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Constructing An Identity – Knocking Out Impostor Syndrome with Mannah Kallon

Relicans host, Chris Sean Debatos talks to Senior Software Engineer at HOVER, Mannah Kallon, about his journey from animation nerd to BBQ chef, to philosopher and mathematician, to getting a Master’s Degree in Education, to becoming a teacher for several years.

Eventually, Mannah went to work for an ed-tech company as a content creator writing math lessons and worked with developers for the first time. And that, friends, is how he ended up a full-time software developer and has not looked back since! Mannah also talks about overcoming impostor syndrome (while helping others do the same!), being a very product-focused engineer, and what makes a good developer a good developer.

Should you find a burning need to share your thoughts or rants about the show, please spray them at devrel@newrelic.com. While you're going to all the trouble of shipping us some bytes, please consider taking a moment to let us know what you'd like to hear on the show in the future. Despite the all-caps flaming you will receive in response, please know that we are sincerely interested in your feedback; we aim to appease. Follow us on the Twitters: @LaunchiesShow.

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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome to Launchies, proudly brought to you by New Relic's Developer Relations team, The Relicans. The Launchies podcast is about supporting new developers and telling their stories and helping you make the next step in what we certainly hope is a very long and healthy career in software. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of The Relicans podcasts on developer.newrelic.com/podcasts. We're so glad you're here. Enjoy the show.

Chris Sean Debatos: What is up, everyone? Welcome to another episode of the Launchies Podcast. This is Chris Sean hosting this episode. And I'm here with the one and only Mannah. Mannah, that's a really interesting name. How did that name come about? Is there any background to your name?

Mannah Kallon: First and foremost, I really appreciate you having me on. And I did not choose my name. It is in the Bible. My father is from Sierra Leone. It is bread that the Israelites ate during Exodus, and that's just how they spelled it.

Chris Sean: Nice. Actually, I figured it was that from what I remember from Sunday School, [laughs] but I had to ask. I had to ask. I was curious about that actually since last week, to be honest, but that's really cool. Awesome. Well, it's nice to meet you, man. I'm really glad to have you on this episode.

And your story and your journey to where you are now is actually quite interesting after I got to learn about you a little bit more before even doing this episode. So you're a developer, but that hasn't been your professional career your entire life. You've done quite a few different things before becoming a developer.

Mannah: Yeah. So the way I got into development is actually a pretty winding path. Happy to talk about it. So at 18, after graduating high school, I went to the University of Michigan. I did study engineering very poorly.

Chris Sean: What kind of engineering?

Mannah: I'm originally from New York. And I went to a school far away from home to do something completely different. I was an engineering student, but the thing that I did mostly was...it was the first time I had access to computers, and I was a big animation nerd.

Chris Sean: Oh, wow.

Mannah: Yeah. Japanese animation, anime, Akira, and Perfect Blue back in the day, and the original Ghost in the Shell, and then the American stuff from the classic Disney to the Warner Brothers. I was really big into moving images. And outside of class, I spent a lot of time in the computer lab with a program that many of us are familiar with and miss dearly, which is Macromedia Flash.

Chris Sean: Oh my. [laughs]

Mannah: Yeah, and really just like creating art. And I did that a lot more than I went to class. I had some family things going on. So I decided that school was not necessarily for me at that moment. I came home, came back to the East Coast. And one thing is my parents were never very good cooks.

Chris Sean: [chuckles]

Mannah: And I knew when I started my family I wanted to have that family dinner that I saw at home. So I had been working at restaurants at school. I came back, was working at restaurants back in New York and around New York. I got into culinary school, did that, got that degree, opened up a restaurant eventually. It was a barbecue place.

Chris Sean: Wait, hold up. You opened your own restaurant.

Mannah: I opened my own restaurant. I definitely had a lot of help.

Chris Sean: Okay, in New York.

Mannah: Well, not New York City. I'm from New York City, but this was in Westchester. So I opened up a barbecue place in White Plains, which was an experience. I'm like a young 20 something running a business, lots of lessons there. It was a really cool experience. Eventually, it got to the point where my investors bought me out, and I had some money. I wasn't going to work for anybody else at that point, and I wasn't going to start another place. So I went back to school.

