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🎙 About the episode
Anna is well-regarded as the Opera singer who turned into a Developer! Before serenading the masses, Anna was a marketer and code-tinkerer. This concoction of marketing know-how, work experience, and an inclination to solve problems enabled Anna to find work as a Junior Developer in the wake of the pandemic in record time. Aside from working full-time, Anna also coaches Junior Developers on her YouTube channel, Twitter, and around the web. In this episode, we peel back the curtain to learn Anna’s streamlined advice for new programmers looking to find their success as a Junior.
🔗 Connect with Anna
- Introduction (0:00)
- From opera singer to developer (01:01)
- How long does it take to become a developer? (03:36)
- Born programmer vs. made programmer (07:23)
- 9 Belbin Team Roles (12:32)
- Coding in a team and how it differs from solo work (13:30)
- Answering “what is your biggest weakness?” (16:02)
- Remember: Rejection is redirection (17:08)
- How Anna found success as a Junior quicker than she anticipated (18:51)
- Pitching yourself like a pro (23:46)
- It’s not enough to be the best coder, sorry! (28:17)
- Dissecting Anna’s winning video (29:44)
- Quick-fire questions (30:28)
🧰 Resources mentioned
⭐️ Leave a Review
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You can also Tweet Alex from Scrimba at @bookercodes and tell them what lessons you learned from the episode so they can thank you personally for tuning in 🙏
Alex Booker (00:01): Hello and welcome to the Scrimba podcast. My name's Alex and on this weekly show, I speak with successful devs about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior dev job. Today, I'm joined by the awesome, illustrious Anna McDougall. During the pandemic, Anna transitioned from an opera singer to a developer, actually completing that transition much sooner than she anticipated thanks to a viral video she uploaded on Twitter. There is a lot in store for any aspiring junior developer in this episode, but in parts, we're going to dissect that video, because even if you're not or never planning to be a video maker, the underlying points Anna built on can be adapted in numerous ways for you to find success. I genuinely really enjoyed getting to know Anna and I think you're going to love this conversation. Our frequencies just matched and we both had a lot of energy for this subject in particular. Let's get into it.
Anna McDougall (01:01): I'm often known, I guess in the tech Twittersphere, as the developer who used to be an opera singer. I actually wasn't just an opera singer. I had some other jobs before that, but the main thing that I was doing before tech was working seven years as a professional opera singer. I'm originally from Australia, but I live now in Germany. And the reason I came to Germany was actually to pursue my career as an opera singer. But I reached a point where, well firstly I got pregnant, so I had maternity leave and so I had a lot of time to kind of think about what I was doing. Part of that I also had to move to a different city and so I had to kind of think, okay, do I want to continue with this career? And after my maternity leave is done, do I want to get back into it, go back onto the audition scene, try to break back in and continue this career that I've built up or do I want to try something new?
Anna McDougall (01:51): I've always been a bit of a, what I call a Jill of all trades. I've always had a lot of broad interests and a lot of different areas that I enjoy. I was never a pure musician, so to speak. I was never someone who only studied music and always wanted to be a musician. I had these other interests. So I thought, okay, maybe I can explore those a little bit and see what comes out. I actually had learned HTML when I was eight years old in the mid nineties and made some little kitty webpages back then.
Alex Booker (02:18): No Flexbox back then.
Anna McDougall (02:20): No Flexbox back then. No, just tables, lots of tables. And yeah, I made like little geo city sites and stuff like that. I kind of had a little bit of a taste of creating websites, and then in high school I had done a little bit of software design, but I mean one year, so by high school standards nothing, but I had that little bit of exposure to programmatic thinking so to speak. I knew it was something I was good at. It was something I enjoyed. So I thought, okay, I'm coming off my maternity leave, I'm going to try it.
