two technically on-sites, only one was in person. The first onsite I got to choose if I wanted a whiteboard or like a Chromebook. and the Chromebook didn’t compile, but it did have like, it just felt more realistic. and the second time, I think, since it was all through Google Hangouts that we used an online IDE I believe, I don’t know for certain, but I’ve also had interviews where I code in a Google doc. So I’m not super sure

McKayla: [00:08:02] okay. And so you were interviewing with Spotify and Google, where else other companies that you, you know, went and had a shot, cause you were thinking maybe that would be cool to work there.

Emma:[00:08:13] Yeah, I was, talking with AWS Amplify, actually for a developer advocacy role, that now my friend, Ali Spittel has actually joined that team. but that was the role that I originally like was contacted about, by natter and his team. But I had basically already accepted the offer of Spotify. So it just wasn’t good timing.

McKayla: [00:08:33] okay. And so from, from the kind of roles, I feel that they are a little bit different. So, Spotify, you said it’s more about the design systems, then this is advocacy and then Google was even interviewing for a software engineering role? how did you decide, you know, which direction do you want to go?

Emma:[00:08:52] Actually the role that I’m in now is not a UX engineer. It is a full software engineer and I don’t work on design systems. I’m on a product team. So, I, my first two months I was working on the web and mobile web players. And this next few months I’m working on the desktop client. So I am working on the full Spotify product. But in terms of like what drove my decision, I wanted to get back to product development. I. Was kind of tired of working in a silo of design systems. And I like to think I’m decently good at HTML and CSS and animations and UX already. And I’d like to branch out and learn more about, deeper technical areas that I’ve been putting off.

McKayla: [00:09:31] So this was more or less before you even started, this is what you had in your mind that you want to go there. And then somehow it fell into place.

Emma:[00:09:41] Exactly.

McKayla: [00:09:42] Okay, cool. And for Spotify, is that like, if you’re interviewed, do you know which team you will be on or is it something you’re interviewing like a lot of other larger organizations have, like, you have an interview and then you pass it and then they place you wherever they feel that you would fit best.

Emma:[00:09:58] no, I had a proper job opening on a team that I was interviewing for and I did actually meet some of the team members as well as the hiring manager. but what’s nice is they have this concept called embedding where you can actually go work with different squads for two or three month periods. So I’m actually already embedding with a different team. It’s not my full time team, but it’s a team that I can just go work with for two months and then come back to my full time team. So that’s just really cool that they, they like to share people across teams. So it means you get to work with new people. You get to work on new things. It’s a, it’s quite nice.

McKayla: [00:10:33] Oh, that sounds really exciting because one of the topics that I’m super excited is how are different organizations, teams, companies, developing software, right? So how do their development methodologies change, you know, how do some teams do code reviews versus others or testing? And, so this might be really interesting. How is that at Spotify? Do you have like a very, wholesome cooperate, unified process for all of that. Or do the teams really independently decide, you know, we are doing more testing or we are not doing tests or are we doing contributes or not code reviews? how does that work?

Emma:[00:11:07] um, in all honesty, I’m not sure what I’m allowed to say. they wanna, you know, make sure that I’m not saying too much in terms of internal processes or trade secrets or what not. So I want to be a little bit careful addressing this question. but I will say that it feels like, it doesn’t feel like there’s this massive corporate, like all these hoops to jump through, to achieve whatever you want to accomplish. I know that’s pretty vague, but I, again, like I’m still new and I don’t want to get in trouble.

McKayla: [00:11:38] no. Yeah, I totally understand.

Emma:[00:11:39] at IBM, everything was very legacy, very agile fall is I like to say they said they were agile, but it was more waterfall. And, you know, we had four weeks sprints and it was very, very long. Um, definitely here. I feel like I have a better chance of making an impact. And I also feel like I have autonomy to say, “Hey, this is an improvement, I think would be really good one”, and you know, I can run with it. You know, we also have this concept of like hack days where every month we get two days to just work on whatever you want could be learning something new. It could be building, you know, a new feature. It could be fixing things. It could be whatever you want. and you have no meetings. You just have two days, you get to do whatever you want. So I definitely feel like I have more of a… I can make more of a difference here. so I’m not, I’m not complaining. Well, we’ll put it that way.