Chris Sean: So you used that money to go back to school.

Mannah: I used that money to go back to school. And I studied...I didn't know this at that time, but it was my first love, philosophy. I really was into philosophy, specifically symbolic logic, as nerdy as that sounds, and discrete mathematics so the structure of arguments. Even the why of the way things aligned and the way people communicate, and then how do you develop a logical structure?

And logic is the kind of grandfather of mathematics. When I did get my undergrad degree in philosophy and psychology, I wanted to be in academia at that point. And in New York, there's a program called The New York City Teaching Fellows. So I joined The New York City Teaching Fellows. It was an opportunity for me to be in the classroom, get a Master's degree while teaching. So it was a free Master's degree which was exciting to me.

Chris Sean: Which is nice. Less debt. No debt in regards to that.

Mannah: It's a great program not only because of introducing people to the teaching profession but to really see what's going on. I was in the South Bronx in Harlem. It was not like the school that I went to. My first year, when I started teaching, I was teaching one classroom of 25, 30 kids, whatever it was. And so I wanted to help these people, but that wasn't a big enough influence. And so, I wanted to get to work with more kids, either work with the whole school or work with the district.

Chris Sean: And I think you were even a fifth-grade math teacher, right?

Mannah: I taught from fifth grade up to middle school, and then I worked with high school students. So over the years, I taught different grades at different schools.

Chris Sean: Wow. So you've done a lot.

Mannah: Yeah, it was really a lot. And then one of the things that I realized was really helpful was technology. And I used some of the lessons that I had built in my hobby to create learning opportunities for my students. I created this math Pac-Man game that my kids really loved, and I saw how they were getting engaged in that. And that's what kind of showed me the value of technology and how technology can be used specifically in this education example but how it can influence others.

Eventually, I went to work for an ed-tech company as a content creator writing math lessons. But this was my first time actually working with developers. So I had been building stuff on my own. I had been tinkering around. I had never had any formal training and never worked with a developer. Then when I worked for an ed-tech company, I got to see the ins and outs and what development looked like. And this is still in New York. I came out to the West Coast thinking I was still going to be in the educational field. I got a job at one of the bootcamps doing content for them.

Chris Sean: For a coding bootcamp.

Mannah: At a coding bootcamp. I did content for them, and in doing the content, I did the program and graduated from the program. And I saw an opportunity to be a full-time software developer. That was about five, six years ago at this point. And I haven't really looked back since.

Chris Sean: Wow. You've had multiple; I guess you could say, professional careers. You went from having your own restaurant, which is a lot to learn. And then you went into the educational field and helping students, teaching them whatever you needed to teach them. And then, because you love education that much, even when you went into tech, it still had something related to education. [laughs]

Mannah: Yeah. So when I'm giving talks like this, it's something I definitely do still is talk to students either about entering tech. Or what are your career opportunities, or how do you find your passion? And a lot of times, I get asked, "What is your dream job?" And my response is, "Why would I ever dream of my job?"

Chris Sean: [laughs] Whoa. I've never heard that answer. That is a good point.

Mannah: Because I love what I do, and I think that that's the important thing. I love what I do. I love what I get out of it. And at every stage of my career, I've gotten something out of it that regardless of what I do professionally, I can apply that to my real life because that's really what I'm focusing on, my life and my development and my fulfillment, not punching a clock or going to work. That's not to say don't work. What is your real focus? What is driving your decisions? Is it that you want to get a job, or is it because you want to have a particular lifestyle, or you want some experiences?

Chris Sean: So rather than saying, what is your dream job? Like when you say, what is your goal? What is it that will really make you happy? You're happy now. Are you unhappy now? If you are happy now, what will make you even happier in the next 5 to 10 years? If you're not happy, what will make you happy right off the bat? And that's what your goal should be more than just a dream job.

Mannah: Exactly. Exactly.

Chris Sean: That's a good point.

