Relicans host Aisha Blake interviews Early Career Software Developer, Danielle Thompson about moving from the hospitality industry into tech, being self-taught, Googling frequently, living with ADHD, and participating in weekly Code School Q&A with our very own, Jonan Scheffler!
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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.
Aisha Blake: Hello and welcome to Launchies, the podcast for devs early on in their career or with non-traditional backgrounds. My name is Aisha Blake. I am a Lead Developer Relations Engineer at New Relic, and I will be your host for today. I am here with Danielle Thompson. She's a Junior Developer at Open Up Resources, an EdTech company. And I'm really excited. She's got so many stories and skills that she brings over from the hospitality industry and has been really, really intentional about her journey into tech. Thank you so much for joining me.
Danielle Thompson: Thank you so much for having me. It's great to get to chat with you again.
Aisha: Absolutely. If you wouldn't mind maybe digging a little deeper into your story, I'd love to know more about how you got here.
Danielle: Absolutely. I worked in the hospitality industry for a very long time. Obviously, COVID happened, and everything that I was doing as a bar manager working in the events industry, managing a venue in a bar, very much didn't exist as soon as COVID happened.
Aisha: Very specifically.
Danielle: [laughs] Yeah, a very specific subset of like, oh cool, yeah, I definitely don't have a job anymore. But I'd been in hospitality for as long as I had, and I had already been starting to think about what comes next? And how can I continue to grow, and have more challenges, and be able to have a wider reach of the kinds of people, and how many people can I actually have an impact on?
So the thought of what comes next was already in my brain before COVID happened. But COVID sped up the timeline for requiring that I take the next steps to figure out [laughs] what comes next. And I floundered a bit for the first few months in the pandemic and full-blown quarantine, like I think many of us did. And eventually, it was quite literally pulling my hair out and trying to figure out what comes next. And tech was that answer, specifically looking at a coding bootcamp, Epicodus, for anybody in the Portland Seattle area.
Aisha: And what drew you to Epicodus specifically?
Danielle: I think one of the things that I loved so much about Epicodus was the inclusive nature of their program and how intentional they were about bringing diverse people into tech and opening doors as opposed to gatekeeping. And I think also how much they tried to mimic the real experience of a developer job as opposed to being on a more academic side. And six months turnaround time to be in and out of school was definitely a big push as well.
Aisha: Yeah, that's huge. The time that it takes somebody to work through a bootcamp if you can make that really focused time work for you, that's huge to be able to just completely shift your career in such a short time, though, of course, there's more work to come after that for most.
Danielle: Definitely. It's almost to the day now that I started code school a year ago. And I got through my program; I got through my internship; I got through the job search. And I'm now three months into my first job as a developer. And thinking back to just where I was only a year ago, it was totally inside out. It's insane to think about the trajectory that I have traversed over in the last year and how much has changed because of all of the work that I threw myself into to make this change happen.
Aisha: What are some of the things that worked into your schedule to get through not only the bootcamp but to feel like you were able to step into a professional role? What are some of the strategies that you used?
Danielle: I think in some ways the pandemic worked in my favor because I couldn't be social. [laughs] I couldn't go see anybody. My poor partner is still like, "Yeah, I just didn't see you for six months and looked forward to when I could see you again." [laughs] But that was when in bootcamp.
And I think some of the strategies that I personally had to employ was a little bit brutal in that I would crawl out of bed, stumbled down my stairs, get to my computer with tea in hand and stay there until 10:00, 11:00 at night, six, seven days a week a lot of the time. It was a really, really grueling, brutal schedule.
And personally, I almost had to start the program over again, which I think is really important to talk about because the bootcamp experience is such a condensed experience, generally speaking. And especially for somebody like myself, who the extent of my technical experience was around my Myspace profile back in the day and doing some super basic HTML editing and maintenance for another EdTech company that I worked at about a decade ago. So again, nothing recent in my experience, save for the last year of just throwing myself making this career change, has led me to this moment.
Aisha: What were some of the most impactful moments of your bootcamp experience?
