Becoming a Standout Developer with Randall Kanna

Becoming a Standout Developer with Randall Kanna

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πŸŽ™ About the episode

Once upon a time, Randall learned the unsettling truth that almost everyone on her team earned more money than her. She mustered the courage to confront her her boss and said, β€œHey! Google are interested in me. I could go there or you can give me the fair salary bump I deserve!” Boss move! They obliged and in that moment, Randall learned just how important it is to advocate yourself.

Randall wants you to have the best possible start to your tech career and joins the podcast to share what she’s learned about how to stand out and thrive in tech. Spoiler: It’s not just about your coding skills.

⏰ Timestamps

  • Introduction (0:00)
  • How Randall got into tech (01:25)
  • How to actually improve your communication and collaboration skills (03:24)
  • Make the most of LinkedIn with these tips (04:26)
  • How to stand out in tech (11:06)
  • Randall and Alex get DEEP (14:34)
  • How to write a superb Junior Developer resume (15:39)
  • Randall's scariest moment in tech - confronting her employers because she was underpaid (20:18)
  • Are you a dark matter developer? (25:41)
  • How to structure your learning as a self-taught developer and stay motivated (27:33)
  • Your unfair advantage as a self-taught developer (33:57)
  • How to genuinely and convincingly answer "why do you want to work here?" (36:10)

πŸ”— Connect with Randall

🧰 Resources mentioned

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πŸ’¬ Transcript

Alex Booker (00:01):
Hello, and welcome to The Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. Today, I'm joined by Randall Kanna who is the author of The Standout Developer. In her book, Randall offers self-taught developers a guide on job hunting, acing the interview, and landing a high paying job in tech. She joins me today to discuss much the same, as well as tell her own story about breaking into the field.

Randall Kanna (00:29):
When I started kind of thinking about writing the book, it was because I realized so many people didn't know what I thought were the basic things in getting a job. When I got onto the hiring manager's side, I realized I would ask someone, "Why do you want this job?" And they would say, "I just really want to make more money. I want to move to San Francisco." It's a very honest answer, but it's not really the right answer.

Alex Booker (00:52):
Also, some amazing news. Since recording this episode, Randall's actually joined the team at Scrimba as a teacher to create modules that share techniques and strategies about breaking into tech, even when you're competing with computer science graduates. You can look forward to that in the near future, but for right now, let's get into the episode with Randall.
I think you've had a pretty amazing tech career. For anybody listening, I think it'd be cool to go to the beginning and share a little bit about how you got into tech and what your journey has been like so far.

Randall Kanna (01:25):
Yeah, the very beginning was difficult for me. I graduated college with a communications degree and I could not get hired anywhere. I could not get interviews. I could not get any type of job whatsoever and it was really difficult because I had student loans. I wanted to be employed. I wanted to be a successful person and I could not get a call back or an interview, and I just got rejection after rejection for any type of job. About six months after that, I had my aunt email me about coding boot camps, and I thought, wow, what a scam. Graduate and get a 100K paying job. This must be fake.
I thought that for a little bit and then I did my research, very in depth research, because seven years ago it was a little daunting to spend 15K on a bootcamp, which I love that about Scrimba, is that you no longer have to pay 15K for a bootcamp. I spent about eight months teaching myself how code, which was probably a little bit of overkill since I also attended a bootcamp after that eight months, so I spent about a year teaching myself in total. After I graduated my coding in bootcamp, I actually got a job within two weeks, which was incredible and life changing.

Alex Booker (02:39):
How did you manage that?

Randall Kanna (02:40):
Actually through LinkedIn. I went very in depth in creating a really amazing resume because I realized that I could not compete with other students when it came to technical skills. I just couldn't. I didn't have the CS degree. I didn't have the algorithm knowledge. I didn't have the data structure knowledge. Back then coding bootcamp spent about four days focusing on career and it just was not enough, and I basically went on LinkedIn, really optimized my profile. I started applying to jobs, relentlessly reaching out to companies, and the company that ended up hiring me, I had a few at the end make an offer, but the company that ended up hiring me, found me through LinkedIn because I had optimized my profile so much. They actually found me on search.

Alex Booker (03:24):
One thing I've often heard and I wonder a lot about is that, as a new coder, they say that you don't exactly get hired on your coding skills because you're new. You don't really have any coding skills, so things like your communication and your collaboration skills, how you present yourself and things like that can go a long way, but I also recognize that anybody listening to that advice might be a bit like, okay, that sounds good, but what do I specifically do?

