This week, Saron talks with Camille Eddy, Technical Product Manager. Camille talks about her life growing up as a Pastor’s child, how she started and grew her business, and when she first found her passion for tech. Camille also shares her experience overcoming a fear of public speaking, and why it enabled her not only to travel the world but also land internships at companies like Google X, NVIDIA, and HP Labs all before graduating. Saron also talks to Camille about when she was asked to introduce President Obama. Camille concludes with principles she would lead with if she was a career transitioner looking to start her career in tech today.
[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 creating your own opportunities with Camille Eddy, Lead Product Manager.
[00:00:18] CE: A lot of times with your career, it’s all about knowing yourself, and that really helped me. I was able to come out of school with a really good, comprehensive view from both a mechanical side, then a software side, and I really saw myself as potentially being a person that could bridge the two worlds, and I thought that would be my strength to a team.
[00:00:37] SY: Camille shares how she followed in her mother’s footsteps by starting her own agency while still in high school, why she decided to major in mechanical engineering, and the time she shook hands with Barack Obama after this.
[00:00:55] SY: Thank you so much for joining us.
[00:00:56] CE: Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.
[00:00:58] SY: So I heard that you grew up as a child of a pastor. Tell me about that. What was that like?
[00:01:03] CE: Oh! Yeah. I mean, definitely a life that was not boring, had to learn how to talk to people all the time, going between different communities, like planting a church here, doing my homework under the pew, kind of stereotypical, but also just learning how to really engage other people. My mom said, growing up, that both me and my sister, we could talk to anybody. We could talk to the baby. We could also talk to the grownup and the senior and have something to say and keep up a conversation. So I think that was pretty early on a really great start to just staying curious and wanting to learn more about people.
[00:01:39] SY: That makes a lot of sense. Yeah, because as a pastor, you have to have those people skills. It’s kind of built in.
[00:01:43] CE: Absolutely. Yup.
[00:01:44] SY: Yeah, that makes sense. What kinds of things were you interested in as a child? What hobbies did you have?
[00:01:49] CE: Yeah. I mean, I had a lot. I didn’t have a lot of hobbies per se, but I had a lot of interests. I had a whole list of things I wanted to be when I was growing up. I remember this really vividly. I wrote down a list of like 20 things I was ready and open for firefighters, secretary.
[00:02:05] SY: Secretary? Interesting.
[00:02:07] CE: Yeah. My mom, very early on before I was born, she ran her own small business. This was back in like, I guess, the ’80s and ’90s. So supplemental secretary, basically she had secretaries that would go to companies when they had openings, temporary openings, and she would manage all that. And I just remember her having these pink business cards and it had the calligraphy on it, and it was pretty old fashioned and retro.
[00:02:32] SY: That’s pretty cool.
[00:02:35] CE: So I put that on my list. I was like, “I want to be a secretary.” I love looking at her office and all the papers and the paperclips and the pens and the organization and the little pads where you write, “Oh, sorry, we missed. Here’s the message.” I even implemented some of that into my product lifestyle, some of the tools that I saw and like kind of integrated that into some of the ideas to make product sticky, like, “Okay, what do you do to keep people updated?” So that was just one of the many things that was on my list.
[00:03:03] SY: Very cool. So it’s interesting. I asked if you had hobbies. You said you had interest. Tell me about the difference. What’s the difference between a hobby and interest in your world?
[00:03:10] CE: So a hobby, I feel like you are able to kind of take that and build with other people in a way. So I didn’t really find my first hobby, I would say, until like my teen years. But just kind of going back from thinking about life as a pastor kid, I was like, “I don’t remember having a ton of hobbies,” because I remember just working on schoolwork, having these interests, watching documentaries, learning about the different fields that were possible to go into, like secretary, but also engineering and science and stuff like that. And so right around my teenage years, I think I found my first hobby, which was web development. And that’s when I started really working with other people doing web development, talking about it more, and so really making that part visible. So I guess, for me, the difference is an interest is something you kind of hold on to yourself, by yourself, you’re just thinking about it, and then a hobby is when you try to take that out into the world and get feedback.
[00:04:08] SY: That makes a lot of sense. I like that. Interest is more personal. Maybe it’s kind of in your head a little bit. Hobby is more of what you do with your body in a way. It’s kind of what you do with your time and yourself. Yeah, that makes sense.
[00:04:20] CE: Yeah.
[00:04:20] SY: So you said your first hobby was websites. How did you come across that as a thing to even try?
