Unnamed

Frankie Nicoletti

VP of Engineering SoLo Funds

Francesca Kerberos Nicoletti (she/they) is an engineer, leader, educator, and polymath, and currently VP of Engineering at SoLo Funds. Previously they were AI Engineering Lead at a martech unicorn, Head of Engineering at a seed stage grocery startup, interim CTO at a big data startup, and an IC at several early-stage startups ranging from ecommerce to social media. They have been a career coach for 7 years. They hold several state records in power lifting.

Description

In this episode we talk to Frankie Nicoletti, VP of Engineering at SoLo Funds. We learn how throughout their career Frankie has always said yes to opportunities that came their way and it has made all the difference. Tune in to find out about what saying yes looks like and how to best look for and apply to jobs when you're a new bootcamp grad.

Show Notes

Transcript

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[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 saying yes to opportunities with Frankie Nicoletti, VP of Engineering, at SoLo Funds.

 [00:00:19] FN: When you’re driving on an icy road and you start to skid, you turn into the skid. So you just sort of ride it out for a little bit until your car corrects course. And I think that if you could do that in technology, you will be more successful, especially in the early years. You just got to take those opportunities as they come up and really lean into that because you never know what you’re going to find.

 [00:00:36] SY: Frankie talks about their unique journey into coding, how to best look for jobs when you’re a bootcamp grad, and how saying yes might just get you where you need to go after this.

 [MUSIC BREAK]

 [00:00:53] SY: Thank you so much for being here.

 [00:00:54] FN: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

 [00:00:57] SY: Wonderful! So you actually started your career as an accountant. Why did you initially choose accounting as your career?

 [00:01:05] FN: This is a sort of embarrassing story. I met a guy at a bar. I had gone to school for a major that wasn’t working out, and I was sort of between semesters trying to figure out what I wanted to do next because my careers had been dashed. Right? This is like the story a lot of successful people have where they’re like, “I was down in the dumps.” Things weren’t working out. I didn’t know what to do. I met a guy at a bar. He got me a receptionist job that ended up being an accounting role and I just picked it up right away. I had had a background in doing a lot of computer work when I was in high school, which for some reason I never considered to be a possible career path. Weird, right? But in the early 2000s, high school girls weren’t learning how to program. So it was like not a given that that was a career possibility for me. So here I am after the first year of college. He gives me a job where I thought I was going to answer phones, but before you know it, I’m running accounts receivable for multi-tenant office buildings for the entire Northern Virginia area.

 [00:02:01] SY: Whoa! That’s a lot of responsibility.

 [00:02:03] FN: Yeah. I got in there and was able to really clean up a lot of processes that they had because, well, I’m an engineer now, so it’s obvious now, but I sort of see through how their systems could get optimized and updated, and I could make Excel do back flips. They thought I could work magic. And so it’s just sort of like happened and then I worked my way up the ranks in accounting before getting to a place where someone pointed out that maybe I should consider tech as a career. Who would’ve thought?

 [00:02:30] SY: Interesting. So at what age, if you don’t mind me asking, did you start thinking about tech as a career?

 [00:02:35] FN: I turned 30 halfway through my coding bootcamp.

 [00:02:38] SY: Okay. So when you mentioned that you had technically dabbled with computers, but never actually considered it a career option, can you tell me a little bit more about that? What got you interested in the first place, and then what brought you back to that place years later?

 [00:02:55] FN: Yeah. So I graduated high school in 2003, and so in high school I had a couple opportunities to work office jobs with my father, and there were some like new cool tools that were just available on computers, like Microsoft Access, that I just figured out how to use. I might have built my dad one of the first relational databases that he ever knowingly used for work.

 [00:03:20] SY: Oh, wow!

 [00:03:20] FN: Just like in the office being like, “Hey, here’s a way that you could search through all of your newspaper clipping.” So my dad worked in public relations. And in the olden days, and by the olden days, I mean 23 years ago, when you were in public relations, you would subscribe to services that would cut out newspaper and magazine clippings and mail them to you. Like you would subscribe to a topic and they would literally send them in the mail. And we know that concept now as Apple News.

 [00:03:46] SY: Interesting. Right.

