Episode 001

Introductions; imposter syndrome; how to become a developer

Released: Sep 29, 2020 • Length: 30:20

Also available on Google Podcasts and Amazon Music

Claire and Steph introduce themselves in this podcast. We get to hear their journeys into development, and their general tips for how in the world to navigate the development career path. Of course, since it's their first episode, there's some hiccups... but we're just getting started.

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Hello there. Welcome to wordwrap where we talk about development being women in tech and just about anything else we want to discuss.

My name's Claire. I'm in Chicago. I am a front-end engineer at small start-up insurance company. I currently head up all their JavaScript. I have previously been at marketing places. I have been at other insurance companies and I also have experience in government


Hello, I'm Steph, or 5t3ph if you prefer. And much like Claire, I am a human that develops.

I've been doing this development thing for 13 or so years - started with Flash now I'm here. And I am in particular known for CSS but also very passionate about accessibility and everything that goes along with that starting with a very solid foundation of semantic HTML. And I like to talk about all of those things. As - through my work as an egghead instructor with video tutorials. And I have done work across quite a few industries thanks to being in a marketing environment.

Most recently, I spent the last couple years working on a design system for a large fintech Enterprise and I'm about to embark on a new journey as a software engineer.

Today, we're looking at our journeys and thinking about what does is it really take to become a front end developer. And being as we both started quite a number of years ago, that definitely looks a lot different these days.

So yeah Claire, whats...?


Well, I mean at one point in time it was about, you know, learning Dreamweaver or whatever the editor at the time was. I like the flashback to Flash as well.

So I would say that the - if you're looking to get into front, er, front-end development or just development in general.

First thing you want to learn is kind of the web fundamentals. I would call them like HTML, CSS and just CSS in terms of like why you would use CSS to you know, actually to do what it does best. And then JavaScript without a framework or a library, which we can talk about later. Just you know playing around with what JavaScript can do, what what it's what it's probably not great at. There's several resources out there for that. And then start to learn JavaScript within maybe a context of a framework or a, or a library.

The reason I say that is because from experience, I have learned JavaScript through jQuery, through Angular, through, you know, just other abstracted like takes. And and I've had to unlearn a lot of those things that I've learned through those particular environments. And if you learn how to really manipulate and, and kind of control the DOM - which is another acronym in the swarm of acronyms and web development - you will kind of understand how like a web page is put together. And then you can start to think about actually how like a framework or a library such as React or Angular or Vue or Next or whatever, might actually - might actually - like exactly how it does those things.

I'm really big proponent of learning how things work before starting to manipulate those things.

What about you Steph?


Totally. I love what the last thing you said there, like learning how things work first. And I think that's a critical part. When you're new - I remember being new - and I think whether its development or anything that you're trying to discover and learn, if you're excited about it you really go hard, if you try to prove yourself and sometimes you end up with a cart before the horse situation. You know, jumping into maybe an internship that is asking a little bit more of you than your skill set and that can be amazing if they let you learn. But I think with development, especially taking time to practice any skills whether you're having formal education - which I did not, I'm self-taught. Claire, are you a totally self-taught?




Yup, and so being able to recognize that you'll be constantly building on whatever skills you learn. So to Claire's point, starting with those fundamentals. And it's not wrong to jump into something like React. And in some ways, these types of frameworks can really mesh with how maybe your brain works to solve a problem. So in some ways that can help you connect some dots. And I think that what got me into web development mostly was realizing the potential of creating something and having immediate feedback and being able to interact with it. That interaction part is really powerful and definitely kept me motivated when I was first learning some things.

I joked about Flash. So if you are young enough that Flash had died out before he really got into web development, which it may have because it's I think officially end-of-life this year, but it's been pretty much dead for several years, You know that was basically animation to create a web page. So that was like true playing and get instant feedback.

But so these days like finding opportunities where you can be encouraged to practice. That's why I think things like a hundred days of code or these things where you get a community that can help motivate you and help inspire you to learn and keep you accountable and provide resources.

I think that Community aspects huge hugely important to learning especially if you are going kind of the more self-taught route. To even learn what's out there there's so much and it's hard to comb through so those communities can help provide you a bit of a filter if you need it to help focus on topics.


Yeah, totally, you know. There's like - you and I both are from a time where you know there were communities but they weren't as well exposed or they weren't as kind of ubiquitous as they are now. And I feel like my primary motivation for even getting into learning what HTML did was because my MySpace page needed to be, you know, spectacular. Which again, if that ages me then I wouldn't be surprised. But you know, it's that drive that gets you into it.

And you know one thing that I really had to battle against, something that came from my childhood, was learning how to ask questions again.