Mannah: That should be where your start is. What are the things that you like to do? Do you want to travel? Do you want to write? Do you want notoriety? What are the things? Is it money that drives you? That should be the thing that helps you choose a job. Your job shouldn't be first, and then you're like, okay, now I can slot in some of the other things that I enjoy.

Chris Sean: That is so interesting because that's kind of what happened with me. My dream job wasn't just tech. Tech is cool. I'm a developer. But it wasn't just tech. My dream job was making sure I don't ever go hungry again, and I'll never be homeless ever again. I used to live in my car. My family will never have to worry about money again, meaning my parents. I'm not married yet.

And then so I got into it, but I didn't love my job. [laughs] It wasn't my dream job. And then, after I started having a really good, steady, and very good income, my dream next was I just want to help developers become developers. I want to help aspiring developers have a really good career. I want to speak at conferences and travel the world and make content for a living. Then my job found me, and now I'm a DevRel engineer where I literally do all of that for a living, which is kind of crazy. But yeah, this is my dream job.

But even if I wasn't doing this for a living at work, I'd still be doing it outside of work anyway. And so that's what makes me happy. This job makes me very happy because I get to do what I love. But even if I wasn't working here, I found what it is that really makes me happy, which is helping people, which is a really good answer. That's a really interesting point. And so going from that then, what is it that even made you go to tech then? So you started working for a bootcamp. Is it because you started attending that bootcamp later on?

Mannah: So I did the bootcamp program and in the bootcamp program…

Chris Sean: If I could pause it there really quick, though, why did you start learning code?

Mannah: So I had started learning code because I was doing these animations. And the thing that got me into that is gaming. I'm a huge gamer. I got Street Fighter tattoos up and down my arms.

Chris Sean: Hold on. Street Fighter tattoos? That is a first. Wow. So you are a Dreamcast person. Wait, was that Dreamcast that had the Street Fighter?

Mannah: Street Fighter goes back. We had our 30th anniversary a year or two ago. Definitely have the Dreamcast. I have the Dreamcast hooked up right now next to me.

Chris Sean: [laughs] Oh my God.

Mannah: Yeah. And that love runs deep. And that was kind of the thing more than any sort of education, more than learning logic in a college setting, or more than learning coding at a bootcamp. The thing that made me a developer was that gaming. Because video games or games in general, but particularly video games, they all have to be programmed, which means there has to be a set of steps that the game needs to go through in order for any decision to happen.

And whenever I'm playing, I'm doing this reverse engineering, like, okay, why did this character jump now? What is the input that it got that told it to act in this certain way? And from a young age till today, I've always been doing this sort of detective work behind the scenes and trying to understand how things work. And that is exactly how coding works, right?

Chris Sean: Yeah, exactly.

Mannah: Coding is a set of if-then statements where...that is a gross simplification. But there is a logic that gets you to a result or rendering or some decisions that are made. And so, just having that mindset really was embedded in me very, very early and definitely carried through in all of the things that I did.

Obviously, with learning logic in the college level, going back to making menus and like okay, let's stage this meal. How can I set up my line so that there's not too much strain on the sauté station and the grill station is underutilized? All these things kind of follow the same path. How can I control the environment? How can I set the variables such that I get the desired result? There are some avenues that are a little bit more complicated to make that work than others. But luckily for me, as a developer, technology is one of the venues where that lines up really nicely.

Chris Sean: Definitely. Wow. You're different. [laughs] What I mean by different is it's so interesting to see how your love for a particular game and then just the logic of programming how it involves all of those things, which you already love. It really brought you to where you are today. How long have you been a developer for?

Mannah: So I've been a developer, like I said, going on six years now.

Chris Sean: Six years. So I want to go back to bootcamp. How difficult was that for you? Because you got your master's. What was your master's in?

Mannah: My Master's was in education.

Chris Sean: Okay. So you learned some form of logic, which helps a lot. You need to have logic to be an engineer in general. But how was that for you then, having a master's degree and already going to bootcamp? Did that seem harder than getting your master's degree?