 [00:03:51] FN: You can set Google alerts for the topics of news that you want to know about and it gets delivered to your phone in real time. But it used to be if you wanted to know what people across the country were saying about your business or your cause or your nonprofit, you would subscribe to these services that would literally send you newspaper clippings. They would have a little bit of metadata basically stapled to the literal newspaper clipping then you would have like a whole stack rubber banded together that were for one particular topic for a specific time period, and he would save these in a gigantic filing cabinet with like a meticulous filing system. And so what I gave him was a Microsoft Access database where these things could be scanned so they could be looked at on the computer and then it kept track of like tags and all of these other things that are very obvious to us now, but we’re not so obvious in 2001 when I was doing this. So it was really like this early view into how databases and other types of technology systems were going to ultimately like thoroughly change the way we live our lives and do business. And I’m almost 38 years old and I got to be alive for the time before everybody had cellphones. Before, everybody kind of knew what databases were and adults kind of thought it was cool that I knew how to do this weird technology stuff, but nobody really knew how to translate that into maybe you should go to school for this. And so I went to school to be a mechanical engineer.

 [00:05:12] SY: Oh, interesting.

 [00:05:13] FN: And I was like, “I got to do something else.” Like, “This is not the thing.” So career changes, major changes, all of these things are okay and you can still be successful. It’s nothing but a but a little roadblock. You just got to figure it out.

 [00:05:24] SY: Absolutely. So the story goes that you helped a friend with some manual labor to rebuild a house, and in return your friend taught you how to code. Is that really how your career in tech started?

 [00:05:36] FN: Pretty much, like my career has been a series of, “I met somebody somewhere random.”

 [00:05:41] SY: You just meeting people. These are like really amazing people that you’re meeting.

 [00:05:44] FN: Yeah. And then they offer opportunities. And I think what makes my story unique, I think people meet other folks all the time. What makes my story unique is that I continue to say yes. And I had been trying to figure out how to get out of my career or at least out of my current job for about a year prior to me meeting this person on Facebook. I had done all the math. I sort of knew how much money I could live on if I just quit my job, but I wanted to have a plan for what I was going to do next, like what was I pivoting to. In this time, like the VP of Information Systems at the company where I was managing their billing department was like, “Hey, why don’t you come work for me?” So I went over and worked with him as a billing analyst. I migrated the finance department from Great Plains to NetSuite. I ran a bunch of database queries. I did a bunch of basically tech support for the finance department. And that was pretty fun, but it wasn’t quite as creative. I wasn’t really building tools for people. I was more like a help desk for them.

 [00:06:41] SY: Okay. Yeah. Yeah.

 [00:06:42] FN: And so I didn’t quite like fill the need, but I didn’t really know how to get into tech. I didn’t know how to get into software engineering. I had just read Tim Ferris’s 4-Hour Workweek and said, “Gosh, how do I do that?” And so I was introduced to a friend of a friend on Facebook because he worked in tech. And the proposition he made was he said, “Look, I am renovating a house in New Orleans that was destroyed by Katrina. We’re trying to restore it and turn it into a bookshop.” He’s like, “And you’re big and strong and you could probably haul lots of stuff around and I know that you’re interested in getting into tech and my day job is that I’m a freelance iOS engineer.” [00:07:23] SY: Nice!

 [00:07:24] FN: “So would you like to come down and help me with manual labor and I will teach you how to code?”

 [00:07:30] SY: Wow! That’s quite a deal.

 [00:07:32] FN: Yeah.

 [00:07:32] SY: How’d you feel about that?

 [00:07:34] FN: I thought about it for three days and then I said yes.

 [00:07:38] SY: What was going through your head in those three days? What were you debating?

 [00:07:41] FN: Well, I think at first, part of my thought process was people are going to think that I’m nuts. People are not going to understand this decision. But ultimately, this is a decision that I need to make for me and I need to take this path and sidebar to this, “Well, I’m working this job where I am at this job where I was at when I made this decision.” I had come out and I was being discriminated against at work, and I think I was drinking about a bottle of wine, because that was what I needed to self-medicate, to like come down from the stress of the workday. So it’s not like I left a job where I was pretty okay.

 [00:08:20] SY: You needed to get out of there.