Randall Kanna (03:49):
I felt the same way for a while when people were saying that to me, I was very suspicious because I just thought, work on the tech skills, but as a junior developer, when you don't have those skills, people that really want to hire you, they're going to be looking at your soft skills because they're going to be mentoring you. They're going to be working one-on-one pairing with you. As painful as it is, I think just going that little extra mile and finding a way to stand out in the soft skills side, or maybe using your past experience or past volunteer experience, maybe putting your Scrimba certification on your LinkedIn profile, all those kind of small things really add up into getting you hired.

Alex Booker (04:26):
Maybe we could talk about LinkedIn specifically, since it was so successful for you. What are some of the things you can do on LinkedIn, which will have a high impact on your job search and your prospects?

Randall Kanna (04:35):
Maybe people don't know, but if you actually fill out your LinkedIn profile and you completely, 100%, it's filled out, you're a LinkedIn all star, you show up higher in search. When a recruiter goes onto LinkedIn search, they're typing in the job they want to hire for, and if you have a lot of connections, if you have a filled out LinkedIn headline, if you have a bio, a summary that really stands out, if you have a profile photo, and you have past work experience, and if you don't, if you have certifications. If you fill out your past volunteer experience, if you have a recommendation, all those things really go a long way to making you look like a real person, and I love to make fun of LinkedIn. Nobody really likes LinkedIn anymore, but it is really impactful in getting you a job and we can't discount that.

Alex Booker (05:24):
It does work a hundred percent. Recruiters are often searching for the job they want to fill. Maybe it's react developer, maybe it's JavaScript developer, a lot of people will write something like aspiring react developer or they'll write their current title because they don't want to claim they're a JavaScript developer, even though they haven't been paid to do that yet.

Randall Kanna (05:43):
I did that. I wrote-

Alex Booker (05:43):
Did you really?

Randall Kanna (05:44):
I wrote aspiring developer. I did. And that was a mistake. It's so important, just write front end developer, react developer.

Alex Booker (05:52):
You need some confidence, don't you? I totally get it. I know that when you're new to the industry and you don't know what you don't know and what's acceptable and what the etiquette is, you want to tread lightly, but you do have to present yourself in the best possible light on LinkedIn.

Randall Kanna (06:06):
Absolutely, and it's definitely very intimidating and scary. I did not want to put my next job title that I wanted as my LinkedIn headline because I felt like an imposter. I felt like a poser, but it really does help you show up in search, and it's so important to have recruiters looking for you while you are job hunting, because you can only apply, I say it all the time, but you can only apply to so many jobs per day, but if you have recruiters actively finding you, it really expands your reach.

Alex Booker (06:35):
You could be a door to door salesperson, or you could be Amazon and everybody comes to you, hopefully.

Randall Kanna (06:36):
That's great. I love that.

Alex Booker (06:38):
Here's a question for you, Randall, because you know the all star thing on LinkedIn? I don't think I even have that because it wants me to fill in my highest level of education and I don't have a computer science degree.

Randall Kanna (06:48):
I think you could fill in high school, college, G.E.D. It really just wants you to put something there. Someone could put a Scrimba certificate there. When I graduated my coding bootcamp, I actually put my coding bootcamp there, which helped me get a job.

Alex Booker (07:01):
What do you think about recommendations and endorsements on LinkedIn because I think the point you were making is that you want to appear as you're a real person that will increase the person looking at your profile's confidence that you are a serious prospect and you're a personable person to speak to? I think there's a fine line between getting genuine endorsements and recommendations and them looking a bit engineered. I don't know what the best way to go about that is. What do you think?

Randall Kanna (07:29):
I think a lot of coding boot camps, which I think is very wrong tell students that they should go online and they should just get a friend to recommend them or they should get a fellow student, and I personally think that's wrong because I think it's far more impactful, even if you haven't had a past job... If you have, great, but if you haven't had a past job, go to someone maybe you volunteered with, or maybe a professor in college or, I don't want to say a friend, but someone that you worked with in some type of capacity before that actually knows about your work ethic, because that comes across a lot more genuine than really those canned responses. The coding bootcamp I went to, they actually told every student to just go on their LinkedIn profile and recommend someone else, and when you've known someone for two months, it's not really going to be the best recommendation. You generally want to have someone who's worked with you in some type of capacity in an actual job.

