- Listen on Apple Podcasts
- Listen on Google Podcasts
- Listen on Spotify
- Listen on Pocket Casts
- Listen on Castro
- Listen on Breaker
🎙 About the episode
Meet Amy Corson 🇺🇸! Amy is a recently hired new developer. She's also an aspiring comedian! During the pandemic, she realized she was unhappy with her day job and decided to change it. So: this episode is both insightful and funny!
In this interview, Amy talks about learning to code and how her brother, also a self-taught developer, introduced her to Scrimba. You'll learn about ghost buses, local coding meetups, and how help can come from the unlikeliest of places. Amy also teaches you how to pick a coding project you're not going to give up on, even if it might give you food poisoning. Ultimately, you will hear how Amy approached both studying and applying for jobs, how she prepared for the job interview that landed her the job she's doing now, and why vague emails from recruiters are even more stressful when you're in the mountains.
🔗 Connect with Amy
- How Amy went from an aspiring comedy writer with a day job to learning to code (02:12)
- Amy quit her job and focused on coding (04:51)
- Amy landed her first developer job after a little over a year of studying! (06:20)
- How Amy approached learning to code (06:48)
- What projects did Amy build? (08:07)
- How Amy decided on a complex project, learned a lot, and avoided food poisoning (08:20)
- Ad break! Next week, it’s Patrick Akil! (10:17)
- How Scrimba’s Discord community helped Amy solve problems better (12:11)
- When did Amy decide to start applying for jobs? (13:58)
- How Amy tackled her lack of teamwork experience by joining a civic open-source meetup (15:02)
- What Amy did when she got stuck on her new project (17:38)
- Does Amy’s new job mirror her experience working on the projects at the local meetup group? (18:52)
- You don’t know who you know! (21:24)
- How Amy landed her developer job (25:14)
- What Amy did to prepare for her job interview (27:37)
- Why did Amy put work into presenting herself to the interviewers (28:58)
- How did Amy's technical interview go? (32:47)
- Amy almost two job offers at once! (34:29)
- How do you tell your prospective employer to hurry up? (36:22)
- How Amy got the job offer she ended up accepting while on a hike with no phone reception (38:15)
- Should you negotiate the salary for your first opportunity? (40:08)
- Junior developers are an investment (44:39)
🧰 Resources Mentioned
⭐️ Leave a Review
If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a 5-star review here and tell us who you want to see on the next podcast.
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 🙏
Amy Corson (00:00):
That was something that I didn't realize when I was first starting to figure out how to network my way into a job was you don't necessarily know who you know who will have some connection for you in that way, but it turns out that if you do reach out to people and let them know what you're working towards, I think you'll be surprised at how many people you know have tangential connections to things that you might find interesting like that.
Alex Booker (00:23):
Hello and welcome to the Scrimba podcast. On this weekly show, I speak with successful developers about their advice on learning to code and how to get your first junior developer job. I'm Alex, and today, I'm joined by Amy Corson, a self-taught developer from Chicago. Amy graduated with a theater and telecommunications degree and spent years trying to write for television. That's pretty cool, but when the pandemic hits, it got a lot harder for Amy to meet other comics and [inaudible 00:00:52], so she decided to rescale from home and learn to code with Scrimba. Along the way, Amy joined a meetup/coding group and this group completely changed her trajectory as a self-taught developer. This was a really smart move by Amy because she identified early on in her job search the companies were not only looking for individual project experience, but they also wanted to see that you were capable of working in a team.
Not only did Amy get that team experience here, she made a connection that led her to the first job. It wasn't easy, mind you, to find and integrate into a coding group like this. In this episode, Amy's going to show you step by step everything you need to know and what to expect. By the way, I'm not sure if you can relate to this feeling of always checking your phone to see if a company has replied to your job application or your interview. I can't seem to break the switch when it comes to those kind of things, but Amy had the good idea to join her family on holiday in the mountains, but there's no connection. But somehow, she briefly got a connection and a vague text from the company. It didn't say whether she got the job or not. It just said, call me or something. Stay tuned for the hilarious story about how Amy and her family frantically had to find a connection to learn her fate. You are listening to the Scrimba podcast. Let's get into it.
Amy Corson (02:12):
I graduated college with degrees in theater and telecommunications. I don't think that telecommunications is really a degree that's offered very much anymore, so it's a degree from a bygone era. But when I graduated college, I really wanted to be a comedy writer. I wanted to write for television. I moved to Chicago right after college, which is a big comedy hub in the United States and spent the first five years that I was in Chicago working a daytime data entry position and spending most of my nights and weekends taking classes, writing, performing around the city. Then obviously, a lot of that changed when the pandemic started and I realized there just weren't any opportunities to get on stages. It was a lot harder to write. It's really hard to do that stuff in a vacuum when you're just hanging out at home. So really, all I was doing at the time was this data entry position that I realized in a vacuum, I really didn't enjoy it. It's not super compelling work.
I was working for a company that they were nice, but I wasn't super passionate about what I was doing. I think I was just casting around looking for skills that I could develop that would help me find something that I thought was a little bit more compelling. My brother actually is a self-taught developer as well, and he had just, I think, gotten his first developer position around the time that I was looking to make some career change. I think he actually recommended Scrimba to me. I don't know if he took the career path, but he had taken a couple of classes in React on Scrimba and he was like, "I think that this is a skill that you have the capacity to learn." He had gone through the process, so he had a lot of resources that he could share with me. After taking I think one or two classes, I was like, well, I might as well give this a try, and I really loved it.
