Relicans host, Pachi Parra talks to Design Systems Engineer, Kedasha Kerr, about attending the Grace Hopper Conference with the intention of getting hired, thinking as a product engineer while also thinking like a Bootstrap engineer, and focusing on content creation on Instagram.
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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.
Pachi Parra: Hello and welcome to Launchies, a podcast for newbies, developers with non-traditional backgrounds, and career-switchers. I'm Pachi, a DevRel engineer in [New Relic(https://newrelic.com/). And I will be your host for today's show. And you can find me all over the web as pachicodes.
And today, I have here with me Kedasha, and she is a design systems engineer, and I think that's such a fancy and awesome title. She has a bachelor's degree in social work, and she's a bootcamp grad. Now she finds joy in helping others learn how to code and creating content on Instagram and Twitter. And I'm going to share her links later. Welcome to the podcast.
Kedasha Kerr: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Pachi: How are you doing today?
Kedasha: I'm good. I just had a super busy Monday, but that's how Mondays go. But yeah, I'm doing pretty well today.
Pachi: For a Monday. [laughs]
Kedasha: Yeah. [laughs]
Pachi: So the first question I always like to ask…I find it so interesting how I talk to many people, and everybody has a different way of how they got into tech, especially for Launchies. So, when was the first contact you had with tech, and when did you realize that you could work with it?
Kedasha: Yeah, sure. So the first time I ever saw or considered anything about tech was in 2018, so not that long ago. So I think it was November or December 2018. I came across a blog post by a personal finance person I follow on Instagram. And she was talking about how she taught herself to code in nine months, and she got hired as a software engineer, and how she tripled her salary, and all these wonderful things. And so, at the time, I was personally learning about money and managing my money, and so that intrigued me. And so I read her blog post, and that led me to freeCodeCamp, and Codecademy, and all these amazing free resources. And that's how I was introduced to tech and coding. It was through reading a blog post. [chuckles]
Pachi: That's so cool. I started learning to code in 2018 too. [chuckles]
Kedasha: Oh, nice.
Pachi: But yeah, that's definitely the first time that I've heard somebody that got something from a finance blog.
Pachi: But it's awesome. It shows how you can see things from everywhere. And so you started with freeCodeCamp, and Codecademy. Once you got more into that, how did you decide what to learn and where to learn?
Kedasha: Yeah. 100%.
Pachi: I considered going to a bootcamp a few times. It just didn't fit my life at the moment. And now I'm just, okay, I'm here already. [chuckles] And how did you decide to do a bootcamp? Did you do it online, or did you do it in person?
Kedasha: I did an online bootcamp. So one of my main criteria for going to the bootcamp was I didn't want to put any money down. I was on my personal finance journey, so I didn't want to take out any additional student loans to change my career. And so, at the time, I found a bootcamp which was one of the only bootcamps offering income sharing agreements. And so that's why or how I decided what bootcamp to go to. It was purely financial. I really didn't care what the stack was because I didn't know too much about it. I was just like, oh, you're going to help me learn all these things upfront, and then when I get a job, I pay you back? Sure. I will come to your bootcamp, no problem.
Pachi: [laughs] That's awesome. Yeah, it makes getting started easier because I don't have to give you money until I start to work.
Kedasha: Exactly. It was purely financial. And even now, bootcamps are so expensive, $15,000, $20,000, $25,000, $30,000 for three to four months of learning. And it's just like, how are people supposed to be paying for these? How are we supposed to be paying for these bootcamps? So, yeah, definitely; finances were definitely the main motivator.
Pachi: Yes. And they're full-time, so you cannot work because you're doing other things.
Kedasha: Exactly. Exactly.
Pachi: And after you finished the bootcamp, did you feel ready for a job?
Kedasha: I wouldn't say I felt ready for a job per se, but I was definitely ready to start earning again. I took the looking for a job into my own hands. So I was hired in my first role at the Grace Hopper Conference. So I got a scholarship to go to Grace Hopper. And so I used the bootcamp to prepare me to go there to be ready for employers, and that's how I got hired.
But yeah, in terms of feeling ready for a job, I don't know. I was just ready to earn. I was just ready to earn money, and I was tired of being in school. I was tired of learning. And so I told myself I was ready and just put myself out there, honestly.
Pachi: That's really great. And how long was it from you finishing bootcamp to you getting that first job?
Kedasha: So I got hired before I finished my bootcamp.
Kedasha: So the bootcamp I went to was nine months long. I was there from; I think, March to October 2019. And so, I got hired in October 2019. I'm actually starting up my bootcamp again today. [chuckles] So I have two months left to finish the computer science portion of the curriculum for me to officially graduate. So I've technically not graduated from my bootcamp because I got hired early.