Alex Booker (08:21):
One idea I've learned, I think is worth sharing is that if you do a bit of freelancing work for someone, that could be a short term opportunity, maybe on Upwork or something like that. You could even ask them to give you a recommendation on LinkedIn potentially and talk about your process and your ethics and things like that. Here's an interesting thing about breaking into tech, there are many people who are brand new to it, but a lot of people are also transitioning from previous jobs or industries or experiences, and they often feel like they're starting from scratch. Like, oh, I'm starting from the beginning. Nothing's going to transfer with me. I've got no recommendations. You just hinted at the fact that you could potentially go to someone in your past life and while they can't talk about your JavaScript knowledge, they can talk about your attitude and what you're like to work with and things like that.

Randall Kanna (09:03):
Yes. I hate when people say that they feel they are starting from zero when they've had past work experience because you are above the game. You're above a CS degree at that point. You are on a next level because you've had a professional capacity of working with someone and you've shown that you can hold a job, that you have these communication skills, you have the soft skilled side, and I think it's powerful. I think it's really impactful to your job hunt and so many people kind of disregard that. Like you said, they feel bad. They feel like they're starting from zero, but I think it's so great when you're job hunting if you put your past experience.
For me, I tried to hide my past experience on LinkedIn when I was applying to a job and really shortly on I realized that was a huge mistake because I just looked like someone with no experience in anything. And then, I immediately put that I even had raised guide dogs for the blind, that I had done volunteer work as a kid. I put that I had worked on multiple political campaigns and I had worked in like Chula way back [inaudible 00:10:03] a million years old, but things like that really helped me get my first job because it showed that I could keep a job, that I was dependable, and I wish people didn't feel like they were just starting from zero because sometimes your past experience is even more are impactful than a CS degree.

Alex Booker (10:18):
If you're enjoying this episode of The Scrimba Podcast, please remember to share it with your community, followers, or even a friend. Word of mouth is the single best way to support a podcast that you like, so thanks in advance. Also, remember to subscribe in your podcast app. It could be Spotify, Google podcasts, Apple podcasts, or any other well known podcast app. We've uploaded every Tuesday since June 2021, and you never know which episode might inspire you on a slow day or spark an idea that changes it all. Thanks again. Back to the episode with Randall.
Let's talk a little bit about your book, which is called The Standout Developer. What was your motivation to write that? Where did the aha moment come from that you should write it and what kind of things can people expect from that book?

Randall Kanna (11:06):
When I started thinking about writing the book, it was because I realized so many people didn't know what I thought were the basic things in getting a job as a developer. As I said, when I started out, I didn't really know much about the technical. To me, That was a huge weak spot, but I did know that I should contact my mom for help on my resume and that I should get someone to help me put together a great personal website and all of those little things, and that I knew I had to answer the soft skills side of questions in an interview really well, and I had to present myself well and I had to show up and look a little bit pulled together. No flip flops for instance in interview.
Those kind of things, I didn't realize that so many people didn't know that and they felt very lost when they were job hunting, and when I got onto the hiring manager side, I realized I was getting all these resumes of people reaching out and they didn't know how to put together a good resume, and I would ask someone, "Why do you want this job?" And they would say, "I just really want to make more money. I just want to live in this city. I want to move to San Francisco." It's a very honest answer, but it's not really the right answer.
You want to spend 10 minutes even researching the company and you want to present yourself in the best light that you want this job and that you will work hard to get this job. I realized people didn't know that. Even for my first job, I taught myself Ember JS just for one interview at one job because I thought that would be impactful and then I ended up immediately getting that job. Little things like that can really make the difference between a hire or a no hire, and it was so painful to me because so many people don't know that. They just think it's all about the technical skills. They don't think about a personal website or blog post or being on Twitter or going to meetups. My book really has a lot of those things like writing a standout resume, creating a great portfolio, working on an amazing website, small things like that, that you don't really think about, but actually lead you to getting a job.

Alex Booker (13:03):
I want to come back to that question, which is, why do you want the job? I'm really curious to learn how you'd answer it, but first I have a challenge for you, Randall.

Randall Kanna (13:10):
Oh, okay. Scary.

