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🎙 About the episode
Meet Caitlyn Greffly 🇺🇸! She's a career changer, developer career mentor, and the author of The Bootcamper's Companion (20% off with promo code 'SCRIMBA'), a book of tips she wishes she had known when she was breaking into tech. In her past life, she was a psychologist working in beer. After changing careers at 31, Caitlyn is nowadays a full-stack software engineer with a passion for frontend.
In her book, Caitlyn shares resources, advice, and approaches to help you stand out and find a job. In this interview, she does the same! You'll hear how she decided to become a developer and chose a path to get there. You'll learn why you shouldn't be intimidated by your more experienced colleagues, and why struggling is essential. Caitlyn and Alex also discuss how employers can help juniors grow and how new developers can figure out if an employer is right for them.
🔗 Connect with Caitlyn
🧰 Resources Mentioned
- Book: The Bootcamper's Companion by Caitlyn Greffly (20% off with promo code 'SCRIMBA')
- Scrimba Podcast: Bootcamp Mentor Hussien Khayoon: Careers Come in Three Stages, and Here’s How To Navigate Them
- Scrimba Podcast: How to become a successful Junior Developer with Scott Hanselman from Microsoft
- Scrimba's Discord server!
⭐️ 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 🙏
Caitlyn Greffly (00:00):
When you talk to more senior developers, you'll be amazed at their knowledge, but you'll also learn that they get stuck too. And I think that was great for me, seeing people who I looked at and thought, "Will they know everything? Not know something?" And realize that, "Okay, this is part of the job, we're all learning here."
Alex Booker (00:19):
Hello, and welcome to The Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first junior developer job. I'm Alex, and today I'm joined by Caitlyn Greffly, who studied psychology before making the obvious leap to sales in the beer industry and eventually learned to code as a coding bootcamper. Since getting her first developer job, Caitlyn has gone from strength to strength, and even wrote a book called The Bootcamper's Companion, all about the things she wished she knew. I'm so excited to introduce you to Caitlyn because she's lived the new developer experience firsthand and spent a lot of time reflecting on how to learn to code and break into tech. Two things you'll learn in this episode today.
I'm a bit jealous of Caitlyn though, because she got to meet my coding hero. You see, when Caitlyn was first starting to code, she had this bold idea to tweet, asking if any developer near Portland would let her shadow them for a part of the day. And my programming hero responded and invited her to shadow him. You'll have to stay tuned to find out exactly who I'm describing. All I will say is that he's been on The Scrimba Podcast, works at Microsoft, and some people call him the Uncle Roger of the coding world. You are listening to The Scrimba Podcast, let's get into it.
Caitlyn Greffly (01:37):
It definitely was not a career that I set out to do from the beginning. I often look back in amazement that I ended up here. I got my undergraduate degree in psychology, and then I made the obvious leap to the beer industry. From there, I spent seven years in the beer industry, mostly in sales and I was getting burnt out on that. And I was just trying to figure out some other career I could do. I was in my late twenties, I guess at the time. I knew that I didn't want to travel as much as I was traveling, I wanted something that would be good for my future goals of having a family. And I wanted something that aligned with my life a little better than the crazy traveling life of a beer sales rep I had in line for me.
I liked the part of my job at the time that was data analysis. So I started to go down that rabbit hole of seeing how I could make that a career. And I even applied for a bootcamp for data analysis and I got rejected because I didn't know how to code. And I just remember thinking, "Coding? I don't know how to do that." I remember having friends learning it, and I'd look over their shoulders and think like, "Oh God, what is that? That looks terrifying." And it never had a pull on me or anything. I can't say this was something that always meant to be or anything. But at that point of realizing that a direction I was interested in, I need to learn to code, I was like, "You know what? Why don't I try it?"
So I think I pulled up free code camp or one of those sites, and played around a little bit. And I felt interested enough and I was impatient enough that I decided to just enroll in a coding bootcamp. I've written very, very little code by the time I started my first day of my coding bootcamp. And that was fine because often in those bootcamps, they teach you from nothing. They teach you Hello World. So that worked out for me. But I never saw myself as a coder, as a software engineer. I always imagined that to be just guys in their basement playing video games and taking apart their computers in their spare time. I couldn't see myself in that role.
Alex Booker (03:45):
That's a big problem actually, because I think that does make up, hopefully a reducing, but also a majority demographic of developers like it's largely men. And sometimes just seeing someone who looks like you doing something makes you realize there's a possibility there.
Caitlyn Greffly (04:00):
Yeah. And in the beer industry, I don't know if anyone will be surprised by this, it's also a very male dominated field. I felt comfortable in a male dominated field, but I also wanted to make sure that it suited my personality. I knew sales in a way suited my personality because I'm an extrovert, I like talking to people, and I was nervous that, that part of me wouldn't be fed in the tech industry, and it definitely has been. Even working remotely, I feel like I can be social, and work with people and talk to people a lot more than I think I would've imagined based on the perception I had of a coder from the outside.
Alex Booker (04:39):
Before this bootcamp, had you done any sorts of computing before?
