Homeschooler, College Dropout, Developer and Master Networker: Crush Your Career with Madison Kanna

Homeschooler, College Dropout, Developer and Master Networker: Crush Your Career with Madison Kanna

πŸŽ™ About the episode

Meet Madison Kanna πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ! She's a front-end developer and a creator of a coding book club. She's also a college dropout, a master networker, and a former homeschooler. In this episode, you'll learn about her fascinating journey and get a lot of good, actionable advice!

Madison will teach you how to figure out what you are actually interested in and how to keep pursuing it. You'll learn about her journey to becoming a developer and how being homeschooled helped her in the early days of her coding career.

Also in this episode: Why do companies want juniors with experience, and what did Madison do to go around it? Do you get any better at personal branding if you get a domain with your name at the age of nine? Why is it important to work on production code? How to stand out if you don't have a degree?

Madison also shares how a single tweet turned being laid off into the best experience of her life!

πŸ”— Connect with Madison

⏰ Timestamps

  • How Madison dropped out of college and decided to learn to code (01:28)
  • Do you need a college degree? (02:50)
  • What's it like being homeschooled, and did it help Madison teach herself development? (04:11)
  • How to avoid burnout as you're learning to code? (06:20)
  • How to tackle projects as a self-taught developer? (08:09)
  • How to follow your curiosity? (11:48)
  • What was Madison's goal? (14:07)
  • When should you start applying for jobs? Also, MOMS! (15:37)
  • Madison and her sister, Randall, both became developers. Were their parents an influence there? (18:40)
  • Madison's approach to personal branding and history of blogging (21:26)
  • How Madison created her first tech opportunity - and why it was an unpaid apprenticeship (24:25)
  • Why do companies want juniors with experience (26:44)
  • How to get the experience needed for your first tech job (28:28)
  • Why you should work on production code (29:28)
  • Should you go easy on yourself or keep grinding? (31:50)
  • Recently, Madison got laid off! But one tweet changed everything. A.K.A. Here's why you need to build community (37:04)
  • Should you interview even when you're happy at your job? (44:38)

🧰 Resources Mentioned

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πŸ’¬ Transcript

Madison Kanna:
I ended up tweeting out that I was laid off and the response I got was so overwhelming and now I view getting laid off as truly one of the best experiences I've ever had. The tweet itself, it was liked 6,000 or 7,000 times. It was retweeted 1,000 times. I had hundreds of DMs.

Alex Booker:
Hello and welcome to the Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful devs about their advice on how to learn to code and get your first junior developer job. Here we alternate. One week we speak with a self-taught, recently hired junior, and the next week we speak with an industry expert so you can learn from both sides. Today's a fun one because my guest today, Madison Kanna, is a highly experienced developer who started her career by teaching herself to code and then broke into tech by doing an unpaid internship, a somewhat contentious decision we're going to get stuck into.
Now, there's always going to be challenges in your career, whether that's g etting your first junior developer job or recovering from a layoff. And regrettably, Madison had a pretty tough run when she took a rare vacation, got Covid, recovered from Covid, and when she got back she learned regrettably that she was laid off. Don't worry too much though, because Madison made the absolute most of it and you're going to feel really inspired by her transparency and also what she did specifically because these are the same things that can help us succeed and thrive in the long term. You are listening to the Scrimba Podcast. Let's get into it.

Madison Kanna:
I was in college and when I was there I felt like I wasn't really learning any real world skills to be honest. I was also paying a lot of money for school, so I was just thinking, is this the best use of my time? So I ended up pausing college and trying to figure out what is a great skill that I could learn that would be valuable in the economy today. And so I ended up finding coding once I had left college because my older sister, Randall, she actually had gone through a coding bootcamp and she was working as a software engineer in San Francisco. I went to visit her at the tech startup that she was working at and I thought coding seemed really incredible, really valuable skill and so it all went from there.

Alex Booker:
That's awesome because Randall was actually on the Scrimba Podcast about a year ago, I think. So we can link to that if people want to learn the in-depth story.

Randall Kanna:
I graduated college with a communications degree and I could not get hired anywhere and I just got rejection after rejection for any type of job. About six months after that I had my aunt email me about coding boot camps and I thought, "Wow, what a scam. Graduate and get 100k paying job, this must be fake."

Alex Booker:
But oh my gosh, that's remarkable. You and your sister both ended up becoming developers.

Madison Kanna:
Yeah, absolutely. I copied her, I suppose. You know when you're little and you have a sibling and you're like, "You copied me."

Alex Booker:
So what were you studying at college? Was it programming related or something completely different?

Madison Kanna:
I didn't have a major yet. I just wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do. And I think that's been one of my problems with college where you pick a degree and you've never really, really had real world experience in what job that might entail for the degree, but then you're just going through the motions. So I was undeclared, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to stop spending a bunch of money and figure out what I wanted first. So I thought, okay, if I do learn later that I really want to go into a certain field and I need a degree for that, then I can always go back. But just going to college just to get some sort of degree, it just didn't seem worth it for me. And that feels more validated now because this was five years ago now, and even back then there was this mindset still of you need a college degree to be successful.
And I had a lot of people at the time when I dropped out of college, I had a lot of people say, "Oh my gosh, now you'll never make a bunch of money." All these statistics that people throw about college graduates on average make more money over time, make $1,000,000 more. All of these things that have been debunked as a correlation. But at the time it was a move that a lot of people in my life were really worried that I wouldn't end up with a successful stable career. And then today I think it's become more normalized as we have all these different resources like coding boot camps. I think it's become much more normalized to not have a degree or to realize that degrees can be quite expensive and they won't always guarantee you a good job.

