In this episode, I talk to Jenn Creighton. Jenn is a Senior Staff Engineer at Apollo. Jenn specialized in frontend-end development is currently working on the open-source work for  Apollo GraphQL.
She also is a frequent conference speaker, an authoritative voice in tech, and recently started her own podcast called single-threaded

We talk about:

  • what a senior staff engineer does, and which responsibilities this title entail, 
  • why she needed to frequently change her job in order to advance her career,
  • how gaslighting, bias, and being underrepresented, underpaid, undervalued is part of her decades long experience as a developer
  • and how she makes sure she is helping others to enter tech and have a better experience.

Today’s episode is sponsored by Botany.io – Botany is a virtual coach for software engineers that unblocks essential teamwork and levels up careers!

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Transcript

[If you want, you can help make the transcript 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.]

Episode 37: Jenn Creighton

Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla, and today I have the pleasure to talk to Jenn Creighton, a staff engineer at Apollo.

But before I start, I wanted to introduce you to a new company that sponsors today’s episode Botany.io. The founders reached out to me to tell me about botany and virtual assistant and personal coach for engineers that helps you adopt better habits, improve your skills or automate your workflow. You could, for example, set out to improve your code review skills, then botany would ping you each time a new code review is created that needs your expertise. By tracing and tracking your interactions and even feeding back information about the quality of your code review feedback, it gives you a data-driven and guided way to improve your skillset, habits and level up your career. You know, I’m a big advocate of data-driven insights and the same time, a big sceptic, because I know that data can easily be misused or misinterpreted.

I really liked Botany’s approach of a personal coach for engineers, because if this disallows comparisons or stack ranks, but rather focuses on the strengths and personal growth path of each engineer.

If this sounds interesting to you, please hop over to botany.io. To request access to the tool that is botany.io. But now back to Jenn. Jenn is a senior staff engineer at Apollo graphQL, focusing on open source. She’s also a frequent conference speaker and recently started her own podcast called single strategy. So I’m super happy to have Jenn here with me today. Jenn welcome to the show.

Jenn: [00:01:36] Hi, thank you for having me super stoked. Hi there.

Michaela: [00:01:41] It’s my pleasure. So Jen. When I look at your profile, like I’m so impressed. It’s like senior staff engineered. I mean, this sounds super impressive. So how did you get that far in your career? And also what is a senior staff engineer? What, what differentiates a senior staff engineer, for example, from a senior engineer, what are the different responsibilities? Kilz?

Jenn: [00:02:04] It’s funny when you say you feel impressed by. My resume. My first thought is like, ah, no. And then my second thought is, well, if you had shown baby Jen, this, during her initial start to her dev career, she also would have been really impressed and like kind of blown away. Because when I started this, I didn’t know, there even was such a thing as a staff engineer or a principal or a senior staff or anything like that. When I got started in development, I was just like, okay, I’ll be a junior, then I’ll be mid-level and then I’ll be senior. And then. I don’t know, like, I don’t know what, what comes next. So really over the time that I have been in engineering, these titles started to become more popular. So it was the title of staff or the title of senior staff or principal. And they’re basically like senior, senior, senior problem, like senior seniors, senior titles that you just keep adding like a senior, basically to them is sort of how you could think about it. In some cases, they mean very specific things in various specific companies. So a principal at Microsoft might be very different from a staff engineer at Apollo graph QL. It really depends on what those career development ladders like, look like. But essentially, I would say it’s like, you’re just keep adding like a senior to the title basically. And you just couldn’t say I’m a senior, senior, senior at some point. It doesn’t make sense.

Michaela: [00:03:32] Well, so at Microsoft, the principal was, I mean, it wasn’t definitely impressive. And then I think there was a fellow, right? Like only really a few people, you know, were like brilliant people, no word prize people, at least in my impression, like.

Jenn: [00:03:47] No prize winners

Michaela: [00:03:50] or prize winners. They are

Jenn: [00:03:56] nowhere near that. I’m just still like, ah, for me, what my title means is that I’m, I’m highly specialized. So as you become more and more senior, you tend to become more and more specialized. You just can’t be a generalist. And super senior in all the aspects of software engineering that you would need to be. So you do have to specialize at some point, for me, being a senior staff means that I’ve chosen my specialization and that I’m continuing to grow and become more of an authoritative voice in that specialization in my company.

Michaela: [00:04:31] And so what is that? It’s react graph, QL, Java script, or. Yeah, how, how broad is such a specialization.

Jenn: [00:04:40] It can really depend on what you’re doing for me. My career was heading in a path of high specialization in just front end in general. So before I worked at a Apollo graph QL, I was at a company called the wing and I was a front end architect there. So I had gone from being a senior at a company called class pass, and then eventually joined the wing as a front end architect. And you could think of the architect as like a staff engineer role. My job was to help the code base continue to be healthy and that involved, uh, touching all the parts of it. So from testing to the actual front end code, any sort of infrastructure that we needed build tools or anything like that, that was my, my specialization was starting to think about those types of things. It’s a little bit different at Apollo graph kale because I’m working on open source. Now I actually work on the Apollo client team. So my specialization is really about open-source and in particular Apollo client JavaScript and the very, very difficult problem of how front-end applications get data and cash data on the front end.