Mannah: It seemed very different. So one thing I will say about bootcamp...I can't speak for everyone. I've only gone to one, so my experience is limited. I went to Dev Bootcamp, which is no longer operational. But the thing about bootcamp is it's not like college where you have people who have studied the art of teaching a subject. You have a lot of people who have been doing this and have been doing it at a high level or whatever level they've been doing. And now they're trying to impart that knowledge. So they don't necessarily have the teaching chops, and that that's not to downplay. That's just a reality. That doesn't mean they're good or bad. That is absolutely not what I'm trying to say.

So you're in a situation where you're learning from a doer a lot of the time. Again, I only went to one bootcamp, and other bootcamps might be different. But you're learning from a doer. So the way that I feel like you glean and develop that knowledge has to be a little bit different. You used the word hard. It's not the difficult part. The difficult part for me actually really came after bootcamp. I went from being...I felt incredibly high level at something. I felt like I could develop curriculums really well. I felt like I had a really good grasp on what needed to be taught, what order, how that all worked to going into a space where I was a newbie. I really knew very little. And that, I think, was the hardest part of getting into development, especially in the early stages, going back to square one.

Chris Sean: As an entry developer.

Mannah: Yes, having to ask for help consistently.

Chris Sean: Also known as imposter syndrome. [laughs]

Mannah: Yeah. So I've come a long way with imposter syndrome. I definitely felt that I don't belong here. And this is another thing that I talk a lot to young people coming into the industry a lot. I'm in the process of moving away from the term imposter syndrome.

Chris Sean: Wait, you're still moving. So you've been at it for six years, and you still feel that.

Mannah: Oh, absolutely.

Chris Sean: Oh, nice. So I am not alone.

Mannah: No. I am most certainly a work in progress. [chuckles] And I am learning every day. I was recently on a project where we're using brand new technologies. And I could not tell you how frustrated I was picking up new stuff, trying to learn. Again, this goes back to what we were just saying about how you're coming in and feeling inferior because you operated at a certain level, and now in a new theater, you can't do those same things and having to manage that frustration.

But going back to the term imposter syndrome, what I've tried to do and what I'm trying to do, trying to teach people is imposter means you're pretending. And you have plenty of opportunities to not pretend. As you're coming up, what are the things that you can do that take you away from being an imposter? So one of those things is that I always try and get people who I'm working with and who are trying to break into technology to build a website. Because once you've done that, no one can say, "You're an imposter, and you can't build a website." You'd be like, "No, here it is. It's hosted on Heroku or whatever it is."

So, how can you keep stacking these blocks of I did this, so, therefore, I am not an imposter? And again, this is something that I'm working on in my mind. But I love to help people get past this idea of I am pretending to be this and help them focus more on no, I've done this. No, I've set up an API. No, I have written whatever technology. I've written a test suite or set up a Firebase account. There are all sorts of things like once you have done that thing, you're no longer an imposter. You're a person who can do that.

Chris Sean: Yeah, you've done it, and you can do it again.

Mannah: Yeah. You can do it again. So how do you continue to construct this identity? We're talking about development right now, but how do we connect this identity as an individual developer with the things that they have actually done?

Chris Sean: That is such a good point. In regards to imposter syndrome, that's something that I still feel to this day, something that a lot of people feel. Maybe after you've been in for ten years, you realize, oh, I've had a job for ten years, so maybe I'm qualified to do this. But for everyone else still getting into the industry, trying to get into the industry, who's new to the industry, even mid-levels...and I know senior developers...actually, I know a principal developer who works at Amazon as a principal web developer, pretty much full stack developer. And he told me he still feels imposter syndrome to this day.

Mannah: I completely believe it.

Chris Sean: And feeling imposter syndrome at Amazon, you're a principal engineer, and everyone goes to you for questions, especially you. You have to imagine that feeling you're still feeling is terrifying. And so I like the fact you pointed out that if you've done it already, guess what? That means you can do it again. You're not an imposter with at least that one point. And yeah, that's something people fight a lot, and I really like that.