Alex Booker (13:11):
In your book, you have a few chapters on things that will help you stand out. You wrote about building a social media following, creating a successful blog, speaking at conferences, nailing the resume, and nailing your portfolio. If you had to pick just one to focus, this is why it's hard, if you had to pick just one to focus on to have the biggest impact on your career, which one would you focus on, do you think?

Randall Kanna (13:34):
Probably working on a really strong resume. The average hiring manager looks at your resume for about seven seconds, and so many times people have way too long of a resume. They have put no effort into it. There's grammatical errors, there's spelling mistakes, and just a few small tweaks and creating a stronger resume, then you email that resume to a company and maybe you say, "Hey, I looked on your website. I found this bug. I found this UI issue," or, "Hey, this is a great product idea that I've been thinking about for your company, and here's my resume." I know so many people who've gotten hired just from that and it's really scary. It's so much easier to go on LinkedIn and easy apply to something, and that doesn't bring results. That's not going to get you to where you want to go.

Alex Booker (14:17):
Hmm. It's interesting because to stand out, you're going the path least traveled. If everybody is applying via LinkedIn or by sending their resume, if you can find both a creative avenue to get in touch and show value and make it easy for them to consider you because you have a nice resume, you stand out.

Randall Kanna (14:34):
You do, and it's definitely a little more painful. It's not fun. It's definitely worse. It's very scary to do that, to put yourself out there like that, and I think for instance, going to meetups, it's something that is very nerveracking, and I did not want to do that as a junior developer. The coding bootcamp I went to, they would suggest that you start going to meetups and they would have a list of meetups, and I pretty much avoided doing that until after I started job hunting, and that was a big mistake because many people I knew at the time, just had made a connection through a meetup or on Twitter, and I didn't really have that because I was so scared of putting myself out there. Immediately when I graduated my coding bootcamp, I deleted all the blog posts they'd made me write, which was a huge mistake and I really wish I had those now.

Alex Booker (15:18):
Why'd you delete them?

Randall Kanna (15:19):
I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I thought they were low quality, and then I thought if people read them, they would think I wasn't a real developer, and I just want to kick myself now thinking that.

Alex Booker (15:29):
I've done the same, actually. I always felt like I wanted to craft a very specific online image. I wanted to look like I knew everything. I even never asked questions. This is a confession. Sorry, Randall. I don't know why this is coming out all of a sudden. I used to make a second stack overflow account to ask questions because if they saw that I was asking loads of questions on my main stack overflow account, I thought I might look like a newb or something like that.

Randall Kanna (15:54):
Oh my gosh, this is confession time. I'm so sorry you felt like that, but I completely relate.

Alex Booker (15:59):
It's weird, isn't it? I suppose just going back to the point about the resume, I'm not that surprised you would pick it as the most important. It's true, isn't it, that you never know when an opportunity might come your way if you're doing some of the other things you wrote about in your book, and one of the first things companies will often ask you if they meet you at a meetup and they say, "Oh, Randall, you seem like a very interesting, determined person. Send me your resume and I'll bring it up the flagpole kind of thing." You don't want to be in a position where you're like, "Oh no. I have to learn about and write a resume right now." It's good to have that kind of resource to go. What do you think makes a good resume?

Randall Kanna (16:31):
I think what makes a really great resume, especially if you're a junior developer, is focusing on maybe just one impactful project that you've worked on and linking to it, and if you have had past work experience, really going into detail about things you've actually worked on. This is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to resumes. So many people on their resumes just say, "I managed a code base," or "I built this app." They don't say, "I increased the code coverage on this app from 30% to 50%." They say, "I maintain this code base on this open source project," but they don't say, "I actually worked on this and I did this and it impacted this." That is so powerful for a hiring manager to look at because if you're just putting a bunch of bland things, it's not going to be as powerful as saying what you've actually worked on and going into detail.
Even if that means it takes up more space on your resume and you don't get to go into other things. It's going to be far more powerful. Also, another big pet peeve of mine for resumes, and this is a really big one, is putting 50 different skills on your resume, and even senior engineers do this. Even tech leads do this. I see this all the time on resumes. They have 50 to a hundred different skills and everyone knows, you don't know that many skills. Maybe you kind of have a breadth of knowledge, but you really need to narrow down, and I think when you apply to a job, tailoring those skills and showcasing what's most impactful to the job is something that a lot of people don't really think about.
Anytime you apply to a job, your resume should be tailored to that job. You should be looking at the job posting and you should be tweaking your resume a little bit. For instance, if they're looking for someone to maybe upgrade in rails, you should talk about how you upgraded your rails version in one of your personal projects. Things like that just really show that you have that past experience in some way, even if it's open source, even if it's a small project that you've worked on, even if it's a small act that you've built, just so much more impactful.