Caitlyn Greffly (04:42):
Yeah, I was into Excel. I was definitely one of those nerds. I enjoyed playing with that. And like I said, I did some data analysis for my job, so I got into using Tableau, which is a tool for analyzing big chunks of data. I liked taking those big confusing chunks of data and making them into a simple graph that could tell the story that I was trying to tell, and that could easily explain to someone the point that I was trying to get across. That was my experience. I also, like most people, remember using MySpace and trying to play around a little to make the background color what I really wanted it to be or something.
Alex Booker (05:22):
Caitlyn Greffly (05:23):
Yeah. But other than that, pretty limited. Other than coding, I don't feel like I can solve people's computer problems. I'll go home to my parents and they'll be like, "This isn't working," and I'm like, "I don't know."
Alex Booker (05:37):
Oh, I wish I could say that.
Caitlyn Greffly (05:38):
I'm not an outsider, I'm very much in the industry. But sometimes I feel like, "Well, I should know more about the insides of a computer, and what makes things work and whatever." But then I'm also like, "Well, that's never been part of my job. If it became part of my job, it would be cool to learn about. But for now, I've plenty to learn about just on the code side."
Alex Booker (05:59):
And I think it represents almost your non-traditional path into tech as well. It seems like you didn't have much coding experience, just an inclination that it was something you wanted to do. And you also weren't 100% sure that coding was going to be an industry that satisfied your extroverted nature. And yet you took this really quite remarkable plunge, it sounds like, to commit and probably pay quite a bit of money to go to a coding bootcamp. Can you take us back to that time and how you rationalized and thought about it?
Caitlyn Greffly (06:29):
I often think about that time and think, "Why did nobody stop me and just go like, 'whoa, slow down. What are you thinking?'"
Alex Booker (06:35):
Glad they didn't.
Caitlyn Greffly (06:36):
But yeah, I remember so clearly the day that I had been feeling like I was ready to move on for my career for probably about a year, and I just had a day where I was snowed in, in Las Vegas on a work trip that I had hated. And I was just like, "That's it," and that was late February. And the next two weeks, I did what I do, which is organize, and categorize, and think of all the possible career paths I could take, and think of how realistic it was, and how interested I was and the outlooks. And tech and coding just made sense. I didn't have to go back and get another degree or go get a master's degree, which I was nervous about spending too much time because yeah, I think I was 30, maybe 31 at the time.
What appealed to me about a bootcamp, I think I paid $9,000 and it was going to take me six months. And on the other side, I could start a career and be starting with a salary close to what I was making after seven years in the beer industry. I took a small pay cut with my first job compared to what I was making, and that was the starting point. And now I love coding, and I think I would consider it something I'm passionate about. But at the time, I was drawn in by very practical things. This is an industry that I can have a flexible schedule, I can work remotely, I can support a family. Those were the initial things that made me think, "Yes, I really want to try this." And so that was late February that I had that breaking point. I was signed up for my bootcamp I think by March 10th.
Alex Booker (08:11):
What year was this, Caitlyn?
Caitlyn Greffly (08:12):
March of 2019. I signed up for that bootcamp, paid $9,000 up front and just committed to it, and thought, "Okay, I'll keep my job for three months. And if in that three months time I'm not loving this, then I'll quit the bootcamp and figure something else out. And in three months, I quit my job and I leaned completely into this new career.
Alex Booker (08:35):
What was the state of the bootcamp landscape around then? Were there some prominent options to choose from? How did you choose? And did you factor in maybe taking a self-directed route into your path like piecing together different courses and stuff like that for much less money essentially?
Caitlyn Greffly (08:51):
I definitely wanted to try and do a self-directed route. I remember trying to organize different Udemy courses and stuff like that, it would be much cheaper and thinking like, "Oh my God, I could basically create a bootcamp for $300 based on all these different classes." I needed the mentorship and the guidance, I think, more than anything, because I knew so little about coding and the tech world that I would've gotten stuck and not known how to move forward. And I also didn't know what I was supposed to learn. It's easy to look on Udemy and be like, "Okay, I like a Python course and a React course, which one do I choose? And does one go with the other or would you never need to know both?"
I just needed some guidance, I needed a path laid out for me, and then I needed mentorship to be able to check in with someone and have them help me move past whatever problems I was stuck on. I don't think I ever would've gotten into this path had I done the self-directed route, which is why I admire so much people who can go the self-directed route, because I think it's just so much harder and it's a really cool and cheaper way to go. And I couldn't do it.
Alex Booker (10:06):
Caitlyn Greffly (10:46):
I did a combination of, I wanted a bootcamp that had good reviews, good outcomes, which I don't know at the time that they had... I know that now there's a place that reports outcomes independently, which is a little more reliable. It might have been self-reported at the time, so I don't even know how good those outcomes really were. But my biggest thing was money and schedule, because I had such an erratic schedule in my career at the time. I worked some nights, I worked some weekends, I was traveling constantly. And so I needed something that was completely on your own time.
And that was how I ended up at Thinkful, which was the bootcamp that I did, was because there was a set course and you had scheduled times every week, like 45 minutes to meet with a mentor, but everything else was just on your own time. And so I could do it at 6:00 in the morning, I could do it at 10:00 at night, I could do it in the middle of the day. I just needed to fit in 20 to 25 hours every week during the week somehow. And that was what I needed. And so that limited my options significantly. So then from there, I narrowed it down to who seemed to have some of the best ratings and outcomes, and what could I afford?