Anna McDougall (02:45): I found The Odin Project. It's like a free online course for leaning the basics of web development. So I started doing that at home by myself, lockdown had hit so luckily, I hesitate to say that about the situation, but luckily, because of that, my husband didn't have work. He's a singer as well, so he was able to look after the baby for half the day. And that meant that I could study every day for three to six hours and just kind of really get into the zone to see if this was something I wanted to do. Obviously I'm here, so it went quite well. And I ended up signing up for a one year web development course. About nine months into that course, I got hired and started my first position as a junior software engineer with Novatech Consulting in Berlin in March of this year, of 2021. And the rest is history, I guess.
Alex Booker (03:36): I feel like nine months is quite a rapid period to get your first developer job. It's interesting that you tell us about your background, even if it's only dabbling and getting a bit of familiarity with thinking like a programmer. I'm just wondering what your take is, how long do you think someone listening should allocate to try and become a front-end web developer at the junior developer level?
Anna McDougall (03:58): I know that it's something everyone wants a clear and easy answer to. The sad thing is that there is no way to give one. It depends on so many different things. Of course it depends on how, I hesitate to say naturally, but how quickly you kind of jive with programmatic thinking. Some people, it's something that kind of clicks straight away and for other people, they really need to work at it a bit longer before they can kind of get their head around the way that you need to break down and structure solving problems. That's something that doesn't come naturally to a lot of people and that in itself can take months or years to train. It also, of course, depends on how much time you have. As a mother, I also understand that for parents out there, it can be very difficult to dedicate that time to learning something new, especially if you're trying to do it while holding a full-time job.
Anna McDougall (04:42): I was kind of in a lucky situation in that the German government helped fund my education as a web developer, which meant that I was receiving my jobless benefits coming off of maternity leave at the same time as having free training. So that was a really lucky situation for me. It meant that I could study full-time. From essentially zero to hired it was about a year's time, but I had the benefit of being able to do that essentially full-time, like a full-time job. If I had been working a full-time job while trying to do that, it would not have happened in a year. And of course the other variable, I suppose you'd call it, is that it depends on what companies you're applying for.
Anna McDougall (05:20): A lot of companies see juniors as blank slates who can be trained and taught how they do things and they really assume zero knowledge. I've seen a lot of great opportunities like that that kind of treat them more like a training program than like a job. And that's awesome. I think that's really very positive. They look more at like how interested you are, whether you have that foundational knowledge and then they just say, "Okay, now that we know that you've got the basics, come in and we'll teach you the rest. Don't worry about it." Other places, for them, a junior software engineer should be someone who has already been creating projects for two or three years freelance or in some sort of internship or some sort of training program. So, how long is a piece of string? Some people get a job after 12 weeks because they've done an intensive bootcamp and that bootcamp has given them a contact with someone who they get along with really well and that person has seen that potential and said, "We want to invest in that potential."
Anna McDougall (06:16): Those situations I would say normally come about more from networking or people skills than necessarily technical skills. I'm an exceptionally fast learner. Programming does come naturally to me. I'm very lucky in that regard. And I don't think that I would've gotten a job after 12 weeks purely on my technical ability. Absolutely not. So I think one of the things that I often see newbies doing is focusing so much on the technical side of things that they forget that people are actually the core of how you land jobs, especially how you land jobs quickly.
Anna McDougall (06:51): So yeah, to answer your question, there is no answer to your question. There's just so many different things that can happen. And of course, I would say the most important thing as a newbie or as someone who does want to change careers is consistency. And if that means one hour three days a week, that's what it means. If that means, like I did, three to six hours a day every day for 60 days, then great. It's more about finding a rhythm and a pattern that you can maintain where you won't burn out or get sick of it or get frustrated, but where you can really slowly but surely build up that knowledge.
Alex Booker (07:23): But just on that point about, you said depends how well you jive with programming. I know that since you got your first junior developer job and even leading up to it, you've been helping a lot of other people do the same. And so I was thinking you might be a good person to ask, do you have to be born a programmer? Some people say coding's for some people, it's not for other people. The other school of thought is that anybody can learn with enough practice. You seem like someone who it came quite naturally to, but what's your experience been talking to other people?