Alex Booker (03:56):
It's funny how that goes. Coding, a lot of the time, is a career that people don't consider or maybe they even know about, but rule themselves out of for one reason or another. I don't know, maths, I'm not smart enough, I'm not a nerd, blah, blah, blah, blah, but then it's just knowing someone who's done it, it opens the door. You realize that you can do it too.
Amy Corson (04:14):
Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, I came from a really more art space background. I think the thing that my brother said to me that really made me feel like it was possible wasn't that he thought that I would be very good at it because I don't think I would've thought that he was right, but what he said was he was like, "I think anyone can learn how to do this," and I think after going through the past couple of years and learning how to do this myself, I think that that's true. It's a skill like anything else and if you put the time in, you can learn it just as well as anyone else can.
Alex Booker (04:44):
What is it that you enjoyed about coding? Because obviously, it's something you need to stick at for a sustained period of time. You need a bit of that internal motivation.
Amy Corson (04:51):
Yeah. Well, I think the way I went about it, I wouldn't recommend, which is that pretty much immediately, I quit my job.
Alex Booker (05:03):
Wait, how immediately are we talking?
Amy Corson (05:07):
I think I was on the way out at the company. This was in the summer of 2021. You have to remember the context was the pandemic was starting to quiet down. People were allowed to see their friends again. I was getting out of the house for the first time in over a year and things just felt very fresh and new, and I knew I wanted to make some career decision. I was tired of working my job. So I think I was taking pretty introductory coding classes just online for about a month or two, and I just reached a point where I was like, I feel like I'm going to quit my job. I don't think that I have the discipline to work a full-time job and really throw myself into learning how to do this. So I just decided to make the leap and I quit my full-time job. I did wind up getting a part-time job pretty quickly, but I spent the majority of my time during the day learning to code.
Again, it was a really bad decision. It did work out for me, but I don't think that that advice is necessarily replicable. I think that I was in a really privileged position. I had some savings. I knew that if it came down to it, I would have support, but it was very stressful. But ultimately, it did give me the push I needed to really focus in every single day because at the end of the day, I had painted myself into a corner, so to speak.
Alex Booker (06:20):
How long did it take you from the moment you quit to getting hired as a developer?
Amy Corson (06:25):
After I quit, I took a little bit of time before I really got into coding. I would say it took me a little bit over a year. I quit my job in August of 2021 and I got hired in September of 2022.
Alex Booker (06:41):
That's a fantastic timeline. I love the fact that it happened around summer as well, just feels like a good vibe all around.
Amy Corson (06:47):
Yeah, it was nice.
Alex Booker (06:48):
So you found yourself in a position where you could make learning to code your full-time job essentially because you had most of the day at least to focus on it. Did you start every day as a blank canvas and just figured out maybe what spoke to you on that day or did you take a more structured approach where you said, "Okay, I have these dedicated hours every day to learn to code. I know it's going to take a few months, at least. Here's my curriculum. Here's my plan."
Amy Corson (07:16):
Yeah. I would say that having the Scrimba front-end developer career path available to me right when I started was huge because that is so many consistent hours of curriculum. It's projects that you can work on. It's a community of people who have ideas of other projects you can work on. It took me about five months to work my way through the curriculum, and so that was great. I think I just treated it more or less like a full-time job. I would wake up in the morning. Around 9:00 AM, I would sit down at my computer to work my way through some courses, and then by the time I finished it, I had a good enough grasp on some portfolio projects I wanted to work on that I then could take the discipline that I had gotten from being able to sit down and work my way through the curriculum and apply it to working my way through personal projects, working on my portfolio, applying to jobs, that sort of thing.
Alex Booker (08:07):
Oh, cool. What kind of projects did you build?
Amy Corson (08:10):
A lot of my projects did come out of the Scrimba curriculum. I built the quiz game that everyone builds if you go through the front-end developer career path.
Alex Booker (08:16):
That's the quizzical one you build with Bob, right, as part of the React course?
Amy Corson (08:20):
Yeah. I built that. I did a little bit of a redesign of it, of just the styling to make it my own. I put that in my portfolio. The biggest project I probably worked on was I built a website for a restaurant in my neighborhood that I really liked. I built an entire shopping cart app and some very basic payment forms, that sort of thing. So just a real top to bottom website for a small business,-
Alex Booker (08:47):
Amy Corson (08:48):
... which actually wound up taking quite a bit of time.
Alex Booker (08:51):
This is just a restaurant you liked and you felt inspired to build a website around or was it a conversation with the restaurant itself?
Amy Corson (08:57):
No. I knew that I wanted to work on some shopping cart application that felt like a good challenge for me, and I knew that choosing a place that I cared about would probably leave me to work on it a little bit more.
Alex Booker (09:11):
Amy Corson (09:11):
It was honestly just a Thai restaurant that was a couple blocks from my apartment that I just was like, well, I might as well do something for them. I also saw that they didn't have a website, so I was like, well, maybe if this goes well... I didn't feel confident enough as a developer at that point to reach out to them and say, "Let me build you a website." But I figured if it goes well, if I come up with something that I think looks pretty nice, maybe I can reach out to them then and say, "Hey, I built you this website. Would you have any interest in this?"
Alex Booker (09:36):
Did it ever come to that?