Alex Booker:
Before you went to college and stuff, I understood you were homeschooled before that, which is interesting because being homeschooled, I think you are oftentimes encouraged to explore things by yourself. You go against the grain a little bit in the first place. And I'm just wondering if this early life experience made you somebody who felt a bit more equipped to teach yourself skills like coding even outside of college?

Madison Kanna:
Absolutely. I did think it helped because I've heard from friends that when you go to traditional school and then when you go to college, your learning path is pretty much always carved out for you because you know the steps in high school or middle school or college, there's these certain steps. Like step one, you're going to class, you have a professor, you have a teacher, you have a learning plan, you know that I just need to get X grade on X test or I'm going to be broken up into a study group. So you have this really external learning plan, you have this whole system built around you. With homeschooling, which I think is similar to if you're just teaching yourself how to code, you suddenly have none of that and everyone's homeschool experience is different. So my little sister, for example, was in a charter school where they actually had science classes once a week in-person, but it was just once a week. And so everyone's homeschool experience is different.

Alex Booker:
The original hybrid model, I like that.

Madison Kanna:
It was the original hybrid model, absolutely. But mine was a little different because homeschooling is kind of choose your own adventure. Everyone has a customized experience. That's why when someone tells me, "Oh, I was homeschooled, it was terrible, I'd never do that." I'm like, "Yeah, but it's customized. So, that's just one experience. Another person could have a totally different experience of homeschooling." But long story short, my experience, it was very fluid and open-ended. I didn't have a rigid study plan and I didn't necessarily have everything in place in terms of what I needed to learn. And I think just being comfortable with that ambiguity did help me when I was learning how to code. Because as you know, when you start off learning how to code, even if you do go to a bootcamp, a lot of it is really being a self-directed learner and you're just not going to have that external pressure.
If you have a goal to code on the weekends, it's not the same as if you were supposed to turn in an assignment to a professor and then you get an F, you get scolded in that regular schooling model. But when you're learning on your own, there's nothing external to hold you accountable. And so that can be tricky.

Alex Booker:
I think there's various astute and it's something that causes a lot of self-taught developers to essentially burn out and stop. And it's why it's so important to find something like a coding community or get involved in events and things like that if you don't necessarily have a way to meet developers otherwise. Being self taught and having built this confidence to teach yourself, I'm wondering what advice you could share to anyone listening who's teaching themself to code?

Madison Kanna:
I think there's a few things. The biggest mistake that I made was I would watch a bunch of coding tutorials and then I would never actually build anything. And I think that really held me back in my career. And you see this a lot on Twitter, you see people saying, "Just go build things, go build things. Don't watch coding tutorials." But really I think you can break that down into steps that are easier. I know it's really hard to make the jump from watching a tutorial to... You watch a tutorial and you're like, "Oh, I got this, I learned everything." Then you open up your code editor and it's a blank page and you can't do anything. That was my experience. You just become frozen and it seems really hard. And so that generally was the biggest mistake I made. And then finding ways to work around that and if other developers don't make my mistake, if you're listening and you're stuck in that tutorial rut, getting out of that was the most important thing, one of the most important things.

Alex Booker:
I get it 100%. I think one of my first exposures to learning code was watching lectures at Stanford on YouTube. And I remember learning about [inaudible 00:07:45] and [inaudible 00:07:45] data type and then naturally you learn about if statements and it was so cool, but I was just watching a video. I literally had no idea how to utilize those things to actually build something that was interesting. And luckily I figured it out. But at the same time, it's only through building stuff that you truly remember, learn and understand. And it's fun. It's way more fun and rewarding to actually build projects than it is just to learn the theory.
I know a lot of people listening because at Scrimba we're quite project driven and we drill this in from the beginning that you shouldn't just watch, you should get involved and interact with the code. But then I know a lot of listeners, they sometimes struggle with project ideas and even if they have project ideas, maybe they have too many, they're chasing two rabbits at once or maybe reaching the ceiling of their knowledge before being able to complete the project, narrowing down a scope in order to complete the project is really tricky I think. How did you approach it?

Madison Kanna:
Yeah, absolutely. It can be really tricky because you have this idea as a beginner or at least where I said, "Okay, I want to build full stack Instagram." And then you start off the project, have a lot of motivation and then eventually you start losing steam and then you're struggling. And it's this joke we see on Twitter where programmers of all levels have this graveyard of unfinished side projects and that can be so demotivating as a beginner because you're just not really finishing anything. And then on the other side of that though, it's like okay, well we could break this down into a small project or just do something really small, but that can also be demotivating because I would look at that and think, God, well this is such a small project, this isn't even good for my portfolio, if that makes sense.
So it's like you want to do a big project but it's really hard to finish and then small projects don't feel good enough. So to that, I would just say definitely start really small and don't worry about, oh my God, I'm just building a to-do list. Like this isn't great. I wouldn't worry about that at all. Maybe if you're learning React you're saying, "Oh I'm just going to build this input component. This feels really small." But the great thing about programming is that input component that you built, you will probably build another one of those even when you're a senior developer, it's this fundamental building block of something that you're building up a system, I guess. And so I think small projects are actually really valuable to do in the beginning for a while and then progress from there eventually where you can build bigger projects. That's kind of how I went about it.

Alex Booker:
Almost like in karate or something, you practice the same moves over and over again.

Madison Kanna:
Right. If you're building a really big project, you might not have the feedback that you need. So I did a bunch of Codewars and I still do Leetcodes all the time trying to practice my skills. And the great thing about Codewars or Leetcode is that you can really set a timer for an hour and you get that direct feedback, like your tests fail and so you're able to get feedback really quickly, which I think makes you learn really fast. And I really do that in alignment with this book Deep Work that I read. And I got really obsessed with that book when I was learning how to code.