Mannah: Yeah. Because when you talk about imposter syndrome, it's like, imposter syndrome is real; a lot of us deal with it. But we don't really come up with tools to address it. And in my mind, the tool to address it is to look at your real accomplishments. At one point, there was a job they were like, oh, make a brag book of the things that you've done so when we can talk about promotions; you can do it. Whether or not you follow that advice, you should have a brag...like a Rolodex of things that you have actually accomplished.

You're not an imposter if you've done it. And if you've done things, that's probably an indication that you can do some more. So keeping that in mind takes the focus away from the scariness of hey, I don't belong here, everybody is better than me and puts it on the yeah, I'm learning. Whether I am a first-year developer or like you said, I'm a principal engineer at Amazon, I am learning, I am developing. But I already have all of this foundation. So I'm building on something and not starting from tabula rasa.

Chris Sean: Yeah. Oh gosh. That's such a good point. Thank you for sharing that because, for everyone that's listening to this, I can assure you this will help every person that listens to this particular episode. So you've been in development for six years. How many companies have you worked for since then, since your first job?

Mannah: So I've worked for two companies as a developer. I worked for the bootcamp as a content creator, and I've worked for two companies as a developer.

Chris Sean: Okay. And so I'm really curious if you don't mind sharing this.

Mannah: Yeah, not at all.

Chris Sean: So your pay from your first job to now is there a big significant difference?

Mannah: Yes, from my first job, it's pretty close to a 100% pay increase.

Chris Sean: Wow. How about from being a teacher to now?

[laughter]

Mannah: Give me a minute to figure out...No; I make easily four times what I made as a school teacher.

Chris Sean: Four times.

Mannah: For base salary. This isn't talking about stock options. Easily four times.

Chris Sean: That's not even including the stock options and bonus every year.

Mannah: Yeah.

Chris Sean: Wow. That's amazing. [laughs] So is that why you went into tech also? So I'm just going to put this all together because I was going to be a history teacher because my brother wanted to be a history teacher. And I'm glad I didn't because the quality of life I have for my family is much more different than it probably would have been if I would've continued with teaching. So would you say that money was one of the bigger reasons you went into it as well, knowing the potential?

Mannah: So I'm like you. I really like the lifestyle that this affords me, not only in financial but the ability to...like, I have unlimited PTO. I can go on vacation.

Chris Sean: Wait, you have real unlimited PTO?

Mannah: I don't want to say it's unlimited PTO. I haven't really tested it.

Chris Sean: [laughs]

Mannah: But it is a much more liberal PTO policy than I had as a teacher, I will say that. And then my ability to really control my work environment, hey, this project that's coming down the line I think it's a really good idea, or I don't think this is a really good idea. Or I think maybe this would be a way that we can structure the team that would benefit us, like those sorts of decisions where I did not have any of that.

Chris Sean: No one cared about your input before.

Mannah: No. As a teacher, I felt much more like a cog in a machine. So those quality of life improvements I would say are a much bigger factor than the salary. The salary is huge. I did not join tech for the salary. I joined tech because I liked building things with computers. It just happens to pay really well. And even when I had real tech skills and I was applying to jobs as a developer, I was looking at education opportunities. It was not the money alone. And I really do appreciate the money in case any of my bosses are listening.

Chris Sean: [laughs]

Mannah: [laughs] The money is fantastic.

Chris Sean: It's nice. It really is nice. I think the money is nice. And after you get a certain amount of experience, you'll always be paid well, most likely until you leave the industry. But I think for me, one of the best things about it is (I've been here for five years.) the opportunities. Like, if you lose your job, oh, that sucks. All right, give me two to three months, maybe a couple of weeks, I'll get a new one. There are just so many opportunities. It's crazy to think about that. And you can find a job anywhere. And at least for me now, I get to work from home or hybrid. You can have a hybrid work lifestyle when it comes to your work, and so just that alone is amazing.

And like you said as well, people value input. Your words actually matter now because developers are important to every company. Developers are essential to building your software, to whatever you do. Even if it's just a front-facing website for an online store, you might need a developer to build something custom for you as well. That's one of my favorite parts. If I may ask then, aside from feeling like you're coming into the industry new, imposter syndrome, et cetera, when you first got into the industry, what were the hardest things for you? What would you say were the hard things you faced?

