In this episode, we talk about remote work with Kara Luton, software engineer at CrowdStrike. Kara talks about her biggest challenges transitioning into remote work, how she managed those challenges, and her experiences working remotely before and after the pandemic.
[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 remote work with Kara Luton, Software Engineer at CrowdStrike.
[00:00:17] KL: Like you have to kind of be more outspoken when you’re remote because you don’t have your coworker sitting right next to you. You can’t just turn and look and see if they have a moment to chat.
[00:00:28] SY: If you have a question for Kara 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, Kara talks about her biggest challenges transitioning into remote work, how she managed those challenges and her experiences working remotely before and after the pandemic after this.
[00:01:08] SY: Thanks so much for being here.
[00:01:09] KL: Yeah. Thank you so much.
[00:01:11] SY: So Kara, you are a career transitioner who was pursuing dancing. Tell us how you got into development.
[00:01:18] KL: Yeah. So I had done ballet my entire life from when I was three and I kind of started taking it more seriously when I was in high school. I started going to summer intensives by different ballet companies. And those are kind of just like summer camps for kids doing ballet. And the summer before my senior year of high school, I went to the Joffrey Ballet Summer Intensive in New York City and they offered to let me do a traineeship. So I actually ended up moving there in my senior year of high school, finishing high school online and doing that. And when it was coming time for me to think about college, that’s kind of when I was like, “Okay, do I want to keep pursuing ballet? Do I want to do something different?” So I ended up moving back home to Nashville and I studied public relations. And after graduating, I got a job in the music industry doing PR. And I’ve done that for a few years. I was getting really burnt out. I was really stressed all the time. My anxiety was at a high and I was like, “Ugh! I need to figure something out.” So I actually stumbled upon Codecademy and started teaching myself to code and enrolled in a bootcamp and I’ve been in tech ever since.
[00:02:22] SY: Wow! That’s so exciting. So you went from ballet, PR, music to coding. That’s really exciting.
[00:02:28] KL: Yeah. Quite a transition.
[00:02:30] SY: Yeah. So when you first started coding, what did that look like? What were you doing?
[00:02:56] SY: And what was that camp experience like? I’m sure there’s tons of people who are maybe considering it, thinking about it. What was your experience like there?
[00:03:03] KL: I mean, it’s like a fire hose of information constantly coming at you. I feel like once I kind of got the grasp of one concept, we were like, “Oh, here’s a new one. Got to learn this.” And I mean, it was 12 weeks long. It’s hard to learn anything in 12 weeks, but it kind of preps you for the basics of what you need to know. And then obviously most people coming into software engineering or currently in it know that we’re always constantly learning. So kind of just prepped you to how to teach yourself.
[00:03:30] SY: So what kinds of things have you worked on since graduating from that bootcamp?
[00:03:51] SY: So as an engineer at CrowdStrike, what projects do you work on there?
[00:03:55] KL: At CrowdStrike, we help stop breaches. So I’m working kind of on the platform that our customers interact with. Sometimes it’s external, sometimes it’s internal stuff, but it’s getting to work on the front end of that and making sure that all looks nice and is working exactly how we want.
[00:04:09] SY: How has your past career influenced your current job as a developer? Either with the day-to-day or maybe breaking into tech, how did that background of ballet and music? How did that come into play?
[00:04:22] KL: Especially in public relations, I feel like I’m more of an introverted person. I used to hate going out and giving talks and having to be in front of people, but that really helped me break out of my shell. And I feel like it’s really good for being a developer because now I’m not afraid to get in front of clients and show them what we’re working on. My last job I felt like I was always the one just kind of stand up and be like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll talk to the client. It’s fine.” So it’s really helped boost my confidence in that. And then ballet, you wouldn’t think ballet and software engineering have anything in common, but there are so many things like paying attention to the little details that translate into software engineering. I’m really grateful for my ballet and PR background because there’s so many things that have translated from those into what I do now.
[00:05:07] SY: Like what?
[00:05:08] KL: So like I said paying attention to little details, ballet, practicing all the time, that’s something that we have to do as software engineers is just keep going, keep learning new things. PR especially helped me with my writing skills.
[00:05:23] SY: Oh, yeah.
