In this episode, we talk about content creation and building communities with Cassidy Williams, principal developer and experience engineer at Netlify. Cassidy talks about her strategy for doing internships, the intersection of content and community, and where she draws inspiration from.
[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 content creation and building communities with Cassidy Williams, Principal Developer and Experienced Engineer at Netlify.
[00:00:21] CW: I remember I walked into my AP computer science class, that’s senior year of high school, and my teacher just said, “Well, as you can see, we have a girl this year.”
[00:00:30] SY: If you have a question for Cassidy after listening, don’t miss The Ask Me Anything Session she’s hosting on the CodeNewbie Community Forum. Just head to community.codenewbie.org, and you’ll find her thread on our homepage and she’ll answer you directly in the comments. That’s community.codenewbie.org. In this episode, Cassidy talks about her strategy for doing internships, the intersection of content and community and where she draws inspiration from after this.
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[00:02:08] SY: Thanks so much for being here.
[00:02:08] CW: Thank you for having me.
[00:02:10] SY: So a lot of people know you for your comedic videos, which are amazing, and they’re always poking fun at the developer world, especially a very popular one about being accosted by reply guys, after posting a bug solution on the internet. But before we get into all that stuff, tell us about how you got into coding in the first place.
[00:02:28] CW: So I’ve been coding for way too long now. I first started when I was actually in middle school. I was walking home from school in eighth grade and I had heard someone say, “Check out my website.” And I was like, “Wait, you can have one of those?” So I went home that day and just started looking up how to make websites, what does that mean. Back then, we did not have amazing resources like CodeNewbie or freeCodeCamp or any of these kinds of platforms, and so truly I was playing it by ear and reading website source code and trying to recreate it. And it was a good time. And after kind of getting connected with coding from there, I went into high school. I took AP computer science. And from there, it was a much more traditional path. I majored in computer science from there and did some internships along the way. And that’s how I got here.
[00:03:15] SY: So tell us about some of those first websites you created. What was it like making them? What were they about? Tell us more about it.
[00:03:22] CW: Oh, they were silly, as middle schoolers are. So my first ever one was called “Super Randomness”. And every single page was just something silly. One page was just like a gallery of nose pictures that I found.
[00:03:35] SY: Nose pictures?
[00:03:36] CW: Yeah, just pictures of noses.
[00:03:38] SY: Okay. Cool.
[00:03:38] CW: I was in eighth grade, just 13, just lots of silly stuff like that and then I would be just like, “Here’s how you can learn Spanish.”
[00:03:45] SY: Nice. Helpful.
[00:04:03] SY: Oh, cool.
[00:04:03] CW: And so my friends and I, before Facebook or anything, we would chat on this forum site. And then I made like a biology website for my class, little things like that, where somewhat practical and somewhat very not much.
[00:04:16] SY: I was going to say I love the mix of like fun, but practical or fun and practical, I should say. That’s awesome. Good for you.
[00:04:23] CW: Yeah.
[00:04:24] SY: So what made you decide that you wanted to actually study computer science in college, going from kind of like that fun, interesting to actually taking it more seriously? How did that happen?
[00:04:33] CW: When I was in high school and kind of figuring that kind of stuff out, I had gone to a lot of college fairs. I was deciding on a lot of things. I liked the idea of something where I could build things. And so I was considering various engineering degrees. I was considering an architecture degree. I was considering a bunch of different things, but I really liked coding and I didn’t really know what the job prospects were. I just was making little websites for fun and it didn’t really connect with me that businesses have websites and they hire people to make them. It’s just that there’s a disconnect there. And I remember going to a college for once and just one of the college recruiters talked to me and my parents. And she was just like, “If you major in computer science, you can write your own ticket. These are all of the different career paths you could take.” She gave me this list that kind of just opened my mind where I was just like, “oh my gosh! I could make websites as a job. I could make all of these giant things.” And websites were truly my only scope. I didn’t understand security aspects. Smartphones weren’t a thing yet. I didn’t understand the scope of it. And talking to this college recruiter really just changed my mindset. And I was just like, “Yeah, this is the one. I really want to be able to just keep coding and make cool things.”
[00:05:47] SY: So we mentioned at the top of this interview, one of the popular comedic videos you made about being a woman in tech. I’m curious, what was your experience like as you were getting to your career along the way? Were you the only woman in that computer science program, in that high school, middle school program? Was gender imbalance an issue that you faced early on or was it not a big deal back then?