Anna McDougall (07:49): I'm going to give an analogy that is kind of appropriate given my past experience. But I really do see coding as being very similar to singing in that there are some people who they roll out of bed at the age of six and somehow they sound like a professional singer and they always sound like a professional singer. They can always hold a tune. They're always on pitch and they're just natural singers. They get up at karaoke and you're going, "Wow, what is going on?" They're the people that you see come onto The Voice or Australian Idol or whatever. And they're like, "Oh yeah, I just sing in the shower." And they like belt out this amazing tune and you're like, "What?" There are those people in coding as well. Unfortunately I am one of them, so I'm sorry to everyone out there, because I know it's not a universal experience.
Anna McDougall (08:29): There are some people who they just kind of read an explanation of code, they go, "Oh yeah, I get it." And that's the end of the conversation. And they just then do it. But just like in singing, there are some people who have a lot of trouble holding at tune, but if they go to a singing teacher and they go consistently over time, they can actually get to the point where they are better than your average person. It takes them a lot more time. It takes them a lot more effort. It takes an expert kind of helping them, maybe guiding them because maybe they don't naturally do the right thing with their voice. They've got some bad habits. And so you have to kind of help break those habits. Similarly in coding, there are some people who, the way that they think about the world is not structured in the same way as how code is structured. And that's beautiful.
Anna McDougall (09:14): Obviously as a singer, I've been around some very artistic people who think very differently and it can be a really beautiful thing to see because they can really make you break out of your own patterns of thinking. But in code, it is a skill and there are some established patterns of how you manipulate information and how you solve problems. And so if you are someone who doesn't naturally think in that way, there's no shame in that, but it just means that if you decide that that's a skill you want to learn, like singing, then you just need a bit more guidance. You maybe need to work a bit harder at it. It might take you a little bit longer.
Anna McDougall (09:49): But I will say that also like singing, there are some people who are just tone deaf and no matter what they do, it's just not going to work for them. I believe this is a very, very, very small proportion of the world's population. I think almost anyone can learn to hold a tune and sing. Similarly, I believe almost anyone in the entire world can at least learn the basics of programming and at least become decent at creating code.
Alex Booker (10:17): If you are enjoying this episode of Scrimba podcast, please do us at Scrimba a favor and share this episode with your friends on social media or in your community. Word of mouth is the single best way to support a podcast that you like. So thanks in advance.
Alex Booker (10:35): The natural ability thing is interesting, since I guess you need a combination of natural ability and discipline if you want to be the most elite opera singer in the world, like I think there's probably something to that and same with coding. But we're not all necessarily trying to be the most elite coders in the world. The level for getting a job, I truly think that's achievable by everybody. If you get that far, who knows what might come next, maybe you do surpass your ability. I'm just thinking though, programming is such a broad industry because you can pick to be a mobile developer, a front-end developer, a back-end developer, you can think in system design, you can code operating systems. You can get low into the assembly code and things. Picking the area of computing that suits your personality, I'm just curious about your take. Like maybe there is an area that if you went into, you'd probably struggle with just because it's not interesting to you, to say the least.
Anna McDougall (11:22): I would say anything that requires a very high level of detail, and that might sound a bit strange coming from a programmer. But I'm a very goal-oriented person, so for me, I'm like, "Does it work? Great. Let's keep going." When someone's like, "Oh, hang on, slow down. What are the performance metrics?" And, "How can we measure the output?" And "Where's this dot?" Or, "This should be a different word," or whatever it is. And I get a little bit frustrated by that. I just want to keep going. I just want to keep building. I also, as much as it sucks to say, I don't have a strong interest in specializing in security, for example, because these are things where it is like, okay, we need to get it just right. We need to close all the gaps, everything needs to be done to the T. And that's just not my personality.
Anna McDougall (12:04): It's part of what makes me really good to have on a team of people who are detail-oriented as a lot of developers are actually the opposite. A lot of developers really love the detail. So it helps a lot of the time to have me on a team because I can help drive those people and create that push forward while they help slow me down. So it does create a good balance, but definitely I'd say that's one of my weaknesses and that definitely influences the different directions I think I could go in in future as well.