Alex Booker (18:33):
I really want to dig into this a little bit, Randall, undoing the stack so to speak, going back to your first point, which is about representing your contribution in terms of numbers and specifics, because you said it's powerful and I agree. I can totally see why that's powerful, but it's really hard. It's really hard to do that. That's a hard skill.

Randall Kanna (18:51):
It is really hard to do, and it's not fun, and what I do personally, I've been doing this for seven years, almost exactly seven years in February, every single day, I write down what I have achieved. I have a little to-do list of what exactly I'm going to do today to move my career forward, and when I started out as a junior developer, I wrote down every project I worked on, all the impact I had, any compliment someone gave me, which it's actually kind of embarrassing to admit that, I guess it's more confessional, but I would write down if a senior engineer told me something or a manager told me something that I did well, I would write that down, and not only did it help me when it came to advocating for myself for a promotion, it was a huge help, and nobody really told me to do that or something else.
I just started doing it on my own, but it helped me in writing my next resume because I was able to really look back at my notes and think, oh, okay, actually I did launch this amazing project, and it was really helpful. I did work on this open source piece of work and it did move the company forward, or I went to this training and for me, I still have all the trainings I've ever went to on my LinkedIn, all the impactful ones, but I think it was something that a lot of people don't really think about doing, writing down everyday, something you've achieved. Maybe it's something you can start at the end of the week. You just write something that you accomplished that week, but you can look at that at the end of the year and that can write your resume for you. There you go. Your resume is done.

Alex Booker (20:18):
You mentioned advocating for yourself. Can you talk about that a little bit because I think you're in a position today where you've experienced so much. You've realized that things aren't always as scary as they seem. You seem incredibly confident as well, but I know that a lot of people feel, either embarrassed or shy or undeserving of advocating for themselves. It could be to do with imposter syndrome, but frankly, it's not hard to imagine that when you're a junior dad applying to a company, you feel grateful. You're like, "Oh, I haven't got a degree. They could hire anybody. They're picking me." You feel almost grateful for it, and it makes it hard to advocate for yourself, whether that's to do with a position or compensation or anything like that. What's your experience been like? How have you got to where you are today?

Randall Kanna (20:56):
I felt exactly the same way when I started out. My first job, I had a few options when I graduated my coding bootcamp. One was going to be a higher paid job and I was going to make more money, but the opportunity wasn't as exciting, and then another was a small startup and they were offering a two month apprenticeship where I think I made around $30 an hour, something around there. Maybe 30, 35. I forget the exact number, and it was a two month contract. It was supposed to be three, but thankfully they ended it early and actually ended up hiring me. It worked out, but I was grateful to have that and living in San Francisco when it was the peak of how expensive things were, that was not a livable wage, and the title was a very kind of, lowly title. It was like, apprentice software engineer. It wasn't even a guarantee of a job, but I was so thrilled to have that opportunity. I just thought, I should take what I should get.
Meanwhile, the people that were graduating my coding bootcamp, it took them a little bit longer to get a job, but when they did, they had better titles, they had better pay, but because of my imposter syndrome, I took that really, really low paid job that wasn't really even a job, it was a contract gig, and thankfully, it went amazing for me. I had great mentors there. They did eventually give me a salary bump, but about a year into that, I realized that I still had a lot to learn, but I was doing so much. I was working seven days a week. I was there nights. I was really putting my all into that job, and pretty much everybody else made about 50 grand to a hundred grand to 150K more than me, no matter if their title was the same, no matter if we had the same amount of experience.
I had not advocated for myself. I had not negotiated for myself, and really, I let that anger fuel me into asking for a really high promotion and a huge salary bump because I looked around and I saw people doing the same amount of work as me, if not less, in some cases, because I was working way too much. I was working seven days a week and I let that anger fuel me into asking for more, and I've wavered on that a little bit. Sometimes I don't value myself still and I go into something with less than what I deserve, and that has happened to me many times over the last seven years, but I always try to go back to that feeling of, hey, I am worth it. I am valuable. I am a valuable employee. I'm going to put my all into it and no matter what I'm going to do, so I should be worth at least what other people are making.