Pachi: So did you do any job search before the conference, or you just went to the conference and put yourself out there? And how was the job search part?
Kedasha: So I didn't really have an intense job search process primarily because I put a lot of focus in 2019 on preparing for the conference. So when I learned that the Grace Hopper Conference had a huge hiring fair and a lot of employers hire people on the spot a lot of times, and they're looking for junior level talent, I was like, okay, awesome. So I made sure that I was ready and prepared for the conference. So I built a full-stack project, updated my resume, made sure my LinkedIn was great, printed out a bunch of resumes. I think it was like 79 resumes I had in my hand at the conference. And I went to the conference with the intention of getting hired. And so, over the course of three days, I lived in the career hall. I didn't do anything else but talk to employers.
Pachi: That's awesome. That's a great plan. I got a scholarship at the same time, but mine didn't cover the flight. And I'm in New Jersey so going to California wasn't easy.
Kedasha: Thankfully, at the time, the conference was in Orlando in 2019. And so, at the time, I lived in Orlando, so yeah, I just drove there. And I also worked at the convention center that they were having the conference at. So it was just perfectly aligned. [laughs]
Pachi: That is so great. And you did this for three days. You just fully invested in this. How was it? How many people did you talk to? How did you get a proposal? How were you feeling?
Kedasha: Honestly, I don't remember how many employers I talked to at the conference. There were a lot, and I did do some interviews. But they didn't go well primarily because most of the interviews had code challenges, and code challenges are such a challenge.
Kedasha: [laughs] There were a lot of those algorithmic-type questions that just blow my mind even to this day.
Pachi: They're hard.
Kedasha: Yeah, they are so complicated. And honestly, I don't remember...it was a lot of people that I talked to. I would say at least 20 employers. I visited at least 20 employers over the course of three days just talking about myself, and my resume, and my skills.
The last employer I went to is my current employer. And one thing I remember is that they were the only company that treated me like a person. So I didn't feel like just another number. Oh, it's just another person to talk to about our jobs like it doesn't matter. No, no, no, no, I was talking to the director of engineering for almost two hours about my skills, my experience, my bootcamp, my project. And she really loved the project I built. So I built a full-stack budgeting app because I was all into personal finance at the time. And so my company is a FinTech company. And so she loved the project and my skills, and she hired me. It was crazy. And I cried when I got the job offer.
Pachi: That's awesome. Did you get the job offer on the spot?
Kedasha: Not on the spot, but after we finished talking like 10 to 15 minutes later, I got an email that said, "Hey, we want to hire you."
Pachi: That's so awesome.
Kedasha: Yeah, I was in shock. I cried. I sat in my car, and I just cried because I couldn't believe I did it.
Pachi: You did it. Congratulations.
Kedasha: Thank you. [chuckles]
Pachi: So you got a job not even out of bootcamp because you were in the middle of bootcamp. How was the first month on the job?
Kedasha: Overwhelming. So not only was I new to engineering I was also new to a massive company. And I didn't know that the company I currently work for is a Fortune 500 company, and they have multiple locations. They have thousands of employees across the United States. And so, getting used to my first developer job was one thing but getting used to a huge enterprise was another thing.
And so I know some of the things I struggled with my first month was speaking up in teams. I worked with a group of only men on the team. I was the only woman on the team, and so I felt so insecure about talking in meetings sometimes.
And then my company also uses Docker and Kubernetes. And that was the first time I saw those things. I was just like, what is that? Oh my goodness. [chuckles] And so those are some of the things I remember being so overwhelmed by. And then seeing the codebase, oh my gosh, ooh my gosh. [laughs] And that was definitely something to get used to. It's so massive.
Pachi: I bet, especially a company this big. And you just got on like, hey, I did this project here, and now I have to do that. I cannot imagine. And how did you get help with that? What helped you in the first months?
Kedasha: I was assigned a mentor, thankfully on my team. So I had someone, a senior engineer, who I could ask all the questions, and so I asked him all the questions all the time. And I paired with him. I paired with my manager. And I disappeared from the internet in 2020 because I started working in January 2020, so last January. And so because my job was...it just demanded so much of my time. I just disappeared from everywhere. So I was literally just working and sleeping, working and sleeping, and studying. But having that mentor was definitely crucial in my success and getting acclimated to the company.
Pachi: And you have been doing that for like a year and a half now, a little longer. How do you feel now?
Kedasha: I still feel confused [laughter] but not as confused. I was actually recently promoted to design systems engineer.