[00:06:10] CW: It was something that I didn’t realize that it was a thing until I went to my first computer science class because I was just a nerd on the internet, experimenting with stuff until I decided to take the class for it. And I remember I walked into my AP computer science class, that’s senior year of high school, and my teacher just said, “Well, as you can see, we have a girl this year.”
[00:06:32] SY: Oh, boy!
[00:06:32] CW: That’s how he introduced it to the class. I was just like, “Oh! I did not know this was a thing.” That was my first exposure to it. And going into college, there were more of us, but there are definitely still not many. And so I would be a part of like the women in STEM groups and women in science and engineering and digital women for the computer engineering and computer science orgs. So I was very, very involved in stuff in school. And luckily, I had fairly decent experience there, but it was definitely a thing that I have dealt with where there were times where I would get an internship and guys would say, “Well, you got that because you’re a girl. They needed to hire girls to keep up their quotas.” Then in full-time jobs, I have had experiences in work and outside of work where, for example, I’ll say, “Oh, can I help you with something at a hackathon?” And someone will say, “Yeah, but I need an engineer to help me.” And I’ll have to say, “Well, I am one,” and be able to talk that out. So there are small things like that and then there are larger things where there have actually been times where I’ve been harassed on the internet and been doxed on the internet where people exposed my phone number and stuff like that. Those kinds of things suck.
[00:07:44] SY: How have you dealt with this? How have you been able to navigate it and still have the courage, the will, whenever wanted to stay in tech at all? I know a lot of women and people have just left because they just don’t want to deal with it anymore. And number two, to continue to put yourself out there and create this content?
[00:08:01] CW: Believe me, I have considered leaving many times. Sometimes it just gets to you a little too much. That being said, luckily, I’ve built a good community around me and there are so many great people in this industry that do outweigh the negatives and there are definitely bad days, but there are so many good ones that outweigh them. That’s why I’m still here.
[00:08:22] SY: Oh, it’s so wonderful to hear that you have that support system. I see it on the internet all the time of all the people who just love what you’re doing and really supportive of your work. So it’s really great that you have that.
[00:08:31] CW: Having the community is so huge and it doesn’t have to be a huge one. Sometimes it’s just having a little group chat of four people that you can vent to. But having people that have your back where you can be just like, “Am I losing it here? Does this make sense?” Or, “Was this rude? Should I report this?” Things like that, just having people do gut checks for you. It’s so important to be able to have that. I’ve had a lot of good times, a lot of bad times and a lot of in-between and having the people around me to be able to not only kind of validate what I’m feeling, but also to just encourage me in different ways has been enormous.
[00:09:11] SY: So tell me more about these internships you had when you were in college. Where were they? What were they like?
[00:09:18] CW: Yeah. And so I kind of categorize them in my head as the first set was exploratory, then it was more technical deep dive and then it was more networking. So the first internship I got was just kind of off campus part-time during the school year. And it was software testing and just kind of experimenting with this small company software and helping them out and then my first big summer internship was actually a General Mills’ food company.
[00:09:46] SY: Yeah.
[00:09:47] CW: And that was out in Minneapolis and it was awesome. I got so much free food there. It was incredible.
[00:09:51] SY: I was going to ask you that.
[00:09:52] CW: Yeah. Yeah. They actually had like a room where from the company parking garage to the offices you would walk through and every single day there was some new snack.
[00:10:02] SY: That’s so cool.
[00:10:02] CW: It was incredible. I love the free food there. But for them, I was doing web stuff. I was doing some SharePoint stuff. I was really just running the full gamut of different technologies that they did. They were very much a .net shop and it was really interesting learning there and kind of just experimenting and being in a “real office” for the first time. I hadn’t had that kind of experience before and it was really good getting to know the interns, getting to know coworkers, and just seeing the different career paths, possibilities in a big company like that. That next summer, I interned at Microsoft. I kind of treated it as just a super technical deep dive where I’m not only just coded as much as I could in the workplace, but I also started going to just Microsoft events. They have a lot of hackathons on their campus. They do a lot of tech talks and stuff. I was really just doing technical deep dives and trying to understand which area of tech that I liked the most and definitely landed more on the web development end of things. My last summer, that was in Silicon Valley at Intuit. At Intuit, I was just like, “You know, I don’t know if I’m going to live in the Bay Area after graduation. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I know that everyone says that the Bay Area is where you can meet a lot of people. And so I’m going to do that and really focus on that.” And so when I went to Intuit, when I went to the Bay Area, I went to meetups constantly. I went to at least two, three meetups a week.