Alex Booker (23:28):
Did that pan out well in the end? Were they receptive to you and negotiations?

Randall Kanna (23:29):
They did. I actually went in and I said, "Hey, Google is interested in me and I could go to Google or you could give me the fair promotion that I deserve here and the salary bump that I deserve," and I think within about a month of that, they made it happen, and it was probably the scariest moment of my life. I had a little piece of paper of all the reasons that I deserved the promotion and my hands were shaking. I had to put the paper down because I was like, you don't look confident if you have a paper shaking in the wind.

Alex Booker (24:00):
But you were confident. The confidence to do that is unreal. Good for you.

Randall Kanna (24:05):
Thank you. It was terrifying.

Alex Booker (24:07):
You sort of mentioned coming out of your bootcamp, you had an offer from Apple and then, along the way you had some interest from Google. That puts you in the 0.1%, in my opinion. How did you accomplish that? What was it about your background and the things you were doing that enabled you those opportunities?

Randall Kanna (24:23):
Yeah, it was nothing about the technical skills, I have to say. I did work hard. I don't want to negate that at all. I did work really hard on the technical side. I had to learn Ember. My very first job coming from... I worked in Angular and Rails. I suddenly was trying to figure out Scala code and I was looking all the time, trying to figure out Ember JS really quickly, but I started going to a lot of meetups and I was working about seven days a week. I was working every weekend. I was working nights. I was getting there at the office in the morning, even if I had been there really late working. I would be at the office bright and early Monday morning, even if I had been working late on Sunday.
One, I put in that effort because I felt so below everyone else. I thought I had to work on the technical, but a lot of it was things that I really like to discuss on Twitter and in my book, building those network connections, going to meetups all the time, working on my personal website, working on my blog, working on my LinkedIn, and standing out in other ways, because there are so many amazing developers out there, that they do have the technical skills, but they're not visible and they don't advocate for themselves, and they're frustrated in their jobs because they're not visible and no one can really make them those really big offers and they have the technical skill, but they're not getting those offers from Apple or Google, for instance.

Alex Booker (25:41):
I think Scott Hanselman coined the term Dark Matter Developers. There are literally so many developers out there, but nobody has or will ever see, when you create a surface area where you can be discovered, whether that's through meetups or blogging or a great LinkedIn profile. It makes your life so much easier because you're doing the hard work already. No one else is going to do it for you. You really have to take responsibility for it and that's not always easy.

Randall Kanna (26:06):
No, it's very scary. I think walking in and asking for that senior software engineer promotion about a year and four months into my first job was terrifying. I was like, how can you think that you deserve this? But then I would compare myself to the other engineers at the time and I was going above and beyond, and I was managing teams already, and I was helping things get across the finish line, and I think those Dark Matter Developers, they're amazing. That was definitely a need for a while and I think I just kept my head down, but at the end of the day, there's only so many jobs you can apply to, but if you have companies actively reaching out to you, you really don't have to apply to jobs anymore. At some point in your career, for me, I don't apply to jobs anymore. I just respond to the companies that reach out to me.

Alex Booker (26:50):
Another kind of quote I remember, when I was learning to code and figuring out how to get my first dev job, there was no playbook. It wasn't easy by any means. There was no guarantee of success either. I picked up this book by John Summers. I forget the title, but the real thing that stood out to me about that book is, there are probably lots of people trying to be rock stars who are amazing musicians, great guitarists, great vocalists, but actually it's not the only thing that makes a rockstar. It's to do with the image and the marketing and how you present yourself and who you network with and who you know, and things like this. And I just got me thinking that like, if Nickelback can become an amazing band with a bunch of sales, then I could become a junior developer.

Randall Kanna (27:29):
That is so great. I love that analogy.

Alex Booker (27:33):
Let's talk a little bit about managing your time as a new developer. Fortunately, nowadays there are a lot of resources that can help you stay on track, but one of the biggest benefits of going to university or something like that. You do have a path laid out in front of you. You have checkpoints along the way. I think when you're learning by yourself, you really have to make that path for yourself. You have so many options. It's not always easy to stay on track. What would you recommend to someone listening in terms of how to stay productive and motivated while they do it?