Alex Booker (12:04):
People listening can't see my face, but I astounded that you did this for six and a half months alongside your full-time job. I know before, you mentioned that you might look for something else, but I just assumed you probably quit your job to do this full-time. The fact that you did it side by side is really impressive.
Caitlyn Greffly (12:21):
So I quit my full-time job after three months. Oh my gosh, it was exhausting, I was so burnt out. And then I worked part-time at a couple of random jobs while I finished up the bootcamp. Because I think for me at least, the second half of the bootcamp was far more time consuming. I think I was able to cut back my work to about 30 hours a week. I became an efficient machine because I also worked remotely. It was about getting the work done, not about clocking in and clocking out, and so that was also helpful. But the second half of the bootcamp, you're also job searching and you're trying to perfect your portfolio, build a resume, network, all these other things. And I think that would've been really hard to do with a full-time job.
Jan Arsenovic (13:04):
Sorry about the interruption. But if you're curious about bootcamp mentors, we had one on the podcast. His name is Hussien and he's very passionate about helping new developers land on their feet. In this show, Hussien will be your mentor.
Hussien Khayoon (13:19):
At the end of the day, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. Programming and just coding is half the job. When you're at a job, it's like coding meets business, meets people. You can be the greatest lead coder of all time, but when software as a business comes to the forefront, those skills can help you, but they won't get you to the finish line. There's three phases that you got to go through. The first phase is the learning phase. The second phase, which is just as hard as getting that first job. And the third phase is keeping that job. All different phases and all different things that you have to learn, but they all build on each other. I'm currently at Shopify, and before I found this job, I did a lot of interviews. I did about a hundred hours of technical interviews, total.
Jan Arsenovic (13:56):
The link is in the show notes.
Alex Booker (14:00):
I'll be right back with Caitlyn in just a minute. But first, Jan, the producer and I have a quick favor to ask from you.
Jan Arsenovic (14:06):
The best way to support a podcast you like, and therefore the best way to support The Scrimba Podcast is to tell somebody about it. That's right, word of mouth, still valid in the 21st century. So if you're enjoying this episode, please share it with someone. Be it on socials, on Discord, or in-person. If you're sharing it on Twitter, don't forget to mention Alex. You'll find his Twitter handle in the show notes. He does read it all, he does reply to it all and we all love seeing what you've learned from the podcast. If you're no longer in Twitter because of reasons, and if you're looking for a friendly coding community full of new developers just like you, check out Scrimba's Discord server, the link is in the show notes. The show goes out every Tuesday evening, London Time. One week we're learning from an industry expert, and another we're learning from a recently hired junior. So subscribe to the show wherever you listen to podcasts. And now we're back to the interview with Caitlyn.
Alex Booker (15:08):
So it sounds like the bootcamp gave you a few things. It gave you a curriculum, it gave you the course materials, right? You also had a weekly session with a mentor, which you really valued. And I think something that can't be understated is, based on the reviews, and the landing page and stuff, you felt confident there was a job at the end of the tunnel. And I think that's something that a lot of self-taught developers lack sometimes, just believing in themselves and knowing where their destination is exactly. But at the same time, you had the challenge which was mastering the discipline essentially to show up and do this with nobody looking over your shoulder. What did you find more challenging? Was it actually learning to code or was it managing your schedule and keeping mentally positive throughout the journey? Because as everybody learning to code knows, some days you feel like a coding God, other days you feel like your 10 Stack Overflow page is deep and you don't belong in the industry.
Caitlyn Greffly (16:01):
I still have days like that. One of the hardest things for me about the bootcamp was how hard learning to code is, how frustrating it can be, how stuck you can get. And I still get really stuck. I still just feel like there's no way I'm going to be able to figure this out. I just feel like I don't have enough knowledge. But when you're new to coding, it's harder to have faith in yourself that you will actually find the solution. I was building my first project and it was like a quiz, it was a Harry Potter themed quiz. And I was trying to go from one question to the next, so one page to the next kind of. I could not for the life of me, do it. I just remember thinking, this is actually impossible. I don't know how anything is built ever. There's no way that there is a solution to this. And of course, I got on a call with my mentor and he helped me figure out the solution.
But I think it was those moments of thinking, there's no way I can figure this out. Is this easier for everybody else? Am I the only one really struggling with this? Does that mean that I don't belong in this field or in this job? And I think it's really hard. You're learning a new language, you're being dropped into this foreign country that is development. And while learning multiple new languages and trying to rewire your brain to think in different ways than you have in the past. And also learning that just because it's hard, doesn't mean you're not good at it. Just because you're stuck, doesn't mean you're not good at it. And even though I still get as stuck as I did back then, I don't get as frustrated as I did because I'm just a little more used to it.
And so I think for folks that are on that learning path, you are not alone. I think when you talk to more senior developers, you'll be amazed at their knowledge, but you'll also learn that they get stuck too. And I think that was great for me to see, was seeing people who I looked at and thought, "Well, they know everything." And then I would see them not know something and realize that, "Okay, this is part of the job. We're all learning here."