I had a really, really, really hard time with asking questions and kind of admitting that like, I didn't know something. And you know, that is not a healthy mentality to have when you're learning something completely new. And you have a lot of people that can help you out and want to help you out.

So, you know, especially like Steph said, a community is a great thing to have just just when you not you're not feeling like you're getting at or whatever.


So that kind of leads us nicely into the fact that there is no right path for development. So whether you are self-taught or you go that more formalized route, there's so many opportunities. I think whichever way you best learn whether that's tutorials or more hands-on guided instruction, there's so many opportunities. I think maybe the harder part is filtering for quality if you are just trying to pick and choose and design your own course, basically,

But what's your thoughts on the on that path in?


Yeah, I mean it can be hard to kind of, you know, try to figure out what to work on.

I've actually - an aspiration of mine is to be one of those people that write cool and flashy things on CodePen, which is a great site to get inspiration from actually. But when I sit there I'm like, I don't really know even how to start and finding a problem that you want to fix, or you maybe want to modify, or you know, maybe you think it you can be you can do it better. You know, even if you don't necessarily know how to start that that that is a path.

You know, going back to my kind of story. I was actually hired as an IT person, so I had no real, you know, no real domain over the web at my job at the courts. But there was this need, and I had a curiosity, and it kind of just worked out.

So, you know, it's like in that particular instance, I was very very privileged to be able to just kind of make that my job.

You know and I was already getting paid for it, and I already had the kind of rapport of my superiors to be like, yeah, I just go and learn this.


Yeah, my path is kind of sporadic to. When I initially, you know, was working in Flash, I was at that time thinking, well I was in high school, so I was like, well, you know just trying to generally answer the question of what I want - what do I want to be when I grow up. And so I got in a Flash and I was like, okay I'm going to make art, and put my art on the web.


Ah yes, art.


I'm not an artist. So that's a fun note.

And so I went into advertising because I did recognize that I wasn't really an artist but I did just like that general activity of creating. And so, like I talked about earlier you get that feedback loop of creating and seeing on the web. And so going in advertising that ended up being my major. So for most of my career, that kind of, mostly my own perception probably, but it kind of locked me into that advertising marketing world. And I happen to live in a region where there are a lot of marketing and advertising agencies. And just you know, there's an amazing creativity that comes with that, you know, like raising the bar kind of across those fields. And there was less development shops, at least when I was kind of initially looking for careers. A lot of the development shops are kind of tucked in house, or very small kind of startup, boutique environments. But the advertising agencies were actually known for doing some pretty crazy interactive work. So it seemed like I said, it seemed like that was kind of the general path that I had available to me.

And then once - you we talked about communities, and the importance of the community is also kind of helping reveal to you what other opportunities exist outside your geographical bubble. We might talk about it in a future episode, you know that it's, it's also recognizing when a workplace does or doesn't work for you. And sometimes that can lead you to opportunities that you never would have imagined and that's definitely a part - of a key part of my journey as well. We might discuss that one later.

The importance of the community is also kind of helping reveal to you what other opportunities exist outside your geographical bubble... and sometimes that can lead you to opportunities that you never would have imagined...


Yeah, that one's a fun topic. And I think that there's another topic that kind of needs to be talked about when it comes to being you know in the right path in a development, is kind of like that a whole inclusivity kind of thing.

Like, you know, like if you especially if you are from like a marginalized community. Or you know, like you just think you might not be able to make it because like, you know, the whole imposter syndrome or whatever the case may be like trust me. Everyone's got it. Everyone's got imposter syndrome.

And you know, in diversity in the work - and the diversity in development particular, is just such a huge - such a huge advantage to you know, both you and your team and just having those multiple perspectives is just is invaluable. It's just it's you know, I can't put a price tag on it and also, you know, like if you are not part of a marginalized community, you should be seeking out folks that are to you know, get more of those perspectives.

And you know, because I cannot tell you how many conversations I've had as a person of in the LGBTQ community where like my community in and of itself was impacted by the decision that we were making. And I was basically the only resource that they could call upon to like make a decision, you know, an actual knowledgeable decision. That was just that was huge for me, and also it wasn't comfortable being put on the spot. But I also know what it would have been like in the absence of that.


That's a huge part of like - it's very impactful on your path. It impacts where you end up working, of course. And I also - I keep going back to communities, but that's like another reason they're so important is being able to find folks that you feel comfortable with in terms of helping you along your journey. But also finding communities that help you expand your view. Because the more you know about people, the better you're going to do in your work.

Whether your developer whatnot, obviously having a bigger world view is going to impact your work. But I think especially as a developer, because your products are not geographically bound. They are - you know, whatever you're putting forth in the world can end up anywhere so, you know every decision you make is super important.

