How to Fast Track Your Developer Career, with Katy Ashby

How to Fast Track Your Developer Career, with Katy Ashby

🎙 About the episode

Meet Katy Ashby 🇬🇧! Katy studied physics before becoming a developer, and once she did, she went from a complete novice to a principal developer and team lead in only four years! In this episode, Katy shares how she fast-tracked her career and how you can do the same.

In this episode, Katy talks about why you should remain curious, how to recognize opportunities to progress in a company, and what makes a senior developer. Katy shares her view on whether you should seek a remote position as a junior developer and the benefits of staying at a job for longer.  Alex and Katy also discuss contractors and whether you should be wary of them (or become one). Also: HTML for Dummies, and rats!

🔗 Connect with Katy

⏰ Timestamps

  • Katy never thought she was going to become a developer, even though she dabbled with coding as a child (01:06)
  • How Katy worked on her first website as a kid and kept coding playful (01:54)
  • Katy never thought about studying computer science because her computer classes at school were boring, and she ended up majoring in physics with a minor in French! (04:23)
  • Why a developer career, in hindsight, was a perfectly logical choice for Katy (06:25)
  • How Katy went from a beginner to a principal developer in four years (07:27)
  • Ad break! Next week, it's Mislav Markušić! (12:21)
  • What made Katy determined to climb the ranks? (14:13)
  • Why becoming a senior developer is more about your attitude than just your coding skills (15:07)
  • Did Katy know much about software development jobs before she got her first one? (16:10)
  • More and more physicists are becoming coders. Here's why (17:05)
  • What Katy learned over the course of four years (19:08)
  • How Katy used the experience of using Python for a physics internship to kickstart her coding journey (19:55)
  • Is there anything that Katy would do differently? (23:42)
  • What challenges did Katy face when she started working? (25:29)
  • How Katy turned a graduate role into an actual job (27:55)
  • Consider the whole offer, and not just the salary (30:40)
  • Should junior developers work remotely or in person? (32:45)
  • Why applying for jobs at other companies can get you a raise (34:18)
  • How does everybody working remotely change the job landscape? What's the difference between employees and contractors? (37:46)
  • How Katy took a break between jobs and shared her knowledge with the community (42:09)
  • Quick-fire questions: favorite places in the UK, Anglo-Indian food, coffee, and keeping rats as pets! (45:07)

🧰 Resources Mentioned

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💬 Transcript

Katy Ashby (00:00):
The way I view the senior developer and their contribution is that not only are they going to be contributing technically, but they'll be starting to mentor other people in the team. They'll be a point of help for new starters, junior members and also other people in the business. They become someone who you go to. They're also going to really ask the questions around why are we doing it like this? Is this is how we should be doing it?

Alex Booker (00:24):
Hello and welcome to The Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on how to learn to code and get your first junior developer job. I'm Alex and today I'm joined by Kate Ashby. Kate studied physics at university, but when she realized there weren't that many jobs, she pivoted and became a graduate software developer. Then junior, then mid-level, then senior, then principal and team lead in just four years. Basically when Katie learned physics, she figured out how to turn her career into a rocket ship and in this episode she's going to share that secret source with you. You are listening to The Scrimba Podcast. Let's get into it.

Katy Ashby (01:06):
Looking back, there were clues, but I definitely never thought I would be where I am today, probably not even six years ago, and I've been a developer for just over five now. When I was younger I did dabble in a bit of coding. My dad works in IT. He does like sis admin stuff, so he was always interested in that kind of thing. And got me onto like a HTML For Dummies book when I was about eight years old.

Alex Booker (01:30):
Oh, seriously?

Katy Ashby (01:31):
Yes. The series blah, blah blah for dummies. So that's why I was reading, I think it was HTML four because that was the version at the time. And from the ages of about eight till, I'm going to say even up to maybe 15, I was maintaining this website that I had and it was a fun little thing that I did and then didn't really think anything of it ever again once that phase of my life was over.

Alex Booker (01:54):
Oh, come on, tell us what the website was.

Katy Ashby (01:56):
No, I don't like to share the actual url just because I was very young and I just put all sorts of facts about myself and my family online and it's the kind of thing that, back then, nobody really cared. But nowadays, it's all security and personal info so I tend to keep that locked down. But I do occasionally share little screenshots from it from the way back machine because is was on there. It was a very bright sickly green color and for some reason I kept that color the whole time. So for years and years and years I just had this bright green lime website. Yeah, I'm not sure why I chose that color in hindsight.

(02:29):
But yeah, and I even did some PHP on it as well. It was very basic. I don't think there was actually any kind of backend server processing anything, but it was just doing things like you wrote your name in an input box, you pressed the button and then it would say "Hello, blah blah blah" on the screen. So I thought that was obviously amazing. So I was about 10. And I think I had a little game on there as well. I did a game where you had to click around, and different links would take you to another page and you'd have to, I don't know, it was kind of like a search game I suppose, and then you could collect coins from different pages and stuff. That was definitely, as I got a bit older.

Alex Booker (03:04):
It sounds almost playful. Around that age, a lot of kids would be playing board games or playing some computer game or something or maybe they were doing something like Lego. It's creative. It's a little bit scientific. Coding is just as fun, I think. And you're totally building something except it's kind of hard. It feels like the barrier to entry is kind of high compared to playing some game or playing some board game or something.

Katy Ashby (03:25):
Yeah, I obviously did other things as well. I played a lot of The Sims as a teen. I was quite artistic. I used to do a lot of drawing and stuff when I was younger and reading and stuff like that. So I had lots of interest. But yeah, I don't know, it was just one of the things I did when I went to my dad's house was work on my website and I think, really, the creative side of it was probably what kept me absorbed in it for hours and hours.