Danielle: Definitely was finding community for me. Just a few months into bootcamp, I started doing the Twitch stream Code School Q&A with a couple of my cohort mates and Jonan Scheffler from your team. And it's been almost a year now that we've been doing that most weeks.
And the whole thing was one of my cohort mates, Carmen, reached out to Jonan frantically in the midst of Code School and was like, "I have no idea what I'm doing. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to succeed getting into tech outside of school. I have 1,000 questions. Do you have some time?" And he pulled her, and she grabbed a couple of us from the cohort out at Epicodus in for that Convo.
And we've ended up continuing to ask Jonan lots and lots of questions and ask other folks that have joined that community. And largely have worked to open up that platform for asking questions about how you get into tech with non-traditional backgrounds, how you get into tech through bootcamp and even being self-taught, and anything else that leads you to a job in this field, and then also, how you can thrive and grow as a new developer. And I think even demystifying some of what's out there as opportunities for people to get into because it's not just like coding and development is your only option.
There are so many other avenues that I personally went on a several-month journey of talking to anybody and everybody who would let me talk to them and hear more about their jobs within tech just so I had a clearer picture of what my options really were. And I think that sharing that information with more people that are interested in making a similar career transition, having that information available and ready for people is incredibly helpful, not having to put in the many, many hours that I did to learn all of that. Hopefully, I can distill that in a more concise way for other folks to be able to get helped by that information.
Aisha: Yeah, absolutely. I have always felt...and this is coming from having taught a bootcamp and not being through one as a student. But my impression has always been that having that community, having that cohort, having even a group of alumni that you can call on to say, "Hey, I'm trying to do this thing. I'm trying to learn this thing." That, to me, seems like the most valuable part of that experience, even beyond having other people in the same boat with you as you're working through the bootcamp itself. Because that's something that you're going to be able to keep building on and even contributing back to for years.
Danielle: 1,000%. I think the sheer amount of human resources that become available...like, I think one of the best tools that we have as people are other people and being able to lean into communities virtually and in real life again, (yay, hooray for science and vaccines) and being able to lean more into community in all the ways again slowly but surely. It's so wonderful to be able to find community and have that support.
But I think for me too, so much of what I loved in hospitality was making connections, was making people smile, was creating super memorable experiences that were there for people's most special moments. And so, I think having that in mind that certainly translates to how I build things and what I want a user to be able to experience.
But I think in a larger sense, it also has directly impacted how I want to continue to build community within tech, too, within the community that I get to interact with within my work sphere, and also, within the larger tech space as well, especially for other affinity groups that resonate with me and that should have space to build community.
Aisha: What are some of the learnings that you bring from your time in hospitality?
Danielle: I can certainly make a mean drink, and that's always a great party trick. [laughter] Someday, I'll be a really great DevRel person, and I'm like, "Let me help you with that." [laughter] But I think my ability to talk to just about anybody is profoundly impactful in that it is second nature for me to be able to make connections with people that are wildly different from myself. And to be able to help bring people together is also very important to keep morale up, and keep people smiling and having a good time, and remembering what's fun about our jobs, and how we can do good things in the world, too, and have positive social impact with the things that we build on a day to day basis.
Aisha: So I'd love to know what communities you've become a part of if you’ve found existing communities that have been impactful for you. And then maybe after that, I'd love to talk a little more about Code School Q&A.
Danielle: Yeah, definitely. Code School Q&A is the obvious community answer for me, the people that I've developed relationships with, Carmen, and Randel, and Jonan, and Jen, and some of the other guests that we've had on in the last several months. Those folks have been so wonderful, even the folks that have joined us in chat that we see a lot of weeks that pop in and out. I could throw so many shout-outs right now. But that community has been a delight and so, so meaningful to, I think, all of us.
Aisha: Could you take a little bit of a step back and explain to folks what Code School Q&A is in a little bit more detail?