McKayla: [00:12:27] Yeah, I just follow Spotify on their engineering blog, because normally they are quite outspoken about, you know, how they are doing things and, You know, which engineering practices, and it also feels like, especially a couple of years ago, right? They were somehow the North star for some of the other teams that, you know, try to emulate what Spotify is doing and how they’re restructuring their squads, for example, in the teams and things like that. When you can’t talk about it, it’s perfectly fine, but do you do code reviews, for example, at Spotify.

Emma:[00:13:00] Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, it would be ludicrous to think that you would not have someone look over your reviews before you push them. It, it doesn’t feel like there’s like a massively formal process to go through, which is really, really nice, but it definitely feels like we’ve already set up measures to prevent a lot of dangerous things from happening. So, you know, the tooling is fantastic and I think that prevents a lot of potential errors. And then of course, all of my teammates are amazing as well. so yeah, we definitely go through code review process.

McKayla: [00:13:30] so maybe coming back to your interview experience, because now you’re, as you said, you’re were interviewing for Google. You interviewed with AWS, you interviewed with Spotify, but at the same time, you also actually wrote a book about your coding interviews and your experience. Right. And from the content table, I saw it covers algorithms, data structure. It focuses on whiteboard interviews and coding exercises. Is that, in your experience, that’s what most of them ask still today?

Emma:[00:13:58] Yeah, unfortunately it is. I wish it wasn’t. I wish I didn’t have to compile a book like that. but unfortunately, a lot of people don’t learn these things in their education because a lot of times people don’t have formal education and you know, like it’s not required to go to college to get a computer science degree anymore. And bootcamps often are not teaching data structures and algorithms and runtimes and you know, all of these things. and unfortunately a lot of times this is what’s tested.

McKayla: [00:14:30] Okay. But for example, data structures, I would say data structures are actually quite a handy thing to know. If you are designing something very quickly, you will need some sort of data structure. And if you have some information about that, I think that’s probably quite a good skill to have independently, If you have a university procured or self taught or whatnot, what are some of the things that you think are really important? And what are some of the things that you know, could actually be left out from the interview process?

Emma:[00:15:00] I want to clarify when I say data structures, I’m talking like super com… Like if I’m interviewing for a web development job, I should not be expected to understand link lists or be able to code one from scratch. I’m not talking array methods, object methods, things of that nature. I think what’s more important is how people approach problems. And how motivated they are to continuously learn. I think how people learn. And if they’re aware of how they learn is a very important skill. Communication is very big as well, and understanding when to ask for help and how to ask for help. But a lot of times we’re just getting interview questions that are meant to like test your ability to regurgitate a definition. And I vehemently disagree with that. So I would encourage interviewers to not ask candidates to define a promise. Is it, is it important to understand how to use them and what they’re used for and, and all of this? Yes. But when you put someone on the spot that I know I’m personally horrible, when it comes to defining things, I always have been in school, in interviews and everything like that. Those questions are really, I don’t like them. I will never like them. And I will never ask a candidate a question like that. What’s more important is to present them with… I’m thinking back to like one of the best interviews I had. It was, it was a while ago and I was presented with three different questions that I could tackle. and I got to choose the one that I wanted and they all represented aspects of the job that I would be doing. And so not only was it relevant, but it allowed me to see if I would even like this role. And I feel like that’s how we should be giving interviews.

McKayla: [00:16:42] Yeah. So I think that one of the biggest problems is that we are asking useless questions. Like, as you said, well, data structures that you’re using in your day to day, I think is probably really good to know about them, but why do I have to know exactly how a bubble sort works? Right? Who is going to implement that from scratch? this would be, for example, one of the things that I find really interesting that even if I would interview now, and I’m in this industry for quite some time now, I would have to look up how exactly a bubble sort works and I would find it really cumbersome and also unnecessary to do so. I don’t think that it will define any, anything of my abilities or change how I can do my job here. there was also a recent study actually. partly done by Microsoft and I think North Carolina university, but I’m not a hundred percent sure if I have that correct here. They did a study assessing what coding interviews, that we are doing nowadays, what they actually, assess. Right? So for example, when you have a person and they have to do something in front of another person that they don’t know, right? And it’s stranger, so to say. This is not really testing the technical abilities, it’s more testing their resilience to stress, to a certain specific kind of stress. It’s not even stress that you have on your team, right? It’s the stress that a stranger is observing you here. and most of the people actually performed really poorly in that technical interview. So it’s not really assessing their technical abilities. If they would do the same task in a private environment, they would perform much better.