[00:05:24] KL: Yeah, as developers, we’re not always just writing code, we’re writing our documentation, doing meetings, kind of organizing our thoughts. I feel like being in PR and having to write those email pitches all the time and press releases got me really thinking about the little words that make a difference in what I’m trying to say to somebody.
[00:05:42] SY: Yeah. They say all the time that people’s skills are harder than coding skills in development. And between being music and doing PR and advertising, I feel like you’ve probably got the people’s skills down path.
[00:05:53] KL: Yeah. I’m really grateful that I learned those from my past. I wish I would have discovered coding when I was younger because I think I really would’ve loved it, but I’m really grateful for the path that has gotten me here eventually.
[00:06:05] SY: So Kara, you wrote a post on DEV titled “Reflecting On One Year of Remote Work”. And you wrote this back in February of 2020, and now it’s been two years of remote work. And I know that plenty of people have been thrust into the world of remote work because of the pandemic. We’re trying to figure out, “Is this permanent? Is it short-term? What’s it going to be?” So reflecting on the two years, what are your initial thoughts?
[00:06:28] KL: Yeah, it was so funny. I wrote that article right before the pandemic started not knowing that all of this is going to be happening and more people will be looking at it because they’re working remote now too. Obviously working remote in a pandemic is different than just working remote. I feel like there’s a lot more stress on people. But now that I’ve hit two years, I’ve kind of gotten into that flow of what works for me when working remote and just how to take it day by day and interact with my coworkers when they’re not right next to me.
[00:06:59] SY: Absolutely. So tell me about some of those differences. What was it like in year one? And what were the changes you saw in year two?
[00:07:06] KL: So year one, I would say the first couple of months, I was kind of in that like honeymoon period. I loved being remote. It was so nice. I had a 40-minute commute one way at my previous job. So it was just like a whole new world of, “Oh, I have all these hours in the day to do other things.” So I was kind of that honeymoon period and then kind of month three, four and on, I didn’t like it. I was having a really hard time because I didn’t know if I message somebody on Slack, like, “Am I bugging them or can they take the time to answer a question?” I kind of had that learn now in year two, I realized like, “It’s okay. I’ll ping someone. And if they don’t have the time at the moment, they’ll get back to me when they can.” You have to kind of be more outspoken when you’re remote because you don’t have your coworkers sitting right next to you. You can’t just turn and look and see if they have a moment to chat. You want to put yourself out there more and show that you’re there and that if you have a question you got to reach out right away, instead of kind of just like waiting for somebody to see if they’re available.
[00:08:11] SY: Yeah. Those social cues are kind of gone. You don’t really get to kind of feel people out before you approach them. So yeah, I totally understand that. And then what changed in year two? What was different?
[00:08:21] KL: Year two, I feel like I’m just much more confident in my ability to work remote. I feel like I have my schedule down. I just moved into a house, so I have my separate office, whereas before I kind of have like an apartment setup. So I didn’t have it completely separate space from work and home life, but now I kind of do, which is really nice. Things like that. I know when I can reach out to coworkers, I kind of have that better understanding of how to reach out when we all are all remote. Especially my team, we’re spread across multiple time zones, multiple countries, even. So kind of working on that balance of, “Okay, my team members in London, I know I can reach out to them now. Let’s go ahead and prioritize this. So we’re both on a good time zone and configure it out at a good time.”
[00:09:11] SY: So you talked earlier about how working through a pandemic is different than when there wasn’t a pandemic. How has the pandemic specifically affected your remote work experience?
[00:09:23] KL: Yeah. So for me specifically, my husband is now working remote as well. So he’s home every day. So it’s kind of having to balance that. When he would leave before, I’m like, “Okay, I’m in work zone. I got this.” And now he’s home. Luckily, we do have space where he has a separate office space for a while. When we were in an apartment, we were working together. So it was trying to figure out that balance of, “Oh, you have a meeting? No, I have a meeting. We can’t both be talking.” We have completely different work ethics. I love having music on or the TV on in the background while I work. I need that kind of white noise, whereas he likes it completely silent. So I think he was happy when we got our separate offices. Because he was like, “Oh, I don’t have to listen to her stuff anymore.”
[00:10:05] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:10:05] KL: And then just working in the pandemic, there’s so much more stress on everybody with everything that’s going on, worrying about family members and friends and trying to keep your distance. That doesn’t normally weigh on you. So it makes working remote in the pandemic just that much harder.