Danielle: Yeah, certainly. So Code School Q&A I kind of shared the origin story of how one of my cohort mates at Epicodus, my coding bootcamp, frantically reached out to Jonan to get some questions answered. And that has evolved today to be more of a resource for other folks that were in our position that are working to make their way into tech with non-traditional backgrounds or even with traditional backgrounds. Because navigating your way into tech is grueling, even if you do have a computer science degree.
And there's a lot of hoop-jumping to get that first junior developer job. That can be a total slog. And we are just trying to make that a little easier on people to provide a place that people can ask questions as they come up about job interviews, or technical interviews, even just what's most important for me to stand out so that I can actually get into this industry? Or asking questions about what's out there and just trying to provide a community space and a safe space that people can ask all those questions.
Aisha: So specifically, this is a Twitch show that you're doing with Jonan. This is The Jonan Show.
Aisha: And that's weekly. Are there other places that folks can connect with you all as part of that community, or is it primarily Twitch?
Danielle: Primarily Twitch right now. I have recently started up a Twitter for us as well. It's pretty basic still, you know, in the early phases of getting going. But you can connect with us there as well on @CodeSchoolQA.
We also have an open-source project going right now that Carmen has been spearheading with Jen and with one of our consistent guests, Oscar. They are spearheading that through Hacktoberfest right now. You can totally find us on the GitHubs under CodeSchoolQA. [laughs] And that is building a website to be able to have a place for people to be able to submit questions before the show and connect with the community at large. And still working to grow that community in our spare time and provide more ways for people to connect and benefit from what we can hopefully connect them to.
Aisha: That's awesome. That sounds like a really wonderful resource for people. And certainly, the streams that I've joined in on have been a really fun and wide-ranging look at what it is actually like to go from I'm interested in tech to okay, now I am a developer, and I'm working in the industry. And I'm bringing people along with me.
Danielle: Yeah, definitely. And I think some of that has even encompassed like; I have this technical question. I think one time, we talked about how you can read hexadecimal codes. And I have done all sorts of little spotlights of technical knowledge sharing too that you might just not be privy to within the coding school experience, especially computer science. You might get more exposure because you just have more time to some of those fundamentals of computer science. But a lot of bootcamp people like myself we are having to fly by the seat of our pants a bit and figure some of this stuff out. That's the developer experience in a nutshell. A lot of the time is learning how to Google things really well and leaning into being able to ask for help from our communities and from co-workers and stuff.
I think another thing that we talked about too at some point was even getting into neurodiversity and figuring out how to do our jobs. And it's an interesting dynamic with Code School because part of our shtick is that we have drinks online, and we sit and chat with our friends and try to answer questions and be helpful about how to get into tech and how to thrive. And part of that for some of us, myself included, where like, I have had chronic depression ever since I was a kid, and anxiety, and ADHD, and so there are things about my brain that I've just had to build a lot of tools around.
And going through the Code School bootcamp experience was very rigid for a brain like mine, but it's possible. And there are tools that you can employ to help in moments of intensity like that. But then how do you translate that to all of a sudden you've got a nine-to-five balance job. You clock out, and you're done for the day. And you're not learning 10 to 15 hours every day [laughs] five to seven days a week. And you have to adjust back to living a normal life.
Some of those things you just wouldn't talk about in any kind of school environment, computer science degree, or bootcamp. Some of those transitions that me, and Carmen, and Randel have all been experiencing as we are in our first jobs as junior developers and trying to set some more realistic expectations for folks that are also getting their first jobs and going through that whole life cycle of pre-COVID to losing our jobs, to starting bootcamp, to dealing with the job slog, to being a developer for the first time.
Aisha: And that's something that I would imagine most folks maybe wouldn't think to talk about or ask about as they're getting into those roles. I think it's so important to have those conversations because even now, there's absolutely a certain amount of hesitation, of stigma around talking about mental health and then the next step actually asking for accommodations where you need them. That can have an absolutely incredible impact on your safety at work, your productivity, and, not to mention obviously, your overall health and happiness.