Michaela: [00:05:52] Okay. Yeah. And so when I think about, to be honest, be back at it, I don’t know if it’s like, just my verus was not there or the titles were not there, but as you said, for me, it was like, okay, you are maybe an intern, then you’re a junior, then you’re. But a developer, then you are a senior developer and then you are a manager. I mean, this was also like how I understood it. Like yeah. And then you have to go and manage people and I think we are industry. So my, this is just like some, some theories around it. I want to know if you maybe have the same ideas, but maybe it has to do that more and more people complain. I mean, there are a lot of very brilliant engineers that are just not really good. Managers. Right. And so if the next step from a senior engineer is to be a shitty manager, right. It’s not good for the company and it’s not good for the individual. And so maybe this is how old, the whole thing came about that, you know, loudly say, well, you want to advance and you know, like senior, senior sounds strange. You don’t want to be in management that actually we don’t want you to be in management either. Right. So, so. And then at the same time, I think technology is, I mean, it’s exploding, right? So I think where you could know a lot of the web technologies, 15 years back, or, you know, like, yeah, 15 years back. I mean, what was there like Perla, CGI, right. A little bit of JavaScript, but now we have all these, you know, especially stations that you actually need to understand. Right. It’s JavaScript, it’s react. It’s angular. There are so many other technologies out there. And so maybe it has to do with that. You actually have to, you have more room to grow as an engineer. And so the titles reflect that, that room to grow, that there is so much that you actually have to know. What, what do you think about that?

Jenn: [00:07:41] I do think that is what has happened, because if you look over the past 10 years, And if you just look at just web development, the JavaScript side, things exploded into specializations because it wasn’t just. That single page applications became more, uh, popular that they started to be used more that the framework started to really build up. You also had no JS come into the mix. So there was server side JavaScript problems. So you really started to see a lot of specialization. And then as you started to really work on single page applications, getting really into depth with a framework or working on the server side. There’s other specializations in web development to, uh, having really good accessibility, right? Accessibility has come out as a specialization over the past 10 years that you can, you can focus on just that at your job. And that’s already a really hard problem. So all these specializations came out that. You couldn’t be a generalist really any more, because you could never get fully into depth with something you could never be fully into testing into dev infrastructure into the server side, into a good practices with HTML, into being really good at CSS. Or single-page like none of that, like it’s a huge breadth. So you do have to start to specialize. And as you were saying, The path used to be. I go from junior to mid-level to senior to manager because we didn’t have all these IC tracks, these individual contributor tracks for you to go into. And so that was your path. And for, you know, when I started out, that was kind of what I thought might happen to me too. But thankfully all these more like larger individual contributor tracks came up, like being able to be an architect or focus on a system and become a staff engineer of that system so that, you know, we don’t have, you have more leeway. Now, if you don’t want to go into management because management is not a continuation of the engineering career track, it is a completely different. Career track completely. Yeah,

Michaela: [00:09:58] exactly. Yeah, exactly. So I think this is much more natural. I was also when I was at Microsoft, I think it was the first company that I thought, well, there’s actually more, you know, like there’s a long letter that I could climb whereby at other companies, I was like, Oh, do I want to become a manager? No, where’s the staff only no two hops and then you’re there, then you’re stuck forever. But so maybe what’s also happened over the last 15 years is that if you look at all the companies that need engineers and all that. The websites that are built. They’re not vibe sites anymore. They are bad applications. Right. So first he was like, it’s that exciting? So yeah, a front end engineer was somebody that no HTML and, you know, sprinkled some JavaScript on top. So that there’s like a auto-fill or a button that you can click or some, some validation off, you know, that, that feels that you are filling in. And I mean, this is like 10 years ago. Right? So most of the, this most already. Something, but now, I mean, it’s a whole application. There’s so much going on, right. There’s architecture that you have to think about. There are so many technologies that are going on and every company almost has. Has an application, right? They don’t want websites anymore. I don’t know. I mean, there are still a small businesses that get websites, but like every, every startup, every company that gets a little bit serious, they don’t want a website. They want an application and the user can do something that it can log in. Can there’s so much functionality. Right. So I think the whole, the work exploded for us as well. Right? So the, the work and the need for, for people that really know their stuff and what they’re

Jenn: [00:11:38] doing. It’s not just that like small businesses also have websites too. There are now entire companies that their job is to make it easier for those businesses to have a website, you know, Squarespace, web flow. And those are in themselves like really complex technologies that someone has to build. So it didn’t really exploded. And like what type of work was available for engineers as well?