Emma:[00:18:23] Oh, I totally agree. And I also, I just want to say, because, because before we move on, I don’t want people to get the wrong interpretation of what I’m saying. I’m not saying it’s not important to understand why certain algorithms perform better than others and why you should choose one over another. That’s very important. But I have, I’ve been asked to code a, you know, a binary tree and fix broken edges and like all these things for a web development interview, those things to me are ridiculous. I would not necessarily, if I had two candidates, one who could regurgitate bubble sort, and one who couldn’t regurgitate bubble sort, but showed critical thinking skills and understood why a nested for loop is not as optimal as two, for loops that are adjacent. That to me is more indicative of someone I’d like to work with. so yeah, I just wanted to clarify, I’m not saying it’s not important to understand these things, but what I’m saying is the way that we ask them questions, can help candidates succeed, or it can push them into failing an interview. So we need to just be very aware how we ask questions.

McKayla: [00:19:37] I think the barrier has to do with the environment that we want to create. Right? So very often these interviews are really tests. They are not collaborative exercises with somebody together, which I think would be much better. if you had, you know, the ability to, as you said, ask questions, right? Is the person able to understand that now they are stuck? And what kind of questions are they asking and how do they approach, what are their communication skills is probably much more interesting, for a longterm relation with the person and working with them together than if they know per heart, they will probably beat it, because they studied it yesterday one of the algorithms that you ask them about, right?

Emma:[00:20:16] Well, that’s exactly why I accepted this job offer, was because I had a woman interviewer, Charlotte Gore. I work with her currently and she really, she was fabulous. I mean, like to me, what, the first thing she said to me was like, this is not an interview. This is a conversation. And that was. That basically solidified my desire to want to work at Spotify over other companies where I just felt like they were badgering me with questions. And I will also be very honest and say, I’ve had interviewers bombard me with “Define a promise! What is, you know, like, why would you, why is bubble sort so inefficient?” Like those questions will actually make me not want to work with you ever again. and I have, I have explicitly declined to re-interview with companies solely for the interview experience. I don’t, you know, I don’t care what kind of a product you’re building. If that’s the kind of work environment that you are encouraging, that’s not a place I want to be.

McKayla: [00:21:15] So. I think this is really, I mean, when I was starting my career, I would have never thought that I would be in a position to say, I actually don’t want to work for you. It didn’t even come up. Right? So I felt really like, I have to prove myself and I have to go through all of the hoops and, whatever, you know, whatever they do to you, you just have to, you know, go through it, close your eyes and go through it. But the problem is, as you said, is actually very indicative for the kind of a environment that you will work in. Right? So it would also define, you know, your career and your potential to grow. And if you are not feeling that you’re fitting very well there, or if you’re not feeling welcomed, if you don’t feel that a person can actually ask questions, right? Or can be wrong at times, like we all are wrong very often. then that’s actually not really a nice place to work.

Emma:[00:22:11] I want to also be really clear that I, I want to acknowledge that was a very privileged ability I had there. I had the ability to say, you know what, I’m not interested in pursuing this interview any further based on like how I feel I was treated, that’s a privilege, right? Like people don’t have that same ability. And I want to just acknowledge that because you know, if someone out there is listening and there, they absolutely have to take the first job they can find, At at, you know, it could be at the expense of a healthy work environment. that’s, you know, I, I empathize a lot with that because I cannot fathom what it is like to be under such pressure like that. I had a little bit of that in regards to my visa. So, you know, when there were layoffs going on at a previous role, and I felt like my job security might be threatened a little bit. That to me was like, Oh, I need to scramble and find the first job I can find, because if I don’t, I’m going to be deported out of this continent. so I, I understand it to that extent, but in general, I would say that like, I was very privileged in the respect or in the aspect that like I had the ability to turn down what could have been a potentially harmful work environment.

