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Jenn Creighton
Jenn Creighton

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Single-threaded Podcast: Laurie Barth on Seeking Out New Challenges


[00:00:00] JC: This is single-threaded. I'm Jenn Creighton.

Y'all, I am so excited to kick off season two of Single-threaded. I had such a good time recording the first season a year ago. The feedback was really great, and so I knew I was going to do a season two. I got a little bit delayed, because I started a new job. But I am back. We have nine, maybe 10 episodes coming. I'm still recording right now. But I know the lineup, and you are going to love this season.

I think you're also going to really like what we're going to be talking about this season. So, season one was really guided by this idea of emotions and feelings, and I was sort of tackling it from different perspectives, getting us different information about how our emotions play a role in this field.

In this season, and I think this is very apt because this is season two of the podcast, and the podcast itself is growing, our theme is growth. So, what does that mean? I mean, it means a lot. Just like last season, we're going to be looking at this from a lot of different angles. I think you're going to find all these conversations really fascinating. I've been loving talking to the guests.

To kick us off, we have my dear friend, Laurie Barth. She is a Senior Software Engineer at Netflix, where I also work. You've probably seen Laurie on Twitter. Her handle is @laurieontech. Now, what are we going to be talking about today? We're going to be talking about boredom, and how that's actually helped us grow and seek out more challenges in our career. We're going to talk about what those challenges look like to us, what we're looking for, and even, sometimes, when it doesn't work out. How can we re-shift our focus? And how can we keep being uncomfortable in a good way in our careers? We really want to stretch ourselves, so how do we do that? You're going to get a lot of advice. Laurie is a fantastic, has had a wonderful career. Let's get into it!


[00:02:23] LB: I just feel like your other episodes have been so topic-centered and focused.

[00:02:28] JC: Do you know that they're not?

[00:02:29] LB: They feel that way when you listen to them.

[00:02:31] JC: They’re literally just – we start having the conversation. That's it. My favorite thing about doing this is that these were all the conversations I was having at conferences with people. I missed them so much that I wanted to find a way to have them. I'm just surprised that, narratively, they fit together.

[00:02:54] LB: They totally do.

[00:02:56] JC: It was really surprising. Okay, okay, okay. So, first question that I want to ask you, Laurie, is how do you feel about being actually the first guest for season two?

[00:03:06] LB: Am I? I didn't know until right now. So, I guess, very honored. Hi!

[00:03:10] JC: Yeah, I didn't tell you. I actually was like holding back from telling you that you were the first guest for season two.

[00:03:17] LB: Well, I've got to start it off on the right foot, because I feel like season one is such a high bar.

[00:03:21] JC: Oh, God. I'm so worried that I won't meet expectations for season two. But with my fantastic guests like you, I think I will.

[00:03:30] LB: Oh, no, you totally will.

[00:03:32] JC: Because I secretly know what the guest list is for the season. It is so good

[00:03:36] LB: Wait. But now you have to tell me.

[00:03:37] JC: Nope. You're going to find out just like everybody else.

[00:03:41] LB: What's the benefit of being your friend if I don't get inside information like this?

[00:03:46] JC: Oh, please, you get a lot of information out of me and everyone. You are –

[00:03:52] LB: Don't tell people that. That sounds a lot worse than I hope it actually is.

[00:03:57] JC: Okay. It sounded bad. What I mean is you are like everyone's confidant. You won't tell people if they don't want you to. But you also are a gatherer of people and information.

[00:04:21] LB: Yeah, I'm sure there's some like childhood trauma that’s based on. Let's be perfectly honest. Most of our adult superpowers are based on childhood trauma.

[00:04:21] JC: Oh, God. Okay. We won't go down that narrative because there's so many things. I'm like, “Ah, yes. Childhood.” You're so efficient at your job. Yes, do you know why? It’s not a good reason.

[00:04:33] LB: It's never a good reason.

[00:04:36] JC: Yeah. Yeah. You know, a lot of things, you are able to connect pieces and people very well. I mean, that's how you got me this job, essentially.

[00:04:45] LB: Okay, let's reframe that a little bit. So, I was interviewing at Netflix and I got an offer, and I convinced Jenn that she should pursue some conversations that people had reached out to her about for roles at Netflix. And she did so. She went through the entire interview process, and she got an offer, and she had another offer, and she called me up and she said, “Laurie, I don't think I'm going to take the Netflix job.” I said, “You are absolutely going to take the Netflix job. What in the world are you talking about?” She's like, “Well, I really don't think I'm prepared for it.” Total imposter syndrome talking, and I spent an hour basically yelling at her until she did what I told her to do, which sounds terrible, but it's just our relationship. I feel like I did the right thing for you, even if it required yelling at you.