Michaela: [00:12:03] Yeah. And I don’t know. I mean, I looked at your LinkedIn profile and I saw that you have been actually quite, quite a few different organizations. And so if you’re looking back like the last 10 years, did you also see that it grew from while I was responsible for a website and do some, you know, like some HTML and some sprinkle, a little bit JavaScript to now I’m, I’m doing full blown applications with so much functionality. Is that something that. I mean only because you know, more, but also probably because the companies, the requirements for the stack and for the technologies changed over time. How do you see that?

Jenn: [00:12:41] Yeah. So when I started out, my, my first job ever in this field was that I worked at Ralph Lauren in their marketing department. And so what we were building was just. Plain websites, HTML, CSS, and maybe a little bit of JavaScript functionality, but nothing really heavy. This was not using a single page, web application, no framework or anything like that. It was good old jQuery back in the day and like a, a smidge of it really when I left Ralph Lauren, even actually, while I was at Ralph Lauren. The want from the client to do more interactive, fun things for people became more and more of a thing, more interaction, more information that you could get without having to go to a secondary page. Right? So that actually was already starting to be a trend there. When I left, I left to go work on more single the webpage applications. I was starting to work in a field of, of actually building out really large applications. So the first job I went to after that was a company called loverly and it was essentially like a Pinterest, but focused solely on weddings. Right. And then from there I went to go work at Chartbeat and I brush over levelly because, because the company didn’t do well, but Chartbeat is actually where you could really see that. We were trying to push like what you could do on a webpage forward, because Chartbeat was an application for people who work at new sites to get analytics about their articles. And they were starting to do a lot more interesting things like experiments on headlines or being able to rearrange the page to see the flow of content and what might actually be like, w you want to push it up to the top of the page that required a lot more. Overlays on top of things, a lot more consideration about how to do those things, how to not have people like click through to just like a graph, you know? And that was where I started to see like a big, a much bigger explosion at that time of angular react, all these things that would allow you to interact with a page without having to like leave the page, how to get the data to you without having to like move through and understand the flow of a webpage in the same way that you used to. So that that’s when I saw that sort of exponential growth and every job since then was a really in depth application, something more intensive than what’s that Chartbeat. Yeah. That was around 2015. So that was, I think the angular had just become popular. And as I was leaving Chartbeat, we were putting react in place.

Michaela: [00:15:30] Yeah. And so another thing that when I looked through your LinkedIn and I don’t, I’m not a star is that I started you. Left the job. And you moved on every one to two years, right. Which is very like out of the textbook. Right. But which we hear very often that if you want to advance your career to something like a senior staff engineer, maybe this is something that you should consider doing what is also why you, you know, why you changed so frequently your, your roles or over other things that, you know, motivated you to move in that pace.

Jenn: [00:16:12] There were a few reasons for those hops. My, my father is very old school and he’s very confused by my job habit. Think like his joke is like every time he talks to me, I have a new job. And dad, but my dad came from a generation where like, you stay in your job for probably your whole life. Like that’s my dad’s generation. You literally work one job for all of your life. So this is a very weird concept to him. And I’ve had to try to explain to him, like, in some cases, because I choose to work in startups in particular, that can go badly very quickly. So some of the startups that I worked for ran out of money. Or they had layoffs and the company changed in the time that I was there. Then you have this other really, but I think that’s sort of very, very particular to tech, which is that it is hard to advance if you don’t move around of the nine-ish years that I have been in tech, I have only ever been promoted once. That’s it. Every other time to get to the next level. I had to leave my current company to work with the type of JavaScript applications that I want to work with. I had to leave Ralph Lauren to advance to a senior. I had to leave previous companies cause I wasn’t going to get a promotion there. I had to leave and go somewhere else. And to keep moving up into the type of work that I wanted to do. I also had to leave. So if I wanted to be a front end architect, I couldn’t do that at my previous company. I wanted to move on very specifically to a smaller startup, where there was room for me to take on that role, instead of trying to like. Get into that role at my current company, I didn’t think that was going to work. Right. So in a lot of cases, it’s also that, and also I have moved because I’ve been underpaid, I’ve been under leveled. Those are all reasons to like move on one of the side effects that actually I’m really happy about from this moving on is that I was exposed. To a lot of code bases that were written very differently and different technical choices were made along the way. And I got to experience what it meant to work in those systems. Which meant I got a lot of comparison out of the different systems. I could figure out why patterns were good or not good. I could decide what I would want to try out in my role as a front end architect and eventually decided what I really want to be doing is going very heavy into open source libraries right now that that’s where my head space is at. But yeah, it was like being able to do that, get that kind of like knowledge at each job actually did really help. So. Job hopping in our field is, is, can happen for a lot of reasons. Not all of those reasons are bad. They can be bad, but not all of them are.