Amy Corson (09:38):
It's not a very good end of the story because unfortunately around the time that I would've probably felt comfortable reaching out to them, they went out of business.
Alex Booker (09:46):
Oh, your [inaudible 00:09:47]. They needed a website, Amy. That's their problem.
Amy Corson (09:49):
I know. I know. Well actually, and I don't know if this is getting too far away from the point, but I was really sad when I saw that they went out of business and then I found an article in the local newspaper about it. It turns out that they had so many rampant health code violations. It turns out none of us should have been eating there at all.
Alex Booker (10:06):
Oh, that's dreadful.
Amy Corson (10:07):
Alex Booker (10:10):
I will be right back with Amy Corson in just a second, but first Jan, the producer, and I had a quick favor to please ask of you.
Jan Arsenovic (10:17):
Hello. That's right. If you're enjoying the show, please consider leaving it a rating or a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or basically wherever you're listening to this. If you can rate and review podcasts, please rate and review ours. Last week on the show, I read some of your reviews and that might happen again. So yeah, you give us some social proof and we give you a shout-out. The Scrimba podcast is a weekly show. If you subscribe to it, you'll get a new episode in your feed every Tuesday. One week, we're talking to a recently hired junior and another with an industry expert. Next Tuesday on the show, Patrick Akil, he's a software engineer, Golang trainer and the host of the Beyond Coding podcast.
Patrick Akil (11:01):
I didn't always have my eyes on coding. I wanted to make video games, and then I made a poor choice of I think high school electives basically because I couldn't do game design. I couldn't be a programmer. I couldn't pick the university that allowed me to be a game developer. So I picked something that was still adjacent to tech, but also was more business-related in a study that's called information studies. Some people call it information science. But in there, I learned a lot about business development, business studies as well as a little bit of programming skills. Then when I got out of university and I got my bachelor's degree, I still didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I had a lot of struggles with that actually as a kid, but I picked a job which was really broad, and I started off in operations. In a more traditional organization, you would have the development organization or the part of the business unit that would develop the code and then would pass it on to the operations people to put it into production.
So that was my role, but that also came with a lot of frustration because in production, I could see some behavior that wasn't what it was supposed to be, but I wasn't responsible and I didn't have access to fix it.
Jan Arsenovic (12:04):
That's Patrick Akil next Tuesday on the Scrimba podcast. Now we're back to the interview with Amy.
Alex Booker (12:11):
I'm glad to hear that Scrimba was the foundation of your web development learning path, and you also took it in your own direction a little bit, building on top of the Scrimba projects, but also building your own. That's something we always encourage everybody to do because it really exercises your brain, makes you a better developer, helps you really practice without someone guiding you. I like the way you were thinking about it in terms of solving a problem. There's a lot of type of utility tools or calculators or whatever, even fun random pages you could build, but building it around a shopping cart and a restaurant you know and like, I think that's a great idea. It's just a shame the way it ended ultimately.
Amy Corson (12:48):
Yeah, probably could have chosen a better restaurant, I guess.
Alex Booker (12:51):
I also noticed when you were learning on Scrimba, you were taking parts in the community through the Scrimba Discord server. What was that experience like for you? Did community play a role in your success?
Amy Corson (13:01):
Oh, absolutely. I think that one of the most difficult challenges of learning how to code by yourself or learning how to code without the security of a more formal bootcamp is it can feel very isolating. I woke up every day, I sat in my apartment by myself and just logged on and tried to solve problems by myself. Having access to Scrimba and the Discord and having access to so many other people who are going through the exact same thing that you're trying to do at the same time and dealing with the same problems or maybe they're a little farther along and they can give advice or maybe you're a little bit farther along and you can help out, that's such an important resource, I thought. It was so nice. So much of coding, I think, is just banging your head against a problem until you can solve it, but oftentimes, I really benefited from being able to reach out to the community and say, "Hey, I'm really struggling with this." To have someone come back and really earnestly try to help you, I thought that that was such an important resource for me.
Alex Booker (13:58):
So you'd been learning to code. When did you decide it was a good time to start ramping up for your first job? Did you start applying early on or did things change quite quickly once you decided to start applying?
Amy Corson (14:10):
I started applying to jobs right after I finished the front-end developer career path. Even though I felt like I probably wasn't ready for a developer position, it seemed better to start getting myself out there. When I was starting to apply to positions, I was naive about it. I thought that just applying would get me in the door. I would be talking to a lot of people. I would have a lot of people reaching out to me. And as any developer who's self-taught will tell you, that's really not the case. I got a lot of standardized rejection emails right away. It was a couple of months of really not hearing anything at all. I think I started applying in January of 2021. I wasn't really getting that much traction around it, and so I think that a lot of my efforts around finding a job went into networking, figuring out who in my circles had any connection to any company that might be looking for developers.
And I also wound up talking to some developers, reaching out to them through mentoring websites and over LinkedIn and just trying to talk to some people in the industry. A big thing that I started to find was that people were not only looking for individual project experience, but they also wanted to see that you were capable of working on a team, which is a little bit difficult if, like I said before, you're just hanging out in your apartment all day working on your own projects.
Alex Booker (15:27):
Amy Corson (15:27):
So I actually started going to this local Chicago meetup group that does civic open source technology and meeting a lot of people.
Alex Booker (15:37):
What does that mean, civic open source technology?