 [00:08:22] FN: Yeah. I looked like I had all my shit together from the outside. Under the hood, I was really unhappy, I was really depressed. I knew that I was being treated very unfairly at work and it just took a big toll on my self-esteem and I knew I had to get out of there. I just didn’t know what was next. And I knew I didn’t want it to be in accounting, and I wasn’t sure that I had enough experience in the information systems department to do that next because in the early 2010s, we were all still under the assumption that you need to be at jobs for several years before anybody would take you seriously. Well, now I work at tech startups and that’s not the case at all. But back then, that was a real concern that you might have. And even if you’re thinking about getting into tech from another career path, you might still be holding onto that idea of, “Well, I have to be here for at least two years before I can leave.” Especially in tech startups, there are entire tech startups that came and went in two years. So I just don’t have those same expectations, right? You’re blinking, you missed it, like a small town on the interstate. I thought about what are people going to think, what is this going to do for me. But ultimately, my own needs had to win out because I knew on some level that I deserved to work a job that I found fulfilling and that let me do cool things and that there had to be more out there than what I knew in the town that I’d lived in for most of my 20s.

 [00:09:39] SY: So you learned to code from your friend, but I’m also just curious, how did it feel when you left that job, when you left that environment the next day, the next couple weeks, just knowing that you had left that toxic environment?

 [00:09:54] FN: I’m not even sure I had time to think about how I was feeling because my last day at my job was I think 48 hours before I was supposed to get on the road. So all I had time to do was say bye to people and pack because I didn’t want to waste any time. Once my last day of the job hit, then the clock starts on how long my savings is going to last. And then I got there and then realized exactly what I had gotten myself into, which is that when you renovate houses in New Orleans, you have to sleep in the house because otherwise people will steal your tools. So I slept on a cot in this like busted up house and we were cooking dinner on a camp stove for four months. I got there in the early October of 2014 and I ended up getting into Hack Reactor and going to the fourth remote cohort of Hack Reactor at a relative’s house in the beginning of February. So I was in New Orleans in this house from October through the end of January, like learning how to code.

 [00:10:54] SY: Yeah.

 [00:10:54] FN: In in fingerless gloves and probably in a sleeping bag in a camp chair.

 [00:10:59] SY: So you went from New Orleans to San Francisco, which is where Hack Reactor was. That’s quite a while away. How did you decide to do that? What made you decide to go from your friend teaching you how to code to a proper bootcamp?

 [00:11:13] FN: One of the other people who had invested in the house we were renovating in New Orleans was one of the co-founders of Hack Reactor. I think I met him at Thanksgiving that year and he was like, “Obviously, you should go to Hack Reactor.” He even helped me study, even though at least one point in time he led me down the complete wrong path and I spent several hours trying to fix a problem that wasn’t real, but that’s okay. That’s actually trading for the job.

 [00:11:35] SY: We’ll forgive him. That’s fine. Yeah, exactly, like it’s trading for the job.

 [00:11:39] FN: That’s the realest thing you could do while you’re learning how to code is go down the wrong rabbit hole for several hours.

 [00:11:44] SY: Yup. Yup.

 [00:11:45] FN: So I had this support from this new community of people that I had just met basically. I would not have been successful at any of this if it hadn’t been for the people around me, whether it was my roommate back in Virginia who helped me. It was the people that got me down to New Orleans, the people I met in New Orleans. And then at least one of those people was there in San Francisco when I got there for the last week of Hack Reactor. So I had warm introductions to staff, not just because I had been working with them online, but because I knew one of them in real life. And that really set the stage for me to make good inroads with the Hack Reactor community. One thing about me is that if I am introduced in a new space, I will get to know people really fast. I. Whatever you want to call it, the gift of gab or whatever, I’m a person who’s going to go in and talk to people and figure out where I fit in that community, how I contribute, but also who can help. Because when you’re getting your first job as a software engineer, and this was definitely true in 2015, but I think it’s also true now, you need help. You need support from other people. This is not a journey you’re going to go on by yourself, whether it’s the people that are helping you by reviewing your resume or the people that are helping you study for coding bootcamp or the people that are giving you intros to jobs at X, Y, Z company. You need all of those people. This is not a solo journey.

 [00:13:04] SY: It really does take a village and takes a whole community of people.

 [00:13:07] FN: It absolutely does. So when I got there, I was able to meet people and make connections and get all of the good advice, which I then acted on because when I got to San Francisco, I don’t know, I think I had like $600 in my pocket. I had a flight back to my relative’s house at the end of the month. I had 30 days to find a job and I found one. And I started to work like the beginning of the next month, but that was only happened because I met all these people, I talked to all these people, I took all their advice to heart and I just pounded the pavement.