Michaela: [00:19:12] Yeah. Actually, when I looked through your LinkedIn, I was like, Oh my God, I could ask her so many things about, you know, different technologies, different software engineering practices, because if you are, you know, like at a couple of, I mean, if you’re, I’ve only worked at one company, it doesn’t matter which company it is. Right. You only experience one style of doing things. And so now you have really disadvantage of knowing well code reviews, you know, over there. Maybe at Ralph Lauren, it didn’t exist. I imagine. Yeah, exactly. Uh, but now we’ll probably do, and maybe at the job before they also did, but they were done in a different way and you can compare actually what works and what doesn’t work. So you are actually also coming here. I mean, you bring. A lot of perspective, a lot of knowledge that is super valuable, I think, for the new employer with you. Right. So how do you see those things? Like testing, code reviews, CIC D is there something that you think that, well, this is the right way to do it, and that’s the wrong way to do it at my current, my current insight level, right.

Jenn: [00:20:20] As I have gone along in my career. One of the funny things that has happened is I have become less convinced of the right way of doing things earlier in my career. I definitely had this perspective that there was a right way to do things. And as I’ve gone on and experienced how people do things differently, what their trade-offs are. I started to understand that there was no right way or wrong way. It was just about what trade-offs you wanted to make. So I don’t have as hard of opinions about things as maybe some other engineers based off of this experience of, of understanding what people value differently in their system. There are some things that I still like I really care about and I want to do very well. So if I was working on a product team, still, my focus would be on react component architecture. And I do have some rules that guide me, but they’re not hard and fast. If you can find a reason to break them, break the rule. I don’t care. You just got to give me like why you broke it. Totally fine with me. Some of the stuff that has surprised me about what I’ve actually. So as I’ve gone on my technical opinions have become less strict. But my opinions on the other types of work that we do, code reviews, communication, those types of things that has become more strict, that’s become more like what, what I perceive as the quote unquote right way to do things. And it’s based less off of correctness and more off of the environment that I want to work in. And what makes me happy. Because I’ve discovered how very important that is to me, it’s important to have nice coworkers and it’s important not to feel like code reviews are a battle. You fight every day straight. Exactly.

Michaela: [00:22:22] Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so, to me, it sounds a little bit that very often you are reaching a glass ceiling at one of your companies. Do you think that has to do more with the fact that these are. Small organizations, startups that don’t have like the room to have, you know, to advance at the pace maybe that you want to advance, or they don’t have the need for, you know, someone more experienced. It’s like, yeah. Yeah. So yeah. So the structure. Yeah, exactly. Right. If you have like five engineers, you probably don’t need the principal engineer. Right. So you have like, Sure. Maybe they are all just engineers. Maybe it’s not, maybe, maybe it has a senior engineer and the other are engineers and maybe a junior, but you probably don’t need, like, if they’re five ones, five different title for everybody. Do you think that this is the reason, or was there something else at play that you think people are, you know, you also talked about underpaying, which happens quite often. In the startup world as well, right? Yeah. Undervaluing maybe as well. Do you think that it has to do more with the startup world? Or do you think that very often, we also hear that, that for example, it has to do with gender at a no you’re undermined because of your gender or do you have like a feeling why it’s happening and probably have quite, quite some insights for yourself or you thought, well, they collected some evidence why it’s happening. And this is what I think the root cause

Jenn: [00:23:52] of that is now. I’ll never be able to say a hundred percent that I know why it’s happening, but over my time, I have some inclination sometimes to be completely fair. Sure. You work at a really small startup and there just isn’t, it’s just not going to happen, but that wasn’t the case at most of the places that I worked at, most of the places that I worked at, I came in underpaid or under leveled or both. And some of that has to do with the fact that in tech, honestly, well, throughout the world, right? They want to get the labor for as cheap as they possibly can. But in tech, you are already undervalued by who you present us. So if you’re not a white dude that went to Stanford, you just present differently and. People have assigned a value to you, whether they are aware of it or not. And that does come into play a lot of people. When I say something like this that maybe you’re getting undervalued or underpaid based off of your gender or that you’re a marginalized person in tech, you come from a non-white background, for instance, or you come from a working class background. They’re very quick to say, well, I’ve, I’ve seen this happen with also a white man. I’ve seen this also happened with a dude and it’s not that it doesn’t, it absolutely does because it’s pervasive in tech in general, but it does happen on average, more to specific genders and marginalized identities. If you were to listen to our stories about, I can tell you every single job, I was almost all of my jobs. I’ve been underpaid except for some recent ones. And it wasn’t because I didn’t negotiate. It was because they said, this is what we’re going to give you. And that’s your option. They didn’t want to negotiate with me. Or I was punished for negotiation. I was under level. Despite my years of experience, I was. I had been at a company for a year and a half. I was a mid-level dev. I was starting to edge towards senior, but couldn’t figure out how to get there because I wasn’t getting the assignments. I needed to stretch myself into that role. And I was called a junior after a year and a half of that company. Why I like. If you don’t give me the assignments I need to, to advance, I’m going to get stuck in the same role. And why didn’t I get the assignments that you were giving other people I spoke up and I asked for them, I do the things that you’re told that you’re like, if you just act like X, you’re going to get what you want. If you just ask for it and negotiate, blah, blah, blah, you will get treated like you are a man in tech. That is not true. That is just certainly false. You will not, there are rules in place. For how you are supposed to behave and you are not supposed to ask for the thing that you want, you will get punished for it. Yeah. And again, like I said, I’ve only ever been promoted once.