Randall Kanna (28:00):
I actually would print out this little grid and I would put it on my wall and it had 400 little check boxes on it and every day that I coded, I would check one off and if I missed it, I couldn't check that off. Even if it was only 15 minutes, I at least had that little structure that kept me motivated every day, because I really believe... There's so many books on this that I love, but I really believe that there's no such thing as motivation, and that's not true. There's a little motivation. Sometimes you will feel motivated to sit down and learn how to code. Sometimes you're going to go want to run and work out, but other times you really just have to spend 10 minutes working on something and you will feel successful, and that success will create motivation.
That feeling of feeling good, that you sat down and you watched a Scrimba video or you worked on a little [inaudible 00:28:47] code problem. That feeling will create actual motivation for you. That's very near and dear to my heart. That's what I did as a junior developer and another thing I think is really important to stay on track as a junior developer is, to realize whether it's your first job or you're starting to learn how to code, and it's more impactful for your job, for your learning, if you focus on results and not just really the amount of time or getting through some tutorial or anything like that, but focusing on real results, and it's something that really, I painfully learned at my first job, because I would spend very early on a lot of time working on something and I would just have to say in stand up, "I'm stuck. I don't know what to do next. This didn't work." I would dread going to the standup every day.
I'd be like, "Oh, sorry, I have a doctor's appointment." I actually did. I did have doctor's appointments or I would have some reason that I was just... I just hate being in that meeting. I would sometimes literally think, okay, can I faint on the way to work, so I don't have to go to my standup right now. It was just such a fear factor for me. I was terrified, but that all changed for me when I realized that I had to focus more on just working relentlessly on getting some kind of result every day, and I still do that in my current job. I did that when I was at my first job and it's always been really helpful to me because I think about what is actually going to move things forward for the companies today and what can I do to achieve that? It kind of reversed the whole thing of thinking of, I just have to put in nine hours and that's enough because I started thinking, okay, what can I actually do today that's going to get results? It makes me work a lot faster. I do Pomodoros and I get a lot more done in a short amount of time.

Alex Booker (30:28):
You're saying that you want to focus on the little wins because they will create momentum for the rest. I think a Pomodoro is awesome for that, by the way. If you just sit down and you force yourself to work for 25 minutes. Chances are you'll work a little bit longer, because the hardest thing is getting started, but you're also saying that to be great, you have to be good every day. You mentioned about striving for the results and I think I understand. I think a lot of people, when they're watching Scrimba even, they will set a goal like, I'm just going to finish this module. I'm going to watch this course. Frankly, you'll feel productive. You will be sitting at your desk for a long time, but unless you're retaining that information or you're practicing it, that's probably not the best thing for you. Am I on the right track? Am I following you?

Randall Kanna (31:08):
Absolutely. When I was teaching myself how to code, like I said, I spent eight months teaching myself how to code before I went to a coding bootcamp and a lot of that was wasted time because I would start one tutorial, I would get stuck, or I wouldn't understand it, and I would just say, "Okay, well, onto the next tutorial. I learned what I could get from that one." Looking back, I wish someone would've just came in and slapped me and said, "What did you actually get out of that? What was your actual project that you worked on?" because back then I thought that's how you learned how to code, but something I love about Scrimba is that there's actual action items. There really isn't that in a lot of learning resources. A lot of resources are just here, read this book. Here, just watch this tutorial, but I think applying that knowledge because it's like, you can't read a book about running. You have to actually just go out and run every day. It's similar to coding.

Alex Booker (32:00):
You kind of said that, on your resume, one of the best things you can do is build one project and make that a successful project. It could be the same. It could be learning, but as long as you're making progress in your project, that's a really clear result that will not only prove that you're remembering what you learn, but create a knock on effect where now it's a great project to feature and talk about the challenges and an interview and stuff like that.

Randall Kanna (32:19):
Yeah. That's very near and dear to my heart. I've seen so many junior developers create something that they've worked on independently that was outside of tutorials, and even if it was a tutorial, building on top of that and just learning and showing that they have those skills. So impactful to your job search. Cannot be understated.

Alex Booker (32:37):
You can feel so productive following a tutorial, cloning an app, or something like that, but it often leads to people ending up in what we call, tutorial hell, where you can't really stand on your own two feet. If you want to build a Tic-tac-toe game, you won't search about the underlying concept, you will just Google how to build Tic-tac-toe, and that's fine when you're learning, but eventually, you are tasked to build a freelance project or write a feature to work, and you can't exactly Google, how do I add this specific feature to this freelance job? It wouldn't work right. If it's a tutorial at the beginning, that can be okay, but at some point, you have to take the training wheels off and that can be scary, honestly.