 [00:13:41] SY: Yeah. Let’s dig into that. Let’s talk about that first job. You did Hack Reactor. You graduated. You found a first job within a month, which is absolutely bananas. Very impressive. Tell us about that experience. How did you get that first job?

 [00:13:54] FN: So the main thing that I will credit my being able to find a job so quickly to is the fact that I took the advice that Hack Reactor gave us, and I 5Xed it. They said to apply to at least two jobs a day or whatever they said. Maybe it was 10. I like quadrupled that and I did that. So my full-time job was job hunting. I applied to everywhere that seemed reasonable because when you’re getting your very first job out of a coding bootcamp, this is not when you find your dream job. This is when you find a job who will hire you as a junior engineer where you can learn a lot and get a wide variety of experiences so that then you could figure out what your dream job even is. Because even if you think you know what it is, you probably don’t because you don’t know enough about the industry and what people’s day-to-day is actually like to be able to answer that question. But furthermore, you just don’t have that much choice. And back then, we didn’t have a lot of choice because people didn’t take coding bootcamp grads as seriously. I was told by multiple places that they didn’t hire bootcamp grads because they didn’t believe that was a legitimate form of education. I’m an avid reader. I’m a person that watches college lectures for fun on the weekends. I can learn just about anything on my own. I’m like, “You really going to tell me that? Like I just learned how to code in fingerless gloves in 40-degree weather in a sleeping bag. Tell me this to my face.” So there were some negative reactions, but having applied to so many jobs, it gave me the opportunity to really practice how I went through some of these interviews so that by the time I actually got the phone screen and the rest of the interviews for the job, like one of the two or three jobs that I really wanted, I was really on my game because I had been through so many interviews previously. I think for me it worked out pretty exactly in like the funnel that Hack Reactor had described. I just put more things at the top of the funnel, but it’s something like you apply to a hundred jobs, you get maybe 20 phone screens. Maybe you get 10 on-sites out of that ultimately and then maybe you get one or two job offers. And I don’t know if the ratios on that are better or worse now.

 [00:15:57] SY: I think they’re worse.

 [00:15:59] FN: Yeah, I think they might be worse.

 [00:15:59] SY: I think they’re a lot worse now.

 [00:16:01] FN: But I did more than that, but it did end up being true that the job that I took was about my 10th onsite interview. And so by then, I had so much practice on a whiteboard because also back then we were doing whiteboarding interviews in real life. I was getting on the train in San Francisco and going to someone’s office and spending six hours at that company interviewing all day, which interviews don’t happen like that now, which is also really great because that’s pretty stressful to be in an environment where like you don’t know where to refill your water or where the bathroom is.

 [00:16:33] SY: That’s true.

 [00:16:34] FN: So you have to perform at the top of your game for six hours in a row. Exhausting. I like this remote world much, much better. So it’s all about like filling the funnel. And I think now, as a hiring manager now, as I’ve been a hiring manager for years at this point, it’s also about applying to the right places where they have the capacity to bring on a junior engineer. And there’s two reasons for this. It’s not just having your resume thrown out because you clearly don’t have enough experience to do the job, but it’s also going somewhere where you’re going to be supported, where you’re going to have a mentor on somebody to coach you. I think one of the reasons why so many startups say, “Well, we don’t want to hire junior engineers,” is because they don’t have the capacity to coach or mentor people. And I think the correct way for hiring managers to think about junior engineers now is an investment in the future, not just in the junior engineer, but in your senior engineers who need to learn how to mentor. So it’s a little bit more of a bigger company play, a more established company play rather than a startup where you need somebody to be submitting PRs within 48 hours, or whatever crazy places we’ve all worked I’m sure. Choosing the right place and applying to jobs where you’re more likely to actually get the callback is probably a higher priority now than it was back in 2015 because I definitely just like applied literally anywhere and everywhere and I don’t know if that approach would work now or if there are places that would just like toss your resume out because they’re looking for a certain number of years of experience. It’s hard. And this industry fully disrespects junior software engineers as far as I’m concerned. We need to do better. We wonder why we can’t hire more seniors. And I’m like, “Have you thought that maybe it’s because you’re not making enough of them?” There’s a supply and demand side of this, and it’s not just about encouraging people to get into coding in high school. You have to have a plan for how to hire people that don’t have any experience on the job and train them to do the job. And as an industry, we are failing in that right now.