McKayla: [00:23:29] Yeah, I think it’s really, it’s really important to acknowledge that. And I think that a lot of people are not in this position. Right. Be like they have a family that they have to support or you know, that they don’t, have a, not a lot of job offers, different job offers. They really need the money. So, yeah, I definitely agree. I agree with that. So one of the questions that I also want to talk with you, and you talked a little bit right now about your experience that you’re in a different country. You don’t have a visa there if you’re not taking on a job. So you actually moved quite a bit, for your, your work and for your studies and move different countries, different continents, and you start there from scratch in a new place. How is that for you?

Emma:[00:24:12] I love it. Yeah. I actually get really anxious if I’m in a place for too long. So even when I was in Texas, I moved apartments every year, because I, I don’t know. I feel like a new space, really inspires me and keeps me motivated, which I understand that also again, is a massive privilege. for me starting over. It’s scary, but if I just don’t think too much about it. Like, I’m kind of at the point in my life where I just make these decisions. And you can’t think about the alternatives, like you can’t overthink it, at least I can’t personally. yeah, it’s scary. It’s scary being far from family. Like I haven’t been home in a year. Like I won’t go home until next year. That’s really hard, especially because I’m an introvert and so, meeting new people is really exhausting for me emotionally and moving to a new country you kind of have to. I had to pretend to be an extrovert for a while until I, like, made personal relationships with people. but in general, I’ve, I’ve very much enjoyed starting over.

McKayla: [00:25:09] Yeah, I did that several times. I actually moved, from Austria to London, from London to the Netherlands, from the Netherlands to Canada, to the U.S to Germany. So quite a few countries, but at one point, it became more and more a problem for me that I’m losing my friends. You know, and, and I know you can stay in contact, but if I’m really, really honest, like over, when I’m looking back, like the last 15 years, even though I’m still in contact somehow with people that I met, right? I had very close relationships when I was in this country and, you know, you see each other, maybe even every day and then you’re moving. And somehow this is an end to this relationship at least in that way, right? in this really strong way. So somehow at one point I felt really disrooted and a little bit lonely. And also, when I’m moving, as you said, I am probably also more an introvert than an extrovert, to build up this new relationships. And I’m very picky also with my friends. So you’re meeting a lot of people, but then I don’t, I, it really takes me at least a year that I have, you know, two people or something that I really feel comfortable where I feel like, Oh, this is, you know, it’s fitting completely. We are we’re soulmates or whatnot. Right. Um, how has that for you?

Emma:[00:26:30] that’s what I would call coconut culture. so if you’ve ever read the culture map by Erin Meyer, she discusses coconut cultures and peach cultures. So coconut cultures are what you basically just described. It takes a quite a while to get to know someone, but once you do, you’re there for life. Peach cultures are cultures like America, where everyone’s very friendly. They smile all the time. They’ll ask you overly personal questions up front, and then you can walk away from knowing someone for a year and you don’t talk anymore. I experienced a lot of that in the States. There are a few college friends that I keep in touch with on a regular basis. but in all honesty, like I’ve also had a lot of people that were really horrible friends to me. And I didn’t find this out until, you know, I’d known them for a couple of years and that was awful for me. in Germany it took me a year to find friends solely because like, I think once I moved on to the design team, it was easier. a lot of the people on my first team in Germany, had kids, young kids. So it’s not like they could just, you know, hang out after work whenever. but the design team was a lot more, you know, people in the same area, like part of life as me where they just, you know, we’d want to go get like a drink after work. so, you know, that was nice. And those were people from all over the world from France and Belgium and Germany and, Hungary, and moving here, ironically, it was the easiest time I’ve ever had making friends, And whether you believe it or not, I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. I, I would eat lunch alone in the band room all the time. Like I had one friend, and I just, I felt very socially awkward for a very long time. And I still do sometimes. but moving here, I’m so like fortunate that my friend, Shaun, the one who got me the interview in the first place, he adopted me into his friend group. And so I have made friends with so many amazing people here and I’ve only been here two months. So I kind of, you know, it varies a lot. I think when you have other, immigrants or other ex-pats in your group, people bond a little bit quicker. Cause you know what it’s like to leave everything you’ve ever known behind and move somewhere foreign. and I think that’s what I had missed in Germany was like, I was friends with a lot of Germans, right? And so now moving here, I’m like, “Oh, I’m friends with a lot of immigrants”.