Alex Booker (18:17):
What would you say is the importance of struggling?
Caitlyn Greffly (18:20):
It is a skill in this industry, right, the struggle. It's learning to see a problem and think about the ways to get through it and think about all the tools you have at your disposal. And for me, because I definitely ask for help plenty. But one of the things I do before I ask for help in the industry, we call it rubber ducky, is I talk to a rubber ducky, I don't actually have a rubber ducky on my desk. But I pretend like I'm talking to someone else and asking them for help, and then I try and predict the questions that they'll ask me. And that, a lot of times helps me get further. So I like to know by the time I'm asking someone for help, that I have thought of all the possible things that I could think of to solve a problem.
So when I go to someone, I can say, "I'm stuck on this. But I have tried looping over it, I've tried mapping over it. I looked on Stack Overflow. I looked in our code base." So I think struggling, it's more like you're taking the time to expand your problem solving abilities, I guess. So even if you don't solve the problem, that doesn't mean that you didn't... Coding is so much about just your problem solving abilities, and so you can gain more tools. And in the beginning, you might only be able to think of one possible way you could do something before you need to ask for help.
But the longer you're in the industry, you'll be able to think of two, three, four ways. And that's struggling time is you thinking of, "Well, if it's not this, maybe it's this. And if it's not this, maybe it's this." And then you get to the end of that rope or you reach a certain time limit that you've set for yourself, and you finally realize like, "Okay, this is just not something that is in my capacity right now, and that's okay. And so I need to find someone who might be able to shed some light on this."
Alex Booker (20:10):
I'm going to reverse engineer your advice a little bit and pull out the two excellent points you made. Firstly, you said towards the end there, set a bit of a time limit, almost time box yourself. And then when you go for help, you should and probably will have a demonstration of what you've tried already. And that I think will make someone more likely to want to help you, because people love helping people who help themselves basically. Even in a team by the way, it's not wholly unconditional, you can always be favorited and maybe they'll be willing to spend a bit more time with you if you have this personality where you help yourself rather than panic and go for help at the first time of trouble. But also it gives the person helping some great jumping off points, because if they don't have to go through those two or three things you've tried already, they can probably jump to the good poem.
Caitlyn Greffly (20:52):
Definitely. And I think another thing that helps me sometimes when I'm struggling too is writing comments in the code of things that I've tried, because I can forget easily like, okay, I tried this one thing. And then maybe a couple hours, I come back and I forget that I tried it and I do it again. Or when I'm explaining to someone what I need help with, I can forget everything as well. And so that's another thing that helps me, writing out my problem, writing out the things that I've tried, and that helps me keep organized.
And yeah, time boxing can be important, especially when you're on a team with deadlines, or if you're not and you're just like, "I can see how big this problem is, and so I'm going to try and set aside a certain amount of time before I reach out." Sometimes I'll see something and think like, "This should be an easy problem. So if I don't get there in an hour, I'll reach out." And other times it's like, "Okay, this is a pretty complex problem, so I might take two days before I reach out." And I think that's another skill that you get, the more time that you code and struggle.
Alex Booker (21:52):
Like estimating, right?
Caitlyn Greffly (21:53):
Alex Booker (21:54):
Let's talk a little bit about your book, which is The Bootcamper's Companion. What is the motivation behind this book and what is it all about? I noticed that you tweeted and published it in March this year, so it's obviously a few years in the making.
Caitlyn Greffly (22:07):
After I got out of my bootcamp and got my first job, I immediately wanted to start talking about that journey and talking about the difference between your bootcamp and your first job, how to translate what you learn on your bootcamp to process it myself. And then also I wanted to help other people who were making that transition or looking to make that transition. And I also wanted to help folks on teams that were bringing in someone who was maybe fresh out of a bootcamp. So I just got really into writing articles, I did some smaller talks. And the more I talked about it, the more I would connect with folks who were going through a bootcamp or were thinking about going through a bootcamp, and we would do coffee chats and they would ask questions.
And I ended up having a lot of similar advice, and that started to inform articles I was writing or I would always write them this email after our coffee chat to be like, "Okay, here are the things that I suggested or mentioned might be helpful." And the emails just got longer, and longer and longer. And I thought, "Okay, I'm giving a lot of similar advice and I do feel like I have this perspective." And I still remember fresh in my mind what was hard for me and so confusing for me in a bootcamp, especially as someone who had just zero tech industry experience, zero coding experience ahead of time.
And so I just thought, "Why don't I compile everything that I wish I had known or everything that felt confusing to me outside of tech." If it included coding or actual technical things, that book would be a million pages long. But the things outside of it like, what is a project manager? What's a scrum master? What's agile? What does a day in the life of someone doing this job actually look like? Are you just coding eight hours a day, all day every day? What is the difference between Python and React? All that kind of stuff. And so I just started writing it and I wanted it to be helpful for people that are trying to make that career change.
Alex Booker (24:21):
Sounds incredible. And we're going to link a hyperlink in the show notes for anybody to check out. I'm looking at the table of contents, it seems like the book is almost split into two parts, which the first part could be about what to expect, the difference between these technologies, what to expect in a day of the life of a developer. It's really important this before committing to the path. And then a little bit later in the book towards the second half, you start to write a lot about portfolios, and job titles, and something called the targeted job hunts. Maybe you can tell us about how you got your first job as a developer, because I'm willing to bet that some of the things that helped you are the same things you write about in the book, and we can definitely connect the dots where it makes sense.