Kedasha: Thank you. And it's because I had a great mentor. I had a great team that I started with. And I am fully supported at my company. Being a year and a half in, I definitely don't feel like a n00b anymore. But I definitely still feel like a n00b in certain areas [chuckles] for sure.
Pachi: And can you tell me what a design system engineer does? Because usually I hear about back end and front end, and I hardly hear design and system in the same…together.
Kedasha: So, as a design systems engineer, I'm still a part of the front-end family of roles. So I work on the company's internal user interface system. So you know how you have Bootstrap? Bootstrap is very popular. So think of me as one of the engineers that's working on building Bootstrap, so it's easier for you to build your apps later on. That's how I've been explaining it to people.
Pachi: Oh, that's really great.
Kedasha: So I currently work on the company's...we build components for the engineers across the org to consume, to make their production times faster.
Pachi: That's really cool.
Kedasha: Yeah, it's a lot. [laughs]
Pachi: I bet. [laughs]
Kedasha: I'm still pretty new to it. It's only been what? Two weeks. So it's like I started over again.
Pachi: And did your role change a lot from what you were doing before?
Kedasha: Yes. So before, when I was hired as an associate software engineer, so a junior engineer, I was working on a product team. Product team meaning the team I worked on previously, built features for our clients so our millions of clients. They did that. The team I work on now is not a product team. We build for the engineers.
So we build components for the engineers to use in the apps that they build for the clients, for the external-facing clients. So it's kind of a different level of thinking because I have to think as a product engineer. But I also have to think like a Bootstrap engineer in terms of how will somebody consume this? How will they use it? What about accessibility? Oh my goodness, so many questions and planning. It's so interesting being on this side of things.
Pachi: And you can get feedback right inside the company because the people that are using it are there. [chuckles]
Kedasha: Exactly. The engineers at my company are our main users. But also, our client-facing users are also a part of our users because the engineers are using our components to serve our clients. So it's multi-tiered for sure.
Pachi: That's so cool; how you started then you got promoted because I think you're doing two different things. Did you want to do this, or did somebody see your potential to do it, to work in this new role? How was that?
Kedasha: [chuckles] So, honestly, I wasn't even considering a promotion. I was starting...so in April of this year, I was starting to feel like, oh, I feel like I can do more, but I didn't know what more means. And then I saw someone else get promoted in April who started with me last year. And so that started to stir the wires in my brain like, oh, I can get a promotion? I can get promoted now? It's not too early? And that's what started me looking into other roles to see what I would be possibly interested in. And this role caught my eye because not only was it a level two engineer, it also was something where I could have a lot more ownership over the work that I was doing.
Pachi: That's so cool. You saw you were ready for something new, and you were like, hey, I want to do this.
Kedasha: Exactly. I was like, if he can get promoted, I can get promoted. Let's go. Let's go get a promotion. [laughs]
Pachi: And you did. And you mentioned that you were off the internet for the last year. So this year you came back.
Kedasha: Yes, this year I came back. In January, I started to create content on primarily Instagram because I've been off Twitter for over a year now, and I got so overwhelmed when I went back to it. And so I just like, okay, let me just choose a different platform. And so I went to Instagram, and it's been going great. I've met so many amazing people. I've been a part of so many amazing conferences and podcasts. It's just been so great to see the growth of the community and connecting with new and aspiring developers. It's awesome. I love sharing content, again, for sure.
Pachi: That's pretty cool. And how did it go about with the type of content you're going to create? Do you have a calendar, or do you write about whatever you are feeling?
Kedasha: Oh, yeah. So I definitely plan my content for the month. So on Sundays, the first Sunday in the month, I will plan for the entire month. So the entire month of August is already planned out for me.
Kedasha: And then the Sunday of that week, I will film my videos or do my little write-ups or whatever it is that I'm planning to do. I actually pre-record all that content for the week. And then, on the days, I just post it. So I definitely do have a plan because I like staying consistent. And in order for me to be consistent, I have to know what's going to happen ahead of time. So that's how I do it.
Pachi: Instagram is a lot of work. I tried.
Kedasha: It is a lot of work. [laughs]
Pachi: It is because you have to come up with content. You have to do all the graphics. I tried, and I didn’t…so congrats on that. And how did you come up with the content like what you're going to talk about?
Pachi: That's really cool. You already know you're going to get engagement because you asked for it.
Kedasha: For sure. [laughs]
Pachi: How long have you been on Instagram now?
Kedasha: Since January. So like six months. Other than work, I think I want to go back online and start talking to people on the internet.
Pachi: That's good.