McKayla: [00:28:41] Yeah. I had the same experience when I moved to the Netherlands and I was in this university cycle, right. Friendships cycle. A lot of people came from all over the world and somehow they are also lonely, right. So it’s a little bit easier. They’re more open. They are not so saddled in their relationships. So they are more open to make some space and, you know, build new friendships, then if you’re moving somewhere and I moved to Germany at the very similar experience, so people were already settled, right? They had already difference. They’re already completely booked. They know whom to, you know, meet in the afternoon. So there is, or in the evening, there is, less time also or less space for you. Well, one thing that came to my mind, because you were saying nowadays you’re in Sweden, right. It was actually quite easy to, to get to know people. And, Shaun introduced you to, his circle of friends. But, I was actually thinking that with COVID, maybe we can talk a little bit about this. It will be super hard. I mean, I’m as lonely as I’ve never been I think, because people are not meeting and, you know, there are no, no events to go to. And so I’m mostly at home and having some virtual meetups with, with a few people. How has that in Sweden? Do you, do you meet in person? Is life going on a very similar as before? You go into the office of Spotify?

Emma:[00:30:05] so most everything is open in Sweden or like, you know, in Stockholm where I am, Spotify has, stated that they will let you work from home through next summer. So next June or July, that being said they do have different phases of rolling out. You know, opening offices, depending upon what’s going on in the country or the city at the time. but yeah, we’re closed, at least through next year for now, if they did open the offices earlier, like you can still work from home through, you know, summer next year. In terms of have I seen people? Yeah, we have, but, the majority of time is outside in like a public park, so we would all like bring food and sit in a park. and, you know, I think there was also this, like interpretation that Sweden wasn’t doing anything to prevent the spread. And I would say that’s not true. Like, you know, social distancing is still, you know, a thing here. Yes. They didn’t handle it the same way other countries did. And to be honest, I don’t wanna really get too much into that. Because in Germany, it was completely different. but yeah, I have, you know, I’ve seen people were still smart about things. We still are using hand sanitizer. We’re still, I’m not seeing like every, you know, every person I’ve ever met. Like, I have a very select few people that I hang out with. and we still try to stay outside, but, yeah.

McKayla: [00:31:18] Yeah, that sounds interesting. it must be really interesting also to start at a company and then they are in a very interesting place. They are in a very, also, a place that they haven’t been before. Right. So I think there, there isn’t something they can look back into. And you talked a lot about your onboarding experience at Spotify and that it was actually really great. So I would like to learn a little bit what made it so great. And especially, I mean, I wonder how can they make it too great if they are even in a, in a, in a place right. That they have probably you’re one of the first employees, right? The batch of first employees, probably that they onboarded into a situation where they have forced, remote work and things like that. So how was that onboarding experience and what made it so wonderful?

Emma:[00:32:05] I think my manager really, Kanal, made a huge difference in my onboarding experience because he. Had one on ones with me every single day, he checked in with me to see how I was doing emotionally, not just as an employee, but as a person. you know, he and multiple people on the team, like they gave me their phone numbers. They, they checked in every single day. we tried to use our video cameras. Like every, like every time you have a meeting, turn it on. He also created this amazing Trello board for me with different tasks. It was broken down by week of here are the things that you should accomplish. Here’s the links to important resources. They even had cards with everyone’s face on it, like where they’re from, what they do, what they like. that was very, very helpful. and then there were. Like the onboarding is kind of interspersed with sprint work. So you’re not just like at onboarding for a week or so. It’s like your onboarding happens slowly over time while you’re integrating with your team. And so, that was actually really helpful for me. And I think the biggest success, like catalyst for success was that they had me pair program with a different person on the team for every task and every task was different. So like my first one was UI work. I’m using AB testing and we pair programs on that. My next one was about, you know, GraphQL and like API and requests and stuff like that. and so having exposure to different parts of the application and different people was super useful.