Michaela: [00:27:02] Yeah. When I was at Microsoft, I recall like one of the first weeks that I’m sitting with the team and they’re at the lunch table and they’re studying, talking about, I don’t know, some tech. Problem. Right. And the manager starts to apologize to me that they’re talking about Tasha and about complicated things. Right. I was like, Oh, it’s okay. I can handle the conversation. And then it was after I finished my PhD. Right. A very technical PhD. I was actually the only one with a PhD on the table. And they were like, yeah. And it continued, it never stopped it. Never. I tell you, it never stopped with this round of people. They kept on apologizing that they are talking about technical things. Like, Oh, sorry. You must be so bored. We will stop the topic very soon. I mean, at one point I just gave up, but because what I going to say, right. And obviously if that’s the mindset you’re not included, right. So they are not including me, even in the conversation, you cannot even say something about like you would have, I understand this. I understood the last sentence that you said, like the thing that you’re talking about, but yeah. They decided

Jenn: [00:28:21] what you could handle. They already decided what was there.

Michaela: [00:28:25] Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. You don’t, you don’t need to try to belong right. Or to fit in or to, you know, impress them. I mean, you always have to impress the surrounding, right. That they are impressed that you know, that, I mean, and, and you cannot even ask. I mean, what I find really interesting, and I don’t know if you experienced that, but I find it really difficult to ask questions because it’s assumed that I have no idea about anything. Right. And so instead of having like the next upper, like, if you’re, if you’re, if you’re questioning, for example, a best practice, it’s assumed that you have no idea about the best practice per se. Right. And so they started really at the, at the bottom of explaining what the thing is about. Instead of understanding that you’re actually questioning you understand very well, you know, what led to that best practice and all the different things, but you’re questioning the best practice per se. Right. And so, yeah, I totally understand what you’re saying here. And yeah, it’s very unfortunate. There was also Kelly, Alice that I follow on Twitter. She recently talked about her. Experiences and MailChimp. Right. And it was, it was a very unfair treatment in that she is a principal engineer. I was also so impressed, like a principal engineer. Right. But that she had the lowest salary of all her male colleagues. And so when she brought that up, what happened is that she was punished, right. She’s not working for my team anymore, which I think it’s, it’s the same. Like if you are, if you are talking about those things that are happening, it’s really risky. It’s really risky. I mean, you’re. You’re getting punished for what you’re. Yeah. You’re talking about your, your gas lighted with what happened to you, right. The experiences and so on. So I dunno, how do you do that for example, with Twitter, right. So do you share openly, do you dare to share what happened to you or if you’re. Uncomfortable somewhere. I mean, right now, I mean, there are a lot of things. There’s also, for example, what happens at Google AI, right. With all the firings that’s going on with people that are actually speaking up. Right. Do you have a big following as well? Do you speak up and, and how, and how does that impact you? For example,