[00:11:29] SY: Nice!
[00:11:29] CW: I tried to go to a hackathon every weekend if I could, I didn’t always get to do that, and really just tried to expand my reach, getting to know as many people as possible. That somehow changed the trajectory of my career, for sure, just because of all the people that I got to meet and people make for really good opportunities. And one of the hackathons that I went on was a particularly unique one. It was actually on a plane and it was a flight from San Francisco to London. And on this flight, we had to come up with a full product and a pitch and branding and everything and be able to be ready for judging at the end of the flight.
[00:12:06] SY: Oh my gosh!
[00:12:07] CW: It was incredible. It was chaotic. It was just long enough ago that we didn’t have Wi-Fi on the plane, so we had to kind of do as much as we could without Wi-Fi.
[00:12:16] SY: Oh my gosh! That sounds so hard.
[00:12:19] CW: It was, but it was a blast. It was so cool. And I got to meet such interesting people on that flight. Craig Newmark of Craigslist was on that flight.
[00:12:29] SY: Oh, cool!
[00:12:30] CW: Yeah. And Megan Smith, who’s the former CTO of the United States, was on that flight.
[00:12:33] SY: Right. Oh, a part of that hackathon I assume?
[00:12:36] CW: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
[00:12:37] SY: Okay. They weren’t just like randomly on that hackathon flight. Okay. Got it.
[00:12:40] CW: No, they were part of the hackathon. On my team was actually Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls CODE. Kelly Hoey, and she was doing Women Innovate Mobile back then and now she’s doing a bunch of startup advising stuff. Sue Black who founded Mums Who Code in London and done a bunch of really cool things out there. All kinds of really amazing people were on my team on this flight and I really just got to network a ton and it was amazing. And what was cool about that flight is my team was actually one of the winning projects. And so we were able to demo it when we were out in London, then my team was actually invited to speak at the United Nations later that fall. And I was back in college that fall, but I was able to kind of take advantage of it and do some job interviewing while I was out in New York, speaking at the United Nations. And that’s how I got my first full-time job. And it was a whirlwind, but it truly shows the power of networking and meeting people.
[00:13:34] SY: What was your project for the hackathon?
[00:13:36] CW: It was a platform called Advise Her. It was going to be a mentorship and advisory platform for helping women in STEM, in STEAM actually, science, tech, engineering, arts, and math, basically help them build their networks and advocate for them and stuff. And it lasted a while. Unfortunately, it doesn’t exist anymore, but it was very fun while it lasted.
[00:13:59] SY: So you’ve done such an incredible job. I’m so impressed of taking advantage of all these opportunities and really throwing yourself in there. And I’m wondering, was everyone like that at your program? Was it kind of a cultural thing of people who generally did that? Or was that something unique to you where you were like, “I’m going to network, I’m going to deep dive, I’m going to do all these internships”? Which one was? Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
[00:14:21] CW: It might be a little bit of both. Honestly, I think it’s something that just my family values a lot. It’s just like going out and getting things and that’s something that my parents really instilled in me saying, “If there’s an opportunity that can work for you, go get it.” They were always very clear on going and getting those opportunities and don’t forget to give back. And that’s kind of how I’ve framed my career and how I’ve framed almost everything that I do. My sister is in tech as well. She and I did a lot of events together and have done a lot of things together and we kind of approach things with that mindset as much as we can.
[00:14:55] SY: So you talked about how networking was a big part of that last year, last two years of college and led to your first job. Tell me about the first job. What happened after you graduated?
[00:15:05] CW: Yeah. So that first job was at Venmo in New York City. And Venmo was a really interesting startup to join at that time. PayPal was buying them. And so I joined like right before PayPal made the purchase to buy Venmo. And so my first role was a hybrid role where I actually was doing backend engineering and not the front end engineering that I thought I wanted to do, and I was doing a dev advocacy as well. And I was their first dev evangelist. I was coding by day and working on the actual Venmo application. And then by night, by weekends, I was speaking at events, going to hackathons, conferences, and meetups, writing blog posts, and really just trying to get the Venmo name out there and getting developers to use their API.
[00:15:49] SY: And what happened after Venmo?
[00:15:52] CW: So Venmo, I loved it after it was bought, things did start to change a lot. And then after a certain amount of time, I could tell some of the projects that I was doing were going to be changing a lot, and I didn’t really like that. And so I ended up going to a startup called Clarify, which was a small AI startup in New York. And that job was particularly cool because my sister joined them as well as soon as she graduated. So we were able to work there together for a little bit.