Alex Booker (12:32): There is a resource I want to share with people called the nine Belbin Team Roles. And it basically outlines some of these different characteristics of team members. For example, you might be a really great starter, like you can work in ambiguity and you can be quite self-motivated to build a prototype and get it out the door because those are your strengths. You're not going to be the right person to polish it and fine tune it. And this is not a comment about you, Anna, but just as it applies to Belbin Team Roles, this kind of person might also get bored towards the end because they like to learn a lot of different things and combine them.
Alex Booker (13:04): Meanwhile, there are finishers and people who specialize more. There are people who are very good at coordinating, but sometimes struggle with the individual tasks. We're all quite different and we all have our natural strengths and weaknesses. There is a sort of challenge in becoming self-aware about those things. It wasn't really until I got into the workforce that I really realized where my weaknesses and strengths were. I'm wondering what we can suggest people do to build that awareness and maybe hone those skills before they get a job.
Anna McDougall (13:30): I sometimes get brought in on job interviews for Novatech where I work. One of the questions that we often ask people is, have you ever coded in a team? And that is, I think, the best way to discover this kind of stuff. So it could be, for example, learning from someone else. So having a mentor, for example, who you do pair programming with. It could be doing a hackathon or something like that. Although again, being a mom, I know how inaccessible that can be to a lot of people. You can't always take a weekend off and do overnights and stuff like that, it's just not practical for a lot of people. But there are also, for example, codebar is an online free mentoring meetup that happens. I sometimes attend some of those as a mentor.
Anna McDougall (14:10): There are a lot of discord communities, I mentioned The Odin Project before that I was a part of. I know that Scrimba has a good YouTube community, I have seen them in action several times now and they're really wonderful. But if you can connect with people in these communities and say, "Hey, let's just have a pair programming session together," that often gives you some perspective. Obviously one time is only going to give you one perspective, but if you do that a few times with a few different people, you start to notice patterns about what you're gravitating towards and what they're gravitating towards, or whether you're a leader or a follower. In pair programming, do you prefer to drive or to navigate? Do you prefer to pick up on the areas that another person is making? Do you like talking about those? Do you respond well to critical feedback?
Anna McDougall (14:55): That's also an important thing because that's another skill that you have to learn for someone to say, actually you've gotten it working, and this is something I had to learn, you've gotten it working, but actually it's not so efficient the way you're going about this. Is there a better way you could structure it? Having those questions brought up to you and learning not to get defensive, all of these things kind of come up in team programming situations. So I would say that's one of the best ways to discover your strengths and your weaknesses and be honest with yourself about them.
Anna McDougall (15:24): But also, and this is the hardest thing I think for a lot of people to hear, is to not try to fix them necessarily, just to be aware of them, because some things, yes, need fixing, for example, a lot of my job is finishing things. A lot of my job is maintaining software. A lot of the time I do have to do these little fixes on a finished product. That's part of my job. So I do have to learn to enjoy and to find enjoyment in those things, but that doesn't mean that it's my personality. That doesn't mean it has to be my specialization. It doesn't have to be my strength and it probably won't be my strength and that's fine.
Alex Booker (16:02): What you're sort of describing is that there's room for different people on different teams. And it's really got more to do with compatibility than any right personality or any right approach. When you go into a job interview, you're often sort of gauging each other, not just the company gauging you, whether there is compatibility there when they ask about your weaknesses. Oh yes, it's very common to want to say, "Oh, I work too hard," or, "My life is my job."
Anna McDougall (16:25): I'm too much of a perfectionist. Yeah.
Alex Booker (16:26): I'm too much of a perfectionist. Exactly. But at the end of the day, if your manager is a good manager, I think they should understand these things. They should understand that different people have different strengths and weaknesses. And a manager who's constantly trying to put a square peg in a round hole, so to speak, and task you with things you're not suited to, that's a relationship that's kind of destined to fail. Like you'll never reach your full potential that way. And so understanding yourself in that respect can help you feel better about rejection in parts. Think about it more like redirection. This just wasn't the most compatible approach. But likewise, when you do go into that interview, now you know, they're just not interrogating you. You're looking for that mutual compatibility and being transparent and honest in that respect can be good.