[00:10:21] SY: I’ve heard a lot of people say online that you’re not working remotely through a pandemic. You’re dealing with a pandemic and trying to get work done, which is a totally different reframing of the situation. How have you personally been dealing with that?
[00:10:35] KL: I have been taking it day by day. I had family, my parents actually moved from Nashville to Kansas during the pandemic. So that was kind of hard to deal with because I hadn’t seen them in a while. And here, they are moving to a different state, but I do little things to help myself get out, especially like working remote, you want to try to get out during the day. You don’t want to be sitting at your desk for the whole eight hours or nine hours. I try to get out and take a walk and get away from my desk for a little bit during the day. It really helps.
[00:11:23] SY: So you mentioned the lack of social cues as being an issue in that first year when you were transitioning. One of the other things that I know people have dealt with remote work who are transitioning to remote work, it’s just the loneliness, just being alone in the home. And I think this year it’s been good that your husband’s there with you, but how have you been dealing with that? Do you feel that isolation from your coworkers, that social aspect of it? How’s that been?
[00:11:48] KL: Yeah. My team has been really good about hosting happy hours or other times to get together, which has really helped. It is crazy because normally we have an offsite where we all get together and can kind of meet new team members and have that kind of team bonding time. And last year because of the pandemic, we didn’t have it. I’m sure we’re not going to have it again this year. So it’s been hard because we’re adding so many new members to the team and I haven’t gotten the chance to meet them face to face because it really does make the difference when you can kind of meet someone in person and chat with them, especially when you’ve only been chatting over like Slack.
[00:12:25] SY: So I’m curious to hear a little bit more about some of these happy hours, some of these real time events. What has worked for you and maybe what hasn’t?
[00:12:35] KL: So we, as a team, have just been getting together, setting aside time every other week for an hour at the end of our days and we all just kind of sit and chat. It is a little bit harder over Zoom because there’s not those natural breakouts between people. It’s kind of only one can talk at a time, but it’s really nice to kind of set aside work for a little bit and get to know your coworkers. Everybody shows off their pets or their little ones, their kids. And it’s so nice just to see everybody in a kind of less formal way.
[00:13:05] SY: Do you ever get tired of just being on Zoom and just being on too many video calls? Have you reached Zoom fatigue yet?
[00:13:11] KL: Yes. I mean, I feel like it’s hard not to reach Zoom fatigue. Since I was remote before the pandemic, I kind of got used to it. But now I feel like everything’s kind of like ramped up more.
[00:13:21] SY: Right. Right.
[00:13:22] KL: But my team’s really good about like, “Hey, if you need a day to not be on video, that’s totally fine. I'm like, “Oh, I’m wearing sweats. I haven’t washed my hair. I’m not. I can’t risk it.”
[00:13:34] SY: So it sounds like between you, your personal setup and what your company is doing, it sounds like you’ve kind of gone through some of those challenges and pain points. It sounds like you’re in a great place now. What continues to be a challenge? What are some things that are still issues in the remote work situation?
[00:13:53] KL: I am a little bit more junior than the rest of the team. I haven’t been doing this for forever. So sometimes being isolated, being remote, I feel like I kind of push myself a little too long when I have a question sometimes, because like I said, I feel like I’m bugging people if I reach out all the time, even though my team does not see it that way. They are more than happy to help. But it’s kind of like that own thing, especially coming from PR, it was like you have to know the answer to everything you don’t want to seem like you have questions. And now people in software engineering, people have questions all the time. It’s okay to ask a question.
[00:14:25] SY: Right. Totally different.
[00:14:27] KL: So especially being remote and not having those social cues, it was hard for me to adjust to, and I still am kind of getting used to that.
[00:14:34] SY: What are things that you like about working remotely? What’s really been a benefit for you?
[00:14:38] KL: I love that I can stop in the middle of the day and go to a workout class or take a walk. Playing with my dogs is kind of the best thing. When you’re stressed, having a stressful day, it’s nice to be able to run around with my pets for a little bit and have them there. Yeah, just having the flexibility is honestly the biggest thing. I am no longer spending an hour and a half of my day commuting. I can use that time for something else, like reading, or like I said, working out, anything like that. It really opens up the doors for so many different things.