Caitlyn Greffly (25:02):
Definitely. I wanted the book to include not only my experience, but general experiences. But of course, it's very informed by my own experience. And for me, because I'm social, extroverted, come from sales, I was very comfortable with cold calling folks and reaching out to people at companies that I was interested in, and just asking for coffee chats and that kind of stuff. And that helped me build a community. But ultimately, the job that I ended up getting, it was a woman that worked for my bootcamp. I had met her in the beginning and then she had moved to another role. So she wasn't really directly involved with me, but when we had met, I guess we had chatted long enough for her to remember me.
And when I was coming towards the end of my bootcamp, she mentioned that she had a friend who was an engineering manager who was hiring a junior developer, and she encouraged me to apply, and she said that she would mention my name. That doesn't necessarily get you the job, and it's always easy in hindsight to look back and say like, "Okay, that was the connection that ended up..." She got my name out of that pile of resumes and into the hands of a manager, which I think is such an important step, especially in that first job, just to make sure that someone sees your resume.
Alex Booker (26:22):
Was there a reason in particular that she connected you rather than somebody else?
Caitlyn Greffly (26:27):
I don't know. I don't know if I've ever asked her. But I think it helped that we were staying in touch. We were Twitter friends and had some chatter back and forth on there. It might've even just been a top of mind thing because she hadn't necessarily seen my work or known anything too specific about me.
Alex Booker (26:49):
That's so powerful though, being friends of mind. And there's this idea in a consumer psychology called the mere exposure effect, which says that consumers are more likely to buy something they're familiar with, probably because they trust it in some way. I wouldn't underrate that at all. I think you mentioned Twitter, right, which is probably one of the best ways to not only stay connected, a Rolodex can help you keep someone's contact details. But the benefit of Twitter is, apart from connecting you, if you are active on the platform, even subtly, right? Say you build a portfolio and you tweet about that, or put it in your bio for example, you are not actively, but at the same time you are creating opportunities for yourself. And I wonder if this is similar to your experience.
Caitlyn Greffly (27:30):
Yeah. And that's one of the big reasons that I talk about building a community. And I try not to use the word networking because I don't love it. It gives me this image of just a bunch of stuffy men in suits standing around a conference room.
Alex Booker (27:49):
Caitlyn Greffly (27:49):
But building a community and finding that company you're interested in, whether they're hiring or not, and reaching out to someone, asking them to go for coffee. Worst case scenario, you have a conversation, you learn about them. But best case scenario, then a month down the road, someone at that company is like, "Maybe we hire a junior." And that person is like, "Oh, I actually know someone." And you'd never know until you're looking back which of those connections is going to be the one that ends up working out. I do think that's one of the things that's powerful about building a community, but also you can learn so much from the community.
And I've learned so much from the tech Twitter community, I find it to be a really powerful tool, even just asking folks for resources. I asked people when I was struggling learning React, and I just said, "Does anyone have any suggestions?" And I think someone linked Wes Bos' React course. And then I think I used that course three times and it really helped me, and then I fell in love with React. And then I was looking for a job in React. And so I think that community can be a really powerful tool and you can learn so much from it. But then also, like you were saying, people might be like, "Oh yeah, I know someone, and they're always asking questions, and they're really interested in learning and they've shared a little bit about their journey." And that could leave an impact on someone.
One of the things I did that made the biggest impact on my journey and my understanding of the industry was, I tweeted out something along the lines of, "I'm looking to put that education into the context of a real job, is there anyone in the Portland area who would be willing to let me shadow them for part of a day?" And I think at the time I had a few hundred followers, nothing too big, no one really knew me. And I got six different responses and I shadowed six different people, and one of them was Scott Hanselman. He reached out, I think someone might have tagged him in the post and he was like, "Absolutely, I would love to have you shadow me." And he brought me along for a meeting that he had and just taught me as much as he could, and he was just so generous with his time.
And I don't think I realized how lucky I was at the time to be able to soak up knowledge from him, but it's so cool. And there's so many people in the tech community like that. I find the tech community to just be overwhelmingly welcoming compared to maybe what I expected. I think people are so happy to share knowledge and so happy to bring other people in. And that's not unfortunately always reflected in job boards, but I think when you talk to the humans, there's so much of that.
Alex Booker (30:39):
I can't believe that, through that suite at a time when you were brand new to the community essentially, Scott Hanselman of all people, reached out and followed up. Scott is one of my inspirations and he's been a guest on the podcast before. We can link that in the show notes as well.
Scott Hanselman (30:54):
Computers are stupid, and most non-technical people enter the world assuming that computers are smarter than they are. We make people feel bad if they are not a computer person. I always think about going to the family holiday party, or the Thanksgiving, or the Christmas thing and whenever someone I meet, like a cousin I haven't seen like, "Oh, you're a computer person?" I'm not a computer person. What did we do to make you feel that the computer was smarter than you? Computer is dumb. It's not your fault, we put the button in the wrong place. That's on me. If Windows makes you feel bad, that's my fault.