Anna McDougall (17:08): Absolutely. And that's exactly what I was about to say, is that often when people get rejected, they think, "Oh, what did I do wrong?" And it's not actually necessarily what you did wrong, it might just be that they know, oh, we have a team full of introverts and we need someone with more energy to bring into this team. Or on the flip side, all of our people are like really goal-oriented, like imagine a team full of mes, you'd hate it. You need some people who are a bit more chill who can actually just work through a problem really slowly and thoroughly and who are going to ask the hard questions. You need this balance of people. And we don't have that perspective when we're candidates. We can't see how the team looks, how the team is working, what the team is lacking, and the manager or the hiring manager hopefully can.
Anna McDougall (17:52): So it is a thing where sometimes you don't do anything wrong. Sometimes it's just, we have two or three people who could do this job, we know they could all do this job, which one do we think is going to compliment our team the best? And the other thing they're often thinking is who can I imagine working next to every single day of the year?
Alex Booker (18:10): That's a good question to ask yourself.
Anna McDougall (18:13): One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, randomly at a motorcycle lesson, was someone said to me, "Don't see an interview as them interviewing you, you are interviewing each other. It's a business meeting and you're trying to see if what you have to offer and what they have to offer matches." Just think of it as business negotiation, as contract negotiation, rather than as I'm this poor weak little soul, please, please, please hire me.
Alex Booker (18:42): Please pick me.
Anna McDougall (18:43): Exactly. It doesn't work in high school and it doesn't work in job interviews. So leave that attitude at the door.
Alex Booker (18:51): So Anna, the first time I came across your Twitter account, I think it was back in January, 2021. And you were posting sort of a elevator pitch slash ad explaining that you are looking to get your first developer job. Within about two weeks of you sending out that tweet, you managed to get your first developer job, so it was clearly an effective technique. So you wrote, "Hi employers operating or hiring in Germany. I'm a full-stack web developer with six years in digital marketing and project management. I'm a fast learner, an ambitious worker and a helpful colleague. Message me. Followers, I rarely ask for RTs, but any help would be great."
Alex Booker (19:27): And then you accompany that by a video.
Anna McDougall (19:29): Hello. My name is Anna McDougall and I'm a full-stack developer completing my accreditation in web development [crosstalk 00:19:35].
Alex Booker (19:34): So tell us a little bit about this tweet.
Anna McDougall (19:36): Yeah, so it's really weird. I was not planning to get into the job search quite so early. As I said, I was actually in the middle of doing this course, this web development course, and I had done this other tweet on New Year's where I'd said, "Oh, I'm so excited that," I don't know, something like, "2021 will see me get my first developer job." And I was thinking in like June or July when my course ended, but because I tweeted that, I got a message from an employer in Austria actually saying, "Oh hey, I actually met you a few years ago at this gaming event," because I used to stream on Twitch, that's a whole other story. And he was like, "Oh my company's actually hiring front-end developers. If you're interested, I can send your details to our managing director." But I had nothing ready, like I was not ready for the job side. I had no CV and my portfolio site didn't exist. There was nothing.
Anna McDougall (20:25): Within the span of these two weeks, I built a portfolio site in React as quickly as I could. Put up this video from YouTube, which was actually my YouTube channel introduction. Like, "Hi everyone, welcome to my YouTube channel." That kind of thing. And I was like, I wanted to have a video there because I wanted to introduce myself with video. I'm good on camera. I'm a performer. And so I was like, I want this video, but this YouTube intro, it's not right for a portfolio site. So I said, "Ah, I'll record a new video introducing myself to employers." I recorded this two minute video, I cut it together with some kind of funky music and this kind of weird purple background.
Anna McDougall (21:03): And then I was like, well I've got this video for my portfolio site, but at that point I think I had about 5,000 followers on Twitter and I was like, oh, I'll post it on Twitter and I'll post it on LinkedIn and maybe something will happen. But as I said, I wasn't ready for a job search. I wasn't really trying, but I had built up this network of people and this network of interest. So I think that tweet in the end got something like 25,000 views, that video. And basically as soon as I had sent it out, within 24 hours I had, I think it was 12 or 13 different job leads in my inbox. And I would say about three to four of those were actually from people managing or hiring themselves who were saying, "Hey, let's talk, let's have a meeting." That was kind of how the tweet came into existence. And the response that it got was overwhelming.