[00:15:12] SY: Let’s talk about some of your tools, obviously video call, we talked about using Zoom already. What are some other tools for remote work that have really worked for you and that I’ve helped with the transition?
[00:15:23] KL: Having a big monitor is the biggest thing.
[00:15:28] SY: That’s important. Yeah.
[00:15:29] KL: Yes. I used to be teamed like laptop only. I didn’t understand people who had monitors and now I’m addicted to mine. I want another. Figuring out the setup for you, having a good desk, especially a good chair, you don’t want to be sitting on a terrible chair all day.
[00:15:45] SY: Oh, a chair’s important.
[00:15:46] KL: Yes. And now, since I am remote all the time and doing calls, I got a microphone to make sure I just sound my best. I have a little light for when I’m on video calls. We are on video calls a lot, just making sure I sound and look the best, that way I’m not having to explain things over and over because my coworkers can’t hear me.
[00:16:06] SY: Yes, exactly. I mean, that set up, man, that equipment is everything. I used to have like studio lights. I used to do more like video stuff a couple of years ago and I kind of forgot I had them and I was like, “Oh, I should get a light.” And my husband’s like, “You know we have literally studio lights in the closet.” And I busted them out, and man, they made such a big difference. I highly recommend getting some lighting. So in terms of working with your coworkers, is it mostly Slack, GitHub and Zoom or other tools, maybe internal tools that you use as well?
[00:16:35] KL: No. We mostly use Slack and Zoom and we use Bitbucket instead of GitHub, but kind of those areas, especially Slack, we’re always constantly talking on Slack. I feel like occasionally we’ll email, depending if I were talking to somebody in a different department, but definitely for the UX team and engineering, we’re always chatting on Slack.
[00:16:54] SY: And how do code reviews work? How’s that process when it’s remote? Do you like it better?
[00:16:59] KL: I think I do. Sometimes there is a difficulty of maybe not totally getting your point across and what you changed and why you changed it. We’re really working on that on my team about how to kind of more thoroughly explain what happened, especially for someone who doesn’t have as much context around the area of the app that you’re working in. But I really like how it’s all asynchronous. I can post up a code review and my coworkers in London can look at it the next morning. Everybody else will look at it the next day. But it is also hard being remote with code reviews because you can’t just nudge someone next to you and be like, “Hey, can you take a look at that PR that I have?”
[00:17:37] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:17:37] KL: So sometimes things go stale, but we’re actually kind of trying to work up on a solution of that, of how to automatically like nudge someone if they haven’t taken a look at a PR.
[00:18:03] SY: So what would you say to people who are maybe a little bit nervous about the remote aspects of code, especially being new I think is maybe a little bit more challenging when you need that extra support, that extra help. What would you say to folks who are maybe a little bit nervous about going remote?
[00:18:18] KL: If you’re nervous about being remote, just remember that your team members are still there to help you. They may not be sitting right next to you. We can always send them a message on Slack or teams, whatever you’re using and they will help out set up Zoom calls to just do introductions, to get to know your team members. It doesn’t have to be anything specific. You don’t have to be pairing on anything just to sit and chat and do like a little coffee break like you normally would at the office just to get to know each other.
[00:18:44] SY: Yeah. Yeah. Actually, I’d love to hear a little bit more about kind of what the day looks like. I’m thinking when I used to code in an office, I would get up, do my commute, get to work, have my coffee, maybe chitchat in the kitchen for a bit. What does that process look like when you’re doing it entirely remotely? What does your day look like?
[00:19:02] KL: I try to stick to a similar routine as I was in an office just because I’m very Type A, I like having that set routine. It kind of gets me in that work mentality. So I wake up a couple of hours before I start my day. I usually watch some news. I’ll eat breakfast. I don’t drink coffee, but I’ll drink a soda in the morning.
[00:19:21] SY: A soda? Interesting. Yeah.
[00:19:23] KL: Because I need my caffeine. I need some source of caffeine, except I’ve really slowly tried matcha and I really like it. So I think that’s just great.
[00:19:29] SY: Oh, matcha is great.
[00:19:30] KL: I think that’s going to be my new caffeine source now.
[00:19:32] SY: Nice!