Amy Corson (15:39):
There's some different iterations of this in different cities. The one in Chicago that I go to, it's a group of people. There are a lot of people there who are data scientists, researchers, developers, who are all interested in solving local community problems through technology. For example, the project that I worked on, Chicago has this problem with their public transit where there'll be a bus that's scheduled to come and then the bus will never actually come. People here have dubbed it like this ghost bus problem where you're getting consistently ghosted by the buses. So the project that I worked on with this team was we had a couple of data scientists on the team that were able to scrape all of the data from the city's API and compare it to what the schedules were saying. We were able to graph how well the buses were doing across the city. So that's just one example of what this group would do.
Alex Booker (16:32):
Honestly, that sounds incredible, Amy, just the fact that you get to hang out with these other developers, absorb it all, but then contribute to these genuine problems around your local area. Was it difficult at all to get integrated into a group like that when you're new to development?
Amy Corson (16:46):
I think I got a little bit lucky, actually. The first meeting I ever went to, there were a couple different groups working on different projects. I found myself really interested in this bus project. In some of the first meetings, I was the only front-end developer there, and so I actually got the opportunity to build out a lot of the front-end logic and design. So then by the time the project started to get some traction, I was a really key player on that team. Then I could go into interviews and to my current position and talk about this experience I had had working in this capacity where I had actually been able to do a lot of the work. But then it was also very helpful because throughout the course of the project, a lot of more senior developers wound up coming on board, and so I feel like I got to contribute a lot to the project while also getting really good feedback from people who were already in the industry, which is great.
Alex Booker (17:38):
Did you ever get stuck or anything like that? Maybe more front-end developers joined later on, I'm not sure, but at the beginning especially when you were the only front-end dev. That sounds like quite a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. If you needed help with something front-end-specific, I guess, it might not have been obvious where to go. How did you handle that?
Amy Corson (17:55):
I think I did reach out to the Scrimba community a couple times. I think you're right, it was a little bit challenging in the beginning. One of the nicest things, especially being the person who was doing most of the code to begin with, is because I could be really upfront with the rest of the team and say, "Listen, this is my first larger project. This is my first time working on something like this," being really upfront with this is what I feel like I can learn and this is what I feel like I already know how to do. So being able to set a lot of the scope for the project on the front-end was really helpful, but then also, yeah, the Scrimba community was also very helpful, I think, when it came to asking very small questions about, okay, how do I work with key frame animations, revisiting some of the old... I can't tell you how many times I rewatched some of the old front-end career path videos just to remind myself things specifically around React and how to deal with those.
Alex Booker (18:52):
Now that you've got a job as a developer, I'm really looking forward by the way to learn all the specifics around that. I'm just wondering, how much does your job today mirror your experience working on those projects at the local group? Because it sounds like you were getting something close to a real-world experience over there.
Amy Corson (19:12):
Oh, absolutely. The way I found my current position was actually through the group that I was going to. When I was working on this transit data project, the data scientist who was running the project, I had told the team, "By the way, I'm looking for a job." Then it had actually been really helpful. There were other people on the team who worked in the tech industry. A lot of them were able to connect me with people to network with. So I got some really good conversations from across the team, but the senior data scientist on the project who also happened to work in transit at the time saw a job posting from the company that I work at now and reached out to me and said, "I am not an expert in this, but I'm looking at this job posting and a lot of what they do seems to be in line with what we've done on this project, so I would recommend reaching out." She wound up being able to connect me pretty directly to not my manager, but my manager's manager now.
It was completely serendipitous to tell you the truth, because I was able to go into my interview for my current position and say not only do I have this portfolio of work I've done as a front-end developer, so much of it overlaps with what you guys are already doing as a company. So yeah, I wouldn't say that everything I was doing with this group equates to what I'm doing now in my current position, but it was a really good foot in the door for specifically this role.
Alex Booker (20:26):
This is such brilliant advice, honestly. When you're looking for a job as a developer or you are creating your own curriculum and path, essentially, deciding what to learn, even though there's an element of discomfort there, you're pushing yourself, you're learning something new, you're putting yourself in a position where you might be rejected, the least uncomfortable way to do it is to stay at home, plan, stick to yourself, just apply for jobs and it can work. You can crack the nut eventually that way. But oftentimes when you integrate into something like a meetup or another type of community or you're constantly networking, essentially, scheduling coffee chats or contributing to open source in some way, maybe what you decide to do is do a hundred days of code or participate in an open source project or you make content like blog posts or YouTube or something, I just feel like all these things, whichever combination or single thing you focus on, it increases your surface area to get lucky for that serendipitous thing to happen.
Not only did you get, I think, some real-world experience here, which honestly, I love learning about this, I think it's so cool what you were doing and I can imagine interviewers and recruiters having a similar impression, and not only that, but it's collaborative. You identified that early on that what companies look for oftentimes is someone who is a good team player, who can work together with other developers, who can bring the humility to the table, but also continue to learn. You weren't just talking the talk kind of thing. You literally got out your comfort zone a little bit, I assume. It can't be easy going into a new environment like that. You've got all these things and that eventually led to this discussion with the company you work at today. Sounds like it was probably the best thing you could have done, and it's not advice that we hear very often to get involved in these kind of meetups. But where did you find it, by the way? Was it on meetup.com or something?