[00:04:26] CE: Yeah, it was very interesting. So we loved the library when I was a kid and we would go to the library a lot and we would read books. So this is a very interesting story. So bear with me, but I found a book that I really liked and it said, “Hey, go online to make your own personal journal online.” And so that was like my very first time of logging into basically like a software product and creating an account. So I had this little journal that I was writing in and then one day I found a bug and this bug was I logged out but then I tried to go back to my journal for some reason and I found that instead of my journal it was this message board with all these people who had figured out the same bug and were communicating with each other by logging onto their journals and then going back and being able to communicate in like this basically user permissionless, roleless area. So I started just talking to these people, very, very sketchy, but this was in a safer day of the internet. So I was seeing people say, “You never know when this is going to go away, go check out my website.” And I was like, “Website?” Again, preteen, I’m talking to other preteens, and they opened me up to this, I don’t know if you’ve heard like the Neopets type, building your website. And so this was a crossover where people kind of started moving over to their own personal websites. And it was like the first time where SaaS was really taking off. And so I started and decided I wanted to jump in. It was called Freewebs. And it was just one of those very many personal software as a service that was popping up at the time where you could start your website, maybe learn a little bit of code in the process, how to change an element here and there. And my process was basically making available my own templates for both assets like icons, things that you put on your website so that other people could download them and use them on their website. I basically became my own little marketplace where I just designed little things and designed little doodads and gadgets, “Here, put an icon here for About Me on your About Me section of your website,” things like that. And then the world started moving in a different direction, which was like WordPress, back when WordPress and Drupal were like neck and neck. And so I decided I’m going to go all in and I’m going to learn how to build WordPress. WordPress websites for myself, but also for my community. And so that’s kind of the very serendipitous route I took to learning how to code and to build websites.
[00:06:59] SY: Very cool. So before you got to WordPress, when you discovered this world and discovered how to create websites, what was it about that experience that kept you coming back? What was it that made you go, “Oh, I want to keep doing this”?
[00:07:13] CE: Yeah. So that piece that we’re talking about, working with the community and building with the community. That was the theme throughout the entire process. Here I found peers who were similar in age to me, had similar interests, but were doing something with that, and they were all over the world. I met so many young people all over the world kind of in the same area of life as I was. We were beginning high school. We didn’t really know what was next, but we all had this journey of self-discovery through the early days of the internet and the web and the SaaS world. And so watching them develop as well, watching them develop their websites, learning new technology, talking about their journey. Everybody had a blog. And so we talked about what we were doing on our blog. We talked about the new things that we were dropping and making available for our community. And it was really an early way of keeping up with the community, but also expanding my area of focus. That’s what got me into this niche of how can I serve my community because my community is very different than a counterpart I had in Australia or a counterpart that I had in a different part of California at the time. So it was a way to explore, but also do it with a group of people.
[00:08:29] SY: You mentioned kind of building these little doodads. What were some of the things that you built that you’re most proud of?
[00:08:34] CE: Oh, it was like a feature shop. I just built things based off of maybe what I saw other people offering. So like there’s an icon library that I built, like maybe go through A, B, C, all the way to Z, like just different things, like having groups of icons. What else did I build? I remember building these templates for reviews. So how do you know that you built a great website? And I’d have a checklist of like, “These are the things that you need to start your own website,” and really it was good experimentation with personal branding. I made some mistakes. That was a day where you could go to a website and it start playing music at you right away. I did that. I had some interesting choices there, but then also the community. So actually one of the things that we did was we would put up a form on our website and said, “Hey, if you would like me to review your website and let you know where you could improve, fill out my form, and I’ll go to your website, and I’ll send you a review in about a week.” [00:09:35] SY: Oh, cool.
[00:09:36] CE: And we all did this. There was quite a few people that do that. So I’d go and get a review for it to get featured as a blog on their website. People would come to me for reviews, and I’d feature it as a blog on their website, on my website. So that was another thing, like a little bit of a service type of aspect that I built out, and I was really proud when I had 10 reviews lined up for that week. I was like, “Oh, this is awesome!” [00:09:59] SY: That’s really cool. Yeah. And what were you doing with all of this action, all this community, all these things you were building? Was the idea to just learn and grow for fun? Was it to make money? What was the end goal?
[00:10:11] CE: Yeah. At first I didn’t have an end goal. At first I was just doing it for fun and I was dabbling. Like I mentioned, I went from this kind of software that did it for me to learning WordPress and learning all the things that goes with WordPress, like setting up my server, setting up a SQL database, setting up everything, doing all of the coding for myself instead of having someone else do it. So at first that was just staying curious and then eventually I did, right in the middle of my high school area, I started my own web agency. And I was like, “I want my first job to be like maybe somewhere downtown in a tall building.” I was really dreaming and I was like, “Okay, if I’m going to do that, then I need to build a customer base and get a portfolio.” [00:10:53] SY: Wow! Oh my goodness! How old are you?
[00:10:55] CE: Yeah. I was 16.
[00:10:57] SY: Wow! These are big ideas for such a young age.
[00:11:00] CE: Yeah, definitely, didn’t know everything I was getting into. I think Mae Jemison is the one that says the best part of being young is just being a little naive about what’s ahead of you. Yeah, I was talking to my bus driver, talking to everybody I knew, talking people at church, like, “Can I build your website?” And then eventually, I did get my first client, which was really exciting.
[00:11:22] SY: What was it?
[00:11:23] CE: It was just somebody who had their own personal brand and was teaching other people about marketing. And so I was a contractor, they found me on Craigslist, or I found them on Craigslist, I guess, and they were local. So that was helpful for both my mom and myself. You could see them face to face and like, “Okay, you’re a real person.” And then it kind of took off from there where I was able to build that portfolio, and I eventually did go to college. I decided to go to college, not for computer science, but for mechanical engineering, but I paid for my first year of housing by running this agency on the side.
[00:11:55] SY: Wow!
[00:11:55] CE: So that was my big goal was, “How can I be self-sufficient?”