 [00:18:40] SY: Absolutely, a hundred percent agree. I’m also wondering how as a junior developer or an early career developer you are able to even identify what companies are worth applying to, because at this point people are applying to hundreds of companies, right? I mean, it’s so hard to get an onsite. It’s so hard to get an interview or even get a response, even if it’s a rejection. I feel like ghosting is just way, way too common. It’s really sad how it’s just the norm in business communication inside and outside of hiring. But how do you kind of decide if it’s worth the time? Because my thinking is you should apply to as many as you can, but at the same time, I feel like every application takes a little bit of a mental toll, it’s yet another company that you tried and didn’t hear back from. If you didn’t hear backwards, it’s yet another company that you tried and got rejected from. And I almost don’t want you to burn your ammo. I don’t want you to use up all your gas on companies that never really, “We’re going to give you a chance anyway.” So how do you balance out applying to a high number because it is unfortunately a number’s game, but not wasting that ammo that you have, that limited supply that you have?

 [00:19:55] FN: Yeah. It’s a great question. And my advice to people in the market right now is to try to focus on roles where they’re looking for an associate or a junior or there’s all kinds of words that people use to describe that. Or when you’re looking through jobs, if they clearly say that you need at least three years of experience, you probably want to skip that job. And if they say they’re looking for like three to five, they’re looking for someone who is either close to or at senior engineering level. I don’t love the years of experience as a measure of whether someone’s qualified to do a job because tech is a very diverse industry, and just because you spent time in one company for three years doesn’t mean you have the same type of experience as someone at another company for three years. But that is the benchmark that a lot of people are using and so we might as well use it because it exists on just about every job description. So I would look for things where they are not making a lot of noise about looking for someone who’s really experienced. On the hiring manager’s side, basically every time that I post jobs or that I have posted jobs in the last couple years, even if I’ve clearly said that I’m looking for a senior role, I still get a bunch of new bootcamp grads and it kind of breaks my heart because I can’t interview you. I can’t use my time like that, but the minute that I am in a capacity where I can hire a mid-level or a junior because for my own self, I believe that as a hiring manager, it is in my best interest fiscally to hire the lowest skill level person for the job that I can in most cases. There are exceptions to this. But if it’s a role where I could hire a mid, but also I could hire a senior, I will try to hire a mid because there are more of them and they get fewer opportunities, whereas senior engineers have a ton of opportunities and there are way fewer of them. And it’s hard to hire for that first job if you don’t have the proper mentoring structure. I would also maybe stay away from early stage startups because those companies are more likely to just say no outright because they don’t have any mentoring capacity. So the bigger companies are better. And there are like some folks that are doing really good work, like Veni at Diversify Tech, who will have lists of jobs that are specifically for junior engineers, which is a super valuable resource. She does an incredible job. So there are lists like that out there as well. But in terms of just like being out there on Indeed or on hired or something, well, I guess hired sort of matches you with people, but if you’re on search engines like Indeed or other job engines, I would use the number of years’ experience to sort of weed out ones that aren’t going to be a good use of your time. And if you think it’s like 50-50 and they want you to do a cover letter, just say no. I don’t know why anyone’s asking for cover letters anymore. It doesn’t provide a ton of value. It just creates extra friction, and I don’t think that it’s benefiting the way the hiring managers think it’s benefiting.

 [00:22:51] SY: What’s really sad about cover letters is I feel like there’s so much potential in a cover letter. But the way we have taught people to write and read cover letters makes it a waste of time. It’s so formulaic and it’s just, “Oh, input, three bullet points here,” and they all start the same and end the same. But there’s so much potential in this idea of writing a letter to the hiring manager, right? Of saying like, “Let me tell you how amazing I am.” Theoretically, it has a lot of power, but I feel like the way it’s actually used and the way it’s written, it’s not as helpful as it could be.

 [00:23:24] FN: I completely. In a role a couple years ago, I hired an engineer who had sent me a Twitter DM listing all the reasons why he was a great fit for the company, and he was a hundred percent correct. I would hire him at any company I have ever worked at since and probably will in the future. He was incredible. And that was an example of like a cover letter gone, right? But he was able to direct it to me, not through recruiting, and hit on all of the values that we were trying to share in the job descriptions that I was sharing on Twitter. He was like, “I’m the right fit because of this, that, and the other.” And I love that, but I just don’t think that every company, I’m going to say something really spicy.