Alex Booker (21:51): I think it was like perfectly articulated as well. You kind of come right out the gate and you explain who you are, you're a full-stack developer. There's no ambiguity there. I think a lot of the time when people are pitching themselves, they leave too many questions unanswered. You kind of went on to say that you are completing your accreditation in web development, which I think is great because even if you don't have the qualification yet, it shows a lot about where you're going and that's important as well. And then one thing I really, really appreciated about your message is that you said-
Anna McDougall (22:19): And I'm bringing this on top of over six years of project management and digital marketing experience, including two years using HTML and CSS as part of my job.
Alex Booker (22:28): I don't actually know much about your background aside from opera, Anna. I'm just wondering, if you were to pull back the curtain a little bit and tell us a bit about what experience went into that message.
Anna McDougall (22:39): When I first graduated, my bachelor's was actually in media and communications and my first job out of uni was organizing conferences. Doing the budgeting, organizing the speakers, writing the programs, coordinating the sales teams, coordinating sponsorship, like it was a real project management, traditional style, 28-day turnaround per project, like really full on, go, go, go, go, go corporate job. It was very intense and it burnt me out very quickly. I was very good at it, I won a few awards within the company, all that kind of stuff. I was great at it, but it burnt me out and I gained like 10 kilos in one year. It was not good for my mental or physical health.
Anna McDougall (23:17): And so I left. Then I moved into digital marketing, so as a digital marketer. And in that job, part of what I did was maintain the blog and not just, that was a WordPress blog. It was mostly just updating blog posts to be honest. But every now and then I would have to change a color here or do a thing there, but it was very minimal and I've always been very honest. Even after I got my job interviews, I was like, "I know I said I did two years of HTML and CSS, but that wasn't the core of my job. I'm always very honest about it.
Alex Booker (23:46): Can I just quickly say that this is totally above board and fair. And I think if you look at any packaging for a product or a landing page for a website or even an ad for a car or something, it's always going to frame it in the best possible way. Not because it intends to deceive you or anything like that, it's because the whole purpose is to pique your interest. Instead of disqualifying yourself right out of the gate by saying, "Oh, there's that, but oh, it's only a little bit," you leave it to them to inquire and then of course, of course, of course want to be upfront and honest about it. But I just think this is a great exemplification of that.
Anna McDougall (24:18): Yeah, exactly. And I mean the rest of the marketing experience I had was actually through translation. While I was in Germany starting as an opera singer, because it might surprise you to learn that opera singers don't earn a lot of money, that I was also on the side doing translation from German into English. Because of my background, I was specializing in marketing. So things like email newsletters, website copy, but also sometimes financial reports so also on the business side of things. The thing is that I knew at that time as well, and just kind of going back to what you're saying about smoothing things over, let's say, to make it easier for people to understand at a glimpse.
Anna McDougall (24:54): For me, I knew saying to someone, "Oh, I worked for a year as a conference organizer where I did this, this and this. And then I worked for two years in marketing. And then when I moved to Germany, I wasn't earning enough, so I decided to do translation and doing translation and I then gravitated towards online copy and marketing in that regard, including work for Amazon," it's fine, but it's a lot. It's a lot of information. And I always say, give the short, snappy quick version of your background first and let the interviewer ask questions about the bits that interest them because they don't necessarily care are if I was translating because I was still writing marketing copy. And in the end, that's still marketing, what I was doing, but it was a slightly different role. And in the end, no one asked about that. Like I was upfront about it when they would ask for an overview, but no one asked much detail about it because they really don't care that much.