[00:11:59] SY: That’s such an incredible goal to have at such a young age, because I don’t think most people are thinking that way yet. Like usually self-sufficiency comes after college, after you get your first real job. But the fact that you’re thinking about that so young, it’s really inspiring. What did your mom think of all this, given that she was an entrepreneur and she had her own agency, managing these secretaries? What did she make of her daughter starting her own business?
[00:12:22] CE: Yeah. I mean, I would like to think that she was really proud. I know that she definitely encouraged any particular aspiration I had, because over that time, I was also developing a desire to want to be an engineer of some sort, and she was all for me exploring these career paths. She went as far as to, not quite force me, but to very firmly encourage me to go to the local university and they had this high school planning party. It was for engineers and she wanted me to go there, meet people and talk to people. And I was like, “But mom, this is new. I’m not ready yet.” My skepticism started sinking in real deeply at the point. She’s like, “Nope, we’re going, I’m driving you. We’re going.” So she was very encouraging of getting more information. She wanted me to have all the facts. She wanted me to try things out, but in a safe way. Yeah, she was there in the middle of it. She knew what I was doing, what I was interested in, where to push me, maybe where to take it a little easy. So I really appreciate her for that kind of give-and-take kind of way of just coaching me along. And I was actually homeschooled as well. So I feel this was part of like a course, right?
[00:13:30] SY: Right.
[00:13:30] CE: Like an entrepreneurship course that she really kind of… she wasn’t all in. She didn’t have her fingers in everything that I was doing, but she knew enough to know like, “Okay, you got to start working on this. Oh, you’re going to get your first check? That’s great. So how are we going to deposit that? What are we going to do next?” She made sure I had a bank account open and she did all these little steps that I think made me successful.
[00:13:52] SY: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. Yeah. And I love the homeschool training of it. It makes the whole thing kind of even clearer. That’s definitely something that I feel like a homeschool program would have is like start your own agency. That seems right in line.
[00:14:05] CE: Build yourself.
[00:14:06] SY: Yeah. Build it yourself. So do you remember how much you charge or how did you even figure out what to charge at that age with that skill set?
[00:14:14] CE: I don’t remember exactly what I charged. I know that I wasn’t thinking maybe how I would think now. With the economy, the way it is and what the market, you can go and find your market level. I don’t think I paid attention to that as much. What I charged, I think was how much would I be comfortable with to either make my next goal. So for example, when I was going to college, and I knew that I needed housing, I try to put that in perspective of like, “What do I need to survive? And what am I doing and what value am I bringing?” Because I did hear and I got some advice on pricing early on, which was you don’t charge something that you think someone will take just because you think that that’s what they’re going to go for. You charge what you’re going to be able to live on, what you’re going to be able to survive on. That was very nascent. There wasn’t a lot of detail in that advice, I would say, but that was enough for me to say, “Okay, well, if my rent is going to be this much, then I need to be making at least this much. And if I have two customers, then I can split that down the middle with a little room for profit.” And that’s kind of based on the times. So maybe I was really lucky that housing and the pricing for web design services were kind of equal. So maybe I can live out there. But also just learning your negotiation skills and listening really deeply, that was a big thing for me is, “Okay, you got to slow down. You got to breathe and got to listen to what they’re saying, listen to what they need, and then talk directly to that when you’re talking about your pricing.” [00:15:48] SY: Right. Right. I think there are a lot of people listening who would love to charge for their work, who would love to maybe freelance or bring in some money on the side with some of their projects. But I think there is a level of confidence that you kind of need to have in order to ask for money for your skills, especially if you’re self-taught, especially if you’re new at this, especially if you’re getting your first client. First one has to be the hardest one. Where did that confidence come from? How did you know that you knew enough where your work was worth paying for?
[00:16:23] CE: That’s a great question. My brain is going into two different places, so I’ll just kind of answer that in two parts. So I think the first might be the least obvious, but knowing who you’re talking to and knowing your audience, I think we hear that a lot. But when I went to build a website, a particular website, of course I had a specific set of skills that I would need my customer to kind of need. But at the same time, I wanted to hear their vision. I wanted to promote the biggest vision I could for them and then take a piece of that and say, “Well, all these things aside, I once spoke to a painter and then another person was building physical products in his garage and then there was the personal brand consultant that I was talking about, I wanted to hear all that vision and say, ‘Okay, this is the piece that we can deliver with the skillset that I have.’” So I think that came from just having on the other side of things, just itemizing. One of the things I learned to do was understanding what I could do because it’s not always who you know, it’s not what you know, it’s “Does the person that you’re talking about know that you know?” [00:17:34] SY: “What do they know that you know?”