Jenn: [00:30:38] I have never felt comfortable while I’m going through the thing to speak up, Kelly. Kelly being able to go out there and say this. And, and I I’m, I don’t think I would have her bravery and her strength to do that while I’m going through the thing. She, she was very poorly treated, very underpaid, and she came out and said it very blatantly about what had happened to her. The thing is even when you tell people your experiences in tech, Unless they are of that same underrepresented group or marginalized identity. A lot of people don’t want to believe that it’s happening there. If they believe that it’s happening, if they believe that there are reasons that you get under leveled and underpaid that have nothing to do with your merit, your actual worth in the field, it does undercut their own worth. Their own, how did I get here? Everyone wants to think that they did the thing by themselves. They were just good enough to get by. They worked really hard and accomplished it. Nobody wants to admit that just by the value of how they look or how they act, they got ahead quicker than somebody else. So to have that them like acknowledge that that had happened to you, what would undercut that for themselves? And they don’t want to do that. Yeah. The thing that particularly strikes me about Kelly’s what’s happened to Kelly is that it does show too that no matter how ahead you get in the field, no matter what title you get or how well-known you are, because Kelly also is very well known, has a very large following. Yes, you can get treated this way. There’s nothing that protects you from being treated this way in tech. It’s one of the striking things for me about her experience is that no matter how high up you get, no matter how technical you are, no matter your following, no matter what, you can have a company treat you like this. I have never been brave enough during those times to stay to say like, this is what I’m going through. It is always after the fact. And I’m very, very careful with it. I recently, like when Kelly was going through this, it, I saw a lot of people on Twitter being like, well, this happens to men too. And so I wrote out a tweet. That was one of the things I had experienced earlier in my career, which was that I was on a team that interviewed a very senior site, reliability engineer. And it was a woman that we interviewed the hiring manager was. One of the head engineers. It was a very small startup. And when he was talking about her towards the end of the process, he gave it to us like a plus that he literally said she doesn’t know her worth because she’s a woman, so we can get her for cheaper. And I, I, and I wanted to put it out into the world because it’s just a little bit of like, no dude, like. I promise you that if you think this isn’t happening, if you think it also happens to men, there’s a whole group of people in tech who genuinely believed this shit. And we’ll go on to do this at other companies, right. He’s at another company now. And I’m pretty sure he’s probably doing the same shit there. And he did other stuff. Like he was, he was. Not a good dude and I want to put that out there, but I still don’t feel comfortable naming the company, naming the person. I am still very protective of that information, uh, because I can start a firestorm that I’m not, I’m not prepared for. And there are other things that have happened to me in tech that I’ve just kind of slowly leaked out onto Twitter. But I’m careful about like naming names and naming companies. I’m, I’m, I’m afraid. I probably sh I don’t know if I should be, but I am like, I don’t want to kick up a whole thing. I also don’t in a lot of cases have, have proof. Like, I don’t have emails and stuff, like later, actually in my career, when I started to have issues with people like this in the field actually did start to collect evidence. I maybe didn’t go to HR because maybe there was no HR where I was, or I didn’t trust them, but I did start to collect evidence. So later I actually do have like a little evidence box of, like you said, this thing to me and I have it, but I still, I still don’t feel comfortable speaking out all the time. And I do get calls on Twitter sometimes to be like, well, name the company. I’m like, no, I kind of weighed the value of naming the company with the cost of naming the company. And to me, it didn’t, it didn’t make sense, so I didn’t do it. So, yeah, I’m, I’m still very nervous to say those things out loud.

Michaela: [00:35:45] Yeah, and I totally got it because I think I’m in the complete same boat. Right. I think that it has to do with that. You’re still, I mean, to be honest, my, my estimate or my prediction is that if you’re naming that right, It doesn’t, it doesn’t do any good. Right? It doesn’t do any good for you. And even if you have like your proof box box is worth nothing a little bit, like, sorry to say, but I really think that if you’re going public, if people want to discredit you, they discredit you. And so they will say, Oh, this is just because you’re not really a good engineer. Right. So this is why you couldn’t level up or yeah, you experienced that, but you know, You just misinterpreted what they were saying, right. They weren’t saying really, you know, doubt or there wasn’t actually to be nice to you. Why can’t you be happy about it? And, and I think, I think. I’m also very careful with what I say. And, and sometimes I want to be this really brave person that, you know, shares blandly, you know, what happens or what I, what I saw what happened to me, for example, over the last 15 years. And there are so many things that you’re just like, yeah, it’s, it’s unbelievable. But the question is what, what’s the positive outcome from that, right? Maybe there’s this a viral tweet where I attract a lot of people that are negative against me. Right. That send me maybe hate emails or, you know yeah. And then somehow this will outweigh the, the few positives and, and also I’m thinking. What will others, you know, what will others get positive out of it? And I’m not sure. And maybe this is a problem that needs to be solved, right? So how can we create a space where you can safely talk about those things and we can create positive change out of it. Right? Because now how I experienced that this is now limited to Twitter, for example, is that, well, there’s a space. You can tell it, right. But then you’re completely unprotected and everything can completely backfire and you have no. There’s no momentum. I mean, I don’t think that the chances that anything that I’m saying, um, that this recreates a momentum and positive change is isn’t there. I don’t see it. I don’t see it. I just see the negative consequences with knocking myself, maybe out of this industry, which would be the worst thing that could happen. Right. So if you’re standing, if I’m standing, I think this is probably. The best chance or the best change direction. Right. So that you’re still here. And I mean, it’s a harder way, and you are changing every year and a half or two, right. Your, your career. But on the other hand, you are a senior staff engineer and a lot of others are impressed by that. Right. And so I think that, and I think. This is, this is also very important. Yeah. I would love to be, you know, to have a space where we could talk more openly, but there should be also positive change coming from it. Not negative. Negative influences. Yeah. I, this is,