Randall Kanna (33:12):
I definitely remember vividly following tutorials like there was no tomorrow and thinking that that was going to give me results, and by the time I went to my coding bootcamp, I got there and I had built a Ruby on Rails app through tutorial. I think it was the Michael Hartl tutorial. I forget, but I went to the bootcamp and I realized that I didn't know anything more than anyone else. I didn't know anything more than someone that had just started a week before the bootcamp, because I had spent all this time, instead of actively learning and taking action. Long story short, I also feel very strongly that tutorials are so great at the very beginning, and they can be helpful throughout your career, but it's so much more powerful to put that tutorial down and really just try to build something small, even if it's building something small on top of a tutorial.

Alex Booker (33:57):
You reminded me of something that I'd be meaning to learn more about. It's something that I've been playing with in my head, but I've not really shared because I'm not so confident, so I'm just going to see what you think, which is that, when you go to university, I feel like because you get the curriculum and you do it alongside everybody, I'm sure there are modules and things like that, but largely everybody is coming out with roughly the same knowledge. I think a lot of university is there to help you get a job, so they give you the skills they think will make you employable. That doesn't always work out that way, by the way. It's going to be a lot harder to get a C or C plus plus job compared to JavaScript or React or something, but what I'm thinking is that when you go the self-taught route, you are taking on a bunch of new challenges. You have to be self-directed, but maybe it creates the opportunity to be a standout developer because you're kind of unique. You've got unique skills and unique perspective. I thought who better to ask than the author of The Standout Developer. What do you think?

Randall Kanna (34:46):
I totally agree. I think some of the best developers that I've ever worked with, the most talented, incredible people that have started companies, or they are just the most brilliant developers on the absolute planet, they're self-taught, and I don't want to say everyone amazing is self taught because that's not true. It doesn't matter whether or not you have a CS degree, it matters your level of determination on teaching yourself because there's a new technology out every other year at this point. We have to be constantly learning and that can be a little bit exhausting. It can be very exciting, invigorating, depending on the day of the week maybe. The best people that I've worked with, they were completely self-taught and they just kept showing up every day and figuring it out, and you know what? All those people, they all told me, they had imposter syndrome and they were ashamed to admit it, and these are people that have sold companies. Some of them have CS degrees even, and they all still feel that bad imposter syndrome feeling all the time.

Alex Booker (35:40):
Do you have any closing words or final advice for anybody who's learning to code and looking for their first junior developer job?

Randall Kanna (35:47):
I would say, stick with it every day, even if it's only 15 minutes, just that small effort really matters, and then find something unique about you to use in your job hunt because a lot of people, they might have more technical skills than you, they might have past work experience, but you can find that little bit of just something special that pushes you over the edge.

Alex Booker (36:10):
Darn it, I forgot to ask. How do you answer that question, which is, why do you want to work here? I'm sorry. That was such a beautiful ending, I just have to ask.

Randall Kanna (36:18):
I wish everyone on earth could just figure out that one answer for me. I spend 10, 20, 30 minutes reviewing a company, researching them online, looking at their Twitter account, looking at their LinkedIn, looking at their latest blog posts, and finding something substantial to actually talk about. Instead of talking about you, talking about something that the company does that is impactful to you. I love helping people, so a lot of the companies I've worked at recently are all about improving people's lives. One company helped executive assistants be more valuable in their jobs and helped them create job security and made them the most professional, amazing assistants on the planet, and just finding that little bit of something. So, instead of saying, "I just want a higher salary," or "I hate my current job," which they might be true, but neither are ever going to look well. It's not going to go over well.

Alex Booker (37:10):
Randall Kanna, thank you so much.

Randall Kanna (37:11):
Thank you for having me, Alex. This is amazing.

Alex Booker (37:14):
That was Randall Kanna, author of The Standout Developer, and a newly appointed teacher here at Scrimba. This episode was edited by [inaudible 00:37:23] and I'm your host, Alex Booker. You can follow me on Twitter at bookercodes, where I share highlights from the podcast and other news by Scrimba. See you next Tuesday on the weekly Scrimba podcast.