[00:17:35] CE: Yeah. What can they vouch for? What can they say when you’re not in the room to their partner or to the person across the table from them that like, “This person actually does know their stuff, this is what they know”? And so just being really clear, I think that’s the other side of it, just being very clear on those skill sets because you can talk about your gaps. And one of the biggest lessons I learned was if you’re seen as competent, a lot of times we do need to take that for a fact. Walking into a room, we are seen as competent individuals. And then when competent individuals can clearly lay out what they don’t have, what they might lack, that’s seen as actually an increase of competency. Like, “Oh, you’re aware.” So if that can be the focus, then there’s no problem with having gaps because you’re bringing to the table something of value. And then later on, I definitely learned. And there’s lots of books out there and lots of blogs that I think I’ve taken advantage of that can tell you a little bit more about like product sense and business sense, kind of how to weave that into your conversation and into the way you think about things. But I think overall, talking to people first, understanding their big vision, letting them go as far and as wide as they want to with the interactivity that they want to build into it and all that and then saying, “Okay, this is what we can build. This is the skill set that I know for a fact that I have. Does this work for you?” [00:18:55] SY: When was the moment when you knew that you were ready to charge?
[00:19:00] CE: It was not one moment. It was a series of failures. And then when I got my first customer, I was like, “Perfect! Now I know exactly what works.” I remember being on the bus, so I was taking this bus down to the library from my house, and this bus driver, because after you start taking the bus, especially in a city like Boise, you start to become a regular. They know you. It’s a small town, so they start talking. And I just remember having a series of conversations, even getting to the point where I wrote up my first contract, I went online and found a template, wrote up my first contract and handed it to him when I got on the bus, like, “Okay, thank you for all the great conversations. Based on what we talked about, here’s my contract.” And I got back on the bus, I don’t know, the next day or the next week, and he’s like, “I took it to my wife,” and he started to lay out all the things, the holes and the ideas. He was like, “This isn’t clear. I don’t know.” And he gave me a rundown, a teardown.
[00:19:59] SY: Yeah, a teardown.
[00:20:00] CE: But in the nicest way.
[00:20:00] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:20:02] CE: Of what my services looked like when it was on paper. And I was like, “Oh! Okay.”
[00:20:08] SY: And you were how old at this point?
[00:20:10] CE: I think I was 16, 17. I hadn’t left for college yet.
[00:20:13] SY: Okay.
[00:20:13] CE: I hadn’t left yet. So I was like, “Oh, okay! Now I have a whole other set of things I need to think about and build for.” And then when I actually got my first client, it was going back to that honesty part. Like, “This is what I’ve done. This is exactly what I’ve done. Can I do this for you?” And then that’s when I got my yes. And that’s when I got my yes and, “You want to get paid this much an hour? Absolutely. Here you go.” And then I had to think about when was I going to charge more? And that was my next hurdle. Like, “Okay, when are you going to charge more? Because you can’t go to school on just this cost.” So that had to be the next step, which definitely was scary, but I use all the same principles. Like, “Can I do a tear down of my own business and say like what’s good, what’s bad, what’s missing, what have people asked me in the past that I didn’t have an answer for, and can I build that case and then charge more?” [00:21:03] SY: And what was it like when you handed in your work? Or I guess what did that look like? What did completing the consulting gig and showing your work, what did that involve for that first client?
[00:21:14] CE: It was pretty ongoing, so that was helpful. It was more like a ticketing-type situation.
[00:21:18] SY: Okay.
[00:21:19] CE: They’d have a new issue, a new website, something that they wanted to work on, and they knew that I had an hourly wage. And so that was the basis of us continuing our work. And the reason it ended or completed was because either they had figured out a new way to do things. So that was a big lesson for me. When my first client moves on, so to speak, it was, “Oh, are you keeping up with the times? Are you keeping up with the new way of doing things?” I think at that time, Rails was hitting the scene. Ruby, I think specifically, not Rails even. I think it was Ruby. And people were trying to figure out Ruby and then of course Rails came on and made it that much easier. But Ruby was hitting the scene, and more people and more people were getting involved with it, but I wasn’t doing that. I was staying in my HTML, CSS, PHP server. I was just staying in that kind of lane. And so they eventually, I think, moved on to a different architecture to try it out, but I wasn’t going to be able to move on with them. And so I learned a lot about, like, “Okay, so if you know that this is going to happen, it might be a little harder to find clientele.” So I had to work on that, work a little bit more on my marketing. It’s just one of the next thing that I had to learn about filling in those gaps.
[00:22:35] SY: Yeah, because that’s a big moment for a lot of people in business is figuring out the times are changing. The world is continuing to turn around us. What do we do with that information? Do we take that and say, “Okay, now let me take a step back, level up, retrain, reskill, and get on board? Or do I double down on my niche and the things that I know how to do really well and find people who are still interested?” It’s kind of a fork in the road for people. Which route did you end up taking?
[00:23:02] CE: Yeah, I mean, I think at the beginning, I kind of doubled down. That’s what I decided. And I definitely think I would have changed routes if I had a second chance to do this again. I was actually just at Boise Entrepreneur Week and I thought it was interesting because here’s something that I’ve learned for sure is go ahead and take mindset advice from other really successful people and other successful women entrepreneurs, that’s the case, but the resiliency that they talked about, about taking new information and doing something with it, being responsive to it. That is very key. And I think having clients move on and seeing the route that I chose to take where I might have had a dry spell or two of clients and then had to learn how to beef up my marketing and do it again. It was like a warning signal, like “Hey, you’re not paying attention.” And so I would take that into school, my career, in the future, to use those signals as really needed advice of, “Are you paying attention to what’s next? It’s not necessarily a failure. It’s not that you’re doing something wrong, but it’s like a communication of two-way street here with you and the industry.” [00:24:14] SY: Okay. So you use the agency. You’re running that for a couple of years. When did you decide to shut it down?