Alex Booker (31:22):
Was he just as much as smart and kind in-person as he is online?
Caitlyn Greffly (31:25):
Oh yes. Just the fact that he reached out and picked me up from my house to take me along to his meeting, that was so unnecessarily kind. No one would expect him to do that. And he knew so much. I think at the time I was probably overwhelmed because I was three or four months into my coding bootcamp. And he was Scott Hanselman, he knows a lot. But yeah, he was great and he worked to explain things to me on my level and I thought that was so great.
Alex Booker (31:55):
In the tech world, we're all building on each other's work and standing on the shoulders of giants. So many of us have empathy for people who are struggling because like you say, Caitlyn, even the more experienced developers need help from time to time and are often very happy to pay it forward.
Caitlyn Greffly (32:10):
Yeah, it's great.
Alex Booker (32:11):
It's interesting that you identify as an extrovert and you worked in sales, because I think this meant that your personality landed itself to putting yourself out there a bit and not being shy to strike up a conversation which led to an interview you described, but also some of these great opportunities to shadow people like Scott. I'm wondering if it is possible to... It is a very hard thing to do to extract insights from maybe just the way you think by default. But for anybody who maybe is wondering how to get out there a little bit more and maybe a bit shy in the process, is there any advice you could offer?
Caitlyn Greffly (32:46):
I do recognize that because I have this background of cold calling and I'm a natural extrovert, that certain stuff comes easier to me. Whenever I talk to people who feel like they're more shy and that's something that's really scary for them, I want to say I've only had good experiences. I think asking questions and coming from a place of wanting to learn is a great way to start in this industry, because it is such an industry of learning. And one of the things I like to take advantage of when we were talking about chatting on Twitter is, people love talking about what they know and showing off knowledge that they have, and I love to take advantage of that. And the way you take advantage of that is just by asking a question and showing interest in learning something. So if you're thinking about reaching out to someone or tweeting about something, I would just come from a place of trying to learn. And I think that that is often very well received in this industry.
So if you're reaching out to someone specifically like, "Hey, I saw your career path and I see that you're working in Angular. And I've been learning it recently and I'm really interested in it. This is specifically one of the things I'm working on right now, or one of the things I'm learning about. Do you have time to chat and chat more about it?" Or, "Let me pick your brain," or something like that. And I think that is one of the ways that people, they're going to be excited to talk about it, most people, not everyone. Sometimes you'll get no response. But for me, that was the worst case scenario, was no response. Anytime I got a response, it was positive. It was other people wanting to talk about what they had learned, their struggles, their path.
Alex Booker (34:33):
It's really interesting, because it is a bit of a numbers game as well as is the case with applying to jobs sometimes. You might reach out to 10 people, if one person replies, that's actually all you need to be honest. And if I could just piggyback on your advice really, Caitlyn, people who you're most likely to see on Twitter at the top level, tweeting popular tweets, probably have big audiences and possibly they're content creators who are also full-time developers, and they're busy and they're trying to make their efforts scale by creating content instead of helping people one on one. And that's their prerogative, and that's completely fair enough, and some of them might be receptive short.
But what I would suggest is going into the thread, into the comments and seeing who's engaging in an interesting way. Of course, you can extend this advice to places like Dev too as well, reading comments and seeing who's chiming in and seems kind and helpful. Because to follow account on a platform like Twitter is a bit of a fantasy metric. It really means nothing about their knowledge, their ability to teach and their willingness to help you out. So of course it'd be amazing to get to session with Scott, or Wes Bos, or Caitlyn for that matter. But at the same time, there's hundreds of people who, if you look in the right place, I think can be super helpful and impactful in your career.
Caitlyn Greffly (35:42):
Yeah. That's great advice, looking in the thread.
Alex Booker (35:45):
Coming full circle a little bit and of back to your foray into tech, you mentioned that it was through this connection essentially that you managed to get the tech interview, but you also made it very clear that there was a tech interview. And networking for most of us most of the time it's really just that entry point into the interview seats. What was your experience interviewing, and are there any topics about interviewing in your book?
Caitlyn Greffly (36:07):
The job that I ended up getting, it was the third job that I had gone through interview processes with. The first one was a leak code style test that I failed miserably. And then the second was an in-person live coding experience with someone literally standing over my shoulder. That one I didn't fail miserably, but it was a small company and I don't think I had enough of a skillset to exist on such a small team. And then the third one, the job that I ended up getting, it was a series of interviews, the HR screen and then a manager conversation. The manager asked one or two technical questions like, "What are your thoughts on object oriented programming?" Or, "What's your style of testing? How do you test?" That kind of thing.
And then I moved on to a final in-person round, that was four interviews I believe, back to back. And it was conversations with different members of the team. Some of them were more technical, they actually didn't have me live code or anything, or do a take home, which I really appreciated. What they did was they took code from my portfolio projects that I had submitted as part of my resume, and they asked me about the code that I had already written. I love that. I wish more companies would do that, especially for juniors, because these technical interviews can be very intimidating and it can be hard to think on the spot, especially when you're newer to the industry.