 [00:24:05] SY: Ooh, let’s do it.

 [00:24:08] FN: Every company doesn’t deserve a cover letter. Some of these are just jobs, and if you haven’t thought about how to infuse a value system or share some intangibles other than just, “We’re here to make money. What do people have to write a cover letter about?” I mean, I also think that every company is out here saying, “We hire above average talent.” And I want to ask them if they know what math is, because mathematically, that’s not possible for everyone to have above average talent. So maybe we should stop hating on average talent. Maybe average talent is still great and you should hire them.

 [00:24:45] SY: Yeah.

 [00:24:46] FN: That’s my hot take.

 [00:24:47] SY: I love your hot take. That was a really good hot take. Very solid.

 [MUSIC BREAK]

 [00:25:04] SY: So tell me about the first job that you had. I heard that you were one of the first engineers at SolarCity writing Golang. Is that right?

 [00:25:12] FN: Yes. Golang is such an interesting plot device in my life because…

 [00:25:18] SY: Okay, plot device. I love that for a programming language. That’s amazing. Elevated to a plot device.

 [00:25:24] FN: It just changed the trajectory of my career at multiple times. Python engineers look for Python jobs, especially closure developers only write closure or they murder you. Those are your only options. But for me, when I started writing Go at the very end of 2015, we actually were able to do it at a company hackathon, and the hackathon was so successful that one of the teams had been given permission to start writing Go in production. And I made a big play to move to that team and I was successful. But what it really did for me is when I was looking for my second job, I was looking at options and someone that I had met at Hack Reactor, one of the staff over there said, “You got to talk to this guy. He’s looking for a React dev. And I know you don’t want to do front-end programming, but it’s a remote job and it pays San Francisco money. And if you took that job, even if it was front end, you could still travel or do whatever these other things you want to do. So just talk to him.” And I said, “Okay,” because I’m a person that says yes to opportunities that are put in front of me. And I talked to the guy and he said, “I’m looking at your resume and actually I need a Golang developer to build me an accounting system in Go. I haven’t posted that job rec yet.” I don’t know if he interviewed anyone else. But I immediately went to go work for him and I built him that accounting system in Golang. And it was my first remote job and it let me do some traveling and it also let me really flex both my programming skills and my accounting skills because I was working directly with a payment processor called Recurly. So I was one of the maintainers of the very first Golang SDK for Recurly, which isn’t actually that huge of a deal, except that later when I interviewed an engineer who had worked at Recurly, he knew what I was talking about.

 [00:27:18] SY: Nice.

 [00:27:18] FN: It was just like a fun little like callback. And there was another job leader, actually, there were quite a couple of my other jobs where the language was Golang, and that gave me an advantage over my peers that were interviewing for that role because I’d been programming in it longer than they had because Golang wasn’t popular in 2015 like it is now. When I moved back to DC in early 2017, I went to a Golang meetup in DC and I said, “I’m going to find my people.” And I got in there and everyone looked at me and said, “You already write Go at work. How did you convince your boss?” [00:27:56] SY: Nice.

 [00:27:56] FN: And I said, “Well, I got the job because this is my programming language.” And they didn’t even know what to do with that information. I don’t think I went back. I was like, “I can’t help you convince your boss to do this. I’m not qualified to do that.” But it was just this really unique quality that I got to have and carry with me through my career. And it was an opportunity that was pretty random. I hadn’t done research on programming languages and said, “Go is the one. I’m going to do that.” No, it was just a thing I got to learn for a hackathon and then I got the opportunity to write it in production and I took that opportunity.

 [00:28:30] SY: I feel like that’s the theme of your life in this interview is like saying yes to opportunities, just taking opportunities when they come. That’s beautiful.