(03:47):
And then later on as I entered early teens, I think I added blog functionality to it, so then my friends could comment on blogs and stuff like that. So it became, then, a bit more of a communication thing with my friends.

(03:59):
But yeah, it was cool. I didn't even have Facebook or anything like that until I was 14 so I guess that was what I was doing before. That is, to me, a weird part of my history that I forgot about for years and years and years. Went through school, went through my GSEs and A levels and then went to uni and studied physics. So I wasn't thinking about coding at all when I was making these decisions.

Alex Booker (04:23):
Your dad worked in IT and obviously you'd been playing with HTML and CSS and stuff for a while. Was there ever this idea that you might specifically go on to study, I don't know, computer science or get an apprenticeship doing software or something?

Katy Ashby (04:36):
Nope, never. I never even thought about computer science as a concept. It just wasn't on my radar at all at school.

Alex Booker (04:44):
Why not?

Katy Ashby (04:45):
So I remember my ICT lessons, or IT, however you want to call it, and they were always things like, I don't know, how to do Excel and create a merge list in Word from Outlook or it was very quite boring stuff and I was quite good at computers. I spent a lot of time on computers and stuff. So a lot of it just felt very basic to me and that was my view of ICT and computers and what my dad did. I just, in a naive way, assumed it was just an extension of that and it just wasn't interesting to me. The coding stuff, I didn't even think about it. And I think, even in the last 10 years, I don't know, it seems like a different world than today where I think people, they do coding in the lessons. Kids start from maybe even primary school and it's just much more something that people understand is in the world and that people do and it's an option. I just feel like nobody ever said anything like that to me when I was that age and I didn't have anyone I knew who was interested in it. And even though my dad worked in his IT job and we did that programming stuff, it wasn't like, "Oh why don't you be a software developer?" That was just never said to me.

(05:52):
But I was always very academic so I just focused on passing my exams and I wanted to carry on in something academic, which is why I picked physics. But I almost picked French, actually, because I really have always loved learning the French language. And so that was something that I nearly did for university and then I decided actually I want to do something technical because I think, career wise, that gives me more options. But I still wanted to do the French bit so I did that as a with, so like a minor I suppose on my degree.

Alex Booker (06:23):
Très bien.

Katy Ashby (06:23):
Oui.

Alex Booker (06:25):
It sounds like there was always two things nickling at you, which was the academic side, but you also mentioned that you were quite autistic as a kid as well doing drawing and building this creative website. It's funny that programming maybe is one of the only things that straddles both those things at the same time.

Katy Ashby (06:41):
Yeah. And I a hundred percent agree with you and I've thought about it more recently and it just seems really obvious that it would be a career that would work with me because it's creative but it's also technical, it's logical. You're building something. It's a craft, isn't it? It's like a real thing that you can make. And then once it gets into production or you deploy a website, something like that, you can see that you've created it and achieved it. So it's very rewarding in that way.

(07:06):
And then also this academic in itself and especially depends how deep you want to go in your understanding of how everything works. I'm particularly interested in design really. And I'd say that's been something that I've always been wanting to know more about. Why did we make these decisions about how to build it and what different options are there and stuff like that?

Alex Booker (07:24):
You mean like software design and architecture and stuff?

Katy Ashby (07:27):
Yes, architecture and solution design and the deeper implementation details. I find it interesting to know why we do stuff rather than just what we're doing.

Alex Booker (07:37):
We'll come back to the main thread of your story in just a moment because I'm really curious to hear how you got on with physics and got your first job and stuff.

(07:44):
But I think this is a great opportunity to point out that your career has had a pretty rapid trajectory in that you went from being a graduate developer to a junior, then a developer, then a senior developer, then a principal software engineer and a team lead in... How long would you say it took you to climb those ranks?

Katy Ashby (08:03):
I think from day one starting my graduate role up to getting that role, the principal software engineer and team lead that was around four years.

Alex Booker (08:14):
Rapid. Absolutely rapid.

Katy Ashby (08:14):
Yeah it is. It was a short time but it felt like a long time to me, in a way. But although I do acknowledge that as a short time as well. Because I remember being told by someone, "Oh you need to be a developer for at least five years before you can be a senior developer." And then I remember being disappointed at that idea so I blew that out the water.

Alex Booker (08:34):
Well the reason I wanted to save the conversation here for a second is because you described that you were always interested in the design of systems and the only, not the only way, but the most efficient way to do that is from the vantage point of a team leader or a senior developer rights where you might be then working with other members on the team to execute on that plan to design the software. I feel like with software, oftentimes, you imagine this trajectory that if you are a developer you have to become a senior. If you're a senior you have to become a team lead. But it's not necessarily about becoming the absolute best code writer and developer. Being a team lead is actually its own interest because it has a lot to do with communication. It has a lot to do with design, system design and stuff like that. And I wonder if maybe it was because of your, actually, quite unique interest to pursue system design and stuff like that that you levitated, I guess, to these more senior roles in a quicker period of time.

Katy Ashby (09:26):
Yeah, I definitely think it helps. Being curious, anyway, helps in anything, I think. You won't really see progression if you're not pushing yourself. And that can mean pushing yourself to learn new skills or it can mean pushing your bounds of responsibility I guess. And that's what I did. Even as a junior developer by title, I was still very much getting involved in things like design. I wasn't writing the designs or coming up with it, but at the place I worked at the time, we had a design document and then everybody could have a look at this and add comments and thoughts about it and it was an optional part of the process but I was very much engaged in that even from being a junior. For me, it was interesting because that's what sparked my interest in it.