Alex Booker:
I love it. It's by Cal Newport, right?

Madison Kanna:
Yes. And I don't agree with all of it because a lot of the things he talks about, like he has a chapter called quit social media. I'm on Twitter all the time, so I disagree with a lot of parts of those books or I've had to do it my way, but I think doing those coding challenges and then following some of his principles, I think will help you learn to code much more quickly than other people. I think that can give you a competitive advantage.

Alex Booker:
I'll be right back with Madison Kanna, but first, Jan the producer and I have a quick favor to ask of you.

Jan Arsenovic:
Hello, if you're enjoying this episode of the podcast, the best way to support us is to share it with someone. Are you learning to code and do you know other people who are learning to code? Well, if you're finding the show useful, they might find it useful as well. You can share it on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on [inaudible 00:11:24] I guess, on your favorite Discord server or maybe even in-person. With your support, we can keep doing what we're doing, and that is a weekly show with insightful and inspiring interviews coming your way every Tuesday. You can subscribe to the podcast wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you're not going to miss a thing. And now back to the interview with Madison.

Alex Booker:
So going back a few years now, you dropped out of college, then when you realized coding was interesting, you thought okay, maybe I don't have to go into debts and pay a bunch of money to pursue this. But then of course you are presented with the challenge of how do I actually teach myself how to code? Having an older sister who's a developer, I'm sure that was a resource and helpful, but there's no shortcuts here. You had to do a hell of a lot of hard work and pick a path that was going to work. How did you approach it?

Madison Kanna:
I really focused on first figuring out what kind of coding I wanted to do. And so I dabbled around maybe for too long, but in the beginning I wasn't like, "Okay, I'm going to learn JavaScript." I really looked around at different things. I looked at data science, I looked at Python, I thought that was quite interesting. I looked at all of these different paths and then I started focusing on the one that I kept being interested in, because you can pick something up and then put it down a week later. But I followed my curiosity in that sense of which is the thing that I'm most interested in. And I was pretty busy at the time because I was working full-time as I was teaching myself, at least for the first six months, I think. And so I think a great way of figuring out what you're really interested in is what do you still spend time on when you have no time?
So when you're really busy, like this year I got really busy and I found myself still reading about one specific industry, still reading books on that and every other kind of book and every other hobby fell away because I got really busy. And so what you prioritize when you have very little time, I think that really showed me what I was most interested in. So long story short, I started looking at front end development and learning about it, and then I started focusing on what are the general skills and how can I start building projects around those skills?
And I did use different resources, but there was no one resource that really helped me. So I definitely focused on how can I build projects and then make them more and more challenging? And then the next step was how can I dive into working so I can actually be an apprentice and I can figure out if I like doing this as a job. So those are the two things: Building projects around those skills, which sounds general, but the internet has a really good job of showing you what front end developers might do. What are some of the challenges you might encounter? They're not super advanced challenges yet, but I think there's a pretty good idea of the things you need to build if you want front end skills.

Alex Booker:
Did you have some impression as to how long learning to code and getting a job would take you and how did you deal with that just in general? Shooting for something with no clear timeline or guarantee of success, that can be daunting.

Madison Kanna:
It can be really daunting. And for anyone who is listening, If you decide, okay, I'm going to learn to code and you don't know if you'll for sure get a job, right? It's a big question mark at the end. You're taking a risk. You're saying, "I'm going to dedicate possibly a year, possibly two years of my life to learn a skill." And there's no guarantee that you will a 100% break in. And that can be incredibly daunting because you're making this huge decision and again, there's just no guarantees. So I agree, that was really daunting to me and I really looked at it as I want to get a job as soon as possible and I will do whatever it takes because I was at that point where I had dropped out of college and I guess I had a pretty big chip on my shoulder.
I had a lot of people in my life telling me, "Oh my gosh, you dropped out of college, you're never going to get a good paying job. You might be stuck working retail for the rest of your life." Not that it's bad to work retail, but I had a lot of family members in my life, or my ex-boyfriend at the time saying, "Oh my gosh, no degree basically means you'll be a loser for the rest of your life." So I had a huge chip on my shoulder and I viewed it as I wanted to get a job as soon as possible, no matter what it took. And I think that has pros and cons to be honest. Yeah, there's upsides to that mindset and there's downsides too.

Alex Booker:
That naturally leads to the question as to when you feel like you're ready to start looking for these jobs. Some people when they're learning to code and when they have a chip on their shoulder, it's very important to them that they land this big prestigious job or they really find their dream opportunity off the gates. Tell me if I understood you rightly, but from your description, I thought you said you just wanted to get any job and just get your foot in the door and take it from there. How did you arrive at that kind of mindset and did it work for you?

Madison Kanna:
You're right that people can want to be more discerning with what they're going to choose and maybe I should have been honestly, but it felt like it was so competitive to be a developer with no college degree. I hadn't even gone to a bootcamp. I did have what I thought was a decent portfolio, but it felt so competitive that I really thought, okay, just any job hopefully with kind and smart people. But I really wanted any experience because what my sister had told me was applying to her first job had been incredibly hard and there's just crickets. But once you have even eight to a year of experience, things start to change. Once you have that X amount of months or a year plus of experience, everything starts to shift. And then obviously when you get to three to five years, then you have recruiters.
And even today when I was recently laid off, and we can get into that, I had a lot of opportunities. And even in this odd economic market right now, to be a developer with some years of experience, there's still a lot of demand for you. There's a lot of places hiring that want engineers. And so long story short, I felt if I just got any sort of experience and I just had that for six months or a year that I knew more opportunities would be unveiled upon me or would be offered to me.