[00:16:16] SY: Oh, cool! That’s sweet. I love that.
[00:16:18] CW: Yeah. It was very fun. And so we both were doing dev role stuff as well as engineering and doing that hybrid role again, which involved lots of travel, lots of coding and lots of talking. And it was a really good time because we were so small. I think she and I were the 17th and 18th employees. So it was a nice small company. After all the traveling, after doing all the things, she ended up realizing that she preferred larger companies. And so she went off to Google after that. And as much as I was enjoying working there, I didn’t want to live in New York anymore. I wanted to change it up. And so I ended up leaving Clarify and going out to Seattle. When I went out to Seattle, I joined a small creative agency called L4. For them, I wasn’t doing any of the dev role stuff. I wasn’t speaking as much. I was just doing straight engineering and doing more of the open source side of things. And I really loved working there. And then they were bought. One of those stories again and I really enjoyed my coworkers, but unfortunately just with the large company kind of taking over, L4 is no more. So after L4, I decided to go off and try something very new for me and I went to Amazon. And at Amazon, I was working on the Alexa SDK. My big fancy title was Head of Developer Voice Programs.
[00:17:33] SY: Oh, cool!
[00:17:34] CW: And it was very fun, but with large companies, there are a lot of politics, and unfortunately, I don’t want to get too into it. But unfortunately, when I was there, it wasn’t a really great place to be as a woman at the time. And we’ve had quite a few struggles there and it wasn’t a good fit. I didn’t want to stay there any longer. It was fun for a little while because I did get to work with my sister again. We did overlap a little bit at Amazon. But after that, I was just like, “Big companies are not for me. I’m going to go complete opposite end of the spectrum.” And so I went from Amazon, the mega giant that it is to CodePen, but I was realizing more and more that I was missing talking to external developers. I ended up going to a company called React Training. That was my full-time job where I was teaching React and I was traveling all over the world, teaching coding to people, and it was so fun. I love teaching coding. Then the pandemic happened. Sadly, React Training went under and they had to lay off all staff. I joined the Developer Experience Team at Netlify and I’ve been here ever since, and it’s been a blast because I’ve been able to still do a lot of coding and I’ve been able to help the engineering teams optimize some of their React code and upgrade a few things, but also I’ve been able to give a lot of talks, do a lot of teaching, and it’s been a really great time so far.
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[00:19:44] SY: So let’s move on to building content and community. So you have a massive community following on Twitter. You have over 151,000 followers, which is super impressive. And I feel like that happened pretty quickly, right? What was the timeframe? When did that leap happen for you?
[00:20:01] CW: It happened rapidly. For a very long time, I was content with my less than 5,000 followers and just telling my jokes and everything to whoever would listen. But what happened, I kind of trace things back to around 2017.
[00:20:16] SY: Okay.
[00:20:17] CW: Because in 2017, that was when I first wanted to make an online course. And I was just like, “I could make a curriculum. This is something I could teach.” As I started planning out my course and talking with the people there, they said, “Okay, your so-so presence is good, but if you want to teach a lot of people, if you want to get the name out there, you want to be more active on social and you want to get in their inboxes.” Email is much more powerful than social purely because there’s less noise there. And also, if you can increase your social, that can only help too. And so I took that to heart. I started my newsletter and I have a weekly newsletter that I’ve been sending ever since then. I still send it to this day where it has interview questions of the week, web links, a joke, silly stuff. And I also just started getting more consistent on social media where it was more just me posting instead of just sharing articles that I see, I would include my own thoughts attached to the article and just try to put myself out there a little bit more and just being consistent about posting. I was not very good at it before, but being consistent really helped where suddenly my blog posts that I was writing, the content that I was doing was getting more eyes because people were expecting more from it because it was consistently coming out. I think within that year, I got to 10k followers within a year of my starting that. And then from there, it kind of just was slowly growing and I wasn’t really actively saying, “I need more followers.” I was more just being consistent and methodical about getting content out there. And then I discovered TikTok. In 2019, I’ve always liked making videos, but it was never something that was easy to do because you had to record the video on your phone or something or in a camera, put in your computer, edit it, and then you could share at places, and that’s a process. It gets tedious. But the TikTok video editor is amazing. And truly, I was just looking around for good mobile video editors and I tried that one out and I was just like, “Oh, this isn’t bad.” And so I made a little video making fun of the concept of 10x developers because people were saying like, “Oh, you want to hire these?” And I think that the concept of 10x developers is a joke. And so I made jokes about it. And that blew up. And I was just like, “Oh, well, cool. Maybe I’ll make more videos sometime.” And the next week, I think, or two weeks later, I made another video where it was just using some Cinderella music and making a joke about your code working for the first time, and then that one blew up even more. And within a month of my starting to make these videos, my follower count, I think it increased like 60,000 in a week or two.