Anna McDougall (25:43): They just want to know can I do this job? Will I be good to work with? Do I have some business sense? And one of the advantages and one of the things that giving that outline of my previous experience in such a simple way provides, and this was the core of my message, is that I'm not like some kid fresh out of uni. The downside of being not a kid fresh out of uni is sure, I don't have the degree. I don't have the computer science degree, but the plus side is that you don't have to train me to just work in a company, because that's part of being young and there's nothing bad to say here about young people. But part of what you're learning in your first job out of uni is how to work with people in a corporate environment, how to balance your personality and your business goals, how to balance your work life and your personal life, all this kind of stuff.
Anna McDougall (26:30): How much do you want to be friends with people? How much do you want to keep things professional? What is your role in a company? These are things that you have to learn, it takes time. And I've already done that. That work is behind me. So my main message and what I was trying to convey is I'm a good person to have in a company because you don't have to worry about me finding my feet in that way. That's something I've got sorted. You just have to worry about me getting my technical skills up and I address that by saying I'm a fast learner. So I say I'm a fast learner. In other words, I'm going to get the technical skills learnt, yeah, but you're also going to like having me around. That's the basic gist, the main message I was trying to put out there.
Alex Booker (27:07): If you've ever watched shows like Dragons' Den in the UK or Shark Tank in the US and other countries, it's a really, really, really interesting example where they spend about a minute or two pitching their product and their business. Then the panel of investors get to ask questions. And very often they'll ask questions that reveal something about the business that just doesn't suit their investments. And they learn that the revenue isn't there or it doesn't fit in their portfolio, but it's not like the entrepreneur comes on the stage and says, "Hey, here's my amazing product, but our revenue's a little bit low, but we've got some debts," or like, "Oh, but we're having this issue with a competitor." Like they don't exactly highlight all the negative things and overthink it on behalf of the investor. They sort of just lay the groundwork, present themselves in the best light. And then when they're challenged directly, they answer honestly, obviously.a.
Alex Booker (27:50): And anyway, even though you and me, Anna, we recognize this as something that happens and something we're quite comfortable doing, I know that a lot of people sometimes feel a bit... Even calling themselves a developer can feel a bit... like they're a bit of an imposter or something. I don't agree with it at all, but in this episode, and also if you ever check out any of those clips on YouTube, it might just give you a little bit more inspiration and confidence to advocate for yourself because at the end of the day, no one else is going to do it. So you have to.
Anna McDougall (28:17): One of the things I often say, going back to my earlier point about new developers focusing too much on the technical side of things, is that a lot of people think, oh, my code speaks for itself. Like I'll produce high quality code and then I'll get a job. And the thing is, no one's going to look at your code if they're not interested in you. No one is going to bother looking at your portfolio page or going to your GitHub profile or anything, unless you give them a reason to. I often say... Some things that sneak job interviews that the language you use is really important. So rather than saying, "If I got this job, I would blah, blah, blah," rather than that, you say, "Working for Novatech, I would..." It's really small, but sometimes these little changes in language, they change the picture. You say, "Oh, if I got this job," it makes it sound like, again, like you're going begging for scraps.
Anna McDougall (29:05): You've got to phrase it like, "Oh my strength is in this, so what I can promise you is that I would give Novatech X, Y, Z." You say what you have to offer. Remember it's not about you and your personality and all your many hobbies or a very detailed list of all the things you've done in your life. When they ask you to tell them about yourself, the most important thing is that you give them the short, sweet, quick version, and then let them ask the questions to go deeper. And so you give them the best version of yourself in this beautiful tight package and practice it, practice, practice, practice, practice it over and over and over again before the job interview so you can't get it wrong. That's the other thing.
Alex Booker (29:44): We are going to link your tweets in the show notes, as well as your YouTube channel and things like that, where I know you've gone into a bit more detail still. I'll just quickly highlight this if you do watch Anna's video, it's really interesting how you present it, Anna, because once you give your initial pitch, you sort of have title scenes or slides, I guess. They ask questions that obviously you're very well equipped to answer. So the first question that comes up is like, you're looking for jobs in Germany, but you're from Australia. It's very natural that a German employer would think, "Oh, well, do they have the eligibility to work here?" So you really anticipate that and right away address it.
Anna McDougall (30:15): I've lived in Germany for over five years and I have full working rights. [foreign language 00:30:19].