Mannah: I think that going from being talented, really skilled, someone who had the answers in something, we talked about it before, to being someone who was very literally new and needed help and needed scaffolding. That kind of tied into...I mentioned that I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. And life in New York and life in the Bay Area, and life in tech are very, very, very, different.

Chris Sean: There's tech in New York as well. Well, you weren't in tech in New York.

Mannah: I wasn't in tech in New York. And the thing about New York is there's tech in New York. There's finance in New York. New York is a much more, and we're going to keep using this word, a much more diverse environment where if you ride the subway, you're next to a teacher. You're next to a stockbroker. You're next to an art dealer. You're next to a makeup artist. You're just surrounded by very, very different people. And there's not one driving force behind the economy. And partially obviously because I'm in the tech space, but I felt like the Bay Area was very tech-focused. Pretty much everyone I met was either in tech or breaking into tech. You would go to parties, and people are talking about their series A funding. That is definitely something I never heard on the East Coast.

There's also this comes back to a lot of like one-upmanship and people who are trying to gatekeep. "Oh, you're in bootcamp? Do you know how to do..." I don't know. At the time, it's like, "Oh, are you even doing React yet?" This sort of gatekeeping around the tech sphere. And then this kind of arrogance that comes from "Oh, I'm 25, or I'm a 30 something, and I made $3 million. What have you done?" That was all part of how I saw the tech industry. People say New Yorkers are kind but not nice.

Chris Sean: I've heard that a lot.

Mannah: And then the West Coast it's they're nice but not kind. And to me, people came across as inauthentic.

Chris Sean: Oh, in the West Coast? I grew up in the Bay. I grew up in San Francisco. I have lived in L.A. for the last ten years. I'm in Vegas now. I can attest to that. That is 100% true.

Mannah: Yeah, so being from a place where being real is hyper...That was the crux of like…

Chris Sean: Straightforward.

Mannah: Yeah. And then come into a place where people were like, whoa, I want everybody to like me. So I'm going to put on a different face, or I'm going to say these things that I'm not going to follow through on all of that. The culture shock, I feel like, was the biggest hurdle. I'm still dealing with it. Moving out of San Francisco to Oakland made a big difference.

Chris Sean: Really?

Mannah: Oh, absolutely. I feel like Oakland has a lot more Oakland culture, whereas San Francisco has a lot more tech culture, if that makes sense.

Chris Sean: I felt the same thing with Daly City. I mean, Daly City is literally the closest city to San Francisco. It's right next to it. It's right under it. But I felt the exact same thing. I'm Filipino, and Daly City, I call it little Manila, like the little town for Filipinos. [laughs] But I felt the exact same way. That's interesting.

I'm curious to hear this, too, while we're talking about the Bay. I mean, the cost of living is really expensive in New York. It's actually more expensive than San Francisco, which is surprising because San Francisco is insanely expensive coming from there. Would that be one of the reasons you moved further away from San Francisco?

Mannah: Honestly, it was more because I liked being in Oakland. I really like the people. I like the vibe. I like the places…when we could, and hopefully, we'll be able to go out. I really like identify. It feels a lot like Brooklyn to me. So that was the number one thing.

Chris Sean: The community.

Mannah: Yeah, definitely the community. I mean, I'm used to paying high rents in New York. I pay high rents here. I would have paid high rents in San Francisco. And I lived in San Francisco like I basically just hopped from Airbnb to Airbnb for a little while.

Chris Sean: Really? Wow.

Mannah: Yeah. And as soon as I got to Oakland, it felt different. So that was more anything than the rents. I can't even speak to what the rents in San Francisco are today.

Chris Sean: I do have an important question I want to ask. I feel like it's important. So I was looking at your LinkedIn earlier. And I noticed that you were at your first developer job for almost four years, four years. And I have two questions. I'll ask the second question later. Usually, people leave their first company after two years, at least as an entry developer, because you usually get paid significantly more at the new job at the mid-level position. So what is it that made you stay there for almost four years?

