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Interview with Software Developer Erin Scott

This is the transcript of my conversation on @FromSourcePod with Erin Scott, a Software Developer.

Erin Scott is a software developer for RS21, a big data visualization company in Albuquerque, NM. She is a hot yoga enthusiast and a big proponent of diversity in tech. If you want to work with her, apply here. She can also be reached directly on LinkedIn. We talk about being a career changer, using her work to have a positive impact, how to choose the right bootcamp, and much more!

This has been edited for clarity.

Michelle: Erin, what is your current job title and how long have you been there?

Erin: My current title is Software Developer and I've been there for just about one full year.

Michelle: Congratulations on your first anniversary!

Erin: Thank you, I'm excited.

Michelle: What does an average day look like for you?

Erin: The company that I work at has a super flexible work policy. day-to-day, it varies. Depending on meeting schedules. I might need to be in the office or if I have a lot of specific tasks to do, sometimes I'll work from home for the whole day. Sometimes I'll do partial, go into the office, and then work from home or a coffee shop in the afternoon. That's an aspect that I value, that I found unique to working within the tech industry. The flexibility is something that I really wanted when I was in other positions. Being able to mix up my work environment and have a bit more autonomy over my schedule and where and when I'm most productive. So day-to-day, it changes.

Michelle: Do you find any challenges with communication when working remotely?

Erin: I did at first with understanding, within the team, what the expectations were. The company that I work at has been in business for about four years now. We're exiting out of that initial startup phase. When I joined the team a year ago, some of those policies weren't necessarily ironed out. As the team has grown over the past year, we have a little bit more of standard expectations, in terms of like checking in and when you need to be available, that sort of thing. We use Slack as our primary communication tool. I'm pretty much on slack all day, every day.

Michelle: The challenge was to be very deliberate in your communication, so no one is missing anything?

Erin: Yeah, exactly. I honestly feel like when I'm remote, I am checking Slack more often and am more responsive than I am when I'm in the office. Someone could just come to tap me on the shoulder if they needed something. That has been appreciated. Quick follow-up, especially when you are remote proves that you are working and you're available. Then you've built that trust.

Michelle: What has been your favorite long term project?

Erin: Since my annual review is coming up, right around the corner, I was looking over a lot of projects that I've participated in recently. There's been a lot, which has been super awesome. It's been quite a year of growth for me. There was one huge one that stands out in my mind and that we're going to have continued work on in the future. It was a healthcare related good project, a huge one in terms of the number of people in the organization that were involved from project management to design and client interactions. Of course, the whole software development team.

Erin: That one I feel very proud to have contributed on because it had a legacy codebase. Jumping into that, understanding how the current tool was working, and then being able to implement all of the new features and have it work seamlessly across the Front and Back End, was a cool portfolio piece for me. Now the fact that it is actually in place within this healthcare related setting and has, hopefully, a positive impact on the people that we created to use the tool makes it something that I was proud to contribute to.

Michelle: Do you have any tips for anyone jumping into a legacy codebase like that and trying to understand it?

Erin: Oh, it's not easy. For that particular project, our team lucked out in the sense that the people that had worked on it previously were still there and available to ask questions, etc. As I mentioned before, the team had worked on implementing more and more policies and getting standard practices down. At the point in time when this project was initially created, we didn't have a whole lot of expectations around commenting code and documentation and that sort of thing.

Erin: That made this particular one extra challenging, in my opinion, because there wasn't a whole lot of breadcrumbs to figure out how everything was working. Luckily, this wasn't the very first project that I was assigned to because that would have been so intimidating and scary. Dor this particular one I leaned on the support of my teammates. We had a lot of collaborative coding sessions, code reviews, explanations of how the tool previously had worked, and what changes we needed to make. The fact that it was such a collaborative effort helped in that regard.

Michelle: Sometimes looking back at old code, it feels like an archeological dig where you're trying to figure out what the thought process was of the engineer who built it, to try to figure out what it does.

Erin: Yeah, definitely. I've learned to console log everywhere, work through it piece by piece, and try to understand how everything connects. For some of these huge codebases, that can be like weeks just by itself.

Michelle: What do you find the most boring but essential part of your job?

Erin: All of the work that we do is billable to clients because our organization is a consultancy. I didn't fully realize that when I joined the team. I was thinking, Okay, I'm a salaried employee. Cool. I'm done with hourly timesheets. But now a big part of my day-to-day work is being sure that we are accountable for the hours spent and the tasking that we have. We do it every day. Because otherwise, I can't remember at the end of the week. What did I do on Monday? I have no idea. That was a tedious thing to be aware of and get in the habit of initially. Now as long as I stay consistent with it, and do it every day, I figured out how to manage it. It's not the most fun task for sure.