[00:22:57] SY: Whoa!
[00:22:57] CW: Yeah, like it was really, really fast to the point where I was nervous about it. I was just like, “Oh my gosh! I don’t know if I can handle all this, the pressure.” And it’s kind of just been growing since then and it’s really just consistency and putting out resources for people as much as I can and then the memes, people love the memes.
[00:23:15] SY: People love a good joke, man. A good joke, like poking fun at ourselves, like even with CodeNewbie, we keep track of like the types of tweets that we put out there and we see generally like what works, what doesn’t. It’s the jokes. The jokes are the ones that get the most retweets, the most engagement, the most likes. So I’m totally not surprised. And you’re so good at your own memes and your own videos. You’re absolutely hilarious.
[00:23:39] CW: Thank you.
[00:23:39] SY: How do you come up with that? Where did these ideas come from?
[00:23:41] CW: Honestly, I kind of make a lot of them up on the spot. It’s something where like I think about problems that I have and I’m just like, “We are such a serious industry. How can I make this part of it at least a little bit more amusing?” Because it’s better to laugh at ourselves than take ourselves a little too seriously. A lot of times it’s truly, like I’ll hear a song lyric or something. I’ll be just like, “Ooh, I can make a joke out of that.” Like I heard the new Bruno Mars’ song where he’s saying, “Imma keep the door open.” And I was just like, “Ooh, that could be the door open to opportunities. I’ll make a joke about what would get you to switch jobs,” and then that’s where I made the last video. And then sometimes it’s an idea or a joke that I want to make and I’ll write it on a Post-It and it might sit for like a couple months before I come up with a good way to actually do it. But a lot of times the best ones are ones that I make up on the spot.
[00:24:41] SY: Nice. That’s awesome. You’re a very creative person.
[00:24:44] CW: Thank you.
[00:24:44] SY: So tell me about the intersection of building community and creating content. Because I kind of feel like they kind of go together, like while you’re creating content, especially if you’re creating consistent content like you, people end up following you and they end up expecting more and you kind of get a little community going, what does that intersection been like for you?
[00:25:04] CW: I think they both fuel each other, community and content. When you have a community, you want to make more content for them. And when you have a lot of content, a community can form.
[00:25:14] SY: Right, exactly. Yeah.
[00:25:14] CW: That happens a lot. Communities are something that I’ve been doing much longer than content, honestly, where all the way back in middle school and in high school, I was joining groups of people where we would learn how to code together, just because I thought, “Oh, this would be cool. I can show other people how to do this.” And then in college, I was part of the learning community. I led the Computer Science Club. I was really involved with the women in science and engineering group, all these different people. I loved the idea of community, and especially when social media got much more popular and everything, there are so many opportunities for that. Just straight out of college, towards the end of college and out of college, I was really involved with online Facebook groups, like Hackathon Hackers and Ladies Storm Hackathons, all of these different online communities for hackathon goers, and they’ve morphed and changed and move off of different platforms and onto different platforms. But community has always been something that I’m super, super involved in and super, super passionate about. And on my own personal front, I have a Patreon that I made and wasn’t sure if it would be something I wanted to try, but I thought I would try it and just keep it very low barrier to entry. It’s like $2 a month, but I thought maybe with that $2 a month and I give people access to a Discord channel, it will be just a really low spam thing because people are paying for it and it’s still accessible, but it’s really, really low barrier. And that’s been the case and it’s been amazing. It’s truly my favorite quarter of the internet because people are helpful helping people with tech questions. We talk about current events. We talked about recommendations for software or for even TV shows and stuff, but it ended up being such a great group where we game together and chat together and everything. And between that and a few other communities, those are my people. I love being able to have these online communities, especially in the pandemic where you don’t get to go to a lot of in-person meetups or events and everything and having these little spaces online where you can be yourself and be educated and teach others and make content for each other. It all goes hand in hand and it’s so important.