[00:05:32] JC: You did. I needed someone to talk me out of the hole I had dug myself in. By the way, this is the first time that I have ever been given an offer where I was afraid to take it.

[00:05:46] LB: Oh, no, I've had some of those. And they're always good choices. They're always good choices. So, there's different types of being afraid to take an offer, right? If you're afraid to take an offer, because you don't feel confident that you know you're going to do on the job, okay, that's different. If you're afraid to take an offer because you've heard bad things about the working culture, that's very different. But if you're afraid to take an offer because you literally just don't think you have the skill set and you got –

The second job that I ever took, I was afraid that I got lucky with the questions that they asked me in the interview, and they were the two questions I studied. I was like, “I'm not as competent as they think I am.” That job was hard, and that job required me to grow, and stretch, and do lots of things that made me very, very, very uncomfortable. It was the first time I'd had to work on my own. In previous roles, I had had a lot of mentorship and a lot of hand holding and, in that role, I didn't. But I wouldn't be here now if I hadn't been in that role. That role forced me to grow up and learn a lot faster than I think I would have if I had taken a different one.

Then, when I went to Gatsby, I was terrified, because I was like, “This is a company that everybody knows, and they're building open source things. What if I break the library? And what if I don't know what I'm talking about in public?” and all those things. Then, I came to Netflix, and it was the same thing. I was scared. I had a bunch of people convincing me it would be fine. It was the job that I wanted and I had some confidence I knew what I was doing but, at the same time, I was like, “I haven't been hands on writing production product code. I've been writing libraries and all these other things. How am I going to be able to –” I'm sorry. At the time, I didn't remember most of what use callback did, for example. Like, “I’m going to have to worry about this all day. I haven't touched Java in six years. That's what the backend is.” But it was embracing that fear that made it a good next step.

If I had been comfortable with the job I was going to, then I wasn't stretching myself enough, and I would have been bored pretty quickly upon arrival. I would learn their architecture. I would learn the way that their culture worked, and I would be good to go and doing the same thing I had been doing six months prior.

[00:08:01] JC: Yeah, yeah. So, the other job opportunity I had at the time was in my wheelhouse of wheelhouses; frontend architecture. It was such a carbon copy.

[00:08:11] LB: And here’s the problem. It was a great job. It would have been really fun. But you literally said you wanted to do something new. I'm like, “Then why are we considering this other thing that is exactly what you've been doing at all of your other jobs,” that you know how to do? That you know how to do better than 95 percent of people, and you talk about it at conferences, and you're well respected, and you show up in a freaking zine with your face illustrated about it. Come on! It’s time to push the envelope a little.

[00:08:40] JC: Yeah, yeah. I know. I know now. At the time, I was – So, normally, what you're talking about, that fear of the new position, for me, it’s more like a discomfort. It's just – I like to be uncomfortable in my roles. I like to be uncomfortable in the tasks that I'm taking on. And that's actually why, most of my job opportunities, I’ve gravitated towards doing certain things is because I want to be uncomfortable. Because if you're not that, you're not growing. You're just doing the same thing all the time.

[00:09:14] LB: Oh, I hate being uncomfortable. I don't like it at all. I know I have to. But I don't like it. It's not something that I seek out. In fact, when I get to those challenging jobs, for many months, I will take two-to-one tasks that I definitely know how to do over tasks that I don’t, just to get some level of baseline confidence. Otherwise, I'm just going to be flailing around a lot. I spent seven years consulting and flailing around. I need a better balance than that now.

[00:09:44] JC: Yeah, actually, that is a good point. So, we're talking about, one, we've left roles because we got too comfortable and we were not really advancing. So bored. I think that's a good thing to dive into, and then also, when you do take a role, where you are a little bit out of your depth, what can you do so that it's not so nerve wracking? What can you do so that you can have some confidence in the role?

[00:10:14] LB: I feel like so much of that depends on where you are in your career. Because the earlier you are in your career, the harder it's going to be to find anchor points in a new job. So, if you move from one thing to another, you're like, “Okay, I know how Git works. I know how to set up this IDE. But I don't recognize a lot of these patterns.” Versus, if you're further along in your career, it's less likely that you're not going to recognize anything.

A great example that I alluded to is, in my role at Netflix right now, we have a Java backend. We are writing this dashboard portal system situation that is a very nice mirror to the first system I ever worked on in my career. That was a Java backend and a Struts frontend, that Struts frontend became an Angular 1 frontend with the earliest, earliest version of TypeScript.

[00:11:09] JC: We don't talk about Angular 1 on this podcast.