[00:19:32] KL: But once I sit down at my desk, I’m checking my Slack messages, emails. I try not to check those before on my phone just because I’m really trying to like eliminate working outside of hours, which is hard when you’re remote as well because you’re always at your office really.
[00:19:48] SY: Right. Right.
[00:19:50] KL: And then at lunchtime, I always try to take lunch away from my desk. When you’re working from home, it’s really easy to be like, “Oh, I’ll just take this meeting or I’ll work on this ticket while I’m eating my lunch.” But you want to have that mental break just like you would at an office if you’re going out for lunch.
[00:20:10] SY: Coming up next, Kara talks about how different companies she’s worked at have treated remote after this.
[00:20:28] SY: So you’ve worked remotely at the same company, or have you worked across a couple of companies?
[00:20:32] KL: So being full time remote at the same company, my last job, we could work remote, like every once in a while. So I had kind of like a part-time experience doing it there.
[00:20:41] SY: Were there some differences between the two companies and how they treated remote work?
[00:20:46] KL: Yeah. So at my last company, because remote work wasn’t kind of an official thing that a lot of people did, we didn’t have full-time remote workers. I could definitely tell a difference in meetings. So at my current company, at CrowdStrike, when we have meetings, some people are in the office, obviously not right now, but when they are in the office, you’re still treated as if everybody’s remote. Everybody logs on the Zoom calls individually. It’s not the situation where you’re in a meeting and you’re at home and people are at the office and you can’t hear them because the mic is not close enough to them. At CrowdStrike, they’re really saying, “Okay,” everybody’s treated as if they’re remote, even if they’re in the office. So we are all on the same level when it comes to doing meetings and things like that.
[00:21:26] SY: That’s great. I’ve had that experience too where I was consulting for a company and they did so well with their remote work that it was I think months before I realized they were in the same room together. I just didn’t realize it. I was the only person who was actually remote because they just did so well with like individual cameras, everyone logged in. I was like, “What? You’re all there?” It was really trippy. So I love when companies do that. Yeah. It’s really great.
[00:21:53] KL: That’s what you want out of a company when you’re remote though.
[00:21:55] SY: So now that you have done the remote thing, you’ve done the in-person thing, which do you prefer?
[00:22:02] KL: I think ideally I would love kind of like a hybrid situation where I'm at home maybe three days a week and in the office two days a week because I do still really see the value in that face-to-face time, but I love working remote as well just because of the flexibility.
[00:22:17] SY: I went back to an office for a couple of months for a very short job that I had last year. And when I went back to being remote, I was so happy. I was like, “I do not miss that commute in the winter in New York City.” There’s benefits to both for sure, but I’m more of a remote person.
[00:22:31] KL: Definitely.
[00:22:36] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Kara, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:22:43] KL: I am.
[00:22:44] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:22:47] KL: It’s not necessarily what I’ve received. I have a family member who actually made the change to coding in her 40s. I see it all the time, like, “Oh, you can’t make a career change that late.” But being in this field now and seeing so many career changers, yes, you can. You totally can do it. So if you’re sitting there and listening and thinking about making the change to coding and don’t know if you can because it’s too late, it’s definitely not. You can always make a career change. It doesn’t matter your age.
[00:23:17] SY: Absolutely. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:23:37] SY: It’s all you need.
[00:23:37] KL: Exactly. It’s like that mental reset. And I come back and I solve it in like five minutes and I get so mad at myself. I should have taken a break sooner.
[00:23:47] SY: For sure. Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:24:10] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:24:16] KL: One thing I wish I knew when I first started coding is that practice doesn’t make perfect. It makes progress.
[00:24:23] SY: I love that. Yeah.
[00:24:24] KL: I am a perfectionist. And when I went into this, I knew like, “Oh, some people have been doing this for years and years. And I feel like if they write a function or something, whenever they’re working on, they get it right the first time, but that hardly ever happens when you’re coding.” So I kind of had to learn that, “I’m going to get better at this. As I keep practicing, I’m going to make progress.” But there’s no such thing as perfection in coding.
[00:24:48] SY: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. That is a great lesson to learn as soon as you can learn it.
[00:24:52] KL: Oh yeah.
[00:24:53] SY: You’ll be a lot happier that way. Well, thank you so much for joining us.
[00:24:57] KL: Thank you.
[00:25:04] 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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