So that was a great experience, I guess, and it ended up meaning that I was leaning more on my communication skills, which I felt stronger about. And I could talk about some of the thinking behind code I'd written and I could reflect on some code that, even at the time, it was code I wrote a month ago, and I would be like, "Ooh, well I wouldn't do it that way now," and I could explain why.
Alex Booker (38:04):
There was an element of selling yourself, which is perfect if you worked in sales essentially.
Caitlyn Greffly (38:10):
Yeah. And so yeah. In the book, I do talk about the different kinds of interviews you might face because there's so many different kinds. The technical interview process is hard and it can make developers of all levels feel just, I don't know, like they don't know enough, like they're not good enough. I personally think the technical interview process is quite broken in this industry, but unfortunately for now, it is still the way that it is. And so I think for folks getting into it, I would say if you get in that first technical interview and you fail it, you are in a really good company.
I'm going to make a blanket statement that I have no business making, everyone has failed a technical interview. And you learn more. The third job that I've had since entering the industry, and about a year ago I started the job I have now. And when I was interviewing for this and other jobs, I failed a lot of interviews. There were some that I walked away and thought like, "Wow, I legitimately embarrassed myself. Did I not know what to do with an object?"
Alex Booker (39:23):
You thought that at the time? Do you still think it in retrospect?
Caitlyn Greffly (39:24):
It doesn't hurt the way it did, but there's some interviews I look back on, I'm like, "Wow, my mind drew blank or whatever it was." And it just happens. And I think everyone is different, but for me, it was those first few that I felt like I really stumbled through, and then the next ones I felt a little more prepared. And maybe it was just nerves or whatever, but with each interview, I felt more and more confident. And whether I actually got better at the coding technical bits, I don't know. But I think confidence makes a difference in those, especially if you're live coding with someone on the other side. And you can try and keep a level head and keep a positive attitude, I think that can make all the difference, even if you're struggling to think of the right code to write.
Alex Booker (40:17):
This is your point really, isn't it? Interviewing and coding are actually two discreet skills. And even though you were getting better at interviewing, you weren't getting better at coding necessarily.
Caitlyn Greffly (40:27):
Alex Booker (40:28):
Do you think it's a necessary evil?
Caitlyn Greffly (40:29):
The technical interview process? No, I think that it could be built a lot better. I think that the way a lot of interviews that I've done have been structured, it's not reflective of what it's really like to be a developer. And I've had some really positive interviews. Like the company I'm at now, that interview process, I felt like I was showing what I would really be like as a teammate on their team. And that to me makes me feel better about the company that I'm being hired onto as well. And there's other times where there's no conversation, there's no collaboration, it's just about what you have memorized off the top of your head and no googling allowed, and you better not take too long to think. And that to me is just not the development experience. And so I am not a fan of that style of interview. I know that we have to have some interview process in the industry, but I think there's a lot of companies that are, in my opinion, not doing it as well as they could have.
Alex Booker (41:29):
That is such an excellent point, by the way, Caitlyn. But if they interview that way, that's a reflection of their values. And if they aren't your values, that means it's probably not a good culture fit in the first place. And to your point, there are other ways of doing interviews that perhaps reflect what you'd actually be like to work with, such as spending a day on site, for example, and getting paid for your efforts, that would be huge. I like that a lot.
Caitlyn Greffly (41:52):
Yeah, the paid for your efforts thing is amazing, not a lot of companies are doing that. But it can be very time consuming, especially if you're doing a take home project and if you're applying for a lot of jobs, that can be hard. And some companies will pay you for your time in those interviews building those projects, and I think that's amazing as well. Because it shows that they're serious on their side as well.
Alex Booker (42:14):
Totally. They respect your time. And I think as well, depending on your values and how important this is to you, maybe you've got a lot of savings, maybe it's not a big deal to spend one day on site. But if maybe you're going to incur cost because of that, for example, you spend a holiday day or you somehow need to make over arrangements like childcare or something, it's more equitable and I think that's important as well. I'd love to see more of that personally, but I also appreciate that the industry is vast and different people value different things.
Caitlyn Greffly (42:42):
Another thing to keep in mind, which can be hard to do because you're just so excited to get that first job. I know I had the mindset of the time of, I'll take whatever I can get. But interviews are also your chance to interview the company. It has happened that in their first job, junior developers will get hired and the expectations are just wildly disproportional to their experience, or no one on the team wants to be a mentor or there's no support. And so during the interviews, that's a great time to also try and see if you would be a fit there. One of my favorite questions to ask has always been like, "Are there people on your team that are excited about being a mentor or bringing on a junior developer?" And their answer to that will be very telling as to how you might feel on that team.
Alex Booker (43:35):
What are some of the other positive indicators a junior dev can look for during an interview? Maybe a different way of phrasing that question is, how can companies support junior developers? And by extension, what could you look out for?
Caitlyn Greffly (43:47):
One of the things that I look for before I even interview with a company, and it's not to say that I won't interview for a company if they don't have this, but I will look at their employees on LinkedIn and see if anyone else has a non-traditional background. And that to me can be a good indicator. If there's 20 people there that came from bootcamps, I'm like, "All right, they understand what it's like to come from this background, and they hopefully see it as a positive too," which I do. I think when you come from a less traditional background, you have this diverse set of skills and life experience, versus a company that doesn't have anybody, then I would get nervous that they might not know what to expect from me. They might expect too much.