[00:24:20] CE: Second year of mechanical engineering school.
[00:24:22] SY: Okay. And what prompted that?
[00:24:25] CE: It was too hard. It was too hard. The brain space. Yeah. Calculus 3 is amazing, but also very difficult. And so is all the other stuff. You’re learning physics, you’re learning chemistry, and you’re learning it in a new space. I came from a homeschool kind of environment where we built upon your learning and here I was taking six different, separate classes that may or may not have a lot to do with each other, and they were just getting harder, harder by the day. So I learned a lot from that experience too, learned how to like organize myself and take care of myself, of course. I got my first gig in the lab where I had lab research and then I also had my first internship. So that kind of took over and of course I was making money doing those things as well. So that was also helpful. I was able to kind of transfer from one stream of income to another, so to speak.
[00:25:32] SY: Tell me about what it felt like to be a student when you were already an entrepreneur, because I feel like there’s so much ownership that you have as an entrepreneur, you’re running your own agency, you’re billing your clients, you’re responsible for your work. And then you’re in a classroom where you’re kind of being told what to do, you have to turn in assignments. It feels like almost like a different way of being or a different existence. What was that like for you to go from running your own shop for a couple of years to going back to being just a student? How was that for you?
[00:26:05] CE: Yeah. I definitely have to think about that, because I don’t know that I pictured it exactly that way. I definitely felt like I was fully integrated, but I know that I wasn’t fully integrated, because there’s a lot of things you have to do to get past those weeder classes, I like to say. So I definitely feel that I had a non-traditional cape to it. People would look to me for really interesting ideas, innovative ideas. I was running a couple of clubs and I think I just came upon it actually. What I did was I found outlets. I found outlets to bring back my entrepreneurship, so I actually founded a couple of clubs on campus, got really into new product development wherever I could, whether that meant being on like a NASA research team or we were building something new or that meant building something new with a student group. I put together like a whole student group with friends. We built virtual reality experiences together and we brought in students from all over campus, not just engineering students, not just computer science students, but like an English major here and different majors like kinesiology major there. So we wanted to show that you didn’t have to just be your typical engineer to work in interdisciplinary way and build VR. And that was one way. I think I just met a lot of other founders in the area even, got off campus once in a while. We did demos and we would hit up very early versions of Boise Entrepreneur Week back then. And I think that was the way I kept myself entrenched in that atmosphere, in that environment, even though I was in school. So just finding a way, meeting people and talking to them and saying, “What big vision can we accomplish with our identity as students, but also with interdisciplinary ideas at play?” Because that was a big thing back in the day. Like, “How can we make our students of different majors and different schools talk to each other?” So I just bought into that.
[00:28:04] SY: Absolutely. So I’m surprised that with your computer science agency, you did not major in computer science. You chose mechanical engineering.
[00:28:13] CE: Yeah.
[00:28:14] SY: What went into that decision?
[00:28:15] CE: I think now that I’m a product person, it makes a lot more sense. I was curious and I wanted to stay curious and I wanted to understand a lot of different things. And I think for mechanical engineering, what I learned about it, because now I’m back on the product side. So what I learned was it was about bringing together a lot of other disciplines to really keep a model and integrity. So if I was building a robot, what do I put into a robot? Who’s owning the firmware? Who’s owning the software? How can I make sure that if it’s a consumer robot, it’s safe, it’s not getting too hot? I was looking at the integration of other systems. And so then when I left school, I did the same thing, but from a product standpoint, from a SaaS standpoint, like how do I integrate systems to talk to each other? So I think what happened was I found something that I was interested in, had a hobby, got really deep into it, and then I was like, “Great, I have some mastery of this, I want to move to something else, and I want to discover something else.” And so I went really deep. I had to commit to a degree program. So I committed to mechanical engineering and I finished it, but that was another piece of like, “Okay, I’m really interested in this, and now I have all the information I need about that degree path and about the agency life that I feel like I can make the best decisions going forward. Is this an area I want to be in or is this an area I want to avoid?” And I think having that type of landscape and that map is really useful. They say a lot of times with your career, it’s all about knowing yourself. And that really helped me. I was able to come out of school with a really good comprehensive view from both a mechanical side, then a software side. And I really saw myself as potentially being a person that could bridge the two worlds, that could talk about both but also understand both in a way that maybe someone who didn’t dabble in both like I did could and I thought that would be my strength to a team to be a connector and be a bridge. And I mean it make sense for me. I know that might not make sense for everybody, but that was the way I did it because I was really interested in doing it.
[00:30:22] SY: So I know that you are from Idaho. You went to school in Idaho as well. Did you have plans to stay in Idaho once school was over or were you looking to get out and try a different part of the world?
[00:30:33] CE: Actually, I had plans to get out of Idaho while I was in school.
[00:30:37] SY: Oh, okay.