Alex Booker:
You hinted that maybe you should have been more discerning about your first opportunity. Why'd you say that?

Madison Kanna:
I was really lucky with my first opportunity. I worked with really amazing people. Some of them, they're still my friends today. I worked with just really smart, kind people, but I know that I wouldn't encourage anyone, oh, just go take whatever you can get, because I have heard of other people having bad experiences and so I think I got lucky, but I know if you just take of any job then maybe you're miserable or maybe it's a bad introduction to coding, and so I guess that's why maybe I would tell others to be more discerning just in case.

Alex Booker:
It's just a sad reality that everybody's circumstances are different as a learner developer.

Madison Kanna:
And I was so lucky because I was able to say, "Okay mom, dad, I need to live at home and I can't pay rent right now." Because I needed to study. And that's so lucky. I know not everyone is able to do something like that. And so part of it is just luck too. It could be harder for some and it could not.

Alex Booker:
And by the way, samesies, I was very lucky that my mum let me live at home to learn to code and stuff like that. I didn't have the pressures of having to do a job alongside it. And being young is fortunate in that respect. You just don't have the same obligations as you might have when you're older. That's why I have so much respect and admiration for developers who learn to code a little bit later in life.

Madison Kanna:
Yeah, absolutely. Shout out to Alex's mom too.

Alex Booker:
Shout out to your mom. But speaking of which, it is cool that you and Randall both became developers. Was there just something in the water at home or were your parents an influence at all?

Madison Kanna:
I think my parents were a huge influence just in terms of when I was homeschooled, they wanted us to really follow our passions and our curiosities. And I think homeschooling can get a bad rep sometimes, but my parents always made it clear they believed we could go do anything we wanted to do. So when I did tell my parents, "Okay, so I'm dropping out of college and then I'm going to live at home and I'm going to learn to code and I'm going to get a really high paying job." And I knew nothing about coding, and my parents were like, "Great. Yeah, you can do that. That sounds excellent. We're excited for the first job wherever it is." And so I think just the confidence they gave us generally was amazing. It was never specific to coding though. They never sat us down and said, "You need to learn how to code," like parents that really want their kid to learn piano or something.
And I believe that's really helpful. I've had people tell me, "How can I get my kid into coding?" And I just think if you're forcing your child to do something, then they're going to end up resenting it to be honest. And I feel that way about reading because reading is really my only real hobby outside of coding. I absolutely love to read. I love to read history. I don't read as much as I would want, but when I was growing up, I never had any required reading. And my parents they would take me to the library and say, "Oh, you can check out these books if you want." And so I grew up living, like Monday morning as a homeschooler, I would just want to go to the bookstore all day or I'd want to go to a library.
I grew up living in libraries and so in my personal opinion, when someone is forcing you to do something, it becomes a chore. But when you have the freedom to explore what you're interested in, it can become a choice and you can get really into that thing. So long story short, yeah, I guess there was maybe something in the water. We do have a little sister and she hates coding. She always sees me coding and she's like, "That looks so boring." But she just graduated from UC Davis with a STEM major, so she's more on the science side.

Alex Booker:
That's class though. And I think you're spot on because how many times do you hear about kids who are pushed into certain industries? They could be your friends, they could be people you've seen on TV, in interviews, whatever. For example, a lot of pressure to become a doctor or get some prestigious job or something. I interviewed a developer who became a doctor because their parents wanted them to be a doctor and then they realized they actually didn't like it so much and they became a developer instead.

Jefferson Tang:
I was a doctor, so I did the whole medical school thing for seven years. That's a long time. And I worked as a doctor for three years and it's a different background, but where the [inaudible 00:21:10] in my mind happened was during Covid. I started spending a lot of time by myself and having time to think about things.

Jan Arsenovic:
That's Jefferson Tang, and his episode is titled From Doctor to Developer. We published it in April this year, and I'm linking it in the show notes.

Alex Booker:
I noticed that you and Randall, you both do a tremendous job at blogging, at building your personal brand, offering value, documenting what you're learning. Is there something that came from home or was it maybe something that Randall inspired you to do, for example? Because I think it's such a massively impactful thing to do as someone who's teaching themselves and looking to get a job without a credential like a degree necessarily.

Madison Kanna:
Absolutely. That's a great question. It was definitely encouraged at home. So my mom actually bought madisonkanna,com and randallkanna.com when I was nine years old.

Alex Booker:
You're kidding.

Madison Kanna:
And when Randall was a few years older than me. And my mom actually, she's an entrepreneur. She had first launched homeschool.com in the '90s and she sold it eventually. But she was really, remember iPods and Apple University started coming out, and this was many, many years ago. And my parents really believed as we were homeschooled, they believed back in the late '90s, they believed that the future of education was going to be these MOOCs, these online courses. And they believed that you didn't just need college or the traditional education to be successful. So I think my parents were just very before their time because other parents would basically, I remember very much thinking that's crazy when I was 15 or 16, just walking my dog in the mornings and taking a lecture from a professor at Stanford and it would be like, I considered this to be my real education.
While other parents at the time, online education had a really weird, not great reputation back then. It was looked at as not legitimate. At the time it was like, oh, you're basically going to something like Trump University. It's a scam. Online education is a scam. But my parents really impressed that upon me at an early age that the internet and these online courses and having a personal brand were going to become really valuable over time. And so I remember even when I was 16, I started blogging and thought it could be really important in the future.