Alex Booker (44:31):
Like a Pearson Specter Litt in Suits where everybody comes from Harvard, for example.
Caitlyn Greffly (44:35):
Yeah. And if you come from some state school, they might look down on you, which is wrong, but you also don't want to be that person there that's being looked down on and it might not be a supportive environment for you. And I think another thing that I like to ask about is continuous learning. Some companies have time they set aside for continuous learning. The first company I worked at, it was two hours a week that you get to learn whatever you want to learn. In theory, it's relevant to your work, but you don't have to be working during that time. And I think that can also lead to a very supportive environment for devs. For me in that time, in my first job, I did a book club, we read clean code. I read with another junior developer, a couple more senior developers. And then I also went through a Udemy course on C# with people of all skill levels at the company.
And so that to me, it was creating this environment of learning altogether, and it made me see that I wasn't the only one that was learning. And it helped me feel more comfortable reaching out to more senior developers with questions. It gave me some good personal connections with the few people that were in those little groups. So I think asking about continuous learning and development is great in interviews too, to gauge that environment.
Alex Booker (45:58):
This has been an epic interview, because you changed careers at 31. And I think it was in one of your presentations that I watched, you put a quote on the screen and you pointed out that knowing what you want to do at 18 is a rare and special skill that really resonated like a drum, because how can with such little life experience and most importantly, until you try something for a while. And this whole story and your advice, I think is so encouraging for anybody who is on that non-traditional path.
When you're changing careers, sometimes it feels like you're starting from scratch and coding, of all skills, can be very intimidating at first. What do you think? How much of your previous experience, even if it seems totally unrelated, comes with you? And I'm curious about your specific experience as well, sort of transitioning from something like sales, which is very customer focused and essentially it's a problem in a way, like you're trying to close a deal, remove any blockers and things like that. I'm just curious, did it feel like you were starting from scratch as well? And did you find over time that anything came with you?
Caitlyn Greffly (46:58):
In the beginning, it felt like I was starting from scratch. I knew that my sales background was helping me on the job hunt, and that liking to talk and being an extrovert was probably helping me in interviews. But when I started the job, I wasn't sure what was helping me, it wasn't clear. And then over time, there's been stuff that's come out with the woodwork when I've had these aha moments. For example, when I was in my previous position and I've been leaning more front end, I started as full stack and now I lean much more front end. And I was really interested in user experience, and how users navigate the site and what the experience is for them. And part of me was like, "Oh, this makes sense because when I was in sales, it was always thinking about what does the other person need? And that informs how I sell to them."
And then I had someone tell me, and they're like, "Well, it's also your degree in psychology. Your brain is so in tune to thinking about how other people think." And I was just like, "Oh my gosh, that makes so much sense." And ever since then, I lean into user experience and I love talking about it and thinking about it, and I develop with it in mind. And I think that makes me a stronger front end developer because of both my degree in psychology and my sales background. And so for me, those were the clear lines that I ended up drawing from education, to one career to the other.
I see that in other people too, it's always interesting to learn about people's backgrounds. And it can be easier sometimes to see from the outside like, "Oh, I can see how this career informed your skills." And so if you're a career changer, that's a great question to ask on a coffee chat, talking to someone who's also a career changer and saying, "You know what? I've been a nurse. How do you think that would help me in this role?" And they might be able to draw those connections for you that then you can pass on to prospective employers and say, "I was a nurse and that makes me compassionate and great with people, and a fantastic multi-tasker," and all that stuff."
Alex Booker (49:07):
That was an amazing tip and a bit of advice, because you know your experience, you know what you've been doing and what you're probably good at, and what people have told you, you are good at in the role. But because you've never set foot in a development team, you don't know what they value and you can't connect the dots. But by bouncing off a mentor for example, they might be able to help you. That's a great piece of advice and a wonderful note to end on, to be honest, Caitlyn. I've had an amazing chat. The only thing I wanted to quickly point out in response to your last answer is, you said something like, "Because I was more extroverted and liked talking, that might've helped me with interviews." But one thing I've realized is that just because someone likes talking, that doesn't mean they're a good communicator or they're charming.
Caitlyn Greffly (49:48):
Alex Booker (49:49):
At the same time, I've met plenty of charming and well-communicated introverts. So no matter which way you lean on the introversion extroversion spectrum, there's a path forward for you. And I'm sure this advice from Caitlyn is going to help a lot. Caitlyn, thank you so much for joining me on The Scrimba Podcast.
Caitlyn Greffly (50:04):
Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Jan Arsenovic (50:06):
That was Caitlyn Greffly. Thanks for listening, and please remember to check out the show notes for all the resources mentioned in this episode, as well as the ways to connect with Caitlyn. If you made it this far, please consider subscribing. You can follow the podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you really, really, really enjoy our show, we'd be super thankful if you also left us a review or a rating on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or whatever is your podcast app of choice. The podcast is hosted by Alex Booker, you can find his Twitter handle in the show notes. I'm your producer, Jan, and we'll see you again next Tuesday.