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. I think I've been so lucky in that sphere in this first job that I've had. I work for an EdTech company, and so much of our mission statement is about inclusivity and accessibility. And designing at the margins is exactly the kind of thinking that we employ and the kind of culture that we have as a company as well. And it's pretty wonderful.
I can crack jokes about squirrel brain ADHD as it comes up through the day, and a significant portion of the engineering team is like, "Yep, I hear you, also there with ya. " and makes similar jokes. So I've been super lucky in that I have an incredibly safe space that I've come into, which is not always the case in tech, definitely not always the case, I mean, in any industry to be able to have those honest conversations about who you are and what kind of brain chemistry you're working with.
But I think also setting up ways for yourself that when my hyperfocus is kicking in to really dig into some educational stuff and do some deeper learning. When I'm down, see if I can lean into doing some ride alongs with some of my senior developers and see what tools they're employing and things like that. Just trying to be gracious with my body and my brain and ride the waves as they ebb and flow in productivity, and in just feeling like a human some days and feeling not like a human other days because we all have those ups and downs as people.
Aisha: For sure. What are some of the best experiences that you have had with mentors so far? And that could be in your current role or even before you got that first job.
Danielle: I think this is something that has been vitally important to my success. And I think in large part, the mentors that I've had in the community are a large driving factor for why I wanted to turn around immediately and do what I could to help cohorts that were below me within Epicodus, try to reach out to the community at large that is trying to get into tech or that is in their first developer roles, all of those things.
The mentors that I've had are a major driving factor for me wanting to help and provide that experience for other people if I can. Some of the mentors that I've had have been wonderful technical mentors. I have several folks at my current job on the senior engineer side that are spectacular and so invested in me and my other code junior developers learning. It's such a rare thing to have somebody not just invested in our learning and growing but excited about teaching. It's pretty wonderful. So a huge shout-out to some of my senior engineers within my own job.
But also, I have been super lucky to have already had a community that was well established just within my own friend circle of people in tech, and one person that has been in tech for like 35 years that has been able to hold my hand through this whole process of getting into a developer role, and some of the mentors that I had during my internship as well.
So much of the success that I have had has been because of the mentors and the community that have helped lift me up and get me to this place. And I continue to see that I grow as a developer and within the tech industry. So the ways that I can turn around and hold a hand up for others that can benefit from that, too, I want to be there.
Aisha: I've seen you begin to do that in the form of speaking, public speaking. And so I'd love to know a little bit more about your journey there.
Danielle: I think that my journey in doing some speaking engagements is very much that crossover of hospitality plus tech that lives within my brain. My ability to speak to people, my desire to help connect communities and individuals together, and my desire to do some teaching along the way and helping others in that kind of manner has lended itself to my ability to stand in front of a crowd where a lot of tech people would scream [laughs] running the other direction and not want to do that.
I've also done dance and theater ever since I was a little kid. So being on stage is not a thing that scares me. It's kind of one of those things that I recognize I can have a wider impact if I can get in front of more people, even if I can create content like blogs and stuff as I'm slowly trying to build up that realm of my career, too, to be able to have more impact and be able to help more people. Because at the end of the day, for me, that's what it's all about, the kind of reach that I can have and all the people that I can help along the way.
Aisha: What advice would you give to other folks who are new to the industry but really interested in getting started as a speaker?
Danielle: I think I'm still figuring out the answer to that myself. You have been a really wonderful resource the handful of times that you have let me pick your brain about speaking engagements and how do you like, unofficial DevRel position in my own time. [laughs] But I think it's helpful to tap into other developer relations people, follow them on Twitter, and see what they're doing. If you're not on Twitter, get on Twitter and start connecting with people in tech.
And I think also seeing examples of online content that people are creating on Twitch and on Dev.to and other similar platforms. See what people are doing and start with what you already know because everybody knows many things, even if it's something very basic. Somebody will benefit from the things that you know. And it's really important to remember that you have things that are worth sharing if that's the thing that is of interest to you.