[00:11:13] LB: But the parallelization ones are really interesting, because I'm now working with technologies I'm more familiar with. But I haven't touched Java since I worked in that first role. Seeing how Java has changed, but also knowing I have some anchor points in the language, but recognizing that the domain within which I'm working and the architecture of the system has some similarities. Remembering Kafka event streams and things I just haven't touched for a while, it’s easier to find anchor points even if they're a lot older than it would have been in my second job when I was working on a Python project and the biggest similarity and the biggest anchor point I had was a project I worked on in college, which is just not the same, and it's never going to be the same.

When you've amassed this variety of stuff, it is easier to recognize, “Oh, this is at least somewhat like this other thing I know about,” versus everything you look at is new. There has to be a balance. If you're looking at absolutely everything as new and you don't see anything familiar around you, you're going to panic. And understandably so. You need to be building on knowledge that you have in some capacity. So, try and find what that foundational anchor point is, and it'll be a little bit easier.

[00:12:28] JC: I agree with that. Even with this role, my foundational anchor point has just been, one, JavaScript, and then two, GraphQL. I'm comfortable in those spaces. I'm learning a whole bunch of things that are not my wheelhouse. I'm learning a lot of backend concepts that I have never had to deal with before in my life. But having those grounding points of, okay, but you know JavaScript really well, and you know GraphQL really well, and you understand that space really well has been good.

[00:12:55] LB: And you also get the benefit of, in a large company, if you know other people in the company, or there are common Slack channels, or whatever it is, sometimes you're answering a question in your old wheelhouse that has nothing to do with the job you do now, but you just remind yourself that you know what you're talking about. The second week that I was at Netflix, one of my colleagues CC’d me in a thread in the JavaScript channel for someone who was doing a code mod. I was like, “Oh, here's my article on the topic, and here's the AST thing, and here's this and this and this and this and this and this.”

Then, they asked me a bunch of questions, and they got to the solution and they were like, “Wait, you wrote that post you linked me in?” I was like, “Oh, yes. I am code mod dork. Nice to meet you.” It had nothing to do with my team. It was nowhere near my team. It had nothing to do with anything I'm now working on, but I was able to remind myself that, even in this company full of people that I think are incredibly intelligent and, when I started, way, way smarter than I am, I know things that can be valuable.

I do this to Jenn constantly, for the listeners. I just harass her about GraphQL client things all of the time, because I use it every day. I'm like, “Hey, Jenn, what about this thing?” And she laughs.

[00:14:05] JC: Hey, it feels good. It feels good to be able to answer the question when you ask me. It does.

[00:14:10] LB: See? Added benefit.

[00:14:13] JC: Yeah, it's a really nice benefit. I'm like, “Oh, I know what's going on here. Cool.” It’s so nice to be able to know. I had this experience early in my career, where essentially, I was just taking the same version of the job that I had done, but maybe with a slightly different – I did a B2B company. I did a more consumer product company. But the job wasn't different, right? It was a frontend engineer. I was working with React. There were some differences that I had to learn about on the way. But I didn't start to leave jobs because of boredom at that point. I left jobs out of boredom later.

I didn’t immediately – I was actually very interested in seeing different code bases and how they worked, and I learned a lot of patterns in React that way and got to see what people were doing. I think that was really valuable to me. But I was not leaving because of boredom yet. Were you leaving of boredom earlier in your career?

[00:15:09] LB: Yes.

[00:15:10] JC: What did that look like for you then?

[00:15:13] LB: My first full-time development role, we were sort of a unique techs consultancy. We were practically like an outsourced development shop, where we would build things for really large companies and hand them over. I did one of those things. Then, I did a second one. Then, I did the second generation of that thing, and it was a bunch of modules that all had similar technology stacks. They were just working in different domains.

I learned a lot about DNS, I learned a lot about DDoS, because those were the domains that these dashboards were designed to solve. Really useful information earlier in your career. I fought against it. My program manager at the time would sort of bootcamp us until understanding the domain we were working in. I was like, “When am I ever going to need to know this?” It turns out, really useful information.

Anyway, sort of beside the point. We were going to start on, I think, the third or fourth module for this, and I was like, “This is just going to be the same thing all over again. It's just going to be slightly different variable names, and slightly different API calls, but it's going to feel like the same thing all over again.” I'd been there for almost two years. I had learned a ton, a ton, a ton, but when I told my senior engineer that I was leaving, he was like, “I'm not surprised. You've hit a plateau of what you're going to do here.” Yeah, I mean, that was my first job, and I reached the point of being bored. I think it's sort of two things. It’s, one, I think I have a lower threshold than most people. I think there are a lot of people who would have found a bunch of other useful things to extract from that job and that role. But it was time for me to move.

I think the other piece of it, which is maybe slightly unfair, is that I am much more inclined to do something entirely new and force myself into another area of tech early in my career. So, a lot of people I know found an area of tech and learned it really deeply and then branched out. I did the opposite. I did a survey course of tech early in my career. I kept switching languages. I kept switching domains. I kept switching areas. I mean, I worked on hardware. I worked on DevOps. I worked on frontend. I worked on backend. I worked on database. I did whitepapers in architecture; All over the place. Life of a consultant. But at the same time, that is not a normal thing to do in your first five years in the industry. But that is weirdly what I did.

