This is a article from my "Dev Chats" series where I speak to an awesome developer or techie every week or so. You can read more here. Let me know in the comments if you find these useful to you!
Jones Does Life. And Coffee.
Hi, I’m Johna*, and I’m a consultant at Credera.
I was born and raised in Alaska, moved to Texas to attend Southern Methodist University where I studied Computer Science, Psychology, Russian, and Chinese, and I accidentally found my dream job through a career-fair and internship the summer before my senior year. I’ve had exactly one development interview, it was with Credera for my internship - and I’ve been working there full-time since graduation in 2016.
Credera is a full-service consulting company that does everything from strategic management consulting to technology solutions. I’m a technology consultant, meaning that most of my days are spent doing custom software development for our clients in a collaborative team atmosphere.
*It’s pronounced John-uh, most people get it wrong in real life which is why I go by Jones online.
My parents always encouraged me to try any and all activities - everything from oil painting to botany to beauty pageants. After my sophomore year of high school they signed me up for a 3-week engineering course at the local college that involved building autonomous robots and programming them to fight each other and get through mazes.
I was one of three girls in a sixty person class and was put on a team with a bunch of guys from my school. The guys on my team were obsessed with the hardware of the robot and there was no way I could get close to it, so I started writing the program for the competition. The first week the guys wouldn’t use my code, but I noticed that some of the other groups were struggling, so I started coding for their teams and they started winning the competitions. By the end of the camp my team was using my code and I was acting as a mercenary for any team that needed some help; I’d discovered that coding was particularly cathartic for me (and I was pretty good at it). I didn’t have much of an affinity for robots, but from then on I knew I wanted to be a developer.
One of my hobbies is talking to strangers, and the sentiment that I hear most often is, “I wish I still [insert activity]” - that blank can be filled with anything from playing a musical instrument to having a closer relationship with their families. When you’re busy, it’s easy to lose track of things that are important to you, drop them, and assume that you’ll pick them up later. Unfortunately, a lot of that “important” stuff isn’t something you can just casually “pick up” ten or twenty years later: your kids will grow up and move out, your parents will retire, your ear for foreign languages deteriorates, your physical abilities degrade, and, well, you get the point. Taking an hour a week to fit in your passions isn’t difficult, you just have to be intentional about it.
I think a good balance is also important to prevent burnout. Balance doesn’t necessarily mean spending equal time on everything, but it does mean that in the busy seasons where work takes over - or life takes over your career path - you can lean on other areas of your life to help you de-stress.
Within Credera it’s been a great way to break down the boss-employee-barrier in conversations and gain recognition for something besides being a good developer. I’ll never forget the day that our head User Experience leader stopped me in the hallway to tell me that my Instagram content was “very effective” - I don’t think we’d spoken before that moment and I was a little star-struck that he even knew who I was.
It’s also been a great recruitment tool, I’ve had more than one student come up to me at a career fair and say that they heard about Credera because they follow me on Instagram. This ends up making me look good because while Business students tend to know about consulting, Computer Science students often don’t (even though that is a huge part of what we do) - potential developers coming up to us already having a realistic idea of what we do and wanting to work for us is a big plus.
The downsides are the same as any type of content-creation platform and mostly involve the amount of time and effort it takes to consistently create content. After doing it intentionally for almost a year I definitely get “photo fatigue” where it seems like there’s no possible topic/picture that hasn’t already been covered.
The biggest work-related challenge is talking about what I do while also maintaining client confidentiality - it’s not necessarily a downside, but it adds an extra level of paranoia and I have to double check all of my posts to make sure that any identifying information is stripped out.
What do you think the future of social media engagement is for developers? Where should we focus our efforts?
I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all when it comes to social media, people should play to their strengths. I’ve always loved photography, so Instagram made sense for me as a community-building platform. If you love interviewing people, make a podcast or blog and integrate a newsletter option into it. If you like researching/sharing links, check out Twitter and LinkedIn. If you want to teach people how to do stuff, take to Youtube and make some sweet, sweet, DIY videos (or start up a GitHub project and ask for contributors).
If creating content isn’t your thing, then be an active participant on any and all platforms you enjoy. One person posting articles into the void doesn’t make a community, people responding to that content does.
What makes social media so cool isn’t the “media” part, it’s the “social” part of it. Starting a technical blog to show off your expertise is great, but if no one reads it (or wants to read it) then you’re missing the point of being able to connect with people.
Learning to put my work down at the end of the day.
University classes tend to be task-based: you have a week to do a project, work 24/7 (and might pull a few all-nighters) to finish it, and then it’s over until the next project. The real world, however, is a marathon. There will always be another bug, and you don’t get four months of vacation to recover if you overextend yourself pulling a few all-nighters.
Figure out how to find passion in things that you have absolutely no interest in.
Whether you’re a freelancer or in industry, there will be times when people ask you to do things that you have no interest in but you have to say yes to in order to pay the bills or keep your job. If you can find joy in those projects you’ll be a lot happier in the long run.
Oh man, yes, a hundred times yes - some help in more tangential ways than others. Social gamification is my most time-consuming hobby at the moment: I find a system where there are public ranking metrics (like Amazon Reviews, Yelp, Instagram, etc.) and using a data-driven approach I try to figure out how the algorithm works, the psychology behind it (if there’s human interaction), how long it takes, and how others can reproduce the same results. Not only is it great cocktail conversation, but it’s introduced me to a tech community I didn’t even know existed.
Some of my other hobbies include portrait photography, reading, petsitting, social dancing (I danced competitively in college), cooking, listening to podcasts, gardening, and specialty coffee. My boyfriend is an actor, so we also spend a lot of time going to plays, readings, and making audition tapes. Developers still get a really bad rap for being awkward communicators glued to our computers, so I think anything that helps you learn to relate well to others in a way that has nothing to do with tech can help your technical career just as much as technical acuity.
When companies are looking to hire a software developer, they’re often looking at a technology-specific skill-set - i.e. a Java developer, a front-end developer, a person who’s a wizard at Ruby on Rails, the list goes on and on. Unless you’re being hired at a small company where you end up doing every job (or are a solo freelancer), there’s a pretty good chance that as a software developer you’ll end up working in a very specific domain and learning a couple languages or technologies well.
As a technology consultant you (theoretically) have to be able to work with any technology competently. This means that your ability to learn quickly and communicate with clients is more important than your intricate knowledge of the newest version of Java. Yes, you absolutely should strive to have a deeper understanding of the technologies you want to specialize in, but you have to be prepared to take on a project that uses a tech-stack you’ve never touched before and rapidly figure out how to use it well enough to create production-quality software.
Getting Naked is Credera’s #1 suggested read for new hires and a great intro for people who are interested in consulting but don’t know what it is yet.
The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks is hands down my favorite development-oriented project management text and seems to be that book that was-never-reading-material-but-everyone-somehow-read-independently.
I’ve carried around Code by Charles Petzold through dorm rooms and apartments since high school; it covers logic, numbering systems, switches, and microprocessors at a high level.
The Most Human Human by Brian Christian is also a great read on the Turing test and the concept of artificial intelligence - it was one of the first books that made me realize the importance of human-centered development.
Reply-all is a delightful tech-oriented podcast. The episodes are great examples of debugging tech problems in real life (phishing, weird phone calls, stories of people in online communities).
If you’re also interested in the psychology and tactics involved in social gamification, go check out my blog! If you like pictures of dogs, computers, and pictures of people programming in their pajamas, check out my Instagram: @JonesDoesLife.