Amy Corson (22:11):
I think that the meetup that I go to is on meetup.com, but actually, I learned about it through a friend and it was actually a friend who had no background in technology or any development background at all. It was one of my best friends works in urban planning, and she had heard about this meetup because it's a civic tech-based thing. She had heard about this meetup from some people that she worked with. I think that that was something that I didn't realize too when I was first starting to figure out how to network my way into a job was you don't necessarily know who you know who will have some connection for you in that way. This was someone who was really close to me who I didn't necessarily think would be help to me in finding a job just because she didn't have any connections in the industry. But it turns out that if you do reach out to people and let them know what you're working towards, I think you'll be surprised at how many people you know have tangential connections to things that you might find interesting like that.
Alex Booker (23:08):
Maybe a key takeaway there is to be vocal about your career change and maybe the least post on LinkedIn or Twitter or Facebook or wherever, but even in conversation with friends and new people you meet. What do people ask when they meet you? They're like, what do you do? You can be like, "Hey, I did this. I'm interested in that, but right now, my number one focus is becoming a developer." You never know what they might say next. They could say, "Well, oh, funny, you should mention that because dot dot dot."
Amy Corson (23:33):
Yeah, I can't tell you how many conversations like that I had. To be honest, most of them didn't go anywhere. But I'll also say I didn't have really much luck with just cold applying to positions. I very rarely had people reach out to me. The most traction I got, any lead I had on a job, anytime I interviewed for a position, for the most part was because I had talked to someone who either saw firsthand that I could code, that I could be a valuable member of the team or talked to me and liked me enough to want to put me in front of people that they knew. I think that networking sometimes gets slept on. When you talk about people's personal coding journeys, if you're self-taught, a lot of times, your resume on paper isn't going to stand up to someone who's gone through a bootcamp or someone with a computer science degree. I think it's really valuable to put your personality out there and make sure that people know that you're a fun, easy person to work with in addition to know what you're talking about around coding.
Alex Booker (24:29):
Oh, 100%. I think that's fantastic advice for any new developer, but like you say, especially self-taught developers. But when you're self-taught, you have no track record, no piece of paper, anything like that. You really have to find a way to do stand out. There's an element here of playing the numbers no matter what you do. I think that's always important to remember, that you probably need to speak with 10 times more people than you imagined, apply to 20 times more jobs than you thought you'd need to. The more you play the numbers, the more likely you are to be successful, by the way. But even better is if you can do what you did, Amy, and find a way to put yourself in front of people who can connect you with opportunities when they see that you are a great person to work with and you are clearly dedicated, and you have the chops. You've got the technical chops as you worked on the application.
Amy Corson (25:13):
Alex Booker (25:14):
You managed to connect with the company you work at today, but you said that you didn't connect with your current manager right away. Can you maybe go to the beginning and tell us the whole interview process, who you connected with, what they wanted to know, and how you found the experience in general?
Amy Corson (25:30):
Like I said, a friend of mine from the civic tech group had connected me with the person who is the director of my current team, and it moved pretty quickly. She put me in a group chat with him, I think on LinkedIn, and introduced me as someone who had been working on a lot of the skills that they were looking for in this role. The current director of my team said, "Hey, if you're open to it, I'd love to hop on a call in the next 10 minutes or so and we can go over what we're looking for in this role, get a sense of if you would be a good match." I was like, "Yeah, that sounds great. I'm not doing anything right now." I sprinted to the bathroom, put on makeup and found a collared shirt that wasn't too wrinkled and put it on and I went back.
I had seen that he had messaged me and he was like, "Is now still a good time?" I was like, "Oh, absolutely. I just stepped away for a second," and sat down and basically did a very short interview with him in the moment and talked a little bit about my experience working with the civic tech meetup, working with transit data. I work on a transit data team now, so just talked about working with transit. I was a little bit nervous because this wasn't my first time talking to someone who was hiring for a developer position. My experience up until then had been more or less that you'll talk to someone who is hiring for this role but maybe isn't a developer themselves. You'll have a really good conversation for maybe 10 minutes and then you'll hear back from them maybe the next day or the day after and find out, oh, they're really looking for someone with more experience.
So we had this call. I wasn't really expecting that much to come from it, but on his advice, I submitted an application and it was actually a while. I didn't hear back from them for about a month after I had talked to this guy. I had sent him a follow-up email and just didn't really expect anything to come out of it. Then I think a month later, someone from their recruiting team reached out and said, "We were wondering if you would want to come in for an interview." And again, at the time, because I had been applying for positions for months at that point and I knew that my resume is working against me, this is going to be my foot in the door, but I don't have a ton of tangible experience, so I didn't want there to be any surprises.
So I did a lot of preparation for that first interview. Again, I had been working on this project around transit data. I knew that it was a transit data company, so I spent a lot of time working on the project that we were working on in the civic tech group. I forked it. I created a little demo of the tool that we were developing. I roped in a couple friends. I said, "Will you sit with me for 20 minutes while I do a presentation so I can just practice doing this?" Then when I went into the interview, I practiced a lot of the more typical interview questions. I made sure I knew my resume backwards and forwards. I had a couple of anecdotes, all of the very basic interview advice you get around knowing how to prep for an interview. But in addition to that, I had about a 20-minute presentation.
Alex Booker (28:20):
Amy Corson (28:20):
Yeah. So I came in and one of the first things I said when they asked me about my background, I said, "This is how I wound up in front of you guys, but I was wondering if you wouldn't mind if I walked you through this," and they were like, "Of course." So I spent maybe 10, 15 minutes talking about this project and showing them firsthand the code that I had written. I think that that really helped. Again, it was an unconventional situation. If you're applying for jobs, not every single interview are you going to have a project that so perfectly fits the job description, but it was really helpful, I think, to let go a little bit above and beyond and bring something into the interview that was more than just my resume.