Jenn: [00:38:45] yeah. The only reason I’ll I’ll say I don’t, I don’t have a good solution either. I just know that like, I don’t do, I don’t say the things I say on Twitter when I do like spill some tea. I don’t do it out of wanting to take a company down or take a person down because that is, that is outside of my, my, my comfort zone. That’s not what my aim is. It doesn’t usually go very well. If you look at women who speak up about even worse things, You hear women who speak up about rape or sexual assault, and you see what happens to them. You don’t even want to speak up about the misogyny you experienced in your early career or, or whatever is happening to you because you know of what the cost is going to be. So my mindset has always, I’m not, I’m not there to take down a company or take down a percent. I’m there to put out a little bit of what I have experienced in the hopes that one, if you’re not like me, if you don’t look like me, if you’re a white dude in tech, you maybe. Believe me. And that would be nice. And you, and you understand that this is happening and maybe you are rallied to become more of an ally to women and marginalized identities in your, in your company. And to look out for them and to stand with them. If they do want to speak out and to, if you are a woman and you have experienced this, I want you to know that it’s, it is happening. I don’t want you to be gas lit. I find that the gas lighting is one of the more disorienting things. Did to say your, your truthful experience and then have someone tell you back. That is not how it goes. This is not what happens. Oh, that happens to men too. It wasn’t about gender is so disorienting and so demoralizing. So those are the reasons that I, that I like try and put it out there. And then, like you said, like my other thing is like, I’m just going to keep going. I’m just going to keep going in tech. You cannot push me out. You’re not going to do it. No, I’m going to keep going. I’m going to amass technical knowledge because that is what I love to do. And I’m going to keep amassing power and influence at companies that I go to. And I’m going to use that. To, to create change at my companies to create change for other people. I’m going to be out there as a speaker and a conference speaker so that people will see me on stage and know that other people can do it. And at some point I’ll take a step back and I’ll put other people on stage like that. That is, that is my mentality for this, this whole thing that I’m doing a mass of the power. Give out the power. That’s my motto.

Michaela: [00:41:34] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. It’s also very aligned with what I try to do, but I just keep going and then, you know, paving a little bit the way and, and speaking up in the situation. Right. So if you are, for example, in a hiring event, I think there is a right place to speak up, right? So this is the place where I can say, well, this was. Two totally biased decision to say, you know, for example, this decision against the woman that could actually very nicely fit into our role here, and you just discredit her with this little, whatever she sat, right. I mean, whatever she says is wrong, right? So I think this is the right place, right? To say this is biased or this isn’t right. Or there should be more, you know, there should be in the hiring committee, there should be more women actually, or more minorities, or we don’t have. We don’t have, you know, people from that background to speak up and say, well, there’s something happening.

Jenn: [00:42:28] Yeah. What you’re saying too, like it’s to be very clear, there are people who speak up and we need them. And there are people who work from the inside and we need them. It’s all across the board. Right? So wherever you feel comfortable trying to make change in, in your own way, do it, you don’t have to do the same thing that everyone else is doing, that everyone thinks you should do. If everyone thinks you should name a chain, that’s maybe not the best thing for you, you know?

Michaela: [00:42:56] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I see. I see, I see it exactly the same way. Right? So there are so many and we have to play to our strengths. Right. Sometimes I feel really bad for me that, you know, I’m not there shouting from the roof, whatever, but I also know I wouldn’t last long and that’s not good. I need my, yeah. It’s like this. Right. And I think we need me and you to last, right. We should be there and people should see. And. No experience running a

Jenn: [00:43:24] marathon, but you’re not running. Exactly. Yeah. It is a marathon. And so if you need to sometimes like, yeah, not also engage in things at work. Like if, if your company’s doing things that you wish they would change, but you are burning out. It’s okay. It’s okay. Not to engage. Please take care of yourself because the people in tech that we need to see for the longterm, you have to protect yourself to make it that far.

Michaela: [00:43:50] Yeah, exactly. And I think, I mean, what you say diversity again, right. I think even here diversity is so important. Right. We need the engineer and maybe it’s a very, you know, I don’t know a person that doesn’t, you know, it’s not a, no, she or he is not involved in diversifying the company because they are really involved in getting a hat and, and being the principal, principal principal at that company. Right. And then, yeah. Hopefully they will lift others up as well. Right. And not only thinking about their own way in their own success, but how to pave the way for others to, to be there and, and be represented at that company, but in a different way, they are not sitting in the meetings because it’s not their strengths. Right. And I think that’s, that’s totally fine. And that’s okay as well. Yeah. We really need different various diversity. Yes.

Jenn: [00:44:40] Yeah. It’s a hard lesson that I had to learn early on, which was. Get, like I said, gain the power, gain the technical expertise, gain the respect. Then you can start to spend it on the things that you want to, but first you ha you have to do that. It was, I made the mistake of going in and being like very, I’m a woman in tech and we’re going to change things and quickly realizing that I couldn’t get anyone to move on any of these initiatives until I gained a certain amount of respect, technically, which is unfair. But I had to do it. There just wasn’t another way for me.

Michaela: [00:45:19] Yeah, definitely. I think so, too. Yeah. So this is a heavy topic.