Kedasha: But it's been so wild seeing the growth. So January, I had what? Two hundred people following me on Instagram. And now I have over 4,000 people following me on Instagram, which is wild because Instagram is such a different platform to grow on. But it's been so awesome seeing the growth and the engagement from the community and just thinking about ways to serve people more. I just get so excited about it.
Pachi: That's really great. I love it. And what do you think that you personally get out of creating content as an engineer?
Kedasha: Wow. That's such a great question. So I started posting on Instagram to increase my confidence in talking about technical concepts. That was one of my main goals for sharing content because one thing I've learned from being a social worker is the best way to learn something is to teach something. And so, I wanted to just get better at talking about highly technical content. But now I enjoy it because I just love helping new and aspiring developers just be good at their jobs.
And I love talking to minorities in tech, especially. So I have a series called See Yourself in Tech. And it's literally me just talking to people from diverse backgrounds in the industry about how they got there, why they got there, all about their life and stuff. And I love it. I love sharing diverse perspectives in technology with my community because it allows them to see like, oh, I can work in tech, and it's just like, yes, come on and increase our percentages because we need your perspective here.
Pachi: That's great. I really love it. I do a lot of it. I'm Brazilian, so I do a lot of work in the Brazilian community.
Pachi: Especially women because most of the times when I talk with those girls, they're like, being a programmer was never a thing that even crossed their minds. And they just think men are the programmers. And when they see me, because I do live coding on Twitch, when they see me programming on Twitch, they're like, "Hey, you are a girl, and you are programming. How do you do that?" Like, I don't know. So it's very awesome and rewarding when somebody just DMs me on Twitter and says, "Hey, I saw you doing this, and now I'm doing freeCodeCamp. And it's cool." I'm like, "That's awesome. That's great."
Kedasha: Yeah, it's so awesome. I definitely agree. Those messages I get like, "Oh my goodness, I love your content. It definitely helped me with blah, blah, blah, blah." I'm just like, "Wow, really? That's amazing." Because I don't think I'm doing anything spectacular but just hearing people say, "Wow, this really helped. Wow, thank you so much for letting me know." I'm just like, this is good. This is a good feeling. I like it.
Pachi: And I feel like being a part of the minority just putting yourself out there, be public so people can see you. I always say if you go to a conference and you go into the room, and there are 40 white men sitting, and you're the only woman, you're probably going to be feeling very uncomfortable. And some people will run away. But if there is one woman in the corner, you feel a little more brave, so you can do that stuff.
Kedasha: That's so true.
Pachi: I know that's not for everybody because it takes some courage to be the person that shows their face because you're the only one that's there. But if you do it, it's totally rewarding because you can see that people are following you.
Kedasha: Absolutely rewarding. It's so important that we remain visible to show other people like us that, yeah, you can be here too, and you can do exactly what I'm doing because people need to hear your voice. So yeah, I definitely agree with you there.
Pachi: And everybody has a different voice. I feel like sometimes people are like, "How am I going to talk about this? We have like 1,000 posts about React already." But your voice may be just what somebody else needs with your life experience and everything else.
Pachi: So, yes, if you’re wondering if you should create content, you can. [laughs] It's a great first step. So that was with Instagram that you realized that you really want to help people in tech.
Pachi: Do you have any plans for the next months, like speaking in conferences, getting more content out there, or are you just planning to focus on Instagram?
Kedasha: So, my focus for this year in terms of content creation is Instagram. I am planning workshops and stuff to share with my audience. And I do also have a podcast with two other black female engineers; it's called Deeper Than Tech. And we love it. We just talk about being black in technology and what that's like. But yeah, in terms of content creation, I'm primarily just focused on Instagram this year. Sometimes I do post on Twitter, but Twitter just feels so overwhelming to me these days. I just post and then disappear. [laughs] But yeah, it's mostly Instagram for this year for sure.
Pachi: Yeah. Twitter is an interesting place.
Pachi: I got really good at just skimming through things. But yeah, it can be interesting.
Kedasha: Yeah, that's definitely the word, interesting place. [chuckles]
Pachi: But it's a good place to be in general. You meet some interesting people. Most of my podcast guests I got from Twitter.
Pachi: So we talked about your first month on your job. But what are the kind of challenges you had to overcome in your first year, even from getting started to be where you are now?
Kedasha: One of the feedback I got from my manager last year was, "Speak up more in meetings, share your thoughts and your ideas, share your opinions. We want to hear your voice." And that's still the hardest thing for me to do because I have this feeling of impending doom that if I share my opinion, nobody's going to like it because it's stupid and it's dumb. And that's just imposter syndrome, and that's just me not believing in myself. And so honestly, even sharing content on Instagram has dramatically improved my confidence in speaking up and talking more. So that's definitely something I still struggle with. And I'm still trying to overcome and also not getting overwhelmed by all there is to learn because there's so much to learn.