Alex Booker:
Just out of interest, what were you blogging about? Was it your studies? Because I started a blog when I was a kid and it was just random stuff. I'm just curious.

Madison Kanna:
The blog that I had, it has since been deleted because it was absolutely random things. I went back and looked at it and it was talking about how I love to play Neopets every single day of my life, which doesn't sound like someone set up for success, but I was blogging about all the games I was obsessed with playing. I was blogging about dinosaurs at one point. I had a blog where I talk about how I'm interested in crime, which sounds very odd now that I think about it. It was vague about how I think crime is really interesting. I think it was because I wanted to go into being an FBI agent, I believe. But it vaguely sounds like I'm almost interested in breaking the law, to be honest. So lots of random things. And from there I worked on refining it over time.

Alex Booker:
And by the way, I did happen to notice that one of the most popular posts on your, I assume new blog, the blog you have today is about why you are glad you grew up playing Neopets. Let's not divulge into it, but we can link it and the show notes.

Madison Kanna:
Sounds great.

Alex Booker:
But yeah, we have to come back to the main thread of the conversation, which is about your journey into tech. And of course at this point you are ready to break into the industry. What was your approach? Some people go on LinkedIn, other people rely on their network and you didn't have a piece of paper, and this was more important back then to show you're serious, show you have the knowhow. How did you go about breaking into the industry?

Madison Kanna:
I did something that I guess is pretty controversial to do and it's not something that I go and recommend to other people because I realize in my case and my opportunity, this is what worked for me, but it's not something that I'm recommending to others necessarily because it takes some luck and things like that. But I essentially realize that I wanted to jump in, I needed some sort of apprenticeship, but every junior job that I looked at would say something like, you need up to a year to two years of experience. And so it's that hilarious catch 22 where you need the job to get experience, but in order to get the job, you have to have experience. And so it's this place where you're stuck. And so I realized that if I just got some sort of experience, I would be able to have more job opportunities.
So long story short, I decided to create an unpaid internship for myself for 60 days, a really short period. And I viewed it as I will work as an unpaid intern for a few months, but they will be my unpaid mentor. So I wanted to find someone who would be my mentor for free and in return I would be an intern for free. So in my eyes it was a trade. And unpaid internships, a lot of different places do them. They're still pretty common today. But that's what I decided to do. And then once I had that first experience, I knew everything would get better. Even when I had six months of experience on my resume, I remember jobs started opening up for me, not a ton, but I would inch my way into being able to get in the door at more and more companies.
So that's kind of an overview of what I did. And then again, I would never say to someone, "Oh go work for free," because I know that's a very lucky place I was in. But that's what I had decided to do at the time. Again, I felt like a college dropout. I felt like I had a huge chip on my shoulder and I said, "I'm going to do whatever it takes and I'm okay without going a few months without working, and I get this free mentor." And I just said, "I'm going to do it." I really was pretty scrappy at the time just in terms of I wanted to do absolutely whatever it took. I refused to not join tech. I knew I wanted to do this.

Alex Booker:
By the way. Why is it, do you think that companies are asking this paradoxical catch 22 type question where you need one to two years of experience in the industry to get an entry level job entering the industry?

Madison Kanna:
I think it's because it is so hard to be productive as a junior developer coming in. There is that period of time where you need to learn a lot. And so frankly it's hard to help out right away. I think there's definitely a ramp up time. And so I think companies are adding these things as an excuse. Obviously experience is always better or generally it's just easier if you've had a developer job before to go into a new one. So I think they use it as an excuse I guess, to just try to hire people with more experience. What do you think that is? Because I could be off the mark here.

Alex Booker:
Oh, I think you're spot on. It's convenience, isn't it? In most cases, years of experience will correlate to ability even if it's imperfect. And so I think years of experience is going to exclude obviously unqualified candidates. I think if you've ever been in the position to post a job ad and see the responses that come in, you get a lot of crap, like people who just apply to everything even though it's got nothing to do with their scale or maybe they just are not really far enough along their journey by most measures. And so I think it's convenient for employers, but that also means they're going to miss out on some really good candidates and they're okay with that by default, I think, just for the convenience afforded to them. But I also think they're aware of this and that's why if you are an aspiring developer and you don't yet have the experience threshold, employers are open to you convincing them. And there are a few different ways you can do that.
I think offering to work for free is probably the most convincing thing because you know de-risk yourself completely. And I don't think if you just showed up with no potential or prospects, they would let you work for free. But I think a lot of the time when you're hiring a new developer, there is an element of risk involved because they haven't yet got a proven track record. But there are other ways you can mitigate that. For example, having a portfolio that can show that you can complete projects and it will give some indication to the quality of your code. If you've given meetup talks for example, that can show your passion and you can demonstrate your knowledge and put a face to the name in all these good things.

Madison Kanna:
Yeah, there's so many different ways there and a lot of people will get into open source, which I didn't do at the time, but there's all of these different avenues now that you can do, which I think is really exciting. And I've seen a lot of people do these different things.

Alex Booker:
These 60 days or so, you worked as an intern. I'm curious, do you think you accelerated your learning during that period compared to if you just stayed at home and taught yourself? Because of course now you have mentors and you're working on production code.