Michelle: Do you still have time for research and learning even though you're on the clock for each client?

Erin: Yeah, definitely. There's been a couple of cases where the project required that we use some sort of new technology. For example, one that we had recently was working with a national laboratory. We were collaborating with their on-site engineering team. They were very familiar with Angular, the latest versions of the Angular framework. Whereas on our internal team our preferred Front End framework is Vue.

Erin: So we were pushing to build the new tool in Vue because it was what we were most comfortable with and could get done quickest. But because they were going to be the ones maintaining the code long term, we ended up building it in Angular. No one on our internal team at the time was an Angular expert, so we were able to build in some time to get up to speed on Angular. Learning and tutorial time was considered billable work since it was particularly related to the project. Situations like that come up a lot, where we get to learn while we're in the process, which is awesome.

Michelle: What is the most stressful part of your job and how do you manage it?

Erin: The aspect of staying up to date with the technology is challenging. It's an exciting part of my job, for sure. Our organization prides itself on being on the cutting edge, using a lot of open-source tools and technologies, and pushing the boundaries. Of course, part of that is staying on the cutting edge as the development team. Sometimes it can feel a little bit overwhelming since you can't know everything all the time. That goes back to having a good relationship with the team and a collaborative process. I feel like I've learned a lot about tips and tricks and cool other new stuff from some of my teammates that I maybe would never have heard of.

Michelle: Do you have any go-to resources for when you need to learn a new technology quickly? How do you get started?

Erin: I've done a lot of online tutorials on Scrimba. I find it to be a cool resource because you can pause the videos and type in the code editor It's a little bit more interactive. So I've enjoyed some of their classes. I've used Free Code Camp as a resource. Over the years I've enjoyed a lot of their material. Also, their weekly blog and emails have all kinds of cool tips.

Erin: I do have to monitor myself on that because I will go down the rabbit hole of stuff that I find interesting, but isn't maybe billable work. I need to keep myself in check and make sure that the time I'm spending at work is pertinent to a particular project. Then on the weekends, I still do a fair amount of continued learning. I've also noticed for myself that I need to have time away from my computer, have a mental health break, and do other stuff. Otherwise, I tend to get a little bit burned out.

Michelle: Do you have a favorite distressing activity that gets you away from the computer?

Erin: Yeah, definitely. I'm really into heart yoga. That's my primary de-stressor of choice.

Michelle: We all need to get away from our screens at some point in the day.

Erin: For sure. Yoga slows down the pace for me. Whereas throughout the day, I feel like I'm running around and doing a lot of stuff. Being forced to slow down, focus on my breathing, and then do all the stretching, that sort of thing. It is a good mental health and physical exercise experience for me.

Michelle: After a session do you ever realize that you've solved all these problems that seemed much harder before I started?

Erin: Yeah, sometimes, or at least I feel calmer. I can approach the problem without being quite so stressed or frantic about it? It gives me a refreshed perspective.

Michelle: What skills do you find the most essential on a day-to-day basis?

Erin: Communication skills have been hugely important in my role, which is kind of surprising. Of course, tech skills are vital as well. I think that having some of those soft skills to supplement and fill in the gaps is critical. To be able to build rapport with people, have personal relationships, and thus create and cultivate an environment where you feel comfortable and don't feel stupid asking questions. That sort of thing. That's been a huge helper to me in my first year as a full-time developer.

Michelle: Are there any methods or research you did to help improve those skills?

Erin: I studied Communications and Spanish for my undergraduate degrees. Later in life, I did a coding boot camp, and then here I am. That background helped me a lot. There are some awesome books from people like Dale Carnegie and Berne Brown. Those are more like self-help, communication, leadership, those sorts of tools. I stay up to date out of my own personal interest. I like to follow some of them on social media and receive their email newsletters. I get daily inspiration from some of that, which I would definitely recommend.

Michelle: Are there any skills that were on your job description, or advised to have, that you never use at all?

Erin: I mentioned that our team is focused on being innovative and on the cutting edge. I remember when I interviewed, there was a whole list of required skills and a bunch of nice-to-haves. Some of the stuff on the list were frameworks and different technologies that I was like, I've never heard of this before but googling now. Some of those were fad tools and I haven't ever learned those or use them day-to-day.

Erin: I will say that we use a lot of D3, which is data visualization stuff. D3 can be hugely intimidating to get up to speed on. I've gotten to get my feet wet with that a little bit recently. Since I work primarily on the front end, I use a lot of different frameworks. It's been awesome to get to use different ones on various projects, depending on what the client needs are. That bundles up to all of the learning that I've had over this first year.

Michelle: It must be nice to use different tools and be able to compare and contrast. So when you start a new project, you can make an informed decision on which to use.