Alex Booker (30:22): You sort of give yourself some softballs, I think, where you're like, are you a fast learner?
Anna McDougall (30:26): Could you learn our tech stack, I think it was. Yeah.
Alex Booker (30:28): You also anticipated a question, which is like, are your projects online? Because you can totally imagine it can't you, they're like, "Oh okay, I like the vibe I'm getting from Anna, but let me check out their projects." And then you anticipate it. You answer it. So anyway, a lot you can learn from that. But since we're pretty much out of time, Anna, I was hoping I could throw some quick fire questions your way.
Anna McDougall (30:46): Oh, okay. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go for it.
Alex Booker (30:50): One thing I've noticed about you is that you seem to be kind of equal parts passionate about coding as well as educating and helping others. What would you pick if you had to focus on one.
Anna McDougall (30:59): Coding.
Alex Booker (31:00): What is your most memorable blog post, talk, YouTube video or other resource that you've created recently?
Anna McDougall (31:06): Oh, that's a good one. I think probably how to support junior developers was a big one. So it was aimed at senior developers and managers as to like the common feelings and emotions and problems that junior developers face in their first jobs and how a senior developer or a manager can support them better, because I think that's a space that is important to explore and that got a really good reception. And I've also presented that as a conference talk.
Alex Booker (31:28): We'll link that in the show notes, definitely. Tell us about a programming problem you solved recently that's just on your mind still.
Anna McDougall (31:35): I've recently been installing Cypress. I've also been working a lot with React Grid lately, which is a material kind of component, this kind of new thing they're developing. And I had to make it so that you could tab through rows and that the tab would jump to the next row rather than just disappear into nowhere. I had to override the grid's native API to force it, that if someone tabbed at the end of a row, it would jump to the next row's first cell. So that's one that I worked on recently.
Alex Booker (32:03): And I would like to get to know you a bit better with some more general questions. Since you were from Australia and now you live in Germany, do you have some feeling about which you prefer after all these years?
Anna McDougall (32:12): They're like apples and oranges. I love living in Germany. The main things that I miss about Australia are the food, family and coffee. And the nature as well is pretty good here. But I think in Germany, I really dig the stability. I like the social services. They've supported me a lot. I like the quality of living and I like the public transport and the ability to cycle. And I feel like there's more park land generally mixed in with the suburbs and with the city, especially in Leipzig where I live. It's a very green city. So pros and cons to both, unfortunately. I can't answer that one directly.
Alex Booker (32:45): I was going to ask if you prefer coffee or tea, but now I can guess you probably prefer coffee, right?
Anna McDougall (32:50): Easy. Yeah.
Alex Booker (32:51): What about dogs or cats?
Anna McDougall (32:52): Dogs.
Alex Booker (32:53): And just to finish us off, tabs or spaces?
Anna McDougall (32:57): Definitely tabs. Definitely tabs.
Alex Booker (32:59): No. Okay everybody, the podcast ends here. But it would be ending anyway, so no real hard feelings. Anna, thank you so much for that. With the quickfire questions out of the way, can you tell us a little bit about what you're working on these days and then we'll wrap up?
Anna McDougall (33:14): Yeah, so as you said, I've been working quite a long time now helping other people to kind of explore their ability to change careers into tech or to start careers in tech, so much so that I've decided to write a book. Hopefully I'll be releasing the book in either March or April. So that's the big thing I guess I'm working on right now, is to try to distill all this knowledge flying around in my head and try to make a really practical guide for people to get their first job from zero to hired. That's the idea.
Alex Booker (33:41): Anna, thank you so much.
Anna McDougall (33:42): Thank you.
Alex Booker (33:42): That was Anna McDougall, originally from Australia and now living and working in Germany. Hopefully her story and advice will help you find success. Thank you for listening. By the way, if you made it this far, you might want to subscribe to the podcast for more helpful and uplifting episodes with recently hired juniors and industry experts alike. You can also tweet me, your host, Alex Booker, and share what lessons you've learned from the episode so I can thank you personally for tuning in. Seriously, try me. And until then I will see you next week.