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Single-threaded Podcast: Crystal Martin on the Value of "I Don't Know"

gurlcode profile image Jenn Creighton ・34 min read

Jenn Creighton: Today, I’m joined by Crystal Martin. Crystal is a software developer, conference speaker, co-organizer of the Strange Loop Conference, and a diversity and tech advocate. Crystal has amazing energy. And you are going to love this conversation. We started with a tweet she wrote about what happens when you discover you don’t know the thing you thought you knew. And from there, we explore why, as software developers, we feel pressure to produce in a vacuum, how to handle our mistakes, and the value of saying, I don’t know.

[intro music]

Jenn Creighton: I don’t think we’ve actually gotten a chance to speak in person since JSConf Hawai’i.

Crystal Martin: Yes, yes. It’s been a while.

Jenn Creighton: Yes. But I’ve pretty much been using this podcast as an excuse to talk to anyone that I’m like, “I just want to talk to them.”

Crystal Martin: That’s a great idea.

Jenn Creighton: So, I was like, “I’m definitely having Crystal on like, absolutely.” Also, your energy is like, so good. You always give off like really good vibes.

Crystal Martin: I’m so happy to hear that. I feel like sometimes I could be too much.

Jenn Creighton: No. Oh, my God, never. Never too much. Honestly. You were like such a fresh breath of air at JSConf Hawai’i. Like, as soon as I met you, I was like, “Oh, thank God. This is like --you’re so refreshing. And oh, just so funny. My God, you say the funniest things.

Crystal Martin: Thank you.

Jenn Creighton: So, into it. Speaking of funny things that you say. So, one of the reasons I wanted to have you on it is you have this tweet that I’ve gone back to actually several times now because I haven’t realized that I’ve had this experience multiple times. And you so succinctly in tweet format for me. And the tweet is, “You ever be writing JavaScript, and then realize you don’t fucking know JavaScript?” Yeah, yeah. Yeah, like multiple times in my career.

Crystal Martin: The amount of support that I got from that. When I tweeted that, I was like, “I’m not alone.”

Jenn Creighton: You’re not. Oh, my God, it brought up a lot of feelings. You can see everyone’s being like, “Yes.” So, can you go back to that, when you ask when you wrote that tweet, like what was going on?

Crystal Martin: It was like, it’s funny, you asked, I kind of go back to the moment and I almost remember like, what I wear, what I looked like on that day. And I was at my office really late because I had just gotten on this project to basically rebuild an application for one of our client partners. I work for Slalom Consulting in St. Louis. And we -- So, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that, because they’re probably going to be irritated anyway. It is what it is. So, like Lightning Web Components was something that had just come out on the Salesforce platform. So, I was working on the Salesforce platform, building custom components and interfaces. And we were doing a new implementation, rebuilding this app that was in their old kind of framework, which is Salesforce Aura components, Lightning Aura Components. So, we were doing this new implementation, basically, the idea was like, if we’re going to do a new implementation, we should just use the newest thing, right? Which makes sense, like, be early adopters. But really, like I was on the bleeding edge of this like, if that -- I don’t even know. Yeah. It was like, no one really, truly no one had really built anything from beginning to end in LWC, that I knew of because I also stalked -- Like, I literally stalked like Salesforce people to be like, “What’s going on here?” But I had been working on this, I was pretty new to work in this in JavaScript frameworks. I had done like I don’t need to talk about that before times when it came to that.

But basically, I was new to the idea of like, smaller components like what people were doing in reactive view, and angular and all that. I was pretty new to that. And the way that Salesforce did it previously was very different and didn’t really follow most of the patterns that most modern JavaScript frameworks follow. So, it’s just like, I was just like drinking from a firehose and it was a lot and I was the only dev working on this. I was just, I think I had gotten -- it was the end of the day and I had worked with one of my co-workers that had one experience with JavaScript and the framework, and he just showed me all these things that I didn’t know. Like all of these, like, you know how JavaScript ES6 has a lot more -- You know, there’s a lot more features that if you’ve been writing JavaScript like with jQuery, you don’t know about all this stuff. And so he was just showing me all the things and improve my code, made it better. And I just was kind of stymied, just like from that day, so many things had happened, I had so many meetings. I was like, trying to like, basically convince people that I knew exactly what I was doing when I didn’t. I had no fuking idea what I was doing. But it was kind of exciting, but also scary.