[00:30:38] CE: Yup. So I think me and my school, we had a love-hate relationship because I figured out that I could give a speech or two. I came out of high school very scared of public speaking, just shaking. When I was even talking in a group setting, like, “Oh my God!” Not when I was in my work calls, but when I was in my more hobbyist type of situation, peer to peer, I was like, “Oh my goodness, I don’t want to speak.” So my first year of school, I had to give like six or seven different talks that I just kept getting asked and I had a rule not to say no to anything new and to say yes. So they were saying like, “Do you want to talk to this audience?” I’m like, “Okay, I haven’t talked to high school students.” Or, “Do you want to talk to this audience?” Like, “Okay, I haven’t talked to this.” I would say yes because it was new, but I’d get up on stage and my knees would be shaking. So I finally figured out how to conquer that. It was through repetition and I gave my first keynote at a diversity conference on campus. And I talked about AI. And that was my interest at the time. So my interest at the time was learning about artificial intelligence. This is back in 2015. And I wanted to talk about how building it for more and more communities meant taking other things into consideration, not just who was building it, but who it was being built for. And so I gave a keynote. And then to my surprise, someone said, “That was such an interesting talk. We want to introduce you to a speaker conference, some speaker organizer that I didn’t know, and they’re in DC, but they’ll get back to you.” And so I was like, “Okay.” And I got an email, and they’re like, “We heard you gave a great talk on AI and communities. And so we would like to invite you to come to DC and talk.” [00:32:24] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:32:25] CE: I had never been to DC before. I was like, “Great! I’m going to go see the Smithsonian.” I’m like, “I’m all for this.” But they flew me out there, put me up in the hotel, and this was the biggest room ever, like ever. It was like so many people. I couldn’t even see the back of the room.
[00:32:41] SY: Wow!
[00:32:41] CE: I was like, “What?” I actually told the person, this is really good too. If you feel like you’re that nervous, but you know that there are people around, just go ahead and ask someone for help. They want to see you succeed. So I actually asked someone who was leading me around and making sure I got someplace. Like, “I’m going to go on stage. But if you start to hear me getting fast, because I know I do that, just in your lap, do the signal for slow. And I’m going to see that, and I’m going to slow down.” And so I got up on the stage, tried to visualize all the people and the faces in the crowd before I got up there, but sure enough, I got nervous. And I saw that person doing the signal, and I was able to slow down and get through the rest of my talk.
[00:33:23] SY: Nice!
[00:33:24] CE: And it was filmed. It was recorded. And so that went online, and I got to, for the rest of my college career, just at different times, go to conferences. I went to Budapest once. I went to San Francisco, I went to Omaha to give this talk and this presentation. I eventually got my first internship then started interning in Palo Alto, then I got to intern in Santa Clara, got into the Silicon Valley area. And so that was my way of leaving before I graduated, gave me a really good footprint, but I do have to say I love my Idaho. It’s a really great place to be, but I think I did enough work through that kind of just being bold and taking on new opportunities when they presented themselves to raise my visibility and to definitely get outside of Idaho and to see and experience things outside of Idaho.
[00:34:21] SY: Very, very cool. I also heard that you had a really fun opportunity to introduce someone really important, President Obama as well. Tell us that story. How did you get that opportunity?
[00:34:32] CE: Yeah, that was amazing. Again, saying yes to new opportunities. I was at school on a Sunday doing research with a team and I get a call from the dean of the college and she was like, “Hey!” And I was like, “Why are you calling me? It’s Sunday.” And she was like, “I have an opportunity for you to potentially introduce President Obama. I just need to know if you’d be open to it.” [00:34:54] SY: Wow! Open to it. Would you consider it?
[00:34:57] CE: Yeah, just open to it.
[00:34:58] SY: Yeah.
[00:34:58] CE: I was like, “Sure.” And she’s like, “Great. Don’t tell anybody. I’m going to go talk to the people, but just sit tight.” And I was like, “Okay.” And so I put my phone down and I go back to research. And that next Monday or Tuesday, I don’t know, I had a lab very early in the morning. I just remember it being dark and sitting in a room by myself waiting for the lab to get started. And I get a phone call with a ringtone I didn’t recognize at all. I never heard my phone make this noise. And I pick it up and it’s like, “Hello, this is the White House.” I’m like, “Oh my God!” [00:35:27] SY: Wow!
[00:35:28] CE: “We were wondering if you’d still interested in introducing the president.” And I said, “Yes.” And he’s like, “Great. Dress rehearsal is tomorrow. See you then.”
[00:35:35] SY: Wow!
[00:35:35] CE: So I had a couple days to figure out my speech, what I was going to say, and then the day came and my mom was able to come, but she didn’t get to come to the green room with me. I had to be in the green room. I didn’t know what was going on. They’re like, “Yeah, we’re just going to take you.” And I was like, “Okay.” And so I get to the green room and all these people are there, senators, students, families, and one of the senators that I had met that year, her name was Cherie Buckner-Webb. She came up to me and was like, “Okay, well, your mom’s not here. I got to help you. I got to fix up your collar and smooth your hair.” And I was like, “What’s going on?” And she’s like, “We’re about to go shake hands with the president.” And I was like, “Oh!” So they put me at the end of the line. I was standing next to a previous governor of Idaho. It was really crazy. I’ve never been in a room like this. And so at the end of the line, they said, Mr. President, this is Camille. She’s going to be introducing you.” And he was like, “Wow! Really happy to meet you. We’re really proud of you.” And I was like, “This is crazy.” And so I got my picture and then they put me in the front, the Secret Service men were back there, playing music, enjoying the crowd’s laughter when the music came on.” They’re like, “Do you need a footstool?” “Oh, she needs a footstool.” Okay. So then they walk up and they’re getting the footstool on. People went wild thinking it was time, but I was like, “No, no, we’re just getting the footstool.” “Now remember, young lady, put that footstool back because the president does not need it.” I get up on stage, I say my speech and then he comes out and I’m really happy that my mom got to shake hands with him too. He came down to the front and shook hands with my mom.