It was amazing because now I can say with complete confidence, “I like building things for other developers. I like doing it in a handful of these languages, as much as I have control over that, and I like being close to code.” But I want to have a say in the architecture of it and I want to be able to problem solve at a higher level, and be a big part of designing what all this is going to look like. But this is what I like to do. I don't really enjoy DevOps. I configure my way around it.

All of these kernels of [inaudible 0:18:12] that I have means I can look around and say, “Okay, I can sort of make this work. I can sort of do this thing. But also, if there's an expert in the room, please take it, because I really don't want to.” It's the opposite; it is literally the opposite from what most people do early in their career and I can't say it would be a path I would recommend for everyone or even anyone. It was a very unique journey.

[00:18:37] JC: Yeah, it is very different. Most people, I think, would go the way that I went, which is I went fully into JavaScript and React for years and years and years.

[00:18:44] LB: And that's in part because that's how you get jobs. Why people just gave me jobs to do things I had no experience in is sort of a question mark. What were they thinking?

[00:19:00] JC: They had the right mindset, though, is that you can grow and learn in a role. You can also take a role and then discover it's not what you want to do. I worked on open source for a year. At first, I was really happy to do that and then discovered I actually don't want to work on open source for the long term.

[00:19:20] LB: I did the DevRel journey of that, which is – I was doing all of this blogging and conference speaking and stuff in my free time. Supported. My company was fine with me doing it. I took the role at Gatsby, where I knew I was going to be able to do a lot of that. About six to eight months into that, I was like, “I cannot do this as a job.” When it's actually something I have to do, I hate it. I can't – No. This is not fun. Send me back to code full time. Not POCs. Deep, architectural, what the hell is going on sort of situation, debugging. They were like, “Okay.”

I also had this weird moment. This is going to sound pompous. So, I'm sorry for that. We might end up cutting out if it sounds too bad. But I had this moment of realizing that not everyone feels comfortable or enjoys being a senior staff level engineer. There are a lot of people who get to that point, and they're like, “Okay, I'm going to branch off into something else,” whether that's management, or technical writing, or community development, or any other thing. I found that I really enjoyed it. I really liked it.

I was like, “Okay, well, if not everyone likes to do this stuff, and it really needs to be done, why would I opt out of that just because there's something else that I think is more popular?” Basically, I had this realization that like DevRel is more popular, and it's cool that I can do it, and I enjoy it but, at the same time, I enjoy the coding aspect of it just as much, if not more. I don't know if that's as popular compared to the number of jobs available, right?

[00:21:03] JC: Yeah, well, okay. You see this a lot, where there is a career ladder progression that you're sort of supposed to follow, or it's unspoken. Like what you're saying. It’s kind of like it was unspoken. You would get to staff, and then you would branch out into something else. But often in companies, it's codified for you, right? It used to be, especially, you’d be a senior engineer, and then suddenly you go into management.

[00:21:27] LB: Right, which is changing.

[00:21:28] JC: Which is changing, thank God, because it's not how that's supposed to work.

[00:21:32] LB: Us looking at each other being like, “We do not want to be managers.”

[00:21:35] JC: We know. We do not want to be managers.

[00:21:39] LB: No.

[00:21:41] JC: But if we didn't have the experience of figuring that out for ourselves, we might have thought that because I did early in my career. I was like, “Oh, well, that will be the progression. I will get to a certain point where I'll then have to be an engineering manager and figure it out for myself.” Thankfully, at some job that I didn't have to do that. I could stay on the more technical staff side and not go into more people management and just realize my skills are not in people management.

[00:22:07] LB: And the funny part is, as you advance and you get more into the staff or principal levels of development, you're not doing as much coding, but you're still not managing people. There is a difference between ‘you don't get to debug the string parsing error’ and ‘you have to manage people’, which I think, for a long time, there was no in between. You're doing one or you're doing the other and I'm like, “That sounds unappealing.”

[00:22:37] JC: Oh, yeah. I mean, I do think when you're early in your career, you do not realize that, the higher up the rung you go, the less you touch the code.

[00:22:45] LB: Yes. Though, I think that is very company dependent. That actually is the thing that's probably been most interesting about my career thus far, is I started in the federal government, which is huge. Then, I left and I said, “Okay, small companies. I can't deal with bureaucracy. I can't deal with large anything.” Small, small, small, small, small, and then I was like, “Okay, time for the flip of this,” and I came to Netflix.