McKayla: [00:33:34] Yeah, that sounds really amazing. I mean, it sounds like I would like to start there and, and especially, it also sounds like they really put an effort in, right. So I recall starting somewhere and they didn’t even have a keyboard or, you know, this was not remote, but you know, there was no keyboard or they forgot to actually, you know, where’s the desk. Oh, it’s completely dusty. Right. so. Yeah. It, it, and, you know, putting some cards there with the names and you know, that you get some idea of the people, it seems like this is specifically done for the situation that we have right now. So there is a dedicated effort to make it nicer for people to, to do that. I think that an onboarding experience also is something that you don’t forget. so in these places where I started and I felt like. Or do you even forgot that I’m coming? Right? This is something that I keep in my mind, even if I’m working there for two years. Right. it somehow, I don’t know. How, how is that for you? Have you had, less of a good onboarding experience as well?

Emma:[00:34:37] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, to be honest, I don’t even remember my IBM onboarding. I know I felt lost for a very long time and I didn’t have like a mentor or anyone to really help me, at Log Me In, I was assigned someone to help me out, which was super useful. but there were no official like onboarding events to go to. at Spotify, I, signed a buddy actually, before I joined. So like in the weeks leading up, like I would get emails from my manager. My buddy was part of it and he is basically there to help me with anything. I need any questions about Sweden, any questions, like, he would be at meetings with me to make sure I was doing okay. and that was very useful. and additionally, like they have a whole like online course that you can take that walks you through building a full, like a full stack application using our technology, from start to finish. And that was really useful as well. So, yes, I definitely remember the not so great onboarding and I will definitely remember this really great onboarding

McKayla: [00:35:40] Yeah. So one of the things, moving into one of the last things before I let you go, that I wanted to talk with you about, is your Twitter presence also because there is maybe how I know you. Well, I feel even I know you, right? We don’t know each other, but I feel that I know you. And I think, a lot of people feel like they know you, based on what you say on Twitter. You have quite a large platform there and what really, stands out for me is that you’re talking about things that you find difficult. You’re also talking about your flaws. You’re talking about unrealistic expectations about software engineers and developers. What motivates you to provoke and also to, to, jolt the developer community awake a little bit.

Emma:[00:36:23] I think for me, it was mostly like, I was just reading so many positive tweets all the time and, there’s nothing wrong with that. I think that’s great. But the reality of it is it’s not always rainbows and butterflies and I was not necessarily seeing anyone discuss the realities of the day to day job. And I felt like that. I mean, I overshare my whole life in general, so I’m very transparent person. And I felt like, well, I’m struggling. I’m sure other people are struggling. Like. It must be nice to know that they’re not alone. So I just, I, you know, I started being transparent about the issues I was facing.

McKayla: [00:36:59] and so , how do you deal with their reactions? How do you deal with trolls, for example, or, you know, people that are, you know, giving unhelpful comments to say the least

Emma:[00:37:12] I mean in all honesty now, like I very few times do I actively engage. If I actively engage with something like this, there’s probably a reason why. but in general, I think I’m at the point now where like, I don’t even have to say something because people who follow me will say something, which is kind of nice. I just try to laugh about it, honestly, because at this point there’s really nothing I haven’t seen. So like most of the time I’ll just roll my eyes and like, It is what it is, or I’ll try to joke about it. You know, like for me, I’ve seen it all. I’ve gone through the whole crying and being upset about things and it’s just not worth my time and energy anymore. And so, yeah, most of the time I just try to like brush it off.

McKayla: [00:37:52] So you seem extremely saddle and like very secure in, you know, how you express yourself. Is that also in your job? Like, do you, well, I think that being on Twitter and, you know, tweeting something is a little bit different than being in a work environment, for example. Can you express also your opinions there in the same way and how do people react to that?