[00:37:06] SY: That’s amazing.
[00:37:07] CE: So it was pretty intense. And then after that, I got the call because during the speech, we talked a little bit about like, “Why it was important to have students involved and why innovation was important and why people who are learning were on the cutting edge?” And so I guess someone at HP heard that and then they asked if I would intern and they contacted the school and was like, “Hey, where’s Camille Eddy at? We’d like to see if she’d be willing to intern.” And I took an interview very blindly, but I got through it. Just had to talk through my experience and what I knew at the time, again, being honest about what you know, showing your gaps, but being honest about like, “This is how I would solve the problem.” And then, yeah, then it went on from there.
[00:37:49] SY: Wow! I pictured that entire thing like a movie in my head. That was so exciting. That was so well described.
[00:37:56] CE: Thank you.
[00:37:56] SY: Wow! Congratulations! What an exciting opportunity at any age, let alone so young. That’s amazing. That’s really cool.
[00:38:04] CE: I just credit those early advisors, the dean. I bet there was even some department chairs involved there that just took a chance on me from the research I was doing at the time, which is what I could speak to in my speech to actually getting the opportunity to introduce President Obama and then to the hiring manager at HP that was like, “I want you to come in for an interview.” Just people along the way who are like, “Yeah, you do deserve a chance. You have something here that might be interesting.” I didn’t know from that internship I’d get into robotics. I had no idea. I had never done robotics previously, and that was the very first internship. It was a robotics internship. And they were like, “Yeah, you have the background, you have everything we need.” It was definitely a really cool time and definitely appreciate those people who took a chance on me.
[00:38:57] SY: Coming up next, Camille and I discuss whether or not the opportunity she created for herself would still have happened had she taken the bootcamp route instead after this.
[00:39:13] SY: How much do you feel you were given these opportunities because of the fact that you’re a student? We talk a lot about should you get a computer science degree? Should you go back to school? That’s a common topic that’s come up on this podcast a ton, that comes up in the industry a ton. But I’m also wondering if just the sheer fact that you’re a student gives you a certain amount of opportunities. It’s a little bit more of a chance than when you’re not. Do you have any thoughts on that?
[00:39:42] CE: I do. I actually have a very strong opinion.
[00:39:44] SY: Tell me. Yeah.
[00:39:45] CE: I really think it’s just a checkbox. There’s a certain amount of roles are created that like, “Hey, do you have this qualification that you’re in a four-year program?” But there are certain whole other amount of opportunities that can be created outside of that. And people are very attuned to that now. And so for me, I had a few rules for life. I would say yes to everything new. Don’t do anything twice. And then make your accomplishments visible. And that was my mantra.
[00:40:13] SY: Those are good rules.
[00:40:13] CE: Right? I appreciate that. Yeah. Because I was at a non-target school in a non-target state. We’re not looked at for FAANG internships. And so I very much knew that I had to take school out of the equation almost immediately. I had to go based off of my curiosity, my understanding of what my skill set was, and all the experiences I had accumulated up to that point. And I had to get really good at selling those opportunities that I had. So for me, especially, and this started even at homeschool level. When I wanted to go from high school to college, I had to get really good at selling. What I had done in school, the fact that I had gone to the NASA Aerospace Scholars Program for Idaho that I had run my own agency, I had it really good because homeschooling isn’t necessarily understood by every college admissions So it’s really just a checkbox and it determines the types of opportunities you have, but it also doesn’t take you out of the running for them, especially if you’re networking, making your accomplishments visible and speaking very clearly about what you’re doing. So what it does is it gives you the opportunity to interact with the same amount of people, the same types of people, but with your own authentic, unique profile. And I think that’s really helpful. So for me, no, I don’t think that being a student gave me those opportunities. It was everything else that came after that. And I was just fortunate to be in a spot where I was in a market that valued where I came from. That’s the key right there.
[00:41:47] SY: So you are a lead product manager today. And I’m wondering if you were a career transitioner, if you were someone coming from a totally different career, if you did not have that agency background when you were a teenager, didn’t have that mechanical engineering degree when you were an undergrad, if you were taking some of those principles that you mentioned and starting your career today, what are some of the things that you would do to own your story, to not do things twice, to say yes to new opportunities? How would you leverage those same beliefs? What would that look like if you were starting a career today?