I had this vision based on small company work, frankly, that when you get to a staff level, you're basically the architect in the room. You're writing some code. I wrote a lot of PRs when I was at Gatsby. But that's because there were a lot of staff level people and it's a startup. It’s a very unique situation. When you're in a smaller organization and you're sort of the top of the totem pole, it is more likely that you will be mentoring and helping everyone who's coming up behind you. That is not true at large organizations necessarily. It is that some of them, but they're all really, really different and really weird.

I write code every single day at Netflix, and that's not common for someone –

[00:23:51] JC: Yeah, I don't.

[00:23:52] LB: Yeah, you don't. But plenty of people do. It's just – it's weird. I don't know. I've decided there are no rules. Well, that's a whole thing.

[00:24:02] JC: Literally, at Netflix, it’s the no rules rules.

[00:24:06] LB: Oh, God, we are so [inaudible 0:24:07].

[00:24:09] JC: We have been drinking the Kool Aid, and that's fine. We enjoy our jobs. We enjoy the Netflix culture. By the way, anyone listening to this that doesn't know this, Netflix does not have job titles like staff.

[00:24:23] LB: It has senior and lack of senior. Yeah. So, that’s it. You can be a software engineer. You can be a senior software engineer, and there are some distinguishing titles in terms of specialties. There are UI engineers or security engineers or that sort of thing. But, yeah, senior is as high as it goes. You have people who have been coding for 25 years who are still senior software engineers.

[00:24:42] JC: Yeah. So there's no delineation of your role like that. Your role is really based on your team, what your team does. The reason I don't code very much is, one, I'm still onboarding. I'm four or five months into this. I think I'm five months into this job. I'm still onboarding.

[00:24:57] LB: Yeah, I'm nine months in. When did that happen? I actually had this moment the other day, and I was like, “I'm sorry. I refuse to believe I can't play the newbie card.” I tweeted about it and people were responding to me and they were like, “Until someone newer comes to the team –” I was like, “Well, technically, there is someone newer, but he transferred from another team at Netflix. I'm still the newest to the company, so it doesn't count.” I have literally a month and a half until our new person starts, and she won’t be new to Netflix. I’m like, “Damn it!”

[00:25:27] JC: Okay. I feel like the onboarding process at Netflix is really, really long. What I've heard from most engineers is that you don't feel super capable of doing things until a year. So, I think you're new until a year. You still got three months.

[00:25:39] LB: I like it. I think I'm the one who told you that.

[00:25:42] JC: Oh, you and multiple people have told me that.

[00:25:45] LB: It's actually really nice, because, luckily, everyone is reasonable about that expectation. There's no, “Well, it's going to take you a year but we also expect you to know everything in two months.”

[00:25:56] JC: Yeah, it's not that situation at all. Thank God, because it is a lot. It's a lot. It’s the most information I've had to try and stuff in my brain.

[00:26:07] LB: Well, I think that's a large company thing. I think neither of us have really spent a lot of time in large engineering organizations.

[00:26:15] JC: No. I always worked for small startups as well.

[00:26:18] LB: Yeah, I think the large company thing is really interesting because there's so many tools they built specifically for their own uses. So, in smaller startups, I mean, pretty much everything you pick up is open source, or they're paying for a subscription to this one thing that they really, really need. But there's the expectation that it's something you may have seen in another job before, or you can look it up really easily. That's not really true when everything has its own lingo and its own name. Yeah, there are docs, but they're also referencing five other things with their own names and their own lingo and you're like, “Well, what is this thing?” And they're like, “Oh, it's our version of X.” I was like, “Can that be on the docs page?”

The problem is, sometimes, the open source solution actually surpasses what we have in-house because people haven't been able to maintain it. The number of developers on it isn't as large. But it takes time for the organization as a whole to decide, “Okay, we're going to move to the open source version. It makes sense. We're going to abandon this older version.” There have been areas where they're doing that. There used to be a whole GraphQL solution in-house, and now it's Apollo. It takes time for some of those [inaudible 00:27:24], just because there's so much that's built on top of these things, and so many moving pieces, and you all really get mad when Netflix streaming goes down. I’m just saying.

[00:27:34] JC: Oh, yeah. It's kind of a big deal.

[00:27:39] LB: Yeah, kind of a big deal.

[00:27:40] JC: Also, for myself. I remember yelling at Netflix anytime it was not working properly.

[00:27:46] LB: Well, I have a really big problem right now, which is I don't feel like I could talk about it publicly. But there are so many streaming services that are not named Netflix that crash constantly. If I didn't want to watch the show so bad, I would literally give up, because it's brutal. I was like, “But I can't complain about this, because it just looks really biased.”

[00:28:06] JC: We won't name names.

[00:28:08] LB: No. But there are so many now. I'm clearly not pointing fingers at anyone. There are four or five of them I could name that just crash constantly.