[00:27:26] SY: What’s the most important thing our audience should keep in mind when trying to build communities of their own?
[00:27:32] CW: A code of conduct.
[00:27:34] SY: Tell me about that. Yeah.
[00:27:35] CW: That’s something I’ve learned it the hard way, unfortunately, where there have been times where I didn’t have a code of conduct and something happened and I tried to say, “Okay, well, let’s try to make everyone be friends. And I shouldn’t have done that. I should have just had some rules in place. So that way there would be no questioning on how things worked.” Communities are hard. People are very difficult variables. And having a good code of conduct and having people who enforce it, even if it’s just someone who’s not even like an official moderator or anything, but someone will say, “Hey everyone, let’s cool off. This is getting heated. Don’t forget this rule.”
[00:28:08] SY: Right.
[00:28:08] CW: Or, “Hey everyone, make sure you’re staying respectful. Don’t forget this.” And having everybody on the same page of that I think is very, very key to a healthy community. And I know, especially again, like with the one that I mentioned in my Patreon, we have one on there and every single time people join, people say, “Welcome! Hey! Welcome to the group!” But then there’s always people saying, “Make sure before you post anywhere, read the code of conduct so you’re aware of what we’re about.”
[00:28:34] SY: That’s awesome. It’s a great one. The community is enforcing the rules of the community.
[00:28:38] CW: It makes it so much easier.
[00:28:40] SY: Exactly. Yeah. So when you create your content, whether it’s your newsletter, your funny videos, I know you also do live coding on Twitch. Who are you building for? Who are you creating for?
[00:28:54] CW: It’s kind of a wide variety of people and I lean towards people like the CodeNewbie Community. I love teaching people who are first getting started, but it’s also really interesting teaching more intermediate level developers who know what they’re doing, but aren’t familiar with a specific technology or something. I really just like teaching concepts or just kind of teaching them in a different way where people will say, “Oh, I know how to use it, but I don’t really understand how it works under the hood.” Some of my favorite things that I’ve worked on have been just me saying, “Hey, in React, there’s a thing called “useState” and you use this function for managing state across your application. What if we implement this from the ground up so you understand how it works under the hood?” And just live coding that and talking through that with people always blows minds, but it enforces such a more solid understanding because they’re seeing it like that rather than being just this black box function. I love being able to explain things from the ground up from like a theoretical point of view, and that might be my comp sci background talking, but I love being able to just explain these things in a different way so folks can understand it better.
[00:30:01] SY: And when you think about other people creating content, you, as part of your job, you’re always speaking to developers, external developers and creating content for them, but I think most people aren’t in that position, right? Most people want to create content either for themselves or they love the idea of giving back of creating a learning opportunity for other people. When you think about people creating content on a smaller more side project scale, what advice do you have for them? What is the best approach they can take when creating their own content?
[00:30:32] CW: First of all, I would say get it vetted. It’s really, really useful to even just have a friend read over a blog post or something that you write because we were like, “Does this generally make sense? Which parts of it were confusing? Which parts of it should be clarified?” We call it FUD at work, Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, “Which parts of that can I clarify for you?” And then really just kind of figuring out who your audience is for a particular thing. Whenever I make an online course or even just a larger piece of written content, I always figure out, “Okay, who am I speaking to? Who is the persona that I’m speaking to? Who’s the group that I’m speaking to?” And tailor to that, and then from there, I get an outline and work it out. I don’t necessarily do that as much for silly videos or anything, but for those longer form piece of content, that kind of planning upfront helps so much because then you can kind of stick to your outline and go with it and not deal with the scope creep of, “Oh, I could add this. I could add this.” And then just having this project you never finish.
[00:31:31] SY: I’m wondering, has your content led to other things beyond comments, follows, views, have they turned into, for example, job offers or other professional opportunities? Has it led to other things besides engagement?
[00:31:47] CW: Not so much job opportunities, but job interviews. So it doesn’t get me jobs, but it gets me a foot in the door if I wanted to apply. One I did get laid off. It was very helpful to be able to have an audience that had been consuming my content and say, “Hey, I’m looking for a gig now because I was laid off.” And then being able to take interviews from there and then offer some other candidates when I had way too many DMs. Also, it’s been just really good for my newsletter. My newsletter is something that is very near and dear to my heart because I know it’s a good resource for people and I keep it up for that reason. My content has luckily made me start accepting sponsors over the past year for it.
[00:32:29] SY: Nice! Good for you.