 [00:28:37] FN: It really is. I think especially type A people like me, we tend to want to control everything and say, “If my life goes like this, it’ll be perfect.” But my dreams had been dashed significantly once when I was 18 and everything else was sort of a blessing after that. Tech especially, this industry is so big and you will just miss out on opportunities if you are trying to be too specific about what it is you want to do. And you’ll eventually have the opportunity to have choice, right? Like the role I have now, this is the only company that I interviewed at. And I knew at the end of my interview process with them that they were a hundred percent the right fit for me. And I had choice in whether I wanted to take interviews with other companies or not, and I didn’t. And in my last couple rules, it’s come down to me being able to either go through direct intros to people being referred by employees or working with like a specialized recruiter, but it doesn’t start out like that. And when you start out, you just have to look for the cool opportunities that are in front of you, and you have to go where they are. And eventually, you’ll be able to have more orchestration over what you’re doing. I always knew I wanted to get into management and into leadership because there aren’t just systems of how we build tech. There are systems of how people work together, and I find that fascinating. But it takes a little while to get there. The example that I have used, like for a long time in my life is when you’re driving on an icy road and you start to skid, you turn into the skid. You don’t try to do something else violent with your car because you’re just going to end up fishtailing and maybe hitting a tree. So you just sort of ride it out for a little bit until your car corrects course. And I think that if you could do that in technology, you will be more successful, especially in the early years than someone else who is saying, “Well, this is a hundred percent what I want to do and I only want to do that, and I don’t want to do anything else.” If you just graduated coding bootcamp, you don’t know what language you want to program in. You haven’t seen enough of them yet. You don’t even necessarily know what industry you want to work in. And you’ll find that industry, depending on what you’re doing, might not even make a difference in your day-to-day life depending on what kind of code you’re writing.

 [00:30:44] SY: Very true.

 [00:30:44] FN: So you just got to take those opportunities as they come up and really lean into that because you never know what you’re going to find. That’s my main thing that I would tell anybody who’s looking at getting into code now, fresh grad or looking at going to bootcamps, is that you’ve got to be ready for a little while to just take opportunities as they come.

 [00:31:03] SY: How do you balance being open-minded, being flexible, taking opportunities where they come, but also being focused? Because I feel like a big problem that I see with people who are either getting into code for the first time, bootcamp grad, recent bootcamp grad, or looking for a job is they picked a programming language, maybe picked a framework, picked a stack, and now they’re like, “Oh my goodness! I’m seeing jobs in this other totally different area. Should I go learn that? Should I go apply to those jobs? I don’t have any experience in those jobs. Should I kind of start my learning over again and then give it another three to six months?” I see a lot of people feeling overwhelmed by the options because they kind of need to make decisions or trying to make decisions with very little data, very little information. So how do you balance this idea of being open and flexible with also being focused enough to not jump around and be overwhelmed?

 [00:32:00] FN: Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think the answer lies in looking at categories of things. So for example, when I went through Hack Reactor, we were not learning React yet. React was like brand new or maybe not even out yet, and we were learning Angular1. But at this point, if somebody said, “Well, I know React or I know Vue, or I know Angular 2,” unless I’m looking for like a staff level or above person who knows this framework inside and out specifically, I would assume that a similar number of years in level of experience in a similar framework is pretty equivalent. Because the browser still works the same way. Even on the backend, right? It might be Java, it might be Python, it might be TypeScript. It might be Golang, but there’s groupings of languages. And you might struggle if you’ve only ever written in JavaScript and Python and then you need to go to a strongly type language. You might struggle a little with that. But once you’ve learned a certain number of languages, they’re all sort of telling the same story anyway. And so I think that while it seems like the new hotness is where you got to go, especially on the front end, if you try to keep up, you will spend all of your time learning new things and not learning anything in depth. And so my advice would be, especially if you were job hunting for your first job, when you were job hunting for your first job, that is not the time for you to learn new frameworks. You should focus on the job hunt and then learn more deeply whatever framework the job you take does. It is always better to have an employer pay you to learn a new thing than to do it in your free time.

 [00:33:36] SY: Good point. Yeah. Yeah.