Jenn: [00:45:29] topic, right? It’s such a go deep into yeah.

Michaela: [00:45:32] Deep dive. Yeah. It’s a heavy topic and I mean, there’s so many things that you can do wrong as well about it, right? So you get also a hate for everything that you’re doing a little bit. Like you’re the one that’s shouting from the roof is getting hay because they’re doing it. The one that are not shouting from the roof, they’re getting hit because they’re not doing it. And so on. It’s a little bit like topic without love, but it’s important topics. So I was really happy to talk with you and share your experience and share a little bit of mine as well, which. I think there is overlap, even though we have very different, you know, different paths in. Yeah. So maybe the last thing to just end the whole episode on a very positive note is I wanted to talk a little bit about the podcast. So you started, you recently started a podcast. Yeah. And it’s called single strata too. What are you talking about there? What’s the focus.

Jenn: [00:46:25] So single threaded is a podcast where I’m taking a seasonal approach to it because there’s a lot of things that I’m very interested in tech and every season I’m going to come up with a theme that I want to deep dive into with people. And this first season really came out of wanting to discuss. A lot of feelings in tech, things that we don’t like always talk about out loud and on Twitter or in other podcasts or in conference talks, but they are the side conversations that I almost always have with people, which is, tell me how code reviews make you feel. Tell me how a certain technology makes you feel and why you feel that way. So we’re exploring all of that. This season, and it has been a lot of fun and it’s been a big learning experience on how to make a podcast.

Michaela: [00:47:17] Okay. You’re very cool. Very, yeah, I imagine. So there’s actually a part I’m doing, I’m giving code review workshops, right? And so one part, not all of them are same, but the ones that have some communication lessons or sections in down, right. And that are going a little bit deeper. They talk their talk about nonviolent communication, which is an excellent framework that I can recommend to everybody. It’s like an algorithm that you can do to. Understand conflict and resolve conflicts, uh, much better. And I like the algorithmic way of thinking about it. But anyway, one part of it is about talking about feelings and I find it’s always really tricky. Like I have like this. So what kind of feelings do you like you have? Right. I mean, I think it’s really hard to talk about feelings even for myself, right? Like there are not, we don’t have so many words for feelings. There may be happy, sad, angry. And I don’t know if he’s confused, even a feeling right. And then there’s a stop. Like maybe you can come up with 10. I actually have a sheet with like, I don’t know, over 150 feelings. Right. And it’s like, there’s so much nuance, but very often it’s I have difficulties understanding if I’m angry or frustrated. Right. That’s the difference here. So what are the feelings that people have about technologies? Is it just happy and angry or is it like more nuanced here?

Jenn: [00:48:38] It’s very nuanced. It’s very nuance because things can make you angry while also making you happy. Like, I think people think that you have like one individual feeling and then you can move on to having the next individual feeling, but they’re all, they’re sort of like layers. And so you can have like your primary feelings, some secondary things. It’s why we have like, Words to describe like nostalgia, right? Nostalgia is a very layered feeling of a happiness about remembering something, but a sadness that it has passed. And so it is a, it’s a layered emotion. I find people tend to have very layered emotions about things, but also my favorite thing is it, they have very strong feelings about things. Which is funny. How has it been in engineering? You kind of are expected not to have certain feelings. You are like, expect it to be very logic based and you know, a little bit emotionless when you’re working on code, but actually you have very strong feelings all the time. Like debugging debugging is extremely frustrating for a lot of people and it brings up a lot of emotional feelings hitting your head against a wall or the complete and utter relief when you solve. The bug, like these are very, very strong things that you feel, these aren’t small emotions.

Michaela: [00:50:01] Yeah. Yeah. I can totally see it. I have to listen to your podcast, I think. And if there’s like one specific episode about culture, views and feelings, I mean, this is the one that I definitely listen to probably 10 times later

Jenn: [00:50:15] I did, I did have just a recent I’m actually editing it right now where we talked about code reviews and sort of what drives my guests. You know, sort of batty about them or how they, how they have changed their minds, that around them to be from a code quality thing to a communication tool and how, how much that changes, like how you, how you perceive and how you work in code reviews. It’s pretty interesting.

Michaela: [00:50:39] Yeah. Cool. Yeah. I should definitely check that out. Okay. So I will link everything in the show notes. Is there something that you want to say to my listeners before I let you go?

Jenn: [00:50:50] It was lovely to be here. Thank you for having me on, if anyone wants to follow me on Twitter, my handle is girl code girl with the you and I, I love meeting new followers and hanging out with people. So come say hi to me sometime. Yeah, sounds good.

Michaela: [00:51:04] Okay. So Jen, thank you so much. You enjoy the rest of your Sunday and thank you so much for joining today. And bye bye. Bye-bye I hope you enjoyed another episode of the sup engineering unlocked podcast. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I talk to you again in two weeks. Bye.

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.

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