And that's something that beginning developers - we know that accessibility isn't taught as well as it should be in things like boot camps, or it's not incorporated in tutorials. And that's - that's like one of the starting points to you know to understanding this wider community and understanding the diversity of needs and voices, And trying to represent all of those. So definitely a area of focus that is needed for those starting out in development.


Yeah. I mean, it's the same thing kind of any - any group of people, is like you want the group of people that is making something to look very similar or at least representative of the group of people that is going to be using or consuming the product. Because otherwise you're going to be missing bits, you know, whether it is just decisions that just wouldn't have thought of because of your implicit bias and stuff like that - which could be an entire episode.

You know marketing yourself as a developer - I know that this is kind of a switch but - marketing yourself as a developer is like - it's really hard.

It's really hard to do even now I still find it hard to kind of figure out like where I am in the whole developer spectrum, if that makes sense. Because you know, there's the front-end, there's the back-end there's the full stack. There's yeah, there's devops. There's all these different types of buzzwords and there is a - since we're both front-end developers,I will try to keep it as - or front-end engineers or whatever - we are on the front-end part of the stack.

It's hard to understand where your skill sets fit within that sometimes. Because like, Steph writes, Steph has written, a lot of PHP, whether or not she wants to write PHP now it's a different story, but she knows how to write it I do too.


That's okay to acknowledge you're still figuring it out.


I mean really though I am kind of figuring it out and I'm 8 years into this like. You know, a part of me thinks that I'm not actually a developer - or like I wasn't a developer for three of those years because I didn't have it in my title.

I would argue that you are a developer, even if it may not necessarily be in your title.

I think that's a huge thing to tell think about as well as up, you know, maybe you don't have developer in your title, but you're still a developer. So, you know, yes, even if like starting out - you know, once you know those skills and you feel like you can actually do something with them, your're a developer. It's just a matter of like convincing someone else that will hire you to pay you money to think that as well.

So it's kind of that - it's that method where you kind of have to... and this this is coming straight from like my experience, I had to fake it. I felt like I was like, oh, yeah, I totally know what I'm talking about. And I you know, objectively I did. But you know, it's one of those things where it's like, I don't know the answer to that question, but I can tell you this story and so, you know, it's really just an attitude - in my opinion, it's really kind of an attitude - an outlook, I guess if that makes sense.

And yeah just, if you have projects that you've done like in your free time, whether it be something that you helped you learn React or help, you know helped you learn like how to change - I don't know, create a CSS animation or something like that. Like those are all huge tools that you can use to be like, hey, this is my portfolio. You know, the portfolios are entirely different topic that we can talk about in and an entire episode.

But you know examples of work is anything that has to do with code and you know, I personally I have had a really hard time with being like "Hey, yeah. I have a portfolio."

When I look at my GitHub - which has been around for like eight years - I'm like, there's not much on it. But you know, that doesn't meet make me any less of a developer.

So I think it's one of those mindsets where you have to like, you have to be confident in the skills that you have, know what skills you don't have, and be willing, able and enthusiastic about learning those skills.

So because that's really what people are hiring you for. People are hiring you for like what you can do, not necessarily what you could literally do right now. Some code challenges might actually make you think otherwise, but yeah marketing yourself is interesting.


Marketing yourself is interesting, and you brought up a good point that whatever you do to mark yourself is pretty much equivalent to how you approach finding, you know employment. Whether that means that you're freelancing or you're looking to join a company. And I mean it all just all goes back to marketing your skills. What are you good at. And it can take a while to, you know figure that out. And that's fine because the web is changing so rapidly all the time.

I was thinking this morning that it's interesting to - you kind of find yourself constantly worried that a decision you made three weeks ago will be judged today. And it's not because you didn't know what you were doing, but because it just is changing.


What you did right three weeks ago will definitely be judged, but probably not by anyone else, probably by yourself.

Yeah, you are your own worst critic, you're right.


And - and that's you know, when you think about marketing yourself, unfortunately, one of the things that it can seem like folks are looking at is that GitHub graph. And you know what, that those are just squares at the end of the day. And you know, I think it GitHubs useful as one tool for you to track your own progress in terms of what you learn. And you know being able to look back on that. And sometimes that can help you find, you know patterns in what you've enjoyed doing. You know, it's one way to represent your skills, but it's certainly not the only way. And having a portfolio or some other type of personal space, you know, it's okay if it's kind of a mash of different things for a long time.

I didn't really find my stride of what I was really interested in. I knew what I was passionate about but I didn't really have like a topic - a topic to be, you know, that I could really promote for until this year. And that was after nearly 13 years as a developer.

I think that it can be really - another thing that can hinder figuring out how to market yourself when you have an inappropriate work-life balance and you feel a little bit too much like your identities tied to your job. And I'm speaking from personal experience.