[00:32:31] CW: Thank you. It’s something that I’m very bad at charging for what I do. I’m trying to get better at that, but being able to get sponsors for my newsletter has made it much easier to maintain and then also I can afford to do more things with it and improve the newsletter and infrastructure of how I do it in different ways because I’m able to get those. So that’s where a lot of the things have led. It’s been opportunities for a lot of community work and job interviews sometimes.
[00:32:59] SY: Yeah, that’s awesome. Getting that foot in the door is sometimes all you need. Right? That’s what we all want is just that foot in the door. So it’s great that you’re able to leverage that. And sponsors, that’s always a nice little unlock in the game of content creators. So that’s awesome. Good for you.
[00:33:17] CW: Thank you. That’s something that I’m still learning, but once you can start getting good, I don’t think people should do content just to get sponsors because then it starts to feel not very genuine, but when you start to, it is definitely an added bonus.
[00:33:37] SY: Coming up next, Cassidy talks about what some people get wrong when trying to build a community after this.
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[00:34:48] SY: What’s something that people get wrong either when they’re trying to build a community or they’re trying to create content and get those followers, always nice to get more followers and trying to build a name for themselves, a brand for themselves in the dev world? What do they get wrong?
[00:35:04] CW: The thing that it drives me crazy, and it’s something that I just see so often, when people are very obviously doing it to get followers rather than to put resources out there. And granted that might be your ultimate goal, but if you’re very much just like, “Click subscribe to learn more,” and being that kind of like I’m trying to be a thought leader type of thing, it starts to just feel like a code smell. It starts to just not feel right. And there are some people out there where they take it so far where you can see them start to mimic folks like Elon Musk and people out there who are not necessarily the most kind people in the world or known to be at least. And when they start talking like that, they use a lot of extremes, like, “This is the best way to do this,” or, “This is the only way to do this.” Don’t deal in absolutes like that. Try to be genuine and put good content out there, but always know that the answer will always be, “It depends.” There are always trade-offs to pretty much everything and being willing to acknowledge the cons and not just the pros I think is very, very important to be successful in making your content and be legitimate and making your content. Because if you’re always saying, “My way is the best way,” you’re going to be proven wrong at some point.
[00:36:19] SY: I’m curious, what are your thoughts on toxic positivity? Which is kind of this, I don’t know how new it is. It’s something I’ve noticed in recent months, maybe within the last year of people kind of doing the whole, “I started from nothing and I rose up and I did it. You can do it too.” And it sounds really uplifting kind of on the surface, but I’ve heard a lot of people kind of feeling discouraged by it and feeling like not everyone can have those success stories and feeling like, “If they can do it and they’re struggling, there must be something wrong with them.” It starts off very innocently, but can end up unintentionally being harmful. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that. Is that a real concern? Are we kind of over-blowing it? What are your thoughts?
[00:37:03] CW: I think it’s a thing. And honestly, like if I think back to myself in like 2013, 2014, I was probably a person like that until my now husband was just like, “People aren’t like that and you live in a bubble.” And having that bubble pops for me was eye opening and it was really, really good for me to be told that honestly. A lot of times when you see this kind of toxic positivity thing, it’s people who don’t realize or understand the struggles that some people have gone through to get to where they are today. I do strongly believe, like with hard work, you can get almost anywhere. That being said, privilege plays into that. You need to be able to acknowledge the cons and not just the pros of everything. You need to be able to show that or at least acknowledge that the opportunities you have are probably not just because you worked hard, but because of things that happened to you along the way that worked out. That’s definitely how it happened for me where I know I worked hard, but if I didn’t meet this person, if I didn’t do this or that, I wouldn’t have been able to get connected to these people who gave me opportunities rather than other people who might’ve had to work for different types of opportunities. So I think there’s some validity to that. That being said, I think in general, we need to be a more positive industry overall.
[00:38:23] SY: Absolutely. I think there’s definitely a balance to be had there. And yeah, just being aware of your own privilege and being aware that there are actual very real systemic barriers that are outside of people’s control I think is also important to acknowledge as well. Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Cassidy, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:38:50] CW: I am ready.
[00:38:51] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:38:55] CW: Say yes to everything.
[00:38:57] SY: Oh, interesting. Tell me about that.