Mannah: I am not as monetarily driven as I definitely could be or should be.

Chris Sean: [laughs] Okay.

Mannah: Really, what it was I was getting good projects, and I was developing not only my technical skills but other skills that I feel like are valuable to an engineering team. I consider myself to be a very product-focused engineer. And that company I was at, we were at a point where we were making some important product decisions and being at that nexus of how is our data team driving those decisions? How are we implementing? Identifying our customer and how do we energize them to be excited about our product? That was what was exciting to me. When that started to slow down, I saw it as an opportunity to do something else, and obviously, then money came into it. I wasn't going to leave to make less.

Chris Sean: Yeah, of course, after all that experience you gained. [laughs]

Mannah: Yeah, absolutely. And the company IPO'd while I was there. So I'd seen all that. I'd seen that scaling problem. What I wanted to do is I wanted to revisit those scaling problems with my new skillset and help a company develop.

Chris Sean: And so now you're at your new job, and you've been in it for nine months, which is pretty cool. And I mean, you were a senior software engineer before you left the last company. Now you're a senior software engineer now. I feel like being a senior software engineer at the new company; you probably would have more responsibilities than you did at your prior one. How's that been going for you?

Mannah: So I do...really quickly on titles; I don't think that titles are equitable across companies.

Chris Sean: True. I agree.

Mannah: I think that the roles and responsibilities can change depending on where you are. And I think what I spoke to, seeing where the company is, understanding the product as it is today and having a vision of what it could be, then mapping out what needs to happen in between now and then. I feel like that is as much of my responsibility as writing code. Also, I am a firm believer that as soon as you make a commit, as soon as you merge your PR, bit rot starts. So understanding a legacy app and how to transform it to be something that is a little bit more comfortable for future engineers to work in, that's easier to onboard into. Those sorts of things are skills that I am having to develop and really try to impart in this new codebase because it's mature enough to now take a look at some of these things.

So I feel like my responsibility now is to introduce either new ideas or add-ons to things that we're building. So, for instance, we might not be looking at internationalization right now. However, we should set up so that we're not hard-coding our text so that when the time comes, we can switch it out for different languages. And talking about, not to get too technical, but monoliths versus microservices, do we want to have one big app that has a lot of responsibilities or a lot of smaller apps that have a single responsibility each? And what are the trade-offs there?

Chris Sean: That is product-focused for sure. [laughs] You're a product developer.

Mannah: Absolutely. Because at the end of the day, I'm building a product, I'm building a thing. I write code, and that goes to a customer. But also, I am platforming for the team to build bigger, better, more exciting projects. So that is what I'm doing more, and I can be a lot more vocal and knowledgeable about those trade-offs now that I have that experience. So while the title might be the same, the influence certainly isn't, and my responsibilities are different.

Chris Sean: For sure. The way you think is so impressive, to be honest. After speaking with so many different people and for a living and just doing...I've done hundreds of episodes of podcasts with different podcasts. The way you think is so interesting because you're very careful of the way you think, and you're very detailed. And that's the kind of thing that makes someone a good developer. And just by the way you think, I'm learning a lot from you.

So the last question I want to ask before we end this is who do you think can be a developer, or should everyone try to learn code? What are your thoughts on that?

Mannah: So there is certainly not one sort of person that should be a developer. There is a traditional stereotype developer or archetype for a developer. But I think that a lot of people can be developers. And if this is not answering your question, I will get back to a more succinct answer to your question.

But I think that when we think about development, we think about writing code. And that is the tool that we, as software engineers and web developers, specifically use. But the function that we perform is solving problems. What we really do is we look at a problem, and we craft a solution. So if we present that as more of the role and the responsibility of the developer, I think that we would open up the field to a lot more people who would have really valuable insights into how to build better software.

I don't think that being a developer is for everyone. It's kind of like writing. I think that everyone can write. I don't know if everyone would be happy being a writer. So I guess to sort of bring both of these thoughts together, I think that there are a lot of people who could serve the engineering community who are not represented enough in it.