[00:28:16] JC: There's one that I'm thinking of in particular that does a weird thing on my TV every single time that I'm really mad at it about. We'll talk about it later. Yeah.

[00:28:25] LB: But anyway, this has nothing to do with the podcast.

[00:28:28] JC: No, this has nothing to do with the podcast. Wait. Okay, let's go back to the podcast then. Sorry. Laurie and I are good friends and we can't help it.

[00:28:37] LB: We went to Disney World together.

[00:28:38] JC: Laurie planned my Disney World vacation, and then just told me when to show up places.

[00:28:45] LB: And then made you walk for eight to 12 miles a day.

[00:28:48] JC: Which is fine. It’s fine. I got special shoes for it.

[00:28:52] LB: Yeah, this was adult Disney World. This was not – Small children would not have kept up.

[00:28:57] JC: No, no, no.

[00:28:58] LB: No. I feel like there is a direct corollary between someone who likes to play in the Rubik's cube that is Disney World and someone who enjoys coding. I feel like there's some corollaries there.

[00:29:10] JC: If you can plan a Disney World trip, you can be a software engineer.

[00:29:14] LB: All these moms and dads out there who have these incredible blogs, talking about Disney planning. I'm like, “You should go into development. You'd be good it.”

[00:29:22] JC: It is so complicated.

[00:29:24] LB: It’s so complicated.

[00:29:26] JC: It’s so complicated. Okay, going back to our original conversation, I do have a question for you, which is: what does boredom at a job look like for you? How do you know when you're bored? Because sometimes I haven't been able to tell until it gets to a certain point.

[00:29:41] LB: So, in that first role I was talking about, we would go through the backlog and we would be assigning things and I found that there were two types of tasks. There was a task that I felt was reasonably close to my level. Most of the time the answer was ‘I've done that before’, or ‘I’ve done that recently’. Or there was something that was just ridiculously out of reach, and I was like, “This is going to be taken by our senior level person.”

Even looking back on it today, I probably could have reached for those tasks, but it would have been really painful and not good for the team if I grabbed those. When there's nothing in between, the boredom sort of set in. When I was seeing the same patterns again and again, and, yeah. I would make bugs and I wouldn't do it exactly right and it wouldn't be done in two seconds. It's not the level where it's rote memorization but if there are tasks that I'm seeing that feel like they're going to move me into a new direction of growth –

I also think, sometimes you just get bored with people. That sounds bad. That sounds like “I'm over you. I don’t want –“ But these were people I still wanted to be friends with. Actually, there's a few people that I worked with back in that role that I am still friends with on a personal level. But the dynamics of the working relationships and the way things were going, it felt like things were really stagnant. People weren't really moving and everyone was really happy with where they were in the structure of the organization forever. There were people who had started there as junior, who had been there for five years, who were still sort of at that level. They were writing better code than they were when they started, but that was still their role in the organization and they didn't really have any intention of moving.

I was like, “I don't see myself doing that. That's not what I want to be.” So, if I don't see people moving in the direction that I would ideally want to move in, I think it's time for me to go elsewhere and try that trajectory somewhere else. It was a combination of tasks and probably people culture.

[00:31:43] JC: It sounds like, for that in particular, that you need to also be in a culture that really values people going into new positions and learning new things.

[00:31:55] LB: Yeah, it's not even necessarily a structural thing. I think, for me, a big piece of it was are there role models? Not even direct mentors, but are there are people within the organization whose path I would want to follow or who are even showing me potential paths? If there weren't people – and this has happened at a few different jobs, where I looked around and I was like, “There's nobody who's really following the trajectory I would like to follow.” A lot of people are very stagnant.

The next role I went to after that, I loved all that I learned. I really enjoyed my colleagues. They were all much older than I was. They were stable in their career and happy and just – They were learning new things, but they weren't really changing the way they engaged on projects. I looked around and I said, “I'm too early in my career to stabilize at this point. I need to go try something else. I need to grow in a different way. I need to do something.

I think only now, sort of 10 years in, do I look around, and I say, “Okay, if I stabilized at this point, that would be okay.” If this was where I took some time and plateaued for a little while and focused on other aspects of work, other aspects of life, etc., etc., that would be okay. But early in my career, I didn't want to be in an environment where it seemed like everyone was doing that, because that wasn't where I needed to be.

[00:33:21] JC: Yeah. I never worked somewhere with that much of a – I always worked at startups, and startups are super unstable.

[00:33:30] LB: I like ruthless.

[00:33:35] JC: Startups are ruthless.

[00:33:36] LB: It just feels like it describes all manner of sins.

[00:33:39] JC: I did have an experience at the one company where I was becoming unhappy in my role. We had a new person join an already really small team, and their enthusiasm for the role – it was so clear to me that I did not have that same enthusiasm anymore. It was one of the main reasons I was like, “Oh. Oh, no. I’m going to have to leave.”