And so, for me thus far, that has been very much talking about my journey from this non-traditional background in hospitality getting into tech. And now that's transitioning into talking about my experience as a junior developer and what that's like, and how I can grow. I think some of it is, what questions am I being asked on repeat by other people? And when can I get recorded, or write a blog, or both that can answer this question more quickly for people? And I think there are some really rad resources out there too on how to improve public speaking skills and all sorts of stuff that aren't tech-specific that can help you craft more concise and impactful meaningful speeches.
Aisha: I think you bring up a really great point that I have heard Angie Jones make a few times actually that there are so many folks who are out there doing these things. And you're not always going to be able to benefit from a direct mentor-mentee relationship. But you can look at what those people are doing. You can identify parts of their work or their career that you admire and that you want to incorporate into your own journey and work backwards from there.
Aisha: Now, the point about Twitter is a big one too. If you're interested in that sort of public work, whether it's public speaking, or getting into teaching, or writing, or any of those things, it's really helpful to have at least one platform. And Twitter still really seems to be the dominant one among developers to be your base aside from, of course, your own website.
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. I think if you want to share technical knowledge, too, and not just lean more into the human side of things which I feel like is definitely where I tend to lean more at this point. What are you Googling frequently and not finding good answers to? Fill that gap. Figure out how to solve that problem from piecemealing whatever you can find and then write out a better way to do it, a more concise way to do it. Boom, there, you've got some content that's going to be helpful to the next person that is probably Googling the same thing as you or something similar. And being able to just knowledge share in that manner can be so helpful.
Or do a stream about it and record it. Put it on YouTube, whatever resonates to you, whatever you feel most comfortable doing and want to lean into. People learn in all sorts of different ways, and being able to contribute in whichever way feels most natural to you or of most interest will be beneficial to somebody else too.
Danielle: So I think the next steps for me within the sphere of my junior developer role is very much certainly about the day-to-day. How do I get technically better? How do I do better debugging and use better tools and get into better practices as a developer? And lean into filling in the blanks of what I haven't learned technically at Code School.
But then it also begs the question of how do I continue to grow in this brand new career that I find myself in for the next handful of years? Especially because for somebody like myself, there are so many interesting facets to the industry that I could totally fall down a deep, deep rabbit hole for. I love doing front-end work and messing around with CSS, and that's super satisfying. But I also love the problem-solving and the puzzles that you encounter with more backend or full-stack work. But then I also really love people.
And I have a leadership background as well and know that I have strong suits that aren't strictly technical, but that could definitely benefit my career. And I feel the industry at large, especially as a woman in tech, being a more visible face of like, yeah, we exist. We're here. There should be more of us. I think it's really important to be that face as I can because I'm one of those rare birds that I’m like, yeah, cool, put me in front of a bunch of people. It's totally fine. [laughs]
Aisha: I love that. Exactly. There are so many directions that you could take this. You're not forever trapped in the role of a developer. You can branch off in so many different ways. And that's part of what's exciting, at least for me, that you could dig into a particular technology. You could decide I want to specialize in XYZ. You could go into management. You could break out into a completely different kind of role like we're talking about developer relations. You definitely got a head start there. [laughs] I'm really excited to see where you take it.
Danielle: Thank you. Yeah, I'm excited to keep exploring. One of the biggest draws for me getting into tech was basically the endless opportunity to learn and grow and explore. I am a deeply, deeply curious person. And I always want to be learning something new and investigating more parts of the world. And what better way to exercise that muscle than by having a job that allows me to do that and a career that allows me to do that. It's a pretty wonderful fit with a lot of room for growth and change.
Aisha: For sure. I want to thank you so much for hanging out with me and for chatting about your journey so far. Really, like I said, looking forward to seeing where you take it. How can people find you and learn more about your journey as you keep going?
Danielle: I am danitcodes on all of the things, D-A-N-I-T-C-O-D-E-S. You can connect with me on Twitter, GitHub, Medium, and Dev.to. And also, come and connect with me and the rest of the Code School team @CodeSchoolQA on Twitter. And follow us on Twitch at thejonanshow. Come ask questions and join the community and come have some fun with us.
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.