So, at the end of the day, I’m just like, I learned so much, I had done so many things. And I had worked on this one feature for the whole -- for that entire week. And I was literally leaving the office and nobody else was there and I just picked up my phone and I just tweeted that out. Kind of just be like, what the fuck was this? And what was this day? What happened? What is JavaScript? What is my life, and I kind of just literally, I tweeted it, put my phone in my bag, and just like got home, like drove home. Kind of just chuckled to myself and drove home. And I opened up my phone and I was like, “Holy shit.” And yeah, just like I got a bunch of like, it’s funny. It wasn’t just like retweets and likes, it was like people were talking in this thread, like, “Yes, I feel this all the time. Like, I’ve been a JavaScript developer for 10 years and I feel this way.” And so it's interesting to see and also pretty dreary, at the time, like it was still really, it was really nice to see the other people that have more experience in your life. This is like a normal way to feel about writing JavaScript, especially when you’re like diving into frameworks that everyone to a certain extent feels lost. And, yeah, so that’s kind of what happened.

Jenn Creighton: Yeah, that’s a very relatable experience. Definitely. Especially the, what is my life? What is JavaScript? What am I doing? I can’t tell you how many times I have that thought or that like, maybe even I don’t even know that I would count it as like imposter syndrome, though, it does seem to be in a similar vein of that. But sometimes, I’m like, “Am I in the right career? Is my brain really cut out for this?” But like you said, it’s so helpful when people admit that they also are lost.

Crystal Martin: Yes.

Jenn Creighton: I feel like we’re very, very hesitant to do that as engineers. Like, I think people, in general, have an issue. But I think it’s particularly difficult in this. Why do you think that is?

Crystal Martin: Well, it’s the myth of meritocracy, you might submit it like you’ve got to be able to -- like, the only way you’re valuable to the field is that by your contributions and like your ability to do something and deliver. I think, because the nature of programming is step-wise, and it is like you have to go through a process to figure things out that people think, well, if I just follow the process, I should be able to follow the process and solve a problem. And that I should be really good at that once I’m at this year mark. I actually just had this conversation this week with a colleague. I had another tweet that I tweeted this week where it was just like a message that I had sent to my coworker that was like she reviewed my PR and was like, “Yeah, this needs some work.” And I’m like, “It needs work? This PR is amazing. I can’t believe I just bang this out.” And look at what I did and I basically did everything right in the wrong place. So, all of my tests were wrong, all of my code was wrong as it were, I need to pass this parameter.

And she goes, “You know, I just want to say that I did offer to like, talk through this with you.” And I was like, “Fuck. [inaudible 00:08:40] And as I realized my mistake, I was like, Oh, my God. Fuck. What? LOL. Oh, my God. What the fuck? Like, I just like totally fuck this thing up. But I was talking to my coach about this and I was like, I just felt like I didn’t want to ask her for help because I wanted to figure it out on my own. And I need to be able to do that. Right? I need to be able to just take something on my own and not have to run it through somebody else and get feedback. Actually, just take the problem and finish the story. Right? And my coach has also been -- he was a software developer for like, God knows how many years at a variety of different companies and capacities. And he’s just like, laughing at me. He’s just shaking his head, nodding, and smirking. And I’m like, “What are you laughing about?” And he’s just like, “No, I hear everything you’re saying. Let me tell you --” He said, “Okay. I’m going to put on my developer hat. I’m taking my coach hat off and putting my developer hat on.”

And he goes, “You do realize my entire career after we talked about a story or a feature, and we had it on the board, and I was going to code it. I had a practice of always talking to another person on my team before I started coding it.” He said, “I did that with every story. Before I started writing code, I talked to a colleague about what approach I was going to take.” And I was like, “Well, fuck.” So, in so many ways, he was like “You’re wrong. Like, you’re wrong. You’re actually like, your idea of what you should be able to do is incorrect. Because how can you expect yourself to see all the corners and walls you can hit? How could you expect yourself to be able to just have it all in your head and then code it? That doesn’t make any sense. That’s like not how brains work.” And so, it was reassuring. I feel like I owe my colleague an apology because I was kind of like, “What do you mean, I should have talked to you about it before?” Because I just -- I really want to be -- I just had this hang-up on being helpful and effective. I think what would have looked helpful and effective for my teammates, is if I had just asked people to review this with me and talk about it so that I didn’t have to do the same work twice. Right?

Jenn Creighton: I do identify also with you being like in that PR, just being like, “No, I didn’t do anything wrong. What are you talking about?” I’ve made that mistake before. I did recognize that that was just me being like, very fearful that they were going to tell me that it didn’t belong. Like that was the end result was like this, building up of a case against Jenn. And I was like, but no one’s doing that, Jenn, why are you?

Crystal Martin: Nobody’s done that.

Jenn Creighton: Nobody’s doing it but my brain was like, “[inaudible 00:11:17] this. I don’t belong. They’re going to kick me out.” And then it was fine. It’s very hard, though. Another point that you brought up was this idea of our worth in tech being tied to our ability to produce and to produce, like in isolation. I think that is actually something that got stuck in my brain as a young developer of like, what a senior would be.