Madison Kanna:
Absolutely. I think it was much more immersive and we talked about me being homeschooled and being a self-directed learner. But even for me, learning on your own, it's still pretty hard. I still am not perfect at it. And so having that external accountability all of a sudden when I was an intern or an apprentice, it suddenly made all the world of difference. I think I learned more in that two months than I had in my previous five months of studying on my own because you get into the spot where you wake up every day and there's a ticket. So developers usually do Agile or Scrum, but you have an epic or you have a future you need to build or there's a bug and there's tickets for them. And so typically as a developer, I had this new experience where I opened a ticket every day and it's like, okay, fix this bug or this is going to be the start of the future. And I had to learn how to complete that ticket or else I wasn't going to do well at my job.
So it's this external accountability that is suddenly put on you and I really wanted to do well. And so that just forced me to learn. And so I think that, again, not doing exactly what I did, but anyone who's listening, if you can figure out a way to give yourself that, instead of beating yourself up and thinking, I tried to code so many times and I failed or I stopped for three months and I got demotivated. Maybe just finding ways, it doesn't have to be an unpaid internship, but finding ways to hold yourself accountable and be in a situation where you have to learn the thing and you have to put yourself in uncomfortable position. Different ideas, maybe it's you do go to a bootcamp and the thing there is you have this skin in the game because if you're at a bootcamp and you paid that money, you absolutely want to learn, otherwise you just threw away 20 grand of your own money. So long story short, external accountability really helps me, to answer your question.

Alex Booker:
You did essentially get the job at this company in the end, right?

Madison Kanna:
Yeah, they ended up hiring me and that was the deal I had made to them. I cold emailed some startups that I liked and I pitched them because I was finding no job openings for interns or the junior developer jobs I never heard back from. So yeah, they ended up paying me and I did get incredible mentorship. One of the guys on the team, he just was more than happy to jump on a call and pair program with me for three hours. And where do you get that now? There are these sites that are $100 an hour. And so this guy just really wanted to help me and I got so much mentorship experience, it was thousands of dollars of developer time in my opinion.

Alex Booker:
Obviously at the time your approach was to work in unpaid internship, but now you've been in the industry for several years. I'm curious from your vantage point, watching other juniors join your teams and also I know you're active in communities and things and I'm sure you've seen a few things, what other advice could you offer to someone to get their first job as a developer and feel confident to apply?

Madison Kanna:
Well, first I would say go easy on yourself because I think it's just gotten harder, unfortunately. It's not impossible, but it's definitely gotten a bit harder as more and more people are learning how to code. I was rejected a bunch of times when I was applying and so just be easy, go easy on yourself. It is tough to do. I think it is absolutely doable, but it's just hard. To answer your question, yeah, there's different things to do. I would focus on reading Deep Work because I really believe the habits in that book can give you a competitive advantage as a new developer applying for a job and then working on your skills so that those skills can be shown through a portfolio and you'll be able to get the job better. I think the next thing I would say is definitely try to figure out scrappy, unconventional ways. So like you said earlier, speaking at meetups and blogging and figuring out how you can grow your network and then being scrappy about things. Like maybe working really hard to try to contribute to an open source project or figuring out a way to work with someone or get a mentor, like thinking outside of the box, long story short. Those are a bunch of different ideas, but I think those would all be helpful.

Alex Booker:
So number one, go easy on yourself. Number two, read Deep Work by Cal Newport. We'll link that in the show notes and I can vouch for that book as well. And number three, find scrappy and unconventional roots into the industry. Did you go easy on yourself when you were breaking into the industry?

Madison Kanna:
I didn't, but I guess looking back, I wish that I had. So if I could go back to my old self, I would've told myself, "Go easier on yourself. Don't take it so hard." Because when I was first applying to jobs before my internship, every time I would get a rejection or an email, just an automated email saying no, I would take it really, really hard. And it added a fuel to my fire, I suppose, which again has the downsides and the upside. So I don't think I took it easy on myself, but I wish I would have. I think it could have helped me a little bit more with feeling bad about myself and having a tough time and struggling and things like that.

Alex Booker:
Can we talk about that a little bit? Because you definitely, from the sound of it had this tenacity about learning to code. I think you described it as being fueled by this chip on your shoulder and determination to prove that you could do it and be successful as you've proved any doubter wrong beyond a shadow of a doubt by now I'm sure. I find this a very interesting subject because that sort of tenacity is very intense. It means that when you do get rejections, you might take it a bit more harshly, but it's also the reason why in some cases people are so successful. What are your reflections on it a few years later?

Madison Kanna:
That's actually a really good point. I'm telling people, "Go easier on yourself." But in a way I was hard on myself and that allowed me to push myself much more. And maybe it is a mixed bag in that way. It's not great to be hard on yourself, but at the same time, because I was hard on myself, I was able to push myself and I just had a chip on my shoulder that I think has always driven me. And so I think any part of my success or feeling like I have a good job, there's some luck, but also just having that chip on my shoulder. And I could go into that in various ways. But yeah, it makes me reflect on it a bit different based on what you said.

Alex Booker:
I do see the other side as well though, by the way. And I still think your advice reigns true, intensity can't be sustained otherwise it wouldn't be intense, it would be your normal level. I like this quote, which is, "Long term consistency beats short term intensity." I was quite tenacious about becoming a junior developer as well. I had a similar chip on my shoulder. I mean, that's one reason I dig into this a little bit, and I really enjoy getting to learn from your perspective as well. And the other tricky thing about reflecting on our own stories or learning someone's story is that we're going back many years now, and unless you kept a detailed journal or something or vlogged it, it's hard to remember exactly how things went.
But I do have this general feeling and memory that I was quite intense about learning to code, but that also led to periods of burnouts, even though it wasn't like an extreme burnout where I never got back up. It meant that one week I was nailing it and then the next week I was just a bit tired and not really doing the best. And I wonder if perhaps if sustained my efforts at a bit more of a consistent level, I could have found success sooner or maybe got there a bit happier and productively. It's weird talking about myself in the past tense like that, but I know for people listening today, that's your present experience, finding the pace and staying determined in the long term.