Emma:[00:38:17] Yeah. I also want to say, like, I might seem like I have my whole life together. I definitely don’t. I know I try to be honest about that too, because it’s so easy to look at people I’m moving to new country and starting their dream job and thinking everything is amazing. And I don’t want to discount that because I know it is incredibly amazing, but it doesn’t mean I don’t struggle. So my mental health has been kind of up and down a lot recently and my physical health has followed suit. But in terms of work. Yeah, I would say the person I am online is the same exact person I am in personal and work lives. and I would say it’s well received. I feel like this is the first place I can genuinely be myself. I don’t have to hide parts of who I am. I can still make the same lame jokes. I can be honest if I’m struggling and it’s been so well received here and I guess I’m just not used to that. It’s sad that I’m not used to that. but it’s a good feeling to know that I’m accepted here.

McKayla: [00:39:16] I think it’s an extremely difficult challenge to get to a place like that. I think our challenge, I think it’s just really difficult. I think there are more bad workplaces out there and then there are good workplaces out there. It’s just, well that’s my experience and the experience that I hear from other people. So I think it’s really good to be in that place. Maybe to wrap the whole interview up, what would you say to, you know, a person maybe starting out, or I don’t think it’s not only people that are starting out. Those are people that are maybe settled and, you know, jump from one, you know, toxic group phase to the other. What are some of the things that we can do, you know, to help our odds, to come into a good environment?

Emma:[00:40:07] I think if you see something wrong, say something, but again, that’s also coming from a place of privilege because, you know, as a white woman, I still have, I have privilege that people of color don’t. So it’s easy for me to sit here and say like, “if you see something, say something”, as a white person, we can also be allies, right? So if I see a coworker say something in a meeting that discounts something that someone else said, I can do my part to bring it back and you know, acknowledge what they said was important and, and bring the conversation back so that it was maybe like one example, But I guess if you’re in like a crappy work environment that’s not healthy, just know that that’s not okay. It’s not okay for you to be treated that way and don’t let anyone tell you it is. I wish that I had better advice in terms of like what you should do. but my advice isn’t necessarily going to work for everyone. So, you know, I would just say like, look, look for people that you can trust and try to be open with them and get advice from them if they’ve been through something similar, but, just know that it’s not okay to feel, like put down at work or unsafe at work. I think too, if you are in a place of privilege, like you need to use that for good. I’ve seen nasty comments in Slack, not at this job, at previous jobs. And it did not sit well with me. And I thought, well, I have two options. I can say something and hopefully change the future, or I can sit here and be compliant. And if you are silent, you’re compliant or you’re complicit. and I chose to say something and guess what? Yeah. People, some people might not like you, they might think that you’re, lame that you’re, you know, not fun. “It’s just a joke”, but in the workplace, if a joke is demeaning to someone, it’s not a joke. and so I’ve been that person to like, contact my manager and say, “Hey, this didn’t sit well with me”, like, “what are we going to do about it?”. So if you have that privilege to be able to do that, you need to be doing it.

McKayla: [00:42:06] Yeah, I totally and wholeheartedly agree. I also think that’s, a really good advice. And even a wonderful ending for today’s episode. So Emma, is there something else that you want to say to my listeners to wrap up this episode?

Emma:[00:42:58] I kinda just want to say, like, if you’re listening and you’re struggling, I’m right there with you. We’re all struggling in different ways. So we just gotta be there for each other.

McKayla: [00:43:06] Yeah, that’s really nice. That’s so true. And, I will link to all of your cool stuff: your Twitter profile, of course, to your book. we talked a little bit about that, right?
And so, well, then I say thank you, Emma, for, for being on my show. Thank you so much for being here.

Emma:[00:43:22] Yeah, thank you for having me!

McKayla: [00:43:24] Yeah, it was really wonderful. I really enjoyed it.

About the Author
Michaela is passionate about making the life of developers and engineers better. She hosts the SE Unlocked podcasts and also researches and helps to make software engineering processes and tools better. She writes about her work on https://www.michaelagreiler.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *