[00:00:05] SY: Welcome to the CodeNewbie Podcast where we talk to people on their coding journey in hopes of helping you on yours. I’m your host, Saron, and today we’re talking about going from fast food to tech with Tae’lur Alexis, Web Development Consultant at Code Everyday LLC.
[00:00:19] TA: After that first role, I’ve done nothing but contracting since, and that is where your customer facing skills like really reign because you’re not only trying to like sell to a client, but you are the person that they go to when they have issues or when they have concerns.
[00:00:36] SY: Tae’lur talks about her journey into tech and how she taught herself how to code after this.
[00:00:48] SY: Thank you so much for being here.
[00:00:49] TA: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m a big fan.
[00:00:51] SY: Thank you. So let’s start from the very beginning. What were you doing before you got into tech?
[00:00:57] TA: Okay. So I didn’t have like any tech background. My first few jobs were in fast food and retail. Specifically, I worked at places like Boston Market. Walmart, Lowe’s. Lowe’s is my favorite place that I worked at.
[00:01:11] SY: Yeah?
[00:01:12] TA: Yeah. But right before I landed my first tech job, I was working at Boston Market.
[00:01:19] SY: I love Boston Market, by the way.
[00:01:22] TA: You do?
[00:01:22] SY: I remember when I was on… I do. When I was on campus, so I’m Ethiopian, so we don’t really eat a lot of soul food type of… [00:01:29] TA: I love Ethiopian food.
[00:01:31] SY: It’s really good. But we didn’t eat a lot of like soul food type of food, you know, like we didn’t have a lot of the mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, like that’s just not what we ate. And so it was such a treat to be able to have what I call Thanksgiving food year round, was like amazing. So I go to Boston Market. I think it’s great. So what prompted you to make that change? You’re working at Boston Market, are you thinking to yourself, “Maybe I’ll get into code?” How did that happen?
[00:01:56] TA: I knew that customer service wasn’t for me.
[00:01:59] SY: Okay.
[00:02:00] SY: My issue was not with the customers at all, because they were usually really nice. And if someone had a complaint, I could sympathize. You know what I mean? Like with them and everything, but it was really like the management, but you’ll encounter like bad management, like wherever you go. But it was just like I kind of want to do something different. I wanted to challenge myself. I first came across what coding even was through a YouTube video. And so I wanted to see like what coding even was. So my first experience like with it or like how I first came across it when I tried it was Codecademy. And the first thing that I remember doing on there was doing a Hello World in Python. And as soon as I printed it and saw like the output of it, I did not understand what any of this was. I was like, “What is a variable? I don’t get it.” And I just kind of like left it alone. So what kind of prompted me to pursue it was actually my father passing.
[00:02:56] SY: I’m sorry.
[00:04:23] SY: Wow!
[00:04:23] TA: Yeah. Tech has shown me that when I’m really interested in something, I go like all in. But I didn’t really understand the importance of breaks at the time and I think it’s because I was just like in such a rush.
[00:04:34] SY: Right. Right.
[00:04:35] TA: Yeah. Like I said, I was like learning front-end development and building projects and I came across hashtags on Twitter. I was never really into social media. I was like an introvert.
[00:04:45] SY: Really?
[00:04:45] TA: No. No.
[00:04:46] SY: Interesting. You’re very social on social media.
[00:08:53] SY: That’s great. Yeah.
[00:08:54] TA: Yeah.
[00:08:55] SY: So how much time had passed between you seeing that very first YouTube video and you getting that job?
[00:09:02] TA: I want to say it was about seven to eight months.
[00:09:06] SY: Not bad. That’s not bad at all. So at the point when you got that call or that CEO reached out to you, what were your expectations with your journey? Were you in the middle of learning at that point? Were you looking to apply to jobs at that point? What were your goals at the time when he reached out to you?
[00:10:13] SY: So if he hadn’t reached out to you, how much longer would you have waited to apply to a job?
[00:10:18] TA: Ooh. Three to four more months, I would say.
[00:10:21] SY: Really?
[00:10:22] TA: Yeah.
[00:10:22] SY: Wow! Okay. So you felt like you were pretty relatively far away from where you thought you should have been in order to apply? Interesting. Interesting. And so now you have that moment when you got that job, you started working, how did it affect your confidence and the way you saw your skills? Did you feel like, “Okay, I got this”? Or were you feeling self-conscious about what you knew at that point?
[00:10:44] TA: So I have to shout out the management at that company because they started off with giving me very basic tasks and then like as soon as they saw me do well in those, they kept like incrementing the level of difficulty in the task. So one of the people that had interviewed me for that role, his name was like Alex, and he was a more senior developer. And the thing about him was like when I would go to him, whenever I felt not confident enough about doing something, just to like listen to him because like he was very like motivating. He was great. He became like my unofficial mentor. And so I really think that for a junior developer, when they’re going into like that role, like they may feel like those like feelings of insecurity or not feeling like capable to do their job efficiently or whatever. But if they have like a good team that is supportive and that is like motivating and encouraging you like every day, you start to build up that confidence and everything. And I still get that feeling. So I still get that feeling at times. Right now I’m learning cybersecurity. And sometimes like, yeah, I get those feelings of like imposter syndrome and whatnot.
[00:11:49] SY: So I want to go back to where you were when you got that message from that CEO. At that point, where were you in your learning in terms of what were you learning? How were you learning? You mentioned putting in eight plus hours a day. Paint that picture for me of what it looked like to be tailored in the thick of it, in the weeds, trying to level up.
[00:12:10] TA: I believe I was like learning for like APIs. And so for me, I knew that my learning style is hands-on. So what I would do is I would go on YouTube and I would search Fetch API tutorials. And I remember it specifically. I built like a few different projects like working with different APIs like NASA’s API, weather API, Wikipedia, Reddit, whatnot. I would look at those tutorials and everything. I would try to do it myself, like after I got the hang of like how like APIs worked for instance, try to do it myself. If I couldn’t do it, then I watch the walkthrough. But the thing is, I wouldn’t just like copy verbatim because like I would try to like stray because I’m trying to be a front-end developer. So I’m trying to show like my own twist. So I would change like the whole UI of it or add like additional features. For instance, one of the projects that I built was a Spotify clone and I made a Sailor Moon theme because I wanted to be representative of me and my interests and everything. And that’s actually something that I do recommend to people when they’re like learning how to code is like if they are following like a project-based course or something to try to stray from it as your own features. Or if you don’t feel like as if you are capable enough of adding your own features, try, actually try. Look up documentation and try. But change like the UI of something. Other things that I was doing during that time was I would build landing pages based off of concepts like in my head.
[00:13:35] SY: That’s cool.
[00:13:36] TA: Yeah, I thought of like a beer and chocolate delivery service. So I built like a landing page.
[00:13:44] SY: The perfect combination. I love it.
[00:13:47] TA: And I’m not even a beer person. It just sounded fire.
[00:13:50] SY: Wait, why did you come up with that idea?
[00:13:52] TA: I don’t even know. I have no idea. But I built it.
[00:14:48] TA: And were you doing that alongside your job or how did you kind of fit all this into your day? I would work something like 7:00 AM to like 3:00. And then I didn’t have a car. So I would run home. And as soon as I got home, I was coding until I fell asleep every day. And I say that, but with caution though, because I don’t want people thinking… [00:15:10] SY: I was going to say do you recommend that?
[00:15:12] TA: No, no, no, no. It just became very addictive. I really love to create things and I don’t know. There’s something about tech that just makes me really passionate. And I guess because when your code messes up or if it breaks or if you’re going through something you’re trying to troubleshoot like an error and then you fix it, it’s a really nice feeling. And I don’t think I had ever encountered something that really challenged me the way that coding did or has. I was doing that every day. I don’t really remember taking days off. I would like turn down like going to parties. And I was already like an introvert.
[00:15:46] SY: True.
[00:15:46] TA: You know? Yeah. It’s really not much to me to just stay in my room.
[00:16:04] SY: So at the time when you got that message from that CEO, what was your plan in terms of what you were learning? It seems like you were learning a little bit of everything. You learned some WordPress. You’re now doing security, and it sounds like at the time you were doing a bunch of other things. How were you deciding what to learn and did you have kind of a roadmap for yourself? Or how are you figuring out what to focus on?
[00:17:10] SY: It’s true. It’s coming up.
[00:18:25] SY: Absolutely. I’m curious, how did your past experiences doing customer service, how did that impact your experience, your role as a developer? I would say it made me a good person to work with because I came in with no ego, not condescending to people, and I communicated a lot. And I was very understanding people like in the different personalities that I would like deal with. And I would say like working in retail customer service like really helped. And also like after that first role, I’ve done nothing but contracting since. And so that is where your customer facing skills like really reign because you’re not only trying to like sell to a client to like have them work with you so you can develop a web app for them or something, but you are directly the person that they go to when they have issues or when they have concerns.
[00:19:24] SY: Right. We’re the customer support, too.
[00:19:25] TA: Yeah. You’re the customer support. And that’s definitely where like working in retail and stuff like that came in, having like that compassion for people and everything.
[00:19:35] SY: I’m curious, how do you feel about coding now? I’m thinking about you. We have the six-month mark, staying up late, falling asleep, coding, putting everything into it. Now that sometime has passed, how do you feel about coding these days?
[00:19:50] TA: It still thrills me, but I take a lot of breaks. And I want to say that I hit burnout in particular maybe sometime around 2020. So about two years in. And when I hit burnout, that just meant I had to take like a big break. And thankfully, I was freelancing and everything and I saved up money so I could take a break. But I still like love coding and more so I love teaching people. That’s where I feel like I’ve found my purpose is by like helping like other people with like learning how to code.
[00:20:22] SY: Tell me more about that burnout because I’ve heard different theories of why burnout happens. I’ve heard people say, “I worked too hard, didn’t take enough breaks.” I’ve heard other people say, “It wasn’t so much about how many hours I worked, it was more about managing my energy level. It wasn’t filling my bucket and I kept going and my energy was not being replenished.” So what was it for you? What do you think caused your burnout?
[00:20:46] TA: Probably not dealing with grief actually with like my father’s passing. I was like working like so hard because I wanted to make like my parents proud and I was so determined to take care of my mother because it was like on me to take care of her and everything and I wanted to make her happy and I just was starting… I was feeling burnout. I was in a city that I didn’t know, all alone. Right? I miss my family. So I want to say it was that, and probably also, well, I’ll just say it Saron, I did have like a bad mentor and I’ll say that there’s good mentors, right? And there can also be bad ones. And I already was like coming into like the game, really just trying to like work hard and that whole hustle 24/7 mentality. Right? And also dealing with a mentor that said that I wasn’t good enough. They would put me down for like being on social media and stuff like that and say that I’m like about fluff and that I wasn’t technical enough. That whole discussion that people have about like not feeling technical enough or being told they’re not technical enough, I understand that intimately. So I had like an inner voice in my head that was doubting myself constantly. And I really feel like that coupled with the loss of my father and being alone, I think that’s like what led to my burnout. I hit like a breaking point. Passion isn’t enough. You also have to take care of yourself when you’re in this career or any career really.
[00:22:17] SY: What does taking care of yourself look like?
[00:22:20] TA: Taking care of myself is taking a break and going outside at times, going for a walk, and also the negative self-talk, trying your best to like not. I feel like because I’m a naturally very sarcastic person, I can be self-deprecating. That can almost be like me, acting like that can almost be like an excuse for me being negative towards myself. So I try to actively fight that. Like today, I didn’t want to do anything today. Well, trying to take time off, like a day off or something to not overwhelm myself. And that helps with like learning and stuff like that. Because if you’re like learning constantly, sometimes it’ll just go like in one ear and out the other and you won’t be able to like routine. So like I try to like rest my mind because that’s the best way to like learn. So I try to take like a day or two off, like a week or something. I feel like that should be normal.
[00:23:13] SY: Yeah.
[00:23:17] TA: Yeah.
[00:23:17] SY: Yeah. I think that what you’re speaking to reminds me of just the importance of having good habits and having a good rhythm, a good schedule, a good way of doing things so that you don’t have to constantly remind yourself or convince yourself to do something. You kind of do it because it’s just the way you do things. And I’m wondering, how have habits played a role in your lifestyle and you being a productive, but hopefully a happy and healthy coder? What role do habits play in that for you?
[00:23:47] TA: I would just introduce like the Pomodoro Technique. So I have made it a habit to do that every day. So that’s where like you work on something for 25 minutes or whatever, and then you take a break for five minutes and then you do that and then like every couple intervals of doing that, you take like a 15-minute break, like a longer break. So I try to do that and that’s helped me build discipline because instead of just like going full force on something that I’m working on or learning, I force myself to take breaks. But now it’s like, because I’ve done that so much now, it’s not even feeling as if I’m forcing myself to take breaks, like I’ll just take a break. And I think really it’s about being kind to yourself because I used to feel bad for taking a break because I would be like, “Well, I’m not doing enough.” [00:24:33] SY: Pomorodo, that’s a technique that I haven’t really successfully implemented it myself, but I know people swear by it and they say it’s really helped them with focus and productivity and getting things done and motivation. So definitely something to check out if it’s something that folks haven’t tried already.
[00:24:47] TA: Yeah. When the alarm goes off to take a break, I still go over it sometimes. But as long as I’m taking a break, like as long as I’m taking a break, then I’ll take it as a break.
[00:24:59] SY: We’ll give you that.
[00:25:01] TA: Yes.
[00:25:01] SY: Yes. Coming up next, Tae’lur talks about how she focused on learning front-end development, burnout, and having good habits after this.
[00:25:25] SY: So I wanted to ask you a little bit more about social media, because social media I know is a big part of your presence, it ended up being a big part of your career. And I know that you actually had a viral tweet that has, I’m looking at it right now, it has 3,736 retweets. It’s pinned. It says, “Today I hope this serves as motivation to those #codenewbies/ #100DaysOfCode devotees that it can happen. Pic on the left was January 29th, 1st day as a fast food server. $8/hr. Every day I walked home & coded for hours. Pic on the right is me as a dev, first day was July 29th.” And that was five years ago. That was some time ago, four and a half years ago. So happy fifth year anniversary to you. And so my question to you is in today’s age where I feel like social media is very important, but also very volatile, we don’t really know what’s happening with Twitter, people are moving on the Macedon, but it’s kind of trying to figure out how in the world to use that, people are apparently going to LinkedIn, which I thought I was very surprised to hear a couple of developers tell me that. I’m curious what your thoughts are on personal branding, social media, kind of personal community building. If you are trying to come up learning how to code today, what are your thoughts on how the landscape is changing and what advice might you have for folks who are trying to figure out, “Should I even try to build a Twitter following? Should I move on to something else? What should I do?” What are your thoughts?
[00:29:52] SY: I think that’s how I feel about it too. It has the opportunity to get you lucky. Right? It has the opportunity to increase the chances of somebody seeing you. It increases the chances of a CEO reaching out. Right? It increases the chances of someone seeing what you’re all about, being interested reaching out to you, but do you need it? No. And for some people, I’ve seen it cause way more stress on them than they ever need in their lives. You know?
[00:30:20] TA: Yeah.
[00:30:20] SY: And I’m just like, “You know what? It’s fine. Just don’t bother. Just focus on your code. Focus on building. Do your portfolio projects. Call it a day.” But if you’re able to do it and hopefully you don’t hate it, it has the opportunity to be impactful. So it’s all about just increasing chances and increasing serendipity. That’s all it is.
[00:30:39] TA: I believe that the reason why I tweeted or what drew me to social media was that I was able to network without having to be in person.
[00:30:47] SY: Yes. Good point. Yep.
[00:30:48] TA: Not having a car and also just having a lot of anxiety around people. If someone is an introvert like me and they get anxiety around people, like in person, social media can probably help. And also that also lessens a barrier for people that can’t go to meetups or conferences. They may not like live like in a… because I live in a rural area right now. That’s why I like that things are becoming like more virtual now. There’s like virtual conferences and virtual study groups that people are having or meetups because that helps you be able to like network and get to know the community without having to like pay to go somewhere or you know?
[00:31:27] SY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Tae’lur, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:31:43] TA: Yes.
[00:31:43] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:31:47] TA: Ooh. Worst advice I ever received was to not pursue cybersecurity and to stick to what I know. I remember those exact words.
[00:31:57] SY: Interesting.
[00:31:59] TA: Yeah.
[00:31:59] SY: Huh? Tell me more.
[00:32:01] TA: Okay. So, because of course when I was told that, I asked like, “Well, what do you mean by that? Why do you say that?” And they said that it’s often hard to pivot into cybersecurity and usually people that are in cybersecurity are already like naturally gifted in the first place. And I have to disagree on so many different levels because a lot of the people that I’ve met in tech, they’ve held different roles and they’ve had varied, like a lot of different interests, like when it comes to tech and everything. I think that if I listen to someone who told me before, because I had people when I was learning how to code tell me not to do it because I don’t have a computer science degree and that it’s not going to happen for me or that I wasn’t smart enough. I had a lot of people telling me that. And if I had listened to those people, I wouldn’t be getting interviewed by you today. I wouldn’t be able to speak at conferences. So when it comes to like cybersecurity, it’s something that I’m interested in. Is it hard? Heck yes, but I love it. I like breaking things. Yeah, that’s probably something. If someone tells you that you can’t do it, you’re not capable of doing it, go do it. Do it for yourself.
[00:33:08] SY: Go and do it. Do it for yourself. I love that. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:33:15] TA: Never be afraid to be yourself.
[00:33:18] SY: Love that.
[00:33:18] TA: Yeah. And to stand up for yourself, not to be afraid to burn bridges.
[00:33:23] SY: Ooh!
[00:33:24] TA: Yeah. That one right there.
[00:33:25] SY: Amen.
[00:33:26] TA: Yeah. Don’t be afraid to burn bridges because you know what? There’s a billion different people in this world, and yeah, some people may not like you, but it’s going to be a whole bunch of other people that will. So hey, there’s people that I’ve had to sever relationship ties with in this industry, and I don’t lose sleep over it. I keep going. If I see them at a conference, it’s nothing to me. You have to. You have to stand up for yourself. Oh my gosh, actually a lot of bad advice I see people say is like, “Even if the relationship with that colleague or whatever is bad, just stick with it, to not try to like ruffle feathers or not to cause any kind of backlash,” you could still get it regardless. You could be as good of a person as you think. You could be as much of an angel as you could be and people will still… you can still get steered over. I tell people that I mentor or that I talk to that may be having issues like with a bad mentor, for instance, like I mentioned before, or any kind of experience like in tech, don’t be afraid to walk away from that person or to stand up for yourself. I feel like you would have more regret staying silent about something that is bothering you or something.
[00:34:40] SY: Absolutely. Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:34:45] TA: My first coding project…
[00:34:47] SY: Was it the beer and chocolates?
[00:34:48] TA: Oh, actually, yeah, actually, yeah. It was.
[00:34:51] SY: Was it?
[00:34:52] TA: Yeah, it was the beer and chocolates. Yeah. Yep.
[00:34:57] SY: That’s wonderful. Okay. Very cool. What did you build that in, by the way?
[00:35:01] TA: That was just HTML and CSS. I remembered the UI and everything. Yeah.
[00:35:08] SY: Is it still up anywhere?
[00:35:10] TA: Yeah, I can actually show you. I can send you the link, I’m pretty sure, because I host it on GitHub Pages.
[00:35:13] SY: Can you please? We’ll put in the show notes. I’ll put in the show notes. I would love to see that. That’s amazing.
[00:35:19] TA: Yeah. Because that was one of the projects that I showed in the interview.
[00:35:23] SY: That’s how you got the job because they really like beer and chocolate, I suppose. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started a code is?
[00:35:32] TA: Those moments when you feel like as if you don’t become an engineer, you’re going to have plenty of those and you’re going to persevere through them. You’re going to push through. Yeah. That’s self-doubt in your head, like you’re going to fight it.
[00:35:44] SY: Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Tae’lur.
[00:35:46] TA: Thank you. Thank you very much.
[00:35:50] SY: You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.Copyright © Dev Community Inc.