So, you know being - being so kind of consumed with deadlines, and timelines, and client needs and wants, that it can be hard to discover what you're actually enjoying in that process.

If you have other lifestyle barriers where you could not pursue development outside of work, which you absolutely, you know, that's a personal choice. But if you have no time in the workplace to do that education and learning, then - then it could be very difficult to find that niche that you really want to pursue and - and hopefully find enjoyment in what you're doing throughout your development career.


No, I think you brought up a really good point about work-life balance. You and I have talked about it before, and how you know, I think a lot of developers are guilty of this is like: you see a developer doing something really cool, and you obviously know that they're doing it outside of their work time. It's even better when they're able to do it during their work time - you kind of are jealous of their employer - but you start to think that you're not as good of a developer.

And there is - there is nothing wrong with ending your day at 5:00 p.m. and doing absolutely anything else in the world that doesn't have to do with code. There is nothing wrong with that, and any person or employer that tries to tell you otherwise - it sounds like not necessarily the best place to work.

You know it - it's one of those things where we can talk about this an entirely different episode. And I feel like we've just been introducing a ton of different topics that we can get into, so we're like, we're really building up the like anticipation here!

But you know burnout is a really big problem within the development community. And you know, if you're a new and up-and-coming dev, like don't get - don't get scared by this. But you know, you can get really carried away by things that you're doing that you really really love. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Like, you know, you can - no one like you should be able to do exactly what you want to do as long as you want to do it. But there's no requirement to doing it more than like - then you know what you get paid to do.

You know, I've dealt with that a lot lately because I have not been coding outside of work. And partially because of the reasons that I've mentioned before because like, you know, you don't really know what to work on, or you have told so many projects that are that are kind of in flight, and you're like, "I don't know which one to work on so I'm just not going to work on anything." And all those things are valid and okay and I am still a good developer whether or not I do any of those things.

And like it like Steph said, you know, the GitHub chart is one of the most controversial things of GitHub. You know, some people want it to be banned, some people want - some people actually mock it like just to make it look like they're really good at like committing stuff and they're not actually doing that. You know, and that's why I feel like that kind of goes to you know, a bigger topic of just kind of benchmarking your own performance and like trying to figure out like "Am I good at what I do?" And you know, I've dealt with that a lot in my career.

At one point in time, Steph probably doesn't like to think about this - but at one point in time Steph was my boss. And I had a really hard time understanding if I was doing good or bad. And this was also pretty early in my development career. So I really didn't understand a lot of those nuances of like, you know, the fact that you come here and create meaningful things every day nd then you leave like that is - that is enough. And you know, and so like that imposter syndrome can set in. But I don't know where I was going with that profound thought - it's a Wednesday


Is it?


Might be we don't really know.


Wednesday, March 287th.


Yeah, it's one of those things where - I guess my point was, that you know, if you are an employer where you have like really good performance benchmarks that can really help in terms of like understanding. Like okay, I am a good developer. Like personally at my current employer were actually setting up those performance benchmarks for the first time. Before that, it was kind of just like like, you know, hey, you're doing a great job like thanks for doing what you're doing, you know. And you know that - that is, since I work at a start-up, it's very, you know, we're just kind of like, you know, pushing things out every week trying to make meaningful changes to the business. And setting up a performance rubric is kind of scary because it's like well, where do I fit into it. But you know, doing that work over the last couple of months, especially within this whole COVID world where you know, you really don't get that face time - you get that Zoom time, I guess - but you know, you really can't benchmark kind of how you are, like how you feel. So at the end of the day you just have to realize that the work that you're doing is enough. That's work-life balance.

Some of the things that we talked about today like are actually kind of reasons why I wanted to start a podcast with Steph. Like Steph is one of my oldest development friends, like I knew her before I started at our, you know, shared employer at the time. But you know, it's one of those things where it's like I wanted to get into more of like a like code adjacent thing, where I'm not necessarily writing code, but I'm talking about code or talking about its impact on the world or whatever. You know, I like to ramble a lot, so I hope that that's beneficial to your podcast listening habits.

Yeah, I hope that this goes well and it's an experiment that we're just doing because why the hell not.


I think the thing we said a lot throughout this episode was community, and this is kind of another expression of how we can expand our community and talk to more folks that - like Claire said, you know, it's not always about writing code. Sometimes it's about talking about the implications of that code, you know. And so, this this is kind of our little corner of the internet where we can maybe discuss some of those topics and open a wider discussion. So, we hope you'll like and subscribe and tune into our future ramblings!


How does that go? Like And subscribe and patreon, whatever. I don't know. I don't know how this all works. But - life and times - of a developer.


Yep. Tune in. Tune in next time.


Yeah or something. K Bye.





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