[00:34:06] LB: I also feel like the thing that we're not saying is boredom is always a piece of the puzzle. It can be the only piece of the puzzle and be plenty enough reasons to leave, but most of the places I've been bored, not all of them, but many of the places I've been bored also came with a healthy level of like, “This is not a great environment for me to work in anymore.” I feel like that one's really obvious, because you no longer want to speak positively to candidates. That is the most obvious way to say, “I should not work here anymore. It would be hard for me to answer candidate questions in a way that would make them want to come take this job. I should not be an employee here anymore.”

[00:34:49] JC: Yeah, yeah, that happened to me.

[00:34:51] LB: It happens to everyone, I think. Sometimes, it's just that you've outgrown the experiences. I think startups are actually the place this probably happens most often. You'll see three versions of the company, and you'll still be thinking about the second version you saw when they're on version number three, and someone's coming into work on version number three, and you can't help but give them anecdotes and explanations from version number two, and they're never going to experience that because it's gone. It's turned over into something else. But it's really hard to recognize that when you're in it and you've lived through all those differences seasons.

[00:35:27] JC: Yes. That's one of the downsides to working in startups is the revisions of the culture happen pretty quickly.

[00:35:38] LB: Very quickly. I feel like startups are the opposite of being bored. If you're bored at a startup, I have a lot of questions. But at the same time, it can definitely happen. But I think you're more likely to get bored of the constant change, which is a type of being bored.

[00:35:55] JC: It is a type of being bored. But I will tell you, I have been bored at a startup before. There were two distinct times. One was because I was early in my career and I was not getting stretch assignments.

[00:36:10] LB: That'll do it.

[00:36:11] JC: That'll do it, right? So, stretch assignments, for anyone who doesn't know, is when they give you an assignment, a piece of work that is just a little bit outside the comfort zone. It's meant to make you grow as an engineer. I just kept getting the same thing over and over again. It’s like they didn't trust me to grow into something else in that role. I didn't feel like they were setting me up to advance.

[00:36:37] LB: That's a really dangerous position to be in, especially very early in your career. Because if you have three years of experience, but it really only boils down to the level of stretch assignments that they would give someone who's been in a role for one year, the longer you’d stay there, the harder it is to get what you're worth and get the next opportunity that you should three years in at that point. So, when you see that happening, leave sooner rather than later; if you can, if you have the privilege to do so.

[00:37:07] JC: Absolutely. This is something that is very important. Because you and I, when I say we, you and I literally talk about this all the time, which is that years of experience, is it a good measurement?

[00:37:19] LB: It's a terrible measurement.

[00:37:20] JC: It's a terrible measurement. Because you can be early in your career but have had tons of experience doing a bunch of things and you've just grown a lot as an engineer, or you could have been doing the same thing for seven years. Those are two different engineers.

[00:37:34] LB: I'm going to use some anecdotes. We're not going to use any names here. I have a colleague who has been doing this for a year, maybe two, who works at Netflix, and works in the UI code that I work in. All the PRs are great. You wouldn't know at all that they have any different level of experience than somebody else. Versus I was talking to a friend who works at different company the other day, and they just hired someone, eight years of experience from a really big company, had the resume, whatever, and really struggling with what they feel should be basic knowledge.

I question the basic knowledge thing. But a lack of autonomy? That is sort of strange for someone who has eight years of experience. So, there're certain types of using Git that they're not comfortable with. They're not comfortable answering those questions themselves or figuring out the solution to those questions themselves. They've been requiring a lot of one-on-one hand holding and pairing and stuff like that, which, for someone eight years in, is very strange.

It's entirely dependent on what you have done in that time. There are some people who are going to be able to pack a whole bunch of different patterns in their head really quickly and there are some people who are going to feel comfortable and confident and good doing the same thing over and over again. That's fine, but it means that it's not going to seem like they've been doing this for however many years they have.

[00:39:03] JC: Yeah. I have experienced the same thing. Yeah, years of experience, not a good measurement.

[00:39:09] LB: It's also strange, because it's all over the place right now. There's this missing middle. I don't know if people have seen it. I think it's because there was that period of time where there weren't senior engineers, there were managers. But you talk to people, and you'll get the people who have been doing this for 25 years, and you'll get the people who have been doing this for 10 years. The middle of those two numbers is a lot harder to find. They exist, but they don't exist in the numbers that those other two numbers do.

If you talk to someone who's senior and been doing this for a while, you're going to get an answer between 10 and 15 years almost every single time, which is so interesting to me. The numbers higher than that don't exist, especially in certain populations.

[00:39:55] JC: Right. Yeah, absolutely. I am very curious to see how that changes.