Alex Booker (28:58):
You obviously felt strongly that this would be a good way to start the interview by demonstrating the project related to transit. What was your motivation to do that?
Amy Corson (29:06):
I guess I felt like this was my best shot so far. I've said this a couple times now, but just the overlap between this job and the work I had been doing in this group for the past few months, it felt like a really, really good opportunity for me and I just didn't want to blow it. I wanted to make sure that if they didn't hire me for this position, it wasn't because I didn't try really hard to get the job. I think also, there might have been something in the email from my recruiter when she talked about the interview. She was like, "If you have any portfolio projects you want to bring in, feel free to," and I think I touched base with her later on and I said, "I just want to confirm that I should bring in some portfolio projects."
She said, "Oh, actually, I don't know if you need to do that. As a developer, I don't think you need to have that." I was like, "Oh, is it okay if I do?" and she was like, "I guess so. If you want to bring in a project, you're more than welcome to." I think it was more of a miscommunication from their recruiting team that I was like, "Well, wait. Can I do this?" and they said, "Sure."
Alex Booker (30:10):
But you knew as well. You knew in your gut, probably in your head as well that this was a great way to demonstrate why you'd be a good fit. You need to use a bunch of imagination to see what you were building as part of the hacking group was very relevant to the work they were doing at the company. You get to tick off all the boxes you know they were looking for. You can demonstrate the code. You can demonstrate your presentation skills. I'm sure you found opportunities to point out how you collaborated with others. It just seemed like a brilliant decision and I'm glad it paid off, by the way.
Amy Corson (30:38):
Oh, my gosh, me too.
Alex Booker (30:39):
Was that it? Was it an opportunity to present or did they have tough follow-up questions, technical interview questions maybe?
Amy Corson (30:46):
It was actually a relatively short interview process. I was expecting four or five steps. I know a lot of these places, you're interviewing for a significant amount of time. But the first round, it was about an hour. I spent maybe again, 10, 15 minutes presenting to them. Then the first part of it was a lot of really standard interview questions. Tell me about a time that you got feedback that you didn't agree with or talk about some of the challenges with the project that you've been working on. The first interview was really just more of a standard talking interview and I left it feeling pretty good. I felt like I had done a pretty good job. I knew that the second round was going to be a technical interview. Also, I'll be honest, I was so sure that there had been some miscommunication and maybe they hadn't read my resume and I didn't want to misrepresent myself as someone who had a ton of experience, so I really made sure I hint in the interview, this would be my first full-time development opportunity.
So I knew if they reached out to me in the future, that that wouldn't be a problem. I think that that actually, for me mentally, was a really good thing to do because then when I got an interview saying that they wanted me to do the technical challenge, I felt like I had made the expectations around my skills very clear. I was coming in as a junior developer who hadn't really done this before, which isn't to say that I thought that they were going to hire me if I didn't know my stuff, but I just wanted to be going into a team that understood where I was at. I didn't want to get a job where I felt like I was going to be drowning. So by the time I got the interview request for the technical interview, I was like, okay, we're all on the same page about my resume, my experience. Then I did the technical interview, which was also the final round interview.
Alex Booker (32:32):
What technology stack were they using? I'm assuming probably this is all [inaudible 00:32:36] web development. Do you remember any of the specific questions they asked? It can be useful for people listening to know if they're in that position, would they know the answers or no?
Amy Corson (32:47):
The technical interview, they had sent me an email saying that it was going to be in two parts. They told me that the first part would be a more traditional coding question, a problem-solving based question, and then the second part would be debugging in Google Chrome or in any web developer tools. I actually spent a lot of time grinding LeetCode. Well, I say grinding LeetCode. I'll say I still struggle a lot with LeetCode. I think I was able to complete maybe 10 of the easy problems and I was like, okay, I think that's about as good as I'm going to get. But what I figured from the email was that they were going to send me some more traditional coding interview question, and that was the case. I think it was a sorting problem. So given a list of strings, sort them into a hash pair where basically, it returns the number of times each string appeared in the list of strings. I don't know if that makes sense, but basically a pretty up and down sorting problem.
I didn't quite get it, but I was pretty close. They told me I was pretty close, so I felt okay about that. Then the debugging part went really well to tell you the truth, because if there's one thing I knew how to do, it was find bugs in my own codes, so.
Alex Booker (34:00):
Amy Corson (34:00):
So I don't know. I left feeling okay about it. I think also, I was really nervous. It was my first real technical interview. I had done a couple take home assessments from different companies, but this was my first time coding with someone watching me in a technical interview. I'm sure I was just a sweaty mess, but I think it went well enough and I showed enough personality that I wound up getting the job.
Alex Booker (34:23):
What happened next? I can't wait to find out how long did it take them to get back in touch with the news about your outcome of the interview.
Amy Corson (34:29):
Another interesting thing about this period was that I was waiting to hear back about another position that wasn't a developer position. Another thing that I had been pushing in my networking calls was that I was interested in doing UX stuff, which is true. I was casting a wide net looking for opportunities in development, in UX design, just trying to get a foot in the door somewhere in the industry that I could pivot from there. I had been talking to this company in Chicago for a while and they had offered me a contract position doing very basic UX testing. From the sound of it, it sounded like it was going to be a lot of looking at the website for typos and then reporting back about those typos. It didn't seem like extremely interesting work, but it was a job and I really needed a job.