Chris Sean: That's a good point. I guess the other part of the question, and I forgot to add to that, is what makes a developer a good developer?

Mannah: So this comes from my studies in psychology. There's a concept of the gestalt, and the gestalt is taking a bunch of disparate parts and being able to understand them in context, and I think that when you can do that, you are a good developer. If you understand how your front end works with your back end, works with your database, and how that all ties into how your customer sees your product to how the company presents the product, like, if you can understand all of these different pieces of the product that you are engineering on, "engineering" in air quotes, then that will make you a good developer more than knowing where all the semi-colons go because you will know what to build. I think that knowing what to build is far more important than being able to build any given thing well.

I think that time and energy is a really valuable resource in engineering. And if you can focus that energy towards things that are going to drive the product further, that are going to give the company insights, then you're going to be in a better position than if you write the most pristine function that never sees the light of day.

Chris Sean: Yeah, I agree with you 100%. It takes time to get to that level, and to be frank; not everyone could get to that level. It takes a lot of effort, discipline. But that is something that I've noticed in a lot of people that I consider good developers.

Mannah: Yeah. I think it's also, what do we reward? What is a manager really focusing on in developing the people they're managing? And then, even looking at the tech interview, we put so much emphasis on okay, were they able to solve this problem, or how were they able to solve this problem? Or how were they able to communicate about this problem? That is part of it, but there is a bigger part of do they understand the problem? Can they see where potential pitfalls might occur in other spaces? I think that as an industry, we need to cultivate that thinking more.

Chris Sean: True. I agree with you 100% on that. Oh my gosh, man. This was really fun getting to know you and just the way you think. You're the type of person I'd love to get coffee with whenever I go back to the Bay. You're in Oakland, right?

Mannah: I'm in Oakland.

Chris Sean: I'll make sure I email you. [laughs] I will message you.

Mannah: I was really interested when you were talking about the things that you're doing, you know, so this will not be our last conversation.

Chris Sean: Yes, please. I really look forward to meeting you in person. This would be awesome. So before we end this, is there anything you want to say to the audience? And if there's any way anyone could follow you on social media, if you want to share that as well.

Mannah: Yeah. So I would love to hear from people who have questions or want to engage me in conversations around tech; whether you agree with me or not, I'm definitely up for - that's the philosopher in me - conversations. I am a bit of a Luddite, so I don't have a lot of social media. I definitely have LinkedIn. There aren't very many Mannah, M-A-N-N-A-H, Kallon K-A-L-L-O-N.

Chris Sean: I found you very easy. [laughs]

Mannah: I'm pretty easy to find. It's a picture of me and my dog, I believe right now. So don't hesitate to reach out, try and connect, send a message. Tell me you were listening to the podcast. And also people who are in the process. I work with a couple of students now. I'm always looking to have conversations with people who are thinking about bootcamp, in a bootcamp, in a traditional educational program, would like to build stuff.

It all started for me with tinkering. I still tinker to this day. Wherever you are in the process, especially if you're early, I cannot stress tinkering enough. Really build the things that you want to see. Build the things that look interesting to you. Challenge yourself. That is one great thing about training to develop software. It is a very low bar of entry in terms of cost and materials. If you have a computer, you have access to a computer; you can start coding right now.

Chris Sean: Immediately.

Mannah: So go do that and don't hesitate to share that with me. Those are the main things I'd love to impart to your listeners.

Chris Sean: For sure. I appreciate it, man. It was really great having you on here. I'd love to get to talk to you again. Please, everyone, if you're listening, hit him up. [laughs] DM him on LinkedIn right away as soon as you hear this. Mannah, it seems like you're the type of person that likes to help people, which I really like a lot. I'm the exact same way, and we need more people like you in the world. I really appreciate you being on here, man. Thank you so much.

Mannah: Thanks so much for the high praise, and it was a pleasure.

Jonan: Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of the rest of The Relicans podcasts on therelicans.com. In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. We'll see you next week. Take care.

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