Madison Kanna:
I've gone through periods where I was like, Oh, I'm going to work really, really hard, and I always think it's sustainable at the time, and then I quickly burn out. It's like doing an all nighter whether you're studying all night or you're watching Netflix, I always think in the moment, oh, I'll be fine tomorrow, I won't burn out. And then inevitably the next morning, all of the sleep that I didn't have, it comes crashing back on me. That burnout does come, but in the moment I always think like, Oh, it's not going to be a problem. I'll push myself a lot and I'll be able to somehow sustain this. And you just can't.

Alex Booker:
Totally. Hey, since we're talking about mindset, I did happen to notice on Twitter a few weeks ago that you wrote about regrettably getting laid off as part of a series of layoffs at the company. And this is a wider trend in the industry. I'm so sorry, that sucks so much. I have absolutely no doubt that you will and are probably landing on your feet and are going to thrive. I'm just curious to hear what that experience was like for you and how you managed it. But the reason why I think it's particularly relevant to the podcast here is that there is this larger trend in the industry where we're seeing big layoffs at, especially venture backed companies, and that obviously does not look great when you're not in the industry yet. You're like, "People are getting laid off. How am I going to get into the industry?" I'm hoping you can tell us a little bit about what happened there and how you're dealing with it.

Madison Kanna:
I'd say even with layoffs, I still think it's a great time to be an engineer. It is definitely harder to get that first job, but I still think with layoffs, there is still a lot of demand for developers from what I've seen at least. And I think that will continue even through an economic downturn. I still think it's a pretty in-demand job from my view. But yeah, so I was working at a startup for a little over a year. I really loved the job, I ended up having my coworkers became my friends. One of my coworkers even lives where I live. We found out we were living near each other, which was pretty amazing. And long story short, I had actually gone on vacation for the... I almost never take vacation, which is bad. I know I should, but I remember I went to Disneyland on vacation and I got Covid and I came back to work once I was a little better, but I was feeling pretty... Oh God, I got Covid, it was pretty rough. And I came back to the news that I was laid off.
And so I remember I was sitting there on the couch and I was just told I was laid off and I also had a really bad case of Covid and I had spent my entire vacation just laying in bed in pain. And it was really hard. It felt like one of the worst months of my life, which I know is very lucky to say it's not that bad. Well, it's all relative, but I felt really depressed about it. I've never been laid off before. I've never been fired before. So it felt like I was getting fired, because in a layoff there's a choice of who to keep and who goes. And so I remember I definitely woke up and got the news and started crying and felt pretty upset.
And I ended up tweeting out just a few days later that I was laid off. And the response that I got, which I can go into, being laid off was one of the best things that ever happened to me after that response. The response I got was so overwhelming and just is so incredible that now I view getting laid off as truly one of the best experiences I've ever had.

Alex Booker:
Please tell us more.

Madison Kanna:
So I tweeted out that I was laid off and I've never really tapped into my network or my community before. I've never tweeted out anything like that. I've never hit up anyone and said, "Hey, I want a referral, or hey, get me into your company." It's always been just really organically trying to make friends. And so I never purposely said, "I need to go tweet today or I need to go blog because then I'll have a network and then people will help me get jobs." I never thought that. I just thought I want to share what I'm learning and I'm really excited about stuff and I want to make friends. And so the internet is a great way to make friends.
So long story short, the tweet itself, it was liked 6,000 or 7,000 times, I believe it was retweeted 1,000 times. And I got dozens and dozens of comments from people saying, "Hey, there's an opportunity here." And my DMs, I actually took a video of my DMs or I recorded it on my phone. I woke up to my DMs because I went and took a nap. I tweeted it and I was like, "Ooh, it's a rough time. I'm sitting around, I got Covid, unemployed." And I opened my phone just a few hours later and literally, I'm not exaggerating, I had hundreds of DMs from people saying, "Hey, I read a blog post you did three years ago and I'm going to give you a referral to my team at Amazon."
Or I had someone, "Hey, I took that free JavaScript course you made in 2017. I've been following you for a while. My team over at SpaceX or Tesla is hiring, or my awesome startup that just got $120 million of funding." And so I got literally dozens of referrals from people. And then I also got some strangers too that said, "Hey, let's talk. I work at a company that is hiring." So I got so many direct referrals that I still haven't been able to answer them all because it was absolutely overwhelming. And I know in many ways that I just got lucky in that sense. And not everyone has that experience, but I firmly believe that I got that response because I had built an online presence over time so much. And if I was not on Twitter at all, or if I hadn't blogged at all, I wouldn't have gotten that response at all, right?
Because I know other people who aren't really online at all and they were laid off and the only real choice is maybe hitting up a few friends or cold applying on LinkedIn. And as we know, you can cold apply on LinkedIn and nothing will happen. So I just took Jim Young, who's a Netflix engineer, I love his courses on front end masters. He was doing a course that I was watching the other night and he said that he actually applied to companies, a Netflix engineer, and he said he didn't hear back. And I think that's just a testimonial to cold applying does not work. So long story short, I absolutely believe that building a community, building a network is a great way to never be worried about getting laid off because your next opportunity can be lined up for you.