Erin: Yeah, definitely. That's been an immense asset for me, for sure. It can be intimidating when I'm given the task and it's like, use whatever! When it can be Vue or Angular or React. I'm like, huh, okay, let me start skilling up on that. It's hard sometimes to get the ball rolling. Sometimes the fear of failing or seeming incompetent will hold me back for a moment. Now there's been enough instances where I've overcome that initial discomfort so that I feel much more confident jumping into a tool and feeling like yeah, I'm gonna be able to figure this out.

Michelle: At our first job or your first task it can be terrifying to not know what you're doing. Once you succeed at one, then another, then another, you realize how fun it is to start a project, not knowing anything and being able to learn and discover.

Erin: I agree.

Michelle: If someone wanted your job, what's a good path to take?

Erin: As I mentioned, I did a coding boot camp. Prior to that, I was working full time in a marketing and communications role. Then I moved into a position doing more operations management. I was coding in the evenings, doing a lot of tutorials trying to be self-taught. I wasn't making a whole lot of progress, at least at the rate that I wanted to. I also asked myself, what am I doing this for? What do I want my future trajectory to be? It was after a heart-to-heart that I decided I'm going to go all in on the coding path. Doing that immersive bootcamp experience is what catapulted me in the direction of being qualified enough to land a full time development job.

Erin: It was helpful during my interview process. This was the first time in my life where I had competing offers. I felt like I could negotiate. I could choose the position that was the best fit for me. That itself was hugely empowering and made me feel confident in my decision to change trajectories. The fact that I had other professional experience and had a more varied skill set was appealing to these different employers. I was able to contribute to different functional teams and not solely just development. That helped set me apart a little bit as well.

Michelle: How did you figure out which bootcamp was the right one for you?

Erin: I am located in Albuquerque, New Mexico. When I was looking at boot camps there were a couple of options here in town. I was considering some nearby cities, like Denver and Austin, etc. Ultimately, I didn't want to pay for housing for the short term and not have my local support system. I decided that it would be best for me to stay in New Mexico if possible. Luckily, there was a great program here called Deep Dive Coding. It had recently been incorporated into or partnered with one of the community colleges here in town.

Erin: They have this whole STEM learning initiative now that is its' own separate center where they host all these different coding boot camps. As part of that, they offer funding through this program called Tech Hire Initiative. It is a federally funded program from the Obama administration where they provide funding for people to do job skills and tech training if you're in a certain age range and you're in specific zip codes.

Erin: I was able to get the boot camp fully funded through the Tech Hire Initiative. That was the ultimate deciding factor for me. That I would be able to save up a little money to support my cost of living while I was doing the bootcamp, because it is 40 hours a week Plus you can't do a whole lot outside of that. I was then able to get that scholarship to cover the cost of the program, which was awesome.

Michelle: That's a great opportunity. Hopefully, our listeners can also take advantage of programs like that.

Erin: Yeah, definitely. Even if the Tech Hire Initiative isn't a thing where they are, there were a lot of scholarship opportunities. Especially for people that typically have been left out of tech, like marginalized groups, people of color, women, etc. If you look for funding sources, there's a lot of options out there. It's worth taking the time to pursue and apply for some of those opportunities.

Michelle: Is there anything you'd advise students to learn that's not in either their college or bootcamp curriculum?

Erin: Networking has been immensely helpful to my professional development. While it can be super uncomfortable sometimes, I tried to go to a variety of different meetups, professional events ad different lectures. To put myself out there. I did that while I was in the coding boot camp. In the evening if there was an interesting talk I would make an effort to go. Some people in my class were not able to do based on personal commitments or time spent studying. I decided that would be a priority for me.

Erin: Partially it was because I was making this career change. I wanted to reintroduce myself to people in the community and be able to communicate Hey, I'm doing this now. If you know of opportunities, I would appreciate a connection. It was through an event that I met the company that I work at now. The founder was doing a talk about entrepreneurship and how the company got its start. I went to it on a whim and then was very impressed with their presentation. I went up to him afterward and introduced myself. From there, we kept in touch. Eventually, I got an interview, and then here we are. Going to events, introducing myself, and networking, that made all the difference.

Michelle: At the right networking events, it's all about making friends who are interested in the same nerdy things that I'm interested in, and maybe one day we help each other.

Erin: Yeah. I agree. There are so many interest specific groups, you can always find your tribe. It's a big confidence booster and empowering because you're like, oh, yeah, I'm not the only one. Awesome.

Michelle: Speaking of events, are there any questions that are commonly asked when you talk to people just getting started in tech at meetups and events?