(10:12):
But then also from a career point of view, it's good because these are the kinds of things that tend to stand out when you're talking to your manager or other people getting an impression of who you are as an employee and a person and as a developer. They'll be like, "Well so-and-so is really engaged with the process, they're really interested in this and they've made some really valuable contributions." And it's those kinds of things which do give you that step up when it comes round to pay rise time or promotion time.

(10:39):
And if you want that as well, and I'm someone who definitely was interested in progressing and if I knew that there was a next step, I wanted to know what things I had to do in order to get to that next step. So the combination there, you can use that as leverage basically to say, "Well look, you say I need to do it with X, Y, and Z to be into this next position. Here's me doing X, Y and Z." It's like a proactive way of working. I wasn't necessarily thinking of it in that way, like a ruthless like, "Oh I must progress my career so I need to do all this stuff." It was more, "I'm interested in this so I'm going to do this stuff." But it definitely helped.

Alex Booker (11:14):
That's such great advice. I think that a lot of people, when they want a promotion or a pay rise, they wait until, I don't know, whenever that period might be in their company, say the end of the year. And when they'll say for the first time, "I want a promotion, I want a pay rise." But what you really should do, and I imagine this is similar to what you did, is mention your ambition the previous quarter, say three, four months beforehand and ask what do I need to do to achieve this? Not can I have this, but what do I need to do to achieve this? And then when the time comes to have the conversation about the pay rise or promotion, you can hopefully point to how you've accomplished what they set out for you and then it becomes a very easy decision to give you the thing that you want. Whether that's more responsibility, a pay rise or something like that.

Katy Ashby (11:53):
Yeah, definitely. If you have asked what you need to do and then they've given you a list of things to do and you've met it, unless obviously the company was suddenly falling on hard times and needed to make cuts or nobody was getting a pay rise or whatever, there's no reason in my view why they would deny you if you've hit all of their markers.

Alex Booker (12:13):
I'll be right back with Katie in just a second, but first Jan, the producer and I have a quick favor to ask of you. Jan?

Jan Arsenovic (12:21):
That's right.

(12:22):
We really need you to share the show with someone. Basically we run on social proof and the more people hear about the show, the longer we can keep doing it. So if you're finding this episode useful, be it insightful or inspiring or helpful or entertaining at the very least, please tell somebody about it. You probably know other people who are learning to code or are at the beginning of their coding careers and with our backlog of almost a hundred interviews, there's certainly something for them here on this stream of podcast. You can share the show on Mastodon, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, or in your favorite discord community. Every little bit helps. So thank you for your support. There's a new show every Tuesday evening London time. And next Tuesday on the podcast Alex is talking to a successful Scrimba student, whose name I can't wait to hear him try to pronounce... Plot twist, now I will do it the way I think is correct and then I'll fail. He's a career changer and will love career changers. He's from Croatia and his name is Mislav Markušić.

Mislav Markušić (13:27):
I actually never thought I would end up in coding. After high school I started law school but that just wasn't a good fit for me. And then I started working. I was mostly doing retail. I worked in a record store for 14 years so that's been most of my working career. Some 20 years later or something, I realized and need to change careers and coding was the obvious choice because I was always around computers, mostly gaming but not only gaming. I was doing some stuff and fixing computers for neighbors and family and I just Googled what kind of things I could do and I started coding.

Jan Arsenovic (14:06):
Mislav is next week on The Scrimba Podcast and now we are back to Katie Ashby.

Alex Booker (14:13):
You mentioned if there are opportunities to progress and climb the ranks, you want to take it. Some people would be quite happy to take their time or hover around the same role. Why is it that you're so determined to progress like this?

Katy Ashby (14:25):
It'd be a lot easier if I wasn't.

Alex Booker (14:27):
Yeah, efficient is a blessing and a curse isn't it?

Katy Ashby (14:30):
Yeah.

(14:30):
My mindset now, I'm not interested in rushing to the next goalpost. I'm quite happy where I am. In terms of my journey, and I'm not sending still, but I'm happy to go at a slower pace for the next thing because I think the more senior you get, the more experience is valuable, really valuable. Obviously it's valuable at any level, but I feel part of what is misunderstood about senior roles is a lot of it is about attitude and other things rather than just pure software development skill on a technical sense. So you can get to that point where you are a senior level, I think, sooner than people realize.

Alex Booker (15:07):
What do you mean by attitude?

Katy Ashby (15:09):
The way I view a senior developer and their contribution is that not only are they going to be contributing technically themselves on work items and tickets, but they'll be starting to mentor other people in the team. They'll be a point of help for new starters, junior members and also other people in the business. They become someone who you go to. So they're supporting other people.

(15:31):
They're also going to be making more of an effort, I'd say, to really ask the questions around why are we doing it like this? Is this is how we should be doing it, rather than just accepting a piece of work and going off and doing it and then coming back and saying I'm finished? So it's more like that. It's an approach to how you, in the team, and which has ties in with what I was saying before about being proactive. It very much is a proactive role in my view. So if you can demonstrate that you have those kind of traits, which don't have to be a personality thing, you can learn all these things, soft skills are very learnable, then I think then you know are eligible for that senior role.

Alex Booker (16:10):
Were these things you knew going into your first role, maybe you read them in a book or something or is it something you learned as you went along?

Katy Ashby (16:17):
Everything that I know I've learned since becoming a software developer. I started my software development journey as a complete novice, very naive about what the industry was, what the job would entail in the teams. I just knew about software developers. I didn't know about QA engineers or product owners or anyone else. I just really didn't know anything. It was very much a start from zero start again kind of thing.

Alex Booker (16:41):
You started as a complete novice and after getting a degree in physics and a minor essentially in French, I want to come back to how you broke into tech in the first place because that's quite remarkable. I feel like if you studied and you went so deep into something like physics then going on to become a developer must have been quite a tricky decision and something quite tough to navigate. How did you reason about it at the time and how did you get your first developer opportunity?

Katy Ashby (17:05):
It sounds weird but more and more people are doing it, as in going from physics to software engineering. I'm definitely seeing more and more that happen and hearing stories from people who've done a similar thing. But when I was going through that decision-making process, I didn't really know anyone. No one on my course that I was friends with was doing that. Most people were staying on to do a PhD or I don't know, go work as a physicist but in industry.

(17:30):
So I don't know, it was a bit of a risk that I decided to take, but I'd had enough of physics basically. I felt... Wasn't I had enough. I enjoyed physics but I didn't see where my future was going to go in it. And I previously had planned to do a PhD, but there wasn't anything that I felt strongly enough that I wanted to then spend the next four years working on, developing a thesis and all that kind of stuff.

(17:52):
So for me, it was like "Right, okay, what else can I do?" And there's other options with physics because it's part of STEM. It is a valuable degree to have and that's one of the reasons why I picked it. And you can go into things like actual engineering, mechanical , electrical, whatever. You got that mathsy brain, applied physics side of stuff.

(18:10):
Being an actual physicist, for example, you can work in colliders and labs and everything like that. So I did actually try to apply to a few jobs like that. And then software engineering, that was the other option. So I'd done some coding in my physics degree over the years and that's where I started getting that seed of a thought. Maybe this is something that I could do. I think in the first year, had quite a fundamental course in scientific programming. So it was very much based in using Matlab. And Matlab is a self-contained... It's basically like an IDE and that's it. There's no way, well not that I know of, but you don't really create applications out of it or deploy it anywhere. It's very much just you type your code into the IDE and you press go and then it gives you your answer. So it's like a very fancy calculator in some ways.

Alex Booker (19:05):
That's a good way of putting it.

Katy Ashby (19:08):
But over the four years, I learned about things like if statements and for loops and functions and the kind of building blocks of learning to code. So I had that in my head. I knew how it worked and I could do various different things. And over the years I think I had some other projects that involved Matlab and I always picked the things that had scientific programming as part of it because I knew I was good at it and I knew I enjoyed it.

(19:30):
And I could make little UIs, so just a gray window with some buttons in and the buttons would do different things like generate a graph from this data set and change this, change that. So I was playing around with it at that point. I didn't need to do that but I was already playing around with it and enjoying myself doing it, which is why it stood out to me as something like, "I reckon this could be quite fun." And also I reckoned I could actually do it.

(19:55):
I also did an internship and in that internship I spent, I think it was one or two months working on a project using Python. So in those couple of months I had to learn Python from nothing and then create a program with it basically. So that was more of a real programming language.

Alex Booker (20:14):
But this was an internship related to physics?

Katy Ashby (20:17):
Yes, it's an image processing internship where the idea was that if you flash red and then ultraviolet light fast enough and take images of your foot, you can detect changes in the veins and detect things like blood flow and be able to use that for medical purposes. A part of it as well, I had to create a wave guide which was basically a bit of plastic with these LEDs taped to the side in a frame and then had to create little socks to put over your feet so that there wasn't any light coming into the box apart from the LED light. So that was the physics side and then the programming side was then operating these LEDs using Python and recording the images and processing the images and stuff like that.

Alex Booker (21:05):
That's so cool.

Katy Ashby (21:06):
Unfortunately I didn't, at the end, have an eureka moment and create something which is really valuable to society. But I had a go.

Alex Booker (21:14):
So you learned how to build websites instead?

Katy Ashby (21:16):
So I took that starting point with Python and I grew that because what that meant when I was looking for software development jobs. So you either had the ones which require you to already be proficient at coding or you have the ones which say, "We'll take you. You need to be okay at some coding. You need to demonstrate that you have an understanding of basic stuff and then also have a STEM degree." So the route I took definitely, I'd say, is accessible to STEM graduates but it's probably harder to get those graduate scheme jobs if you're not a STEM graduate just because that tends to be one of the main things that they look for.

(21:53):
But yeah, so a lot of them would be like, "In the interview, you will do some coding tests with you and just see where you're at." For those, I basically took that Python experience and started building on that because I couldn't really take Matlab into an interview environment.

(22:07):
So I developed my Python and I did lots of little Python exercises online. They were all little algorithm type challenges, probably very similar to Leak Code or Hacker Rank or that kind of concept. But they were all quite math based. It just didn't occur to me that I'd need any other skillset. So I remember that I went into one interview and they said, "Okay, here's a file. You need to read in the data from that file and then do some processing on it." And I just didn't know how to read in a file and they wouldn't let me use the internet. So I remember asking someone how do you read in a file and the look on their face was... Yeah, I didn't get that job.

Alex Booker (22:47):
But it's just something you hadn't been exposed to, right, because the projects you were building previously just didn't need that.

Katy Ashby (22:53):
Yeah. I would hardly describe what I'd been doing before as projects. I really was just practically running scripts. So very much top to bottom, one page, press go. That was my experience of coding.

Alex Booker (23:04):
Based on how you're describing it, you had quite a smooth path into coding. Obviously you did a degree in physics for a while and made this massive pivot but because you've been doing some Matlab and later bits of Python, you've had enough knowledge to work with and these graduate scheme opportunities that you could parlay your knowledge and get a job writing code and then take it from there. I think for a lot of, maybe, self-taught developers or other people I've spoken to who've got jobs, they've really had to hustle to slide into someone's DMs on LinkedIn or build this crazy portfolio. Looking back at it, it sounds like, yeah, it was pretty smooth sailing. Is there anything you would've done differently?

Katy Ashby (23:42):
So I feel very fortunate really that it worked out for me. It wasn't like I applied to one job and then that was the job I got and then happily ever after. I definitely applied to loads of different places and then I got through to the interview process at probably four or five. And then finally I got the one job which was my foot in the door and everything grew from there. Having a degree and having a STEM degree is valuable at the end of the day. And I have a lot of respect for people who come through the purely self-taught route or even coming through... Maybe they've done a degree but it's not related to sciences. They do have to work hard and it is much more... You need to prove what you've got with things like portfolios and example projects. Because, I suppose, from an employer point of view, they don't have anything else that they can mark your ability with.

(24:33):
Whereas at least with a STEM degree, it implies that you've got some good technical skill like logical thinking, problem-solving aspects to you, which is very much important in those roles. So I think if you don't have that STEM degree, you'd have to prove that in other ways. So it's definitely a lot harder to do it that way, but lots of respect for people who do. And then in terms of how I would change what I did, whenever people ask me questions like that, I don't really know what to say because I feel like I'm happy with how it's gone. So I don't know, I wouldn't change anything.

Alex Booker (25:08):
That's really nice though because for all the stressing you can do about making all the perfect decisions, eventually you just end up in a place you're pretty happy with and you realize that there's always another decision to make and you don't have to take the exact perfect path to get where you're going. You just have to get your destination. What were some of the challenges that you remember when you started your first developer job, and how did you overcome those?

Katy Ashby (25:29):
The first challenge was feeling completely unprepared and confused. I was starting from scratch, really, because I started at a place which did .NET, so that was my intro to C#. So I had to learn C#. So that was hard, obviously. I spent a lot of time reading about C#. And I started a graduate scheme with someone else who was a computer science graduate. So they were already on a level that I just wasn't. I just didn't know how to reach there. So it was hard because that was definitely an imposter syndrome moment for me.

(26:07):
I remember thinking what have I gotten myself into? It was very much a learning journey. I was lucky it was part of a graduate scheme so it was fairly structured and I was kept away from the main developer teams, the main projects. So everything that I worked on for pretty much the first year was a self-contained project intended to develop me. But probably about six months into the graduate scheme I started working on a project with the other graduate. And although this was a self-contained project that only us two are working on, it was going to become something that would get sold and be released and become part of the product catalog. So that was exciting and it went out and, as far as I know, it's still out there today, which is cool.

Alex Booker (26:56):
It's amazing.

Katy Ashby (26:57):
I did the graduate scheme for about a year and then I moved to junior role. So it was graduate to junior. I mean sometimes you don't see graduate, you just see junior as the very starting one. But I suppose when I started as a junior going up from that graduate role, I was probably more on par with another junior that might come in from another company or be like a self-taught developer. Because I've spent a year getting my skills up to that point where I could join a team. Yes, I wasn't going to be perfect and there was still loads I needed to learn, but I was a bit more seasoned shall we say.

(27:30):
That's kind of that first year of my career, very much make or break. There were points where I thought, "I really hate this" and "I'm not cut out for it." But then other points where I thought, "Actually this is fun." And especially, I think, when you start achieving stuff. So when I was working on that project, which was a real project and that was going out and stuff, obviously that was a huge sense of achievement for me. So that was motivation to carry on, keep going.

Alex Booker (27:55):
The thing about a graduate role is that the expectation is that you get promoted to a junior. I don't think there are any lingering graduate roles because it doesn't really make sense. But you can be a junior developer for a long time I think. And obviously the ambition is to earn your stripes and get promoted to a, say you're a junior software developer, to then get promoted to a software developer. But there's no guarantee there. I'm looking at your LinkedIn and it looks like you got promoted within about 10 months. Was that a sure thing or did you really have to carve the opportunity for yourself?

Katy Ashby (28:27):
When I started that junior position, I moved into one of our actual teams working on actual issues and new features and stuff that were for all the different products. And I quite quickly got to a point where I felt I understood how to work in a team and how it worked. We also started, at the same time, on a greenfield project. So what that gave me was the opportunity was to be on a bit more of a level playing field with the other people who'd been developers for a longer time because instead of them having intimate knowledge of a product and having all the answers, we were all starting not quite from scratch but starting at a similar point. Nobody knew this new project very well and everybody had questions and there was a lot of room there to do it how we wanted to as a team.

(29:15):
So that was a really great way to start out as a junior to be honest, because, yeah, it really leveled that playing field and it meant that I could shine instead of being someone who slowed the team down. We were all a bit slower. So it definitely made it, I think, easier to do those things I was talking about earlier. So stuff like getting involved in design conversations and more bigger picture thinking.

(29:38):
In terms of the timeline, there was definitely no timeline. I got to a point where I felt quite comfortable in the team quite quickly and it was this amazing combination of greenfield project, great manager, great teammates. So I started to feel really confident and I felt like the work I was producing was good and everyone else seemed to think that as well. So it meant that when I came to my manager and said, "Look, I'm kind of interested in shaking off this junior title as quickly as possible." He was like, "Right, let's do this." So me and him worked together to work out what I needed to do to be at that point where I could be promoted. So yeah, definitely from the beginning I was quite like, "Yeah I think I want to be a mid. I want to be like everybody else." I had FOMO. It was definitely something that I pushed towards and went after.

Alex Booker (30:29):
We're both British, so this might be a slightly cheeky question, but when you got promoted to a junior developer from a graduate developer, what changed? Was it just responsibility or did you get a pay increase as well?

Katy Ashby (30:40):
So when I got promoted I did get a pay rise as well. When I started the graduate scheme it was quite a low paid one. It was still decent but compared to some of the amazing grad schemes out there that you see, I think I was aspirationally applying to ones that said stuff like 30 grand starting salary, 25 grand or whatever. But I think looking back I started on 21 grand, which is probably about 25 today with inflation. Obviously I'm not complaining about that and it was still above minimum wage and a good price but compared to what you hear some people starting on, it was very, very low.

(31:13):
But, obviously, as part of moving up through titles and stuff it was... I want to be paid the market rate. Obviously a junior is not going to be paid as much as a mid and a mid won't be paid as much as senior. I guess that was in the back of my mind. Obviously I want to try and earn as much money as I can but I'm not someone who's completely driven by the best salary, especially nowadays as well. I think it's very important to consider the whole offering and that's not just about money or compensation.

Alex Booker (31:38):
You're talking about things like stability in this market?

Katy Ashby (31:41):
Yeah. Stability, what kind of project you're working on, whether it's remote, whether it's got flexibility, the perks that you get with it as well, general company culture, whether it's a startup or a giant thousands of people sized company, all of those things make a massive difference in what your experience will be like.

Alex Booker (31:58):
Yeah, you can get paid six figures in the UK as a junior or a grad if you go and work for a bank, but you might lose your soul in the process.

Katy Ashby (32:06):
I think I would've fallen off my chair if I saw a six figure junior role at the time.

Alex Booker (32:10):
I'm sure there were some junior roles for like 60, 70, 80 at banks. I'm pretty sure about that.

Katy Ashby (32:15):
I've always worked in local companies, actually. I've not done that on purpose, I guess I just didn't start remotely because it was pre all of the pandemic stuff where that's become very commonplace. But before that, it wasn't really something I even considered. So the market I know is the one around Nottinghamshire, which is obviously very different to things like London, which tends to have much higher salaries. But then also, maybe, if you don't live in London, you'd have to do it a hundred percent remote and then as a junior, I don't think I would've been able to do that.

Alex Booker (32:45):
Oh no? You think juniors should work in person if they have the opportunity?

Katy Ashby (32:48):
Well I don't want to say should because it's definitely a personal decision but I know that so much of what I learned and so much of the formative experiences that I had were in the office working with people, sliding a chair next to somebody and spending a couple of hours working through a problem with them and hearing conversations between other people that you are not necessarily invited into but they're happening next to you so you are absorbing the environment, which is something that remote working processes haven't quite been able to replicate at the moment.

(33:24):
Even now I prefer working in a hybrid way and having office days and going in and meeting people because I think you have that opportunity to onboard at a company quicker. Definitely you can onboard remotely and I have done that at another company, but feeling like a more nuanced understanding of what the company is like and the different kinds of people and seeing faces that you just wouldn't have interacted with before, maybe you will interact with them down the line but maybe you can meet them sooner, I find that beneficial personally. However, obviously offering remote working is huge and a lot of people are definitely very, very keen on it. So I think hybrid is probably the way forward, not like a forced hybrid but the opportunity to have a base to go in and have those conversations with people and meet your team and get a bit of osmosis from everybody there. But then also work from home when you want to. Today I've been working from home, I didn't need to go in the office, it's been raining all day.

Alex Booker (34:18):
You were at this first company where you got promoted to a junior and been a developer for a while, almost four years, and then you made a change to a new company and you started that company as a senior engineer. I hear the advice a lot, but even though you might feel a loyalty to a company, even though you might be quite comfortable there because you know it, one of the best ways to accelerate your career in tech is to actually change job because they might incentivize you of a promotion and also you're not anchored to your salary. Say you join a company as a junior dev, you're probably going to be on quite a relatively low salary compared to, say, a senior dev. But then your salary increases with every promotion proportionately to the role you started at and so that can put a ceiling on your earning potential. And so I hear it a lot, one of the best things to do in tech is to change roles. What do you think about that? Was there an element of that at play or maybe you just decided it was time for a change?

Katy Ashby (35:09):
Definitely it can be hugely beneficial and even if you don't necessarily want to leave but you want to get a bit of leverage and negotiate a higher salary or better title, you can go and get a job offer and then bring that back and do it that way. I've not done that, not on purpose, but I have got a job offer and then said, "I'm going to leave, this is my new offer" and then have counters. And it is interesting when you have had to fight against something before and then oh suddenly they can meet it.

Alex Booker (35:39):
Oh all of a sudden they've got this budget, how convenient.

Katy Ashby (35:41):
Although that's something that, I think, should be taken advantage of. There's no point... If you're moving somewhere you should try and get a better salary because it's the perfect time to do it. At the same time, I made the decision to leave that first company that I'd spent four years at, oh that's three and a half years I think. But because I wanted to branch out a bit and work on some different types of products, I was starting to get interested in more front end stuff. I'd been doing a bit of Angular but there pretty much was no front end developers at my first company. And so what I was doing, I was making changes and fixing stuff but I had no idea if it was best practice or if there was a better way of doing it. So it was a bit hacky, but I enjoyed doing that stuff. So I was interested in working somewhere where I could have a full stack role.

(36:29):
And that's basically why I ended up working as somewhere that had a SaaS product and we had a front end and a backend. The backend was .NET / C#, so I felt very much a home there. And then the front end was Angular, some of the products were on React as well. Then I got a chance to work with people who had more experience with Angular and learn some better ways of doing stuff and just different ways of doing stuff. And every company that you go to, even if they use all the same tooling, they'll have solved the problem in a completely different way. So it just expands your breadth of knowledge and the realms of what you understand as possible. I find working on different products and completely different industries and all that kind of stuff, you learn so much.

(37:08):
So I think there's a benefit to moving around a bit. I wouldn't advise moving around too much, as in less than a year or two years is quite quick, but you do get that breadth of knowledge. But it's the depth as well which is important, which is why if you can stay somewhere for over a year and really get that depth of knowledge, that's beneficial as well. So I think, as a developer, having depth of knowledge and breadth of knowledge are both really important things and they're both, obviously, almost opposite so it just makes it a bit harder for us all. But yeah, it's so much easier to work on different stuff if you find somewhere that is using that stuff.

Alex Booker (37:46):
With many people working remotely now and the talent pool being cracked wide open, you can hire all across the world and if everybody's remote, there's very little downside. There's an idea floating around that developers could just be hired to do a project and move on to the next thing or a feature and move on to the next thing. And that might last six, seven months, it could last a year. But the point is it's a little bit like getting a contractor to come and do a job at your house. They have the reputation, they have the credentials, they have the tools, they come and help you do it and then they move on. I would say one of the big arguments against this before would be that you want that stability, you have limited options in your local market, for example. But what do you think of this kind of approach where developers could maybe work shorter contracts at companies and just be a talent pool that employees can apply to their products to build features and then move on? Do you think you lose anything in that like that depth of knowledge you've were describing?

Katy Ashby (38:40):
Well obviously there already are developer contractors. It's very popular because it's a great way, especially if you're money focused, it's a great way to get paid quite a lot more because they're high demand and I've even considered going into contracting myself just because of that shorter time window of coming in, doing a project start to finish and then moving somewhere else. From a personal point of view, you do stand to learn loads. Obviously the first contract you might fill a bit uncertain but once you've done 2, 3, 4 contracts you would get into a rhythm of it. What you tend to see with contractors is that they'll have quite a specific skillset so they'll be an expert at this certain set of tools and so they're coming in to do something that they already have a lot of depth on and so it's less important for them to stay somewhere for a long time because they've already got a depth of knowledge there.

(39:30):
The other thing, I guess, with contractors is if that's not the case, obviously they can contribute but you just have to think about things like they still need to learn the products and there's still an onboarding period of time. Sometimes you can see, if a product has been built with a contractor team and then passed on to a permanent team, sometimes there can be frustration there where you feel that the contractors haven't put the same, maybe, care into it as they would have if they knew that they were going to be maintaining it for the next couple of years. Sometimes they can feel a bit like an us versus them situation with contractors. It shouldn't be like that. But yeah, it's just one of those things. If you're the kind of person who's interested in trying loads of different things and moving about and you're not too bothered about being part of a company or having that experience of being somewhere for a long time, then obviously contracting would be very attractive proposition.

Alex Booker (40:24):
There's a quote that goes around from time to time, which goes, "Always code as if the person who ends up maintaining your code will be a violent psychopath who knows where you live." I guess contractors didn't get the memo in that case.

Katy Ashby (40:35):
No. I don't want to say... Not all contractors.

Alex Booker (40:37):
No of course not.

(40:39):
More realistically it's that balance of speed of delivery and maintainability and if you're a contractor you're normally billing by the hour, you have a deadline, you don't get afforded the same room to fail, perhaps, as somebody on the team. Because as a team you are there to support each other and everybody's got a bit of empathy because they know the project and they know your challenges. And when you hire a contractor it's very much a contract about hey we need this deliverable. So they might push to get it out but give less consideration to the maintainability. Although I'm sure there's always a balance there as there is with any software. But yeah, based on your description, I think I know the answer, but did you ever consider doing contracting or anything like that?

Katy Ashby (41:18):
I was thinking about it this year. I might well do it. But I've opted for a full-time job again. And I think part of that is I enjoy being part of a team and part of something bigger, which you get with good companies. Obviously you need to work someone with a good working culture for that kind of feeling. But you also have opportunities more for your career development and people wanting to grow you in your role and support you and offer training and stuff like that, which I don't really think contractors get because, like you said, the point of a contractor really is to come in, do a piece of work and then get out again. So they're not going to be offering training opportunities or helping you work out your career next steps. It's very transactional and so I think for me, yeah I'm happy to be back in a perm role. It's, yeah, less transactional. It's like a holistic thing.

Alex Booker (42:09):
Can you talk to us about the last few months? Because I know that you left your previous role at the start of the summer and you took a bit of time over the summer and just recently to find the perfect new opportunity I'm sure. Well, with your experience and knowledge you could have gone from one job right to the other and I'm sure you get matched with some recruiters and things like that as well. But I get the vibe that you wanted to take your time and find an opportunity where there's a good alignment. I think you definitely like the idea of staying at the same company for a while to build that depth of knowledge and all those things. So I guess you were looking for a company that if you asked yourself, "Hey can I see myself working here for two free years?" The answer is yes.

Katy Ashby (42:48):
Yeah, I didn't intend to work at the previous pace for just shy of a year. And my thoughts were the next place I go to, if I take a perm job, which I have, I want to be there for a bit longer and put some roots down again and get more of a depth. Because it's actually very fulfilling to be very knowledgeable about something and be an expert in the area. And I kind of miss that about my first place because I left and you just have to start again. Every time you join a new company you have to start again.

(43:20):
So I decided to take a bit of time off just because I could. I was in a fortunate position where I've got support and I had some savings and it was coming up to summer. And also I'm thinking I probably won't have an opportunity to have a break like this, a multi-month break for a long time. So why not take it? So it was really nice because it meant I could relax and focus on other things like hobbies and ended up doing quite a few things on my Twitter and different speaking things and talk to people in the community.

Alex Booker (43:57):
Yeah. Join the Twitter space with me and Leanne.

Katy Ashby (43:58):
Yes.

(43:58):
And yeah, I was doing some coffee chats and that was really nice because it was with people, self-taught developers or junior developers or even some people who were just in the middle of their career and just wanted to have a chat and talk about stuff. So I really enjoyed having some time to do that.

Alex Booker (44:13):
Careful because your inbox might blow up after this episode with people watching coffee charts.

Katy Ashby (44:17):
No, I don't mind. I did restrict myself to, I think, one a day. And then for a while I did do quite a few in a row but then it's tailed off a bit now. I definitely don't have time for one a day anymore. But it's really nice to talk to people and I just love finding out about their journeys and it feels really nice to be able to use my experiences to help other people as well. So it was quite fulfilling.

Alex Booker (44:41):
Well we're going to link your Twitter high in the show notes for people to check you out and even if they can't connect for a coffee, because it sounds like you're pretty busy with your new job, totally worth giving you a follow and checking out your blog as well because I know you're writing in depth about some of the things you've learned and helping people at scale essentially. I love that about blogging. You can help someone one-on-one and that's great, but if you can turn it into a piece of content, you can probably help hundreds of people instead, which is really cool.

(45:07):
Katie, I've really enjoyed this conversation. I think it's really cool that we get to see how your career's progressed and that's definitely going to give people listening some ideas about what to expect and how to grow and advance faster in their own career. What do you say we wrap things up with some quick quickfire questions?

Katy Ashby (45:22):
Sure.

Alex Booker (45:25):
You live in Nottingham, but what's your favorite place to visit in the UK when you go on holiday?

Katy Ashby (45:30):
Well, I have, I guess, a few places which be favorite. But maybe Bristol just because it's close to where I grew up. I used to have family that lived in Bristol. Unfortunately I don't anymore, but it is just a really nice city. It's quite similar to Nottingham and that's actually part of the reason I think why I like Nottingham so much.

Alex Booker (45:45):
What's your favorite food, Katie? Or cuisine?

Katy Ashby (45:47):
I'm a proper foodie even though I'm a vegan, which I know people think that that makes you fussy. But I'm really not fussy. I love all food as long as it's vegan. But cuisine, probably Italian is up there. One of the top. Or all Indian food.

Alex Booker (46:00):
Oh, I love Indian food and we do it so well here in the UK as well. It's easy to forget that Anglo Indian food is a staple here.

Katy Ashby (46:07):
Yeah. I don't know if it's offensive to say that we do it so well, but I do agree it is so delicious. I like our English fish and I know it's maybe not authentic but it is tasty.

Alex Booker (46:16):
No, but that's what I'm saying. There are dishes in the UK like a chicken ruby or chicken tikka masala or something. But if you went to India you couldn't find them because they're a UK hybrid of Indian food.

Katy Ashby (46:28):
Yeah.

Alex Booker (46:28):
I love it. What do you prefer? Tea or coffee?

Katy Ashby (46:31):
Definitely coffee. I have three or four cups of coffee every day.

Alex Booker (46:34):
Three or four? How are you making your coffee? Is it instant or do you have a machine or something?

Katy Ashby (46:38):
I used to be instant. I'm really not a coffee snob. Used to just have instant coffee every day, but recently got a bean to cup machine, like a refurbished one.

Alex Booker (46:48):
Ooh. Like a Breville.

Katy Ashby (46:52):
It's Delonghi, I think. It's a good brand and it was really cheap because it was like a refurbished one and it's amazing. It's so low effort, which is basically how I like to live my life.

Alex Booker (47:00):
Can you go back to instant coffee now though? That's the question.

Katy Ashby (47:03):
Yeah, it's probably made me enjoy instant coffee quite a lot less unfortunately. But I will drink an instant coffee.

Alex Booker (47:09):
What kind of pets do you like?

Katy Ashby (47:11):
I think that's an obvious one. Obviously you've got my rats and they're amazing so I'm going to go with rats.

Alex Booker (47:16):
Do rats make great house pets?

Katy Ashby (47:18):
They make great pets. I think they're misunderstood creatures on the whole. Another part of my Twitter is showing people how rats can be so cute. They're very tidy. Well okay, they're not tidy, they're clean. They're always cleaning themselves and they're very inquisitive. They've got their own personalities, they love climbing all over you and down the sleeve is a particular favorite. So I've usually got a rat up my sleeve. The main difficulty with them is probably just keeping their cage clean, because it does require changing the bedding and stuff like that quite regularly. But apart from that, they are lovely little pets.

Alex Booker (47:52):
Oh well that's awesome. And if you check out Katie's Twitter, you can see some pictures of her pet rats. Yeah, looking very cute.

(47:57):
Katie, thank you so much for joining me on The Scrimba Podcast. It's been a pleasure. I've learned a ton.

Katy Ashby (48:03):
Thank you.

Jan Arsenovic (48:06):
That was Katie Ashby in the episode number 94 of The Scrimba Podcast. Check out the show notes for all the ways you can connect with her. If you made it this far, please subscribe. You can find the show wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you want to connect with Alex, you can find his Twitter handle in the show notes. Make sure to mention him if you're sharing anything related to the podcast. He reads it all and he also replies to it. This is a weekly show and will be back next Tuesday, which is, for some reason, after Christmas. Where did this year go? It is a question I'm not going to try to answer right now, but anyway, we'll be back in a week. Until then, enjoy your holidays and see you soon.