Alex Booker:
I mean, first of all, I'm really sorry for the just dreadful series of events that led up to you losing your job, that could not have come at a worse time. But as you describe it, it was almost a blessing in the end. That must have been such a staggering response to your tweets. And I think you're right, it's an absolute testament to having a network and having a community. What you did, which is quite exceptional by the sounds of it, is that over the course of years you gave, gave, gave, gave and didn't ask for anything in return. And then when you needed some help, it came to you in droves. And that's just very reassuring. Too many people when they talk about networking, they don't even give and then ask. They give something and then they take, or if they don't even give, they just try... And it doesn't work, especially in development communities.

Madison Kanna:
I think you're right. I did do that for a really long time. I feel like I never asked anyone for anything. I was just trying to add value and help people or give, and you don't see directly, how is this going to pay off for me? And you're not even thinking about what's the payoff going to be. But I think that response just showed how valuable it is to just over time, building an authentic community can be really helpful.

Alex Booker:
By the way, if you don't mind my asking, how are things going at the moment? Are you looking for new opportunities? Are you taking people up on these referrals? Sounds like you probably are to be fair, but just how are things going?

Madison Kanna:
Things are going great, actually this week I got six offers so far.

Alex Booker:
Six. Oh my God.

Madison Kanna:
Yeah, it's been amazing. I got rejections too though for sure. I think I've got three or four rejections as well. And then I also have more interviews lined up to the point where I'm going to have to say no and make some hard choices soon, because offers usually they give you about a week. But things have been amazing. I'm really glad that I was laid off because now I'm just going to work on teams that seem to be, I'm even more passionate about the product depending on what it is. There's so many different ones. And my salary jump as of now is going to be $50,000 more. So I think I was paid at a pretty good rate, but I wasn't a senior engineer before. And now I've been offered some senior titles. So I guess long story short, I don't say that to brag, but I just say that to getting laid off seems like it can be a really bad thing, but I think in some cases it can work out really amazing. And maybe it was meant to be, in this case

Alex Booker:
On reflection, do you think that maybe you should have been interviewing before you got laid off? What I'm getting at is that sometimes when you're in a company, you can get quite comfortable in the role and you were compensated very well, I'm sure beforehand, but it takes a real big plunge to start looking for that new thing. In this case, a decision was made for you, it sounds like, and you don't regret it.

Madison Kanna:
I'm glad you say that because that is my biggest takeaway, which is from now on, even if I'm happy at a company, I'm absolutely going to be interviewing all the time. And my friend Jay will say this, he'll say, "Always be interviewing." And he'll talk about how interviewing is a skill and you can absolutely get rusty at that skill. And so for me, at this startup, I had been there for a year and it was a lot of new things to learn. I hadn't been in a startup that was this startupy before, just fast-paced. And I really regretted that I hadn't practiced my interviewing skills because when I was laid off, I had to start interviewing a week or two later and I was so rusty. And it's good that I had so many job opportunities because I absolutely bombed some interviews frankly.
I wasn't prepared. I hadn't been practicing. I hadn't practiced those questions like tell me about a project, tell me about the trade offs of that technology. And so I was incredibly rusty and I had to prepare by using some companies as my Guinea pigs as my homework preparation, to be honest. The one thing that I did that was helpful is I do host a developer meetup where we do live code, and so the one thing that was okay was I wasn't completely terrified to live code in front of my interviewers because I had been practicing that skill, but mostly everything else, again, really rusty and I really wish that I would've been interviewing all the time.

Alex Booker:
It's funny because you tweeted a while ago, I'm quoting, "It's absolutely wild that being good at interviewing for the developer job and being good at the actual job are two completely separate skills."

Madison Kanna:
Yeah, it is wild. And honestly, as I've been going through the interview process, I've had a lot of lovely experiences, but I wonder if the people interviewing me could actually pass some of the challenges they've been giving me. I don't know. I just think it's a very odd, like you're given a really hard problem to solve in 30 minutes, and some of them, they are expecting you to completely solve it. Yeah, it is very different, because when you get the job, you're given a problem and you might have hours to solve it. You might be solving it completely alone and maybe you can diagram it out or you can Google the best way to do it. But then in these interviews it's like, okay, here you got 30 minutes. Live code this problem, let's see how you break down the problem and it just feels a bit different than on the job.

Alex Booker:
Well Madison, you are a fountain of knowledge. I've enjoyed learning about your stories so much, as I'm sure people listening have. I reckon we could go into a lot more detail about what you specifically do as a front end developer, the skills that you think are important to learn in order to become hireable, and just your general advice to crack the coding interview. I know a lot of listeners would like to hear that. Unfortunately we're pretty much out of time today, but I was thinking what if we ask people to tweet at us if they're curious to hear a part two where we talk a bit more about how to crack the coding interview. Would you be up for that?

Madison Kanna:
Absolutely. I'm so excited for that.

Alex Booker:
Wicked. So we'll link something in the show notes and just tweet at myself and Madison, both our links are going to be in the show notes of the episode and let us know if there's something you want to listen to and I'm sure we can make that happen in the next few months. Thank you so much for joining me on the Scrimba Podcast, it's been a pleasure.

Madison Kanna:
Thank you so much, Alex. This was really fun and I'm so excited about this, so thanks for having me on the show.

Jan Arsenovic:
You've heard them. Let us know if we should make the part two because there's probably a lot more useful info where this episode came from. Make sure to check out the show notes for all the resources mentioned in this episode, and if you're not subscribed to the podcast, please consider doing so. You could also leave us a five star review or a rating on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or literally any other place that has that feature. You give us social proof and we give you a new show every Tuesday. The podcast is hosted by Alex Booker. You can find his Twitter handle in the show notes, and I'm your producer, Jan Arsenovic. If you're tweeting what you've learned from the show, please don't forget to mention Alex. He does read it all and he also usually replies. That's it for this episode and we will see you next week.