Crystal Martin: Yes, 100%. I think the funny thing is that I am learning that isn’t the case. But I can’t tell myself, I can’t let myself believe that because I feel like I have to keep myself on the hook to be this superduper programmer that doesn’t need anybody to come in and help me. And it’s actually hilarious because the whole foundation of my personal brand, if you call it, like on my website, you go to my website, and one of the first things you see is that people need people, right? Like, that is something I believe. I believe that nobody can do anything alone. You never -- even if you feel like you’ve climbed a mountain on your own, or you started this business with your own money and your own will, there’s always -- you can always look back and think of tons of names of people that helped you get to where you are. You never do anything alone.

And so I think in some ways, it’s like, we took a culture that I actually think is dying in technology and imposing it on ourselves because we thought that’s the only way we can actually be seen as a useful member of a development team. But it’s just not true. And like, honestly, I have to say that I have never been on a single team of people who had that expectation of me, right? And I used to even say to myself, I wondered if people’s expectations of me are just lower, you know? And that’s why they’re telling me that I need help, and that everyone needs help.But it just simply isn’t true. You actually really do need someone else to help you formulate ideas.

And I mean, there are people who can just write code on their own and it's great and that’s fine. But I think even engineering organizations and businesses are emphasizing teams more than ever. And where I work that’s definitely the philosophy like we don’t just send developers for a tech problem. We send solution owners or what we kind of call -- but they’re product owners, basically. We send designers, we send business analysts, we send QA, we send people who have expertise in different areas to create an overall well-rounded solution to the problem. Like, developers are not the most important part of a project. Right? Like, has anyone ever tried to work without a scrum master or product owner? That shit sucks. It sucks. It’s bad.

Jenn Creighton: Yeah. That’s why when -- So, I worked in some very tiny startups, and oh, my God, we didn’t really have product managers or -- it was just a mess. It was a mess. It was so hard and what ended -- like the developers would take on those organizational tasks. So, it wasn’t like the developers -- I don’t know. Developers, we do like to think like we’re the most important thing in the world and like we’re not doing anything that --

Crystal Martin: Revolutionary, no. We’re not changing the world.

Jenn Creighton: No. Yeah. You go up to a doctor and you tell them [crosstalk] that what you do is -- your work is real important. You tell them that. You do that for me because it’s not going to go well for you. Yeah, I don’t know. We always think we’re like curing cancer. You’re right that -- I do think this notion is starting to die out in tech, but you still come across it a lot. It still seems that a lot of organizations still really pride themselves on hiring that 10X engineer who goes off into a room, build something, and then brings it out. And I’ve just always found that to be incredibly toxic toward the entire team.

Crystal Martin: I have had the privilege of not really working with a developer like that. I’ve worked with someone that could have been that, but he just wasn’t. And we all got better as a result. That’s the cool thing about it is like, he could have easily been like, “Yeah, I’m a 10X developer.” Like he can just say, “Oh, you’re having problems today? I’ll just finish the story for you.” He could have taken everything that we were doing and just finished it. And it would have been like, really probably really good or at least done. But he just didn’t. And he didn’t like -- he didn’t give us any room to get off the hook for things. Like he provided help, but he was just like, “No, you got this, you know how to do this like this. No, that’s a normal mistake to make, that’s a normal thing to like assume, you’re good. You know, carry on.”

It’s like, to me, that’s what 10X developer is like you think about a multiplier. A multiplier is not like that you can finish 10 times more code in a short amount of time. Who cares about that, honestly? Like that doesn’t -- Speed does not provide any value to anybody, right? I mean, unless I get if you have -- Actually, no. Like, speed is not a priority. And I even -- I impose it on myself, I think that should be faster. But like, when you think about it, like the best developer going too quickly is going to fuck it up. So, like 10 times to me, is like you think about the actual notion of multiplication is that everyone around that person gets better, right? Like that’s being a multiplier. That’s being a 10X developer that now your skills and your ability have now rubbed off on everyone else on that team because of your leadership and your ability, not only to code and execute, but to also like be a part of a team.

Jenn Creighton: And you don’t have to be a senior for that. That’s the -- You do not have to be a senior to be that type of person on your team.

Crystal Martin: You don’t. And I think I’m learning that myself that -- I’m going to brag for a minute because like I just got a raise and a new title. I know.

Jenn Creighton: Oh, tell us more.

Crystal Martin: You can call me senior consultant. Yeah. So, anyway, [crosstalk] I asked for feedback as to how that decision was made for my boss. And he was just like, “We looked at your profile because we had to kind of do this whole like rundown of our careers and all the roles we’ve played, and how that plays into where we think we fall, title wise. And also the responsibilities we can take up on a team.” And he said to me, he’s like, “It’s not just about the technical skills. Like, have you been in the field for a long time? No. But what you bring to the table is your ability to work with people, your ability to mentor and coach, your ability to teach. Like, you were an educator before you came here and that means something.” It was so affirming to hear that. But I think that’s sort of a testament to me that businesses are actually paying attention to people that are not like these TEDx developers, and the way that has been defined. You don’t want a team full of those people. Right? That having a team full of 10X developers sounds like a fucking nightmare. I think that those folks that are fast and are smart, are important to our field, but they’re not the end all be all.

They shouldn’t be prioritized over anyone else to say is an ex-educator, a teacher, nonprofit worker going developer. Like that is equally as important to have on teams with people. Because at the end of the day, the hardest part of development, especially as a consultant is the people part. We can build all kinds of shit with our eyes closed. Do you know how much time we spend not coding and trying to figure out what the problem is? Like, what problem are we actually solving? And like, who wants it and who needs it? And what are they saying and read between the line? Like, that’s what being a developer really is. And maybe I’m thinking of this from my perspective because I am a consultant and developer. But, I imagine even on internal teams, like it’s the same thing. Even if you’re building a product for your company that you work at, it’s still the same thing. Like, is this the problem you want solved? Like, that’s what developers are spending a lot of time doing.

Jenn Creighton: You are correct. That does happen on other teams. Like, I’ve had this conversation multiple times with people about the evolution of what I thought a senior engineer was over my career. Because I think when you’re early in your career, what you think it is based off of what you experience is that it is a person who knows everything about the language that they’re working with, like everything about the tools and everything. Like they just, they don’t even Google. They’re just amazing like that super, super quick, and do things super independently. And that’s sort of the messaging that we receive around what a senior engineer is. And that’s based off of the people that we see who are getting raises and titles and promotions, the interviewing process that we are put through. Like, they look for how well you know the language, not accounting for the fact that we are all going to have those, “I don’t fucking know JavaScript moment.”

Crystal Martin: Or like, “Oh, this project actually calls for not JavaScript. So, go fuck yourself.” No, you have to do something else.

Jenn Creighton: Oh, yeah. A strange idea, figuring out the actual tool that you need, instead of just treating everything the same, an odd idea. Yeah. So, we just think that’s what it is. And then when I got to a certain point, I was like, wait a minute. It’s not because I know the language the best. It’s not because I’m the fastest engineer, because I don’t consider myself very fast. But I do have a better understanding of what the problem is that we’re working on, when a problem maybe shouldn’t be taking my attention and what actually is the priority, and how to decide the prioritization of things and how things should sort of be more like architected in a system. And I think that’s when you’re -- I was like, “Wait a minute. I am a frickin’ senior.” Give me my title.

Crystal Martin: Yes. Call me senior, bitch.

Jenn Creighton: I actually had the most wonderful experience that I wish on everyone in tech, which is that I interviewed at a company, they gave me a mid-level title. And within six months, I was able to get a senior title. The person who had interviewed me and said I was mid-level actually apologized to me. He told me, “I thought that the interview, I thought you were a mid-level, I think I put too much emphasis on this question that we’re asking in the interview cycle. I got it wrong. You should have come in as a senior. I’m sorry.”

Crystal Martin: That’s wild.

Jenn Creighton: Everyone needs something like that in their career to boost up their self-esteem. Because I was fighting for this senior title. And the whole time I was like I feel like I shouldn’t have to be doing this. And I got confirmation that yeah, I should have come in at this.

Crystal Martin: That’s so amazing.

Jenn Creighton: Oh, it felt so good. And he apologized too. I was like, “Thank you.”

Crystal Martin: Mistakes are fine, as long as you realize you made it and you don’t do it again.

Jenn Creighton: I mean, I don’t know what to do about the interview process that we like, really index on language and we can’t really index on other things ‘cause -- [crosstalk]

Crystal Martin: You know, I’m just thinking about this last year. And basically, I feel like I spent just the whole year just yelling. Just like being a broken record and any opportunity, I got to say something that I felt like was true and needed to be considered. I just said it everywhere I went in my organization, like I just said it all the time. Any conversation I had with anyone, especially leaders I just said this, I have a script, basically, where I said the exact same thing again, I just continued to say it. And I think people -- you know how you hear that people say you have to hear something three times in three different ways to get it? And I think that really is true. I think changing organizations, you can’t go to people and say, “This is wrong. This is how you should be doing it” and just expect them to take it at face value. And it’s not because you are like, the reason they’re not listening to you could be, could be based on the fact that you're young and female and feminine and black or whatever [inaudible 00:24:00] you are that could be the reason.

But a lot of times just like there’s been no trust built, they don’t know you, they don’t know your intentions, they don’t know what you’re saying. They also just don’t know how to act on it. And so I have taken this approach where like, I would just send emails with articles about things. And instead of being like, our organization needs to do this thing because it’s the right thing to do. And you’re out of alignment and you’re not doing the right thing if you don’t. It’s like an invitation to get curious. You know? Like, I’m not going to beat you over the head with -- Okay. Well, I should say, I’ve already beaten you over the head about equity, especially this summer around black people in our organization. I’ve done that over and over again. Yes, you’re going to hear me beat you over the head with that until the cows come home. But, also, maybe I can give you something to consider without you even having to talk to me right now. Like here’s just some food for thought, read this article. And if you’re interested, give me a call. We can have a call about it, we can talk about it.

And so I say that to say there are ways to -- Like my friends said this actually like during the summer when the world was exploding. And we were just talking about what it’ll take for organizations, especially tech organizations in these big companies to really have -- to take a stand on Black Lives Matter and that it just be like a [inaudible 00:25:28] diversity theater. I don’t know if that’s the term people are using. But what it would mean, and something my friend said that I think was so profound, and I say it to other people, I think I could say to you, she’s just like, “The notion of perfection. And these companies getting it right on the first try is white supremacists. Like the actual concept of perfection is a part of the system of oppression that we all basically have fallen prey to. And like, by expecting organizations to just get it right on the first try, is, in a lot of ways, buying into that without even really realizing it.” And that was really, I didn’t fully understand it, I think it can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. But it was a helpful reframe for me, in how I wanted to approach change within the tech field and within my organization. It’s just like, kind of managing expectations, still pushing but manager expectations and like, trying out different strategies to get the point across.

Jenn Creighton: Different strategies I think is something that I have struggled with when it comes to wanting to push forward change in organization. And sometimes I’ve gotten to a point where honestly, I was like, maybe I just sit down, shut up, do my work. One, to like, self-preserve, because it’s exhausting. And two, that’s how you build credibility, and I hate it. I hate it. But it is true. Before you get to like make noise, you need some social capital. Even then it may not buy you what you want. So, sometimes I’ve just like gone into an organization and be like, we need to do this and gotten burnt the fuck out from nobody listening to me. But I also, I did not change my messaging to try and fit what was going on. And sometimes it actually like I’ve been like, “Okay. I will earn X amount of social credit by doing these things. And then I will try and spend it and see what happens. Then I will go back to doing that and I will try to spend it again.” It does help me build up also some reserves for what I do try and do that spending step.

Crystal Martin: Yes. I have no comment because I 100% agree. Yeah, but that’s basically what the end of last year was for me was like the fight, fight, fight, fight, fight. And then you just realize you’re like swinging and there’s nobody in the ring anymore. You’re just flailing your arms and you’re just like, wait a minute. Okay. I think. All right. I’m going to just take my gloves off and go over here and code and see what happens.

Jenn Creighton: Yeah. Sometimes you have to like reserve the energy. It can be very hard. At a time when the world is going through a lot of chaos, people are actually starting to say things that you are like, “Yes, I’ve been saying this my entire life.” And it makes you want to be like, “I said it so many times. Why didn’t you listen?” Still, the response is going to be maybe disappointing. When you’re talking about also these corporations like not getting it right and this idea of perfectionism being, you know, it really is this white supremacy idea of white being perfect, things being perfect, not being muddied, we get things correct the first time. Where do you also maybe draw the line between, we’re not going to get it right the first time, and also using that as an excuse to not really do the work?

Crystal Martin: I mean, I’ve definitely seen that happen. And I think what I started trying to like reach for was -- I feel like when that started happening, it felt like it was just bullshit, basically, I think that what I started trying to do is actually get at the heart of the organization and like, the leaders themselves, like where are your head’s at? And I talked to one of the leaders in my organization that I feel like I have a lot of trust with. And I just went to him and I was like, “You know, I really like breakups. And you know why I like breakups? Because you know exactly where you stand with somebody.” Like I love breaking up with people. I love to go and be like this is not working for these reasons, and we have a clean break. You know why, I know why, and there’s no hard feelings. I mean, yeah, it’ll be hard, it’ll be painful, but we both know where you stand.

And so I was, like, “I say all this to say, I kind of just want you to tell me, like, for real, for real, where do we stand on this stuff? And where do you stand and where do you think the organization stands? Because then I feel like then I can disassociate. Like, I can break up. I can break up in a way that makes sense because now I know that I don’t need to be like fighting anymore for this relationship. I don’t need to be fighting anymore for what this is if I’m just like spinning my wheels.” And like, that was kind of like, what I did. And it was just like, where do we actually stand? And I think what I began to see is that people actually just didn’t know what to do. They did not know what to do. And they were scrambling and getting advice from diversity consultants and things like that, just trying to get it right. And I also think that our organizations kind of did think they were going to get it, right, by doing all this stuff, they’re going to be able to be like, “See, look, what we did. We donated it to this and did that.”

But what I was trying to -- [crosstalk] It didn’t work, it didn’t work. And I’m just like, I feel like I broke down from a human perspective of like, when I tried to get [inaudible 00:31:17] my leaders were just like, “If you don’t think this is your problem, then we’re not going to get anywhere. If you don’t feel like injustice and the mistreatment of black people is your personal problem as another human and human community that lives around black people in the same country that you have friendships with, and you work with, if you don’t feel dread in your heart, because this thing is going to impact your life as well. If you cannot see the connection of that and if we’re not having those kinds of conversations at these levels where we make a lot of decisions about how we’re going to interest this, then we’ve already lost. We’re done. We’re done for. If you cannot articulate to yourself, why this is, like terrifying. And why this is bad, not only for black people, but for you and your human community, we are not going to get anywhere.

And so I think that’s kind of like, what I kind of want to see more of what success looks like for me or what movement looked like for me is not like policies or like us getting MLK day off, which we don’t. That’s not what I was really looking for. I didn't really care. I didn’t care about us donating to causes, to be honest, like I did -- Well, I did appreciate when there was a local focus. We were like, okay, no, we’re going to give to things. We’re going to like talk to consultants here in the city to understand where should we be given our time and money, so that it’s rooted in our community, like that stuff was good to me.

But what I wanted to see is leaders at my company and other companies articulating how they were thinking and where they were stuck and what they didn’t understand and what they were trying to understand and what they did think they understood, that’s what change looks like, for me. That’s what useful change looks like. So, that’s like, to me, like a parameter of change for me is like, how often are we talking about these issues out in the open with not just like a plastered on smile and being like, look at all the things we’re doing. But, the time that -- like, seeing people in leadership take the time to think about what needed to happen, or not just organizationally, but within their own hearts.

Jenn Creighton: It’s so interesting, that we started this conversation having like, admitting that you don’t know everything. And we were just talking about JavaScript, right? Just JavaScript, like, not going to save the world with that, right? But, we’ve kind of pulled this thread all through this conversation of like, admitting that you don’t know something, and what that can get you when you say it out loud, admitting that you weren’t sure what you were doing. Look what that can get you? We do, we put a lot of emphasis on getting things right in tech, in general, it’s very pervasive, right? We do not really, I think, talk enough about technically or personally, or in a bigger humanitarian way the value of incremental progress, seeing how something worked out and trying again. Or knowing that, like, the old way of doing things just isn’t going to keep working forever. You have to go back and take another look, you cannot say, but we always did it this way. That doesn’t work in tech, and it doesn’t work in our world. Like it just doesn’t work. But yeah, we’ve really pulled through this narrative to of like the ability to say, I don’t know, I don’t have the answer. Can I get some help?

Crystal Martin: Yeah. And everybody needs to do that. Yeah, at every level. And it’s such a hard thing. And I think you’ve probably experienced this, as a woman is just -- it feels like giving up sometimes. It feels like giving up. Because I don’t know how you got socialized, but I got socialized at, like, I had to be the best. And I had to kind of come [inaudible 00:35:24] and basically, like you, as a woman, a black woman, you get the message, like, basically act like a man. Like act like a man so you can get what you need and so you don’t get hurt. I think that’s a big part of it, it’s a protective thing. It’s a safety thing, first and foremost, which I think is why we get socialized that way, especially when we go into environments that are full of white men. It’s hard to like -- it’s like in your heart of hearts, you extend this grace to other people and you know that’s what everyone needs to be able to thrive and not just survive something and to be, so feeling that you’re a part of something, that you belong. But at the same time, I feel like I just imposed this thing on me, but like everybody else can do that. But not me. Like I gotta be -- Like, I don’t need nobody.

Jenn Creighton: Oh, it’s so easy to be graceful with other people in that way and so difficult to do it for yourself. So, that when you do fuck up, or you do need to say, I don’t know, oh, it makes it so hard.

Crystal Martin: So, hard. And I realized that like working with my coach that one of my like beliefs about myself, and basically, the foundation of what I thought of who I am, was that my value as a person in the world is only so far as how much I can provide for other people. And if I cannot provide monetarily or support or emotionally, then I don’t have any value.

Jenn Creighton: Yeah, just what about your value as a human, as a person?

Crystal Martin: Because I’m here, and I’m on earth with other humans. Yeah. And I have been working on this for almost two years. And I still dip back into that. I still just, I mean, literally last week, I was like, my value to this team is that I could finish work fast, and I don’t need help. Even if that’s going to hold my team back and make work late because I fucking did it wrong the first time and I didn’t have to because it wasn’t a matter of my skill. So, that’s the thing, me getting that wrong was not a reflection of my development skills.

Jenn Creighton: No, it wasn’t.

Crystal Martin: It was not. I did the right thing in the wrong place. It wasn’t like it was broken. It was working, tests were passing for the wrong thing. You know? Where I failed was communicating, where I failed was asking for help, where I failed was leaning on my teammates who said that they would help me. Like, that’s where I failed. That’s bad developer behavior, right?

Jenn Creighton: You’re also bringing up this point of like, as we just said, doesn’t have to be perfect. We got to iterate on things. That also means you gotta know where you need to iterate. You have to be able to identify and you were like, it actually wasn’t my developer skills that needed work. It was my communication that needed work this time. So important to like, look at what happened and be like, “Oh, actually, that was the problem. I see.” [crosstalk] [inaudible 00:38:32] sorry about that. Oops. Sorry. Yeah. And I struggle with this idea that if I have a setback that that means all the progress I made meant nothing.

Crystal Martin: Yes. Are we the same person? ‘Cause I definitely have that. Do you know, like, there’s that meme with the girl who’s trying to kombucha she makes the face like, “Oh, this is good. Oh, no, this is good.” I feel like that’s been my year of just being like, “You’re great. [inaudible 00:39:01] There you are. I’m actually good.” That’s just been the entire year. And I honestly had to be like, I had to make myself laugh when I realized I made that mistake. I had to be like -- ‘cause it was pretty funny. Right? It was funny.

Jenn Creighton: Yeah. If someone else had done it, you would not have thought -- [crosstalk]

Crystal Martin: No, I would have laughed. I would have been like, “Yo, this is beautiful. It’s just in the wrong place. You did everything right.” And that’s what my colleague said. She was like, “You didn’t get it wrong. You just did it in the wrong place. Like everything is right, it’s just wrong.” Because I was like, “I fucked this PR up.” She’s like, “No, you didn’t fuck it up. You didn’t fuck it up. You just put it in the wrong place.” And that was good to hear. And I was able to -- and I literally started dipping into that like, “Oh, fuck. Like, you’re never going to be able to -- like this is so stupid. How could you like…” And it’s like I just had to -- This is actually just legitimately funny and like, it is more effective for you to laugh about this and get to work than be dejected and like, feel like you’re going to have to say to your client that you did this thing wrong. You should have done it right. It’s like, everybody’s fucking up, right, because that’s what happens when you work at enterprise software. There are so many different changes happening. You could do something flawlessly, and then realize that no one wants it and you got to do something again, do all this stuff. Actually, roll it all back because we don’t want it. You’re like, wait a minute. So, we’re all just learning and figuring it out. So, why do I think that I’d have any expectations that are different on me than anyone else, but it’s just so hard to [inaudible 00:40:38] that.

Jenn Creighton: It truly is difficult to extend to yourself, the grace and humor that you would extend to someone else. It’s really hard.

Crystal Martin: It’s really hard.

Jenn Creighton: You just, you hold yourself to such a different standard, and other people you’re like, that was funny, “Oh, you’re fine. It’s totally fine, whatever. You know, like the number of times that I’ve been convinced that there was a bug, and it was just a misspelling, you know? And it just, I honestly just need someone else to look at it for five seconds and be like, “Hey, this word is not the same as the other words.” “Oh, fuck.”

Crystal Martin: And I think when you don’t do it, you actually block yourself more, right? You become caught, and emotionally hijacked, and you can’t be effective. And then you’re upset because you can’t be effective. It’s like a vicious cycle of nonsense.

Jenn Creighton: Emotionally hijacked, that’s a very good description of what it is. Because you’re not going to make any progress.

Crystal Martin: You’re not. And actually, I think it’s what’s fascinating about this is like, it’s an actual neurological thing, right? Like you actually are hijacked because you can’t access your higher self. Like your prefrontal cortex is there for executive functioning is offline. And you are totally dealing from like, your fear center, your like, reptile brain is like, “There’s a tiger coming.” And it’s like, you just have to do a story. Your story is not a tiger.

Jenn Creighton: There is no tiger.

Crystal Martin: Your prefrontal cortex is just sitting there waiting like, “Dog, there is no tiger, can you please just do this story again?” And your reptile brain is just like, “Oh, no. Like, I’m gonna die. Do you see the teeth on that story?” And your prefrontal cortex is like, “Listen, I’ll be here for you when you want to come, but I don’t have time for this shit so I’m just gonna sit here.”

Jenn Creighton: How do you get your prefrontal cortex back?

Crystal Martin: I think mindfulness and taking a break and saying to yourself, like, okay, I messed up. It’s okay. People mess up. I’m going to go get a puff pastry. That’s been my way of coping lately. I’m going to go for a walk, I’m going to take a three-minute breather on insight time or whatever, and come back to the tasks with self-compassion. I think that’s something that I’ve been reading. I’ve been reading this book and a lot of [inaudible 00:43:02] talk about is I may be saying it wrong, a Sanskrit word Maitri. And basically, what it means is unconditional friendliness. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot of just like, extending unconditional friendliness to other people, but also to yourself. And I think that’s why if you don’t take yourself so seriously, and you can’t just laugh, and also you know how you hear people say, if you laugh, even if you don’t think it’s funny, it still raises your frequency and gets you out of that space.

And so I think that’s kind of what I have to do. I have to just, like, laugh myself into being like, yeah, but like, it’s actually not that serious. And that’s kind of how you check back in. I think it’s different for different people. But taking a moment, taking a beat, and breathing, honestly. And maybe just saying it, like writing it or saying it out loud to someone else, to your rubber ducky on your desk, and then getting on with your life. And then whenever that voice kind of comes back just being like, that happened. It’s already in the past. It’s done. I’m now moving forward. And it’s hard. It’s a mental exercise. And I feel like last week, part of the reason I was so tired was because of this, like trying to rewire this like negative self-talk and this, you know, self-deprecating sort of attitude towards myself and my skills that it’s like a mental exercise of just being like, “Okay. Feel the feelings, right? Feel the feelings all the way through, but then you gotta like, take a break, breathe and let it go.

Jenn Creighton: I do want to emphasize that feel your feelings part. Because I do think a lot of people just go, “Nope,” and try and put a little wall up. But all you’re doing is like the feelings are still really happening. They’re leaking out into things that you’re doing and you’re just not aware of them anymore and it can have really terrible repercussions for the people around you.

Crystal Martin: Absolutely. And your own body.

Jenn Creighton: Oh, yeah. Oh, the stress that collects in your body. Like my shoulders have not released I think in a couple of weeks now.

Crystal Martin: Yes.

Jenn Creighton: I want them to stop, but they’re all up in my ears. I’m like stop. [crosstalk]. It’s okay. We’re going to be okay. Honestly, I don’t even know, my struggle lately has been knowing when I’m stressed. And my partner is very sweet. He knows when I’m stressed. And he was like, “Hey, you seem stressed.” I go, “No, no, no, I don’t think I’m stressed. I just feel like a tight, tight ball.”

Crystal Martin: Also known as?

Jenn Creighton: “What do you think stress is?” I was like, “Oh, okay.” Okay. So, as we wind down any final thoughts, you want to leave people with? Anything you want to share about what you’re doing right now or where they can follow you?

Crystal Martin: Yeah. I felt that was kind of wrap-up like it’s hard right now. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Try to extend that unconditional friendliness to yourself. You are your own best friend at the end of the day. As far as things that I’m doing, I don’t know. I’ve been really tinkering a lot, which I think has been kind of like raising my vibrations to like just play and dabble in different things. And I want to encourage other people to do that. Like, try things you haven’t done before and haven’t done in a long time and see how you feel doing that. It really has been super helpful for me to connect to my essence, and to who I actually am as a person, and not identify so much of me as a developer. You know? I don’t know. Yeah, just follow me, I guess. I’m on Twitter, if you like cats follow me on Instagram. That’s like a lot of my content. My tinkering in different hobbies and stuff, I’ve been just posting there to try to encourage myself and other people to just play with things.

And I’m actually really interested in what people are doing right now with their time and how they’re tinkering and how they’re doing self-exploration or just like exploration. So, like, if you want to share that with me on any of those platforms. I’m actually truly interested. Like, you have sort of inspired me. I’ve been thinking about doing a podcast around something like that, just to kind of see like, what are people doing and playing with? And like -- you’re never too late. It’s never too late. You’re never too old. You’re not too young. You’re not too short. Like there’s all these kind of things you could be doing to connect with yourself and with the world around you. And I will stop babbling.

Jenn Creighton: I love that idea too. That podcast idea sounds wonderful. Do it. Please. Thank you for coming on. To everyone listening, make sure you follow Crystal on Twitter. Her handle is @CoderMeow. She is a cat mom after all. And I’ll also list some links in the show notes for you to follow. I’ll see you next week.

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