Pachi: There is so much learn.
Pachi: There’s so much to learn. Every time, I'm like, okay, what am I going to learn this month? And I'm like, oh, there's a new thing. I'll add that too, like, yes. And my list has ten things. And I have 10 hours to do that, and it's like, that's not happening. So, in the end, I don’t learn anything. [laughs]
Pachi: It is. It really is.
Kedasha: For sure.
Kedasha: 100%. But yeah, those are the two main things I would say: speaking up more in meetings, and just sharing my thoughts and ideas, and not being afraid to learn, and also not being afraid of code challenges. I'm still so scared of them, but it's my goal to get better at it. [laughs]
Pachi: I believe in you. I'm still terrified of them. Last year, I was looking for a job, so I did this one thing...I really wanted that job. And when they sent me the code challenge, I just sat down and cried. And the entire week, I couldn't even understand the problem.
Kedasha: Oh my goodness.
Pachi: By Friday, I was like, you know what? I give up, and that's fine. I can't do this right now. I'm just stressing myself, and I don't need this.
Kedasha: I agree.
Pachi: And it was fine. That's when I realized that okay, it's fine to give up sometimes.
Kedasha: I agree because they're very hard. They're very, very hard.
Pachi: They are. And until you understand what should be done and how it should be done, you will second guess yourself 1,000 times. So people should drop that from the interview. [laughs]
Kedasha: I agree. For my new role, I had to do a code challenge, but it wasn't any arcane like, oh if a blue ball and a red ball come together, what kind of babies do they have? I don't know. How do balls have babies? [laughs] But what I had to do was I had to build a component meeting certain criteria and doing certain things, and I'm just like, oh, I can do this.
Pachi: That makes sense.
Kedasha: And so that's what I did for the code challenge. And then I had to present it and do all that stuff. And that's fine because that's the job every single day. And so I just feel like code challenges that have nothing to do with the job just need to be done with because they don't make no sense. They don't make any sense.
Pachi: Yeah. Like, I did one interview last year for a front-end job, and the challenge was to make a website, a one-page website. I was like, wow that makes so much sense. Why don't more people do that?
Kedasha: Makes so much sense.
Pachi: I'm going to be making websites in the job, and the code challenge is to make a website.
Kedasha: There you go.
Pachi: Yes, that makes so much sense. People should do that. I feel like these code challenges most of the time; they just add another gate in front of us. And you just look at that, and you're like, I'm not doing it. But I'm happy that you're good now. It's very inspiring the way you got there and how you keep going. And I'm totally going to follow you on Instagram.
And my last question for you...it's not even a question. You have been here doing this for a year and a half and learning for a little more. What are your best tips for people that are starting or that want to start in tech? What do you say to these people when they ask you, "Hey, I don't know where to start. What should I do? Can I do it?"
Kedasha: Honestly, the first thing I say is, "What do you want to do in tech?" because tech is not just coding. [chuckles] Tech is more than coding. Tech is more than programming. Tech is more than software engineering. There are so many roles that don't even require coding where you can still earn a great living and be fulfilled in your career. So that's honestly the first thing I always ask, and if they do want to do coding, I just say, "Pick one language, and learn it, and build projects with it." One language. It doesn't matter which one, just choose one and just go from there.
Pachi: And everybody goes like, "What's the best language?"
Kedasha: It doesn't exist. It doesn't exist. They all have their issues. [laughs]
Kedasha: [laughs] For sure.
Pachi: So this is what I have for you today. Thank you so much for being my guest.
Kedasha: Thank you for having me.
Pachi: It was super fun. And before you go, do you want to share with people where they can find you on the internet?
Pachi: That's awesome. Do you want to share the podcast that you have?
Kedasha: Oh yeah. Our podcast is called Deeper Than Tech, and we're on Apple Podcasts and also Spotify.
Pachi: Awesome. I'm going to share that out. Thank you again. It was great having you. It was very helpful. I learned a lot of things. I love doing podcasts because I always learn so much.
Pachi: Every episode is a private class that I share with everybody that's listening.
Kedasha: I swear podcasting is so awesome. Content creation is awesome.
Pachi: I love it. Okay. So thanks again. And thank you, everybody, for listening. This was Launchies for you. And if you have anybody that would like to be a guest on the show, feel free to DM me on Twitter. I'm @pachicodes there. Thanks again and see you soon. Bye.
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.