Erin: Yeah, the most common question people ask is how to get started and how to get your feet in the door. Internships can be hugely helpful. Sometimes people feel like an internship is beneath them. For myself and others that are switching careers, you have to humbly acknowledge that you're starting at the bottom and you don't know everything. Internships can create an environment where you can ask questions, have mentors, get help, and skill up in a short time.

Erin: I encourage people to be open to those sorts of opportunities. Also, build an online portfolio of your work. Feature the kind of cool stuff that you're interested in doing. a blog can give you credibility and show that you're actively learning. It can help set you apart as well, in terms of the interview process, etc.

Michelle: I know you've only been there a year, but have you been a part of any interviewing process of new hires or interns?

Erin: Yeah, and that's been awesome. Our director of development has made a conscious effort to include people from different levels throughout the team in the interview process. It was fun to be able to stay on the other side of the table. That's a cool initiative because people have different perspectives from where they are on the team and can ask different questions accordingly. I've been excited to get to participate in some interviews.

Michelle: What do you look for when you're interviewing?

Erin: The company hires based on skillset and culture fit. We do phone interviews then bring them into the office to spend a day with the team. participate in meetings and see how the vibe goes. The people that ultimately end up getting hired are very avid learners, have a lot of different interests, varied skillsets, and are genuinely kind people. It has created this awesome team environment, in my opinion, of people that want to create and contribute to something cool and worthwhile. Everyone wants to contribute to something bigger than just clocking in the nine to five.

Michelle: I tend to think of it as headphones, head down engineer versus hands up engineer who want to be a part of the whole process, instead of just getting tasks thrown at them.

Erin: I would say that the scale of that varies from person to person, but I feel like everybody is interested in cultivating relationships and has each other's backs, that sort of thing. It's not like every person for themselves situation, which makes the products that we're creating at the end of the day stronger.

Michelle: One of the reasons I prefer working on teams is being able to make something greater than what you can do yourself.

Michelle: Are there any technical organizations that you enjoy being a part of?

Erin: There's a couple of different meetups, and those are more locally here in Albuquerque that I participate in. We have a cool React meetup. We have one about UI/UX that recently started. day-to-day, I'm not using React as my primary tool and I'm not on the UI/UX team. However, I like to go to some of the ones that are tangentially related to my daily work because it presents a different perspective for me, and I get to meet interesting people. A lot of the specific learning that I do is more individually, I find that I have enough accountability/time management that I can do stuff independently. It depends, but for the most part, if I set a goal of finishing some tutorial I'll do it. It might just take me a long time. I am a good self learner for some of those more specific tools or technologies if I'm trying to skill up.

Erin: There is another group that I'm a part of that I enjoy. There's a woman here in town that is an alumnus from the boot camp program I attended. She started this group called Rubber Ducks that's all about women in tech specifically. Across sectors and specific roles, there's a whole lot of variety of people that participate in this group, We have a slack workspace and have a social event happy hour once a month.

Erin: That's been an immensely helpful space for me to get reassurance or bounce ideas off of others. It's a very supportive environment. We talk about salaries and the transparency has been really helpful for my professional development in negotiation, practicing those skills, and what expectations are reasonable. If something like that exists in your community, I encourage you to participate. If it doesn't exist, maybe start something like that because having a group of peers, and being able to have honest conversations is very, very valuable.

Michelle: Have you thought about your next career step?

Erin: Yeah, I have. It has been a time of reflection for me recently since I'm coming up on my annual review. I've discovered that throughout some of the projects that I've been working on, I'm interested in the UX part of the conversation which is not part of my day-to-day work presently. I enjoy it when I get to interface with our in-house design team and talk about the information architecture, how that's translated into the designs, and then how we're coding that into reality on the Front End. I hope to get to work more closely with that team in the coming year, skill up and learn from them.

Erin: I also have some interest in pursuing more opportunities on the Back End. I get to dabble a bit with some of the APIs and database work. But that's not my primary function on the team right now. Ultimately, being more holistic or Full Stack would be awesome. That's going to help my contributions to the project as a whole, even if it's not my specific task, being able to understand how all the pieces fit together.

Michelle: Backend is the best, come join me. I love it. If our listeners want to reach out via social media, how can they reach you?

Erin: I would be happy to connect, that'd be great. I'm on Twitter, my handle is @dot_of_scott. I'm also on LinkedIn. Those are probably the top two ways to get in touch with me.

Michelle: If anyone is inspired to work with you, how should they reach out?

Erin: The company I work for is called Resilient Solutions 21, RS21. We're based in Albuquerque and we also have an office in Washington, DC because a lot of the work that we do, the clients are federal agencies, etc. We have a team on the ground there. We're always looking for talented, interesting, creative people. If anybody out there is looking for a job in development, design, project management, etc and you're into data visualizations, and cool projects, I would encourage you to check out the work that we do.

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