[00:42:21] CE: Today’s world is so different. So a couple of things right off the bat, networking, but networking with a purpose, of course, finding people within the certain skill set. The transferable skills specifically that I want to talk to in the new career. So let’s say for example, I’m a product manager, but I wanted to learn about technical project management. What’s the difference between product versus project? A lot of times in this new market that we’re living in, people will look at your resume and say, “Okay, I’m looking for these titles,” and they’ll check for similar titles to the one that you’re interviewing for. And I’m not saying that happens all the time, but that can sometimes, when you get 200 applicants for one role, that can be one of the ways to screen people. And so if that was me, I would want to go to those people that had the title that I had. I’d want to talk to them. Like, “What are the skill sets that you have?” And I actually have a running list of questions to ask that I feel when I talk to somebody who’s in a different career field, or maybe even the same, I can ask them questions that will help me understand and get at exactly what do you do, how do you talk about it, what’s the vocabulary around it. Another way to do that, if maybe you’re crunched for time, or you have a small network and you need to find names of people to ask, is podcasts, like this one, it’s really easy to go to your Spotify search and put in a topic that you’re really interested in. So if it’s technical project management, if it’s product management, if it’s software engineering, if it’s something specific in software engineering, like I’ve even seen a podcast so specific to say how to build search apps. So if you put that topic in somewhere, like a podcast platform, you can find someone that’s talking about it, get their name, go on LinkedIn, see if you have any mutual connections or see if you can figure out some way how to get in contact with them and then you can start interviewing there. And then you’ll have something to go off of too. You’ll be able to say, “Hey, I heard you speak about this. This was really interesting. I would like 10 or 20 minutes of your time just to talk more about this specific topic.” And going from there, I mean, I’ve gotten referrals to jobs by doing that. And I feel like it’s a lot better than just putting your application in. And that’s how I transitioned from even mechanical engineering to product is by asking those questions, even interviewing people for my own podcast back in the day. It’s very short lived, but my very first boss out of college was somebody I interviewed when I was still in school. So that’s the type of thing that I would do if I was a transitioner right now today with everything as it is right now is talking to people, getting referrals, but also having a list maybe of different titles that have transferable skills. You can only know about those transferable skills, though, if you start talking to people and you start seeing the connections and you connect the dots. I would hope that someone listening to this, if they have that coding background, they could see all the ways and the stories that I’ve told today, how different places have code applied to them and so then that might say, “Oh, maybe I should look at robotics roles that need software engineers because I see some synergy between what happened and what she was doing and then where I could potentially be a fit for a team.” So that would be my suggestion.
[00:45:38] SY: Very cool. Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Camille, are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:45:52] CE: Yeah. Absolutely.
[00:45:53] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:45:56] CE: Wait to get an internship until you’re a junior or senior in school.
[00:46:01] SY: Oh, interesting. Why do they say that?
[00:46:03] CE: You know, I think it was about staying focused. Freshmen, sophomore, you don’t want to fail out. So stay focused. But I thought that was bad advice, because, I mean, even if you’re not in a traditional school, waiting to get freshman, sophomore, or first year, second year internships is bad because those first year, second year internships only pop up when you’re a first or second year. So you lose out on the value of that because thinking even about like if you’re in a bootcamp and you come out of the bootcamp instead of just with bootcamp knowledge and like I can excel in a bootcamp but also I know and I have seen the inner workings of a SaaS company and I’m not dreaming one day to be a good fit for the role. I know that I’m a fit for the role because I’ve seen A, B, C and I have D, E, F. So I had to throw that out right away before I even started school. I was in the lab. I had a job and I think that was really good.
[00:46:59] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:47:03] CE: Create and maintain a personal website. That’s been the biggest thing. So obviously, I did do that, but I didn’t necessarily think about it from a professional point of view until someone told me in my very early college days, like you should be maintaining that, you should be keeping up with that, even if you’re not currently doing anything with it. And yeah, I think it taught me to just productize things, like productize my knowledge, make sure that I understood how to, again, make it visible and make it show up clearly what I was doing. So that followed me all the way to the end until I graduated. I still have a portfolio website now up that talks to all my accomplishments through school and things like that.
[00:47:42] SY: Very cool. Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:47:46] CE: Oh! Yep. My first coding project, we talked about it a little bit, was building the websites where I built templates and I made the assets and I shared those. And then that went on to working with personal brand consultants and what have you, creatives, everywhere. And I still do that today. On my website I try to share templates or things and knowledge that I think help people, I guess, but it’s just like a hobby of mine that I kind of carried over from those early days.
[00:48:12] SY: Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:48:16] CE: I definitely wish I knew a lot more about business owners and founders even, like what they need. And so staying ahead of that, kind of being able to use my sense of the industry to forecast like, “This is where the industry is going,” and I’m going to learn one or two transferable skills ahead of time to make sure I’m ever useful to that world because we talked a little bit about that just needing to just stay up to date on what’s happening and just reading a lot more. I remember getting that advice, too, in one of my internships like, “You should be reading every day.” And so now I do. I clip articles from two or three different areas of focus. I try to get Google or whatever my apps to make it very easy for me to clip articles and to organize them so I can go back to them later. So reading every day, and I don’t care how you read, whether it’s an article, an Audible book, whatever you’re doing to read a physical book, I think that that’s really important, and then that keeps you up to date on what’s happening in your industry. So read things that are current, that came out yesterday, that came out a month ago, and keep on top of that.
[00:49:21] SY: Very nice. Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Camille.
[00:49:24] CE: Thank you.
[00:49:28] 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.
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