I had heard about this contract opportunity. I had verbally accepted, and then I hadn't heard anything for two months, and so I had gone from thinking that I had gotten a job to realizing I was back at square one. That was all happening during this time when I was also waiting to hear back about my application from the company that I work at now. So I went through this entire interview process with my current company. I finished the technical interview and they told me, "We need about a week. We have other people to interview, but we'll try to get back to you early next week. I actually wound up going to Glacier National Park with my family that week, and so I was like, this is great. I'm going to go do some hiking. I'll get out of my head. I'll get into the woods and I'll be away from my phone. I won't be chronically checking my email.
Alex Booker (36:10):
Yeah. That's hard to avoid, isn't it, when you're waiting to hear back from a company? Just every little buzz or notification, you want to double-check it. You know it's not going to change the outcome. Might as well disconnect for a bit.
Amy Corson (36:22):
Yeah, it was really, honestly, it was perfect timing. But what happened was the week that I was supposed to hear back about this position, I actually finally got the contract for this contract job that I had been ghosted on for two months. They sent over the contract and they were like, "Okay, we're finally ready for you to start. Go ahead and sign this contract and we'll get you started right away." I was panicking because I was like, oh my god, I've had this better opportunity that I'm waiting to hear back about and I'm worried that now I have these two things that I'm going to wind up losing both of them. So I wound up having to go back to my current company and saying, "Listen, I know that you're still deliberating, but I want you to know that I have another offer and I need to hear back sooner rather than later so I don't wind up with zero jobs." And they got back to me. They were really nice. They said, "Thanks for letting us know. We think we'll be able to get you something by tomorrow."
Alex Booker (37:10):
By the way, Amy, was that a tough email to send? I think it's the perfectly correct thing to do and there's absolutely nothing wrong with it, but you feel a bit sheepish sending an email like that in case you're trying to pit the offers against each other or something like that.
Amy Corson (37:24):
Oh, my gosh, it was so scary. They had told me. At the end of my technical interview, they had said, "We need about a week. We'll get back to you next week, but in the meantime, if anything comes up, if you have any questions, if you get another offer, please let us know." So they had said pretty explicitly if this exact situation comes up, please let us know. Of course, when I was doing the technical interview, I thought I had no other options, so of course I was like, "Mm-hmm. Of course, I will," not thinking that that was ever going to happen. So it was nice that they had said, "We would like to hear about this if it happens," but it was. It was terrifying because yeah, you never want to come across that you're trying to be manipulative or that you're trying to pit two companies against each other like you said. It helped that I was with my family. Everyone there was like, "You have to do this. This is a really good power play."
Alex Booker (38:14):
It can't hurt for sure.
Amy Corson (38:15):
But yeah, it was scary. Now, looking back, of course, it wasn't only a good move, it was honest. I needed them to get back to me so that I could make a decision about what was best for my career. But yeah, they said, "Give us another day and we'll get back to you," and then the next day, went into Glacier National Park with my family, away from cell phone reception. Around noon, we left the park and I saw that I had an email from my recruiter that was just very, very nebulous like, "Hey, I got to give you a call sometime today." So I had to send her an email back and be like, "Hey, I'm not in cell phone service right now. Can I talk to you in 45 minutes? We're driving back into town," and she said, "Yes." So I spent this 45 minute, the sweatiest car ride I've ever been on with my family. Everyone in the car was silent. We were all just so nervous.
So we got into town and the rest of my family goes into this store or something and I'm standing on the corner waiting for this call from this recruiter. Of course, they're all watching me from the window to see my reaction. She called me. She told me that I got it. She gave me the offer over the phone and oh, it's just the best day. It was so nice. Got to spend the rest of that vacation just not worried about a single thing. It was fantastic.
Alex Booker (39:33):
Oh, my gosh, what a weight off your shoulders. It must have just made it so easy to enjoy the rest of your time. I just can't believe it all happened while you were disconnected. The only worst thing would be is sometimes, at least in my email client on my phone, I'll get a push notification with the subject and the first few words of the email, but it won't, believe it or not, actually load until I'm connected to the internet. So I thought for a second you might describe having a nebulous email in your push notifications only you couldn't actually read it, but oh, my gosh, how elated you must have been to get that news. Did you just accept it on the spot pretty much or-
Amy Corson (40:08):
I did, yeah. I know that you're supposed to do a certain amount of negotiation around your salary and your benefits when you're on the phone, and maybe I should've. I think that companies expect that to a certain degree. In the same way that it wouldn't have been offensive for me to tell them that I had another offer, it wouldn't have been offensive for them to get a counter offer on my salary. They had asked me my salary expectations coming in and the offer was a little bit more than what I had told them that I was looking for, so I accepted it on the spot because I was like, well, they've already done the negotiation for me. Yeah, I really don't need to push back on this at all.
Alex Booker (40:46):
To be honest, you've got your whole career to make a bunch of money. I think you know your position. You were applying for a lot of jobs. You had two opportunities, which sounds amazing, but you also, I think, saw how this could be a great platform for you. I think oftentimes, when it comes to your first developer job, you've got every right to negotiate. I wouldn't necessarily discourage it, but you can trust your gut and you can see the whole picture here and see that you need enough money to pay your bills and to save a little bit hopefully and live your life and get to work happy and healthy and all these things and hopefully thrive a little bit. I think this could be a controversial opinion. I do think you need to get paid enough that is fair and hygienic in that you can support yourself obviously and not struggle, but I also think that the opportunity is worth a lot of money.