[00:39:00] CW: That was advice that I really took to heart actually for a while. When I first went to college, before classes started, I was talking to an upperclassmen and she was just like, “You know, say yes to everything because you never know what you’ll be able to handle.” And in a way, it was true. I was able to take on a lot more work and do a lot more things because I said yes to everything. That being said, I burnt out so badly. And I followed that advice for a long time. And honestly, I still struggle to say no to certain things. I have burnt out many times in my career. That advice, it did get me to certain opportunities that I might not have had otherwise, but at the cost of my own health.
[00:39:45] SY: How did you recover from burnout?
[00:39:48] CW: I hung out with my grandpa for a week.
[00:39:51] SY: That’s so sweet.
[00:39:52] CW: Yeah. Sometimes it’s truly just stepping away, turning off my phone, playing video games maybe, just turning my brain off to work related things.
[00:40:02] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:40:05] CW: Lift as you climb.
[00:40:07] SY: Oh, I love that. That’s beautiful.
[00:40:09] CW: That was something that a mentor gave to me a long time ago. And it’s awesome. And she was truly just like, “As you grow in your career, there will be people who are just a step behind you who will want to get to your position someday. And when they get to your position, you will probably be at the next position. Always try to open the door for people who are just a step behind you or who are a few steps behind you because if their lives are easier, then that only makes the community better and better moving forward.”
[00:40:39] SY: That’s wonderful. Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:40:43] CW: That’s what I mentioned earlier, that was that Super Randomness website.
[00:40:46] SY: What’s it called, Super Randomness?
[00:40:48] CW: It was.
[00:40:49] SY: That’s amazing.
[00:40:50] CW: That was the name. That’s still like an old Twitter username that I got around with stuff.
[00:40:54] SY: Oh, really?
[00:40:55] CW: Yeah. That was my handle for a long time.
[00:40:57] SY: That’s awesome. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:41:02] CW: Oh man. Honestly, it’s been so long that this one was kind of hard to answer and I guess I would say I wish I knew how to reach out to people who knew how to code so that way I could learn faster because a lot of the things that I did, it was truly just me self-teaching. Sometimes it was me being stubborn where I was just like, “You know what? I can figure this out.” And granted, I didn’t know a lot of people who did know how to code at the time, but I had started joining forums. I had started seeing things. If I had just asked more questions early on, I think I would have learned a lot, lot faster.
[00:41:36] SY: Yeah, I think there is such a huge fear around asking questions. There’s a degree of vulnerability that you have to be willing to put up with. There’s the fear of rejection. That’s always a big risk. There’s the fear of just finding out the answer, realizing it was really simple and feeling stupid about it. There’s so much feeling behind asking a question. Is that something that, one, you dealt with? And two, if it’s something that you got over, how did you do that?
[00:42:06] CW: There was a point and I couldn’t tell you when exactly, but there was a point where I realized if I ask the question, there’s probably someone else who has this question. And I think it was actually in college. I was watching some PhD dissertation or something, just someone giving a presentation. And what was interesting to me was the most senior professor in the room was asking the most questions. He didn’t think anything of it. He was asking things where I was just like, “Well, didn’t they just say that?” And then I’d be just like, “Oh, but they’re clarifying it in a different way. Interesting!” And kind of just observing that, it really started to change my mindset. And the more I went into my career, the more I was just like, “You know, what’s the worst that can happen? They think I’m dumb for a few seconds, but then I understand how to do something.” Then I get to move forward with my life. And granted, I’m still stubborn on that, especially when it comes to specific coding problems sometimes, but sometimes just having another pair of eyes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten on a pairing call with my coworkers, where I say, “Hey, would you mind looking at this? I’ve just been struggling, staring at it for so long.” And they’ve said, “Oh, well, you forgot a semicolon there.” Or, “You misspelled this variable name.” Or something and I’ll be just like, “Oh, well, that was it. Thanks!” And asking questions is not about like showing people like what you know, what you don’t know, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. It’s just about unblocking yourself and moving forward.
[00:43:29] SY: Right. Right.
[00:43:30] CW: My advice on that to anybody is to just don’t care about what they think of you at that point when you’re asking a question, just get unblocked so that way you can move forward.
[00:43:39] SY: I love that. I love reframing it as, “I’m not asking a potentially stupid feeling question. I’m getting unlocked. I’m blocked. I need to get over to the other side.” And one very quick way of doing it is just ask a question, and that’s just one of the tools in my unblocking tool belt, I think is a healthier way to look at it. Well, thank you so much for joining us, Cassidy. This was wonderful.
[00:44:04] CW: Yes. Thank you so much for having me.
[00:44:12] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, email@example.com. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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