[00:39:59] LB: Oh, yeah.

[00:40:00] JC: Because I know that I've been doing this 10 years. I forget sometimes, though.

[00:40:06] LB: I was thinking about that the other day. It depends on where you start counting, if you count from my first internship where I was coding, that was thirteen years ago ish, 14 years ago. But if you count from my first job, that was a little over a decade ago now. I look around, and that – I mean, you and me both, that puts us in a category where there aren't a ton of other women, specifically. We exist. But we all know each other. We all know each other.

[00:40:43] JC: Or we know each other through friends of friends.

[00:40:45] LB: Oh, yeah. It's sort of funny, at this point, people are like, “Make sure you network,” and all of these things. That's a really hard thing to explain to someone how to do but, in a certain pool of people, you are one degree separated from everyone else in that pool. Probably connected by trauma. But it's really strange. Someone's like, “Oh, do you know XYZ?” And I was like, “No. But they're really good friends with this person who I talk to on Discord once a week, so I'm sure I can get to them. What do we need to ask them?”

It confuses the shit out of my colleagues, because we're always recruiting for various things and I've referred a lot of people at this point, and a lot of them have ended up being hired. It's a really weird number for the amount of time I've been here. I've been here for nine months and I think six of the people I've referred have gotten offers. Not everyone's accepted, but six of the people I've referred have gotten offers. Somewhere around that number. My colleagues all look at me and they're like, “I feel like the hiring team needs to give you a trophy.” I was like, “But it's not that hard. We have jobs. We pay well. We have good benefits. These are smart people with experience. I'm just connect – what is hard?” And they're like, “But I don't have a network that big.” And I was like, “Really? That’s not automatic? You don’t know 100 people have gone through the same exact trauma you've gone through? Weird. Weird.” Such a strange concept.

[00:42:08] JC: Oh, it's too real. It's too real. It got a little dark. Sorry, y’all.

[00:42:13] LB: Sorry.

[00:42:14] JC: Okay. We actually have to wind things down, which is sad, because you know I like talking to you.

[00:42:19] LB: Indeed.

[00:42:20] JC: I have one last question for you, which is: being that you have been at startups or small companies for a lot of your career, being that you are now at Netflix, which is much larger –

[00:42:32] LB: Just a bit.

[00:42:34] JC: Do you have a plan in place to keep yourself from getting bored here? Or do you not worry so much about it?

[00:42:42] LB: I don't worry so much about it just because, like you said, onboarding takes a year. I'll be a year in, and I still won't know what I'm doing, and then there will be plenty of time. But the other thing is – my colleague, who's newer to the team than I am, transitioned from another team in another area of Netflix. When you have an organization this big with so many different folks doing so many different things, I think it gives you the opportunity to just sort of move around. If you're happy with what you're working on, in general – I think it's really fun that I work in television and media and all of that stuff. I love TV. I love movies. It's really enjoyable, even if I'm very not related to it in terms of the stuff I code day to day.

If I like that, and I feel like, in general, I'm treated well, there's plenty of opportunities for me to move around and do other things and not get bored. There are people who have been here for 15, 16 years. I've been here for nine months. If you ask me in four years, I might have a different answer. If you ask me in two years, I might have a different answer. I have felt this way before about other jobs but they were also smaller ponds. So, I think a larger pond gives me more flexibility.

[00:43:49] JC: Right. In some of my previous startup roles, there weren't other teams or other projects for me to move to, because it was so small.

[00:43:58] LB: Yeah, absolutely. I have switched roles. At Gatsby, I switched roles and I still found that, after about a year and a half, I'd lived through three different cycles at the company and it was time for something new. So, I might feel that way in a larger organization, or I might be more shielded from that whiplash.

[00:44:19] JC: Okay, well, I'm going to put a calendar invite for two years from now.

[00:44:23] LB: Okay, we'll come back and we'll talk about this.

[00:44:25] JC: We'll see what happened. I'll be very curious to see what happened. Alright, Laurie, thank you for coming on. I'm so stoked I got to have you on season two, and that you are my first guest.

[00:44:37] LB: Thank you for having me. I hope I kicked it off in as random away as it feels like I did.

[00:44:42] JC: No, no, it was perfect. It was perfect. Everyone's going to love it.


[00:44:51] JC: Again, thank you to Laurie for being on the podcast. You can follow her on Twitter @laurieontech. A few little notes on this season of single-threaded, episodes are still going to come out weekly just like they did, 9 or 10 episodes. If you want to keep track of when we're releasing episodes and when we might be taking a break, I encourage you to follow our Twitter @single_threaded. That's also where we'll announce if we're doing any listening parties, so be sure to follow us there. I'm looking forward to your feedback as these episodes start to roll out and I will see you next time.


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