That's how I see it, because you're going to be in an environment hopefully where you're getting exposed to all this information, all these resources. You get some mentorship, and things change very quickly once you get your first developer job. It's a joke that when you've got no experience on your LinkedIn, you get crickets in your inbox. But the day you get your first developer job, all of a sudden, you've got messages in your inbox from recruiters and things get a little bit easier from there. At that point, you're in a much stronger position, I think, to negotiate. If you do need to go back to the company and say, "Hey, this isn't going to work for reasons X, Y, Z. I can't support myself on this, or I don't think this is in line with the market rates," then that's totally fair. But when you look at the whole picture, you knew that it was a fair offer, I'm sure. I guess that's why you took it on the spot.
Amy Corson (42:13):
Yeah. I strongly agree with that. What you said about getting your first developer job, I think is absolutely true. Really what I was looking for is just a foot in the door. If you're looking for money, I feel like money in this field is pretty easy to come by if you know your stuff and you can keep moving in a forward trajectory. But I strongly feel like in this first role, I'm learning so much already. I've been there for a few months and I feel like it's an exponential change in the amount that I'm learning. The fact that I'm getting paid to do it is really incredible. So I strongly agree.
Well, I think it was a really nice show of goodwill on their part to see my offer and raise me a little bit. But yeah, just coming out of that knowing that, okay, I'm going to be able to support myself and I'm going to have a foot in the door in an industry that is really growing, yeah, I strongly agree. I didn't feel like there was much negotiation I needed to do there.
Alex Booker (43:07):
Yeah. I think salary is just one part of any compensation package or offer or job. There are other things to consider like your flexibility of where and when you work, the impact of your work, if you agree with the mission. Maybe you don't want to have to put up with bureaucracy and you like a flexible, fast-moving team. Maybe you just really like the team. It's funny, I remember my first junior developer job interview and I left that day with a smile on my face and I thought I really like these people. I'd feel so sad actually if I didn't get a chance to come back and work with them. That really stuck with me and didn't feel the need to negotiate in that case. Then, yeah, you might want to consider things like job stability or even the market. I do think it's important to recognize the developer market is a global market.
The way things work in New York, in San Francisco, in London might be very different from the way they work in smaller towns or areas or regions, and it depends a little bit on the vertical the company is in as well. If it's a VC-funded, high-growth type of company with a bunch of money in the bank, then you probably should ask for a bit more. I think that's a good idea. But you can always look at the type of company and what their mission is and make a judgment call. I think getting paid to learn is the dream scenario. That was a quote that really changed my view on things. I wouldn't normally take advice from Mark Cuban, to be honest, but I think it was him talking on a panel and he was talking to a bunch of graduates and he said, "You just paid a bunch of money to learn whatever you learned. Now go and get paid to learn."
I was listening to that as a self-taught developer so many years ago thinking, well, damn, I didn't even pay to go to school. I just taught myself to code and a few hundred dollars maybe on courses and things. I might as well just skip to the good part. I'm glad to feel like you're in a similar productive situation.
Amy Corson (44:56):
Yeah, absolutely. I think that a company hiring really any junior level developer to a certain extent is just an investment in that person. What you said about walking away from the interview feeling like you liked the people you were talking to, I definitely felt that way during my interviews. I felt like I had the suspicion walking out that I would be a good culture fit. My first day, they sent me an onboarding packet with the bios for everyone that would be working with me on the team. I'm not going to lie, I got a bit intimidated because I'm working with all these people. A lot of them have master's degrees. A lot of them have computer science degrees. There's some really good schools on the list. Most of these people have been doing this for a really long time.
I think when you compare yourself to just other people's resumes, it's really easy to be like, why am I here? I don't know how to do any of this stuff yet. But I think my first couple meetings with the company, I started to realize, no, I'm a good fit on this team and I've demonstrated that I can learn pretty quickly and that I have an interest in what they're doing. I can understand the company from the company's perspective. You want to invest in people who long-term are going to be able to grow with you. It's really an honor to be chosen. For a company to be investing in someone, I'm really glad that it was me. But yeah, absolutely, it's an investment on their part, in their future hiring developers who are going to be able to learn and grow with them.
Alex Booker (46:15):
That is an absolutely fantastic point and a great point to end on, I think. Junior developers are awesome. Great investments. You bring so much value to the table. It's always great to find an opportunity where you can continue to grow and learn and make moves. Amy, thank you so much for joining me on the Scrimba podcast. It's been a pleasure.
Amy Corson (46:35):
Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for having me. It's been so fun to talk to you.
Jan Arsenovic (46:39):
That was the episode number 99 of the Scrimba Podcast. Thank you for listening. If you're just discovering this show, that means you have well, almost 100 episodes to listen to from our backlog, and that's a good problem to have. Make sure to check out the show notes for the resources from this episode as well as all the ways to connect with Amy. Also, if you made it this far, subscribe. And if you've learned something from the show, please consider sharing it with someone. You can share the podcast on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Discord, or maybe you can show it to someone in person. But if you're talking about it on Twitter, make sure to mention Alex. You will find his Twitter handle in the show notes and he will almost certainly reply to you. I'm your producer, Jan, and we'll be back next Tuesday. See you.