 [00:33:38] FN: And these things are comparable. Unless you’re looking for a super senior, highly specialized person, which is not the most common role that I’ve hired for as a hiring manager, it’s just not necessary. You might have to deal with some recruiters that don’t know what’s up from down in terms of them saying, “Well, you don’t have this experience. So therefore, you don’t get moved on.” But that’s their failure, not yours. I had a recruiter ask me one time if Golang was a new JavaScript framework. So here’s the other piece of advice that I will give to people that are new to the industry. Don’t take interviewing personally. People don’t know what they’re doing. Recruiters don’t understand the tech you’re talking about and they don’t necessarily know how to compare what you know versus what’s in their job description. Some of them do. Many of them don’t. And even when you’re getting into interviews, you might be interviewing with someone where this is the first time they’ve been asked to do a technical interview and they haven’t been coached. So even if you feel like you bombed something, that also might not be your fault. So don’t take any of that to heart. You keep doing the things that your mentors are telling you to do and you keep pushing through it, and you get a buddy for those days where you feel emotionally frustrated because it can be a really frustrating process. But otherwise, don’t take it personally because you might not have been the problem, and you are never going to know whether you were or not in most of these cases because there’s no feedback process for the company to tell you why they made certain decisions. It might be appropriate in some cases for you to give the company feedback. I have done this. IT’S usually when something happened that was so horrendous where I’m like, “You should be embarrassed.” [00:35:14] SY: You should know. Yeah.

 [00:35:15] FN: This happened to me, but for the most part, you don’t ever know what happens after the fact. So don’t take it personally. And with that, you should be prepared to explain to a recruiter why your experience is equivalent to what’s on the job description. And so just get comfortable educating recruiters because you might have to do that.

 [00:35:38] SY: That’s a really interesting skill, a really interesting skill. Coming up next, Frankie talks about learnings they took from their previous accounting career into their tech career and fills in the blanks to a few very important questions after this.

 [MUSIC BREAK]

 [00:36:04] SY: So I’m curious, when you look back on your career and you think back to your first career as an accountant, do you have any learnings that you took from your accounting career into your tech career?

 [00:36:16] FN: So many. So many in so many areas. Not the least of which is the fact that I am VP of engineering of a fintech startup right now where…

 [00:36:26] SY: True. Oh, so appropriate.

 [00:36:28] FN: My number one goal in the engineering team that I currently manage is to balance the books properly because we are a consumer finance product. So if we do nothing else, even if the colors are weird or a button’s a little sticky, the bottom line is that every customer’s balance needs to be correct. And that’s our number one goal. And having an accounting, like I have a bachelor’s in accounting, I worked in accounting and all of that stuff helps with a lot of things that lead up to this. But I think one of the biggest skills that I took away from my time in accounting, which might not be a skill that everyone in accounting takes away because I was still a more avid Microsoft Excel user than my peers in accounting, but I can parse through data really fast and I can reconcile things like bank statements or other kinds of statements very quickly. And this sort of data reconciliation isn’t a skill that a lot of software engineers pick up. Data scientists do. Data analysts do. Software engineers don’t. And sort of knowing how to pick apart some messy data and get information out of it has been extremely valuable in software engineering to either figure out how to parse it or even to be able to help reconcile things as they’re happening at work. But just being able to reason about a sheet of data is not a thing that every software engineer had to contend with, but it’s enormously valuable.

 [00:38:03] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Frankie, are you ready to fill in the blanks?

 [00:38:09] FN: Yes.

 [00:38:10] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

 [00:38:13] FN: The worst advice I ever received was from the CEO of a company that I was leaving. And after about six months of me telling them what things were wrong and asking them to please fix it and how what was going on in engineering didn’t align with what leadership was saying in big meetings, at the end of all that, six months of me trying to fix it and make changes. In my exit interview, this man says, “You know, I just want to give you this advice that next time, you know, don’t make leaving your first option.” [00:38:41] SY: Ooh!

 [00:38:46] FN: Yeah. That one just…

 [00:38:48] SY: I’m mad for you. I’m upset.

 [00:38:53] FN: Yeah, it was upsetting.

 [00:38:55] SY: Wow! Talk about not listening, not paying attention. Oh my goodness! Oh boy! Okay.

 [00:39:02] FN: Yeah, read the room, bro. Read the room.

 [00:39:04] SY: Wow! Okay. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

 [00:39:09] FN: Oh, this is probably a tough one. There’s been lots of good advice that I’ve received over the years, but every time that someone has reinforced that I should stay unique or do my own thing or dance to the beat of my own drum or make my own future in some creative, customized way or imagine a future that other people can’t exist, but that maybe I can make it exist. That advice has been given to me by a wide variety of people in a number of situations over the years and every time it has led to something good.

 [00:39:42] SY: I love that. I love that. Number three, my first coding project was about?

 [00:39:47] FN: I’m going to talk about my capstone project at Hack Reactor because that was the first real thing that I did that got put out into the world because it was an open source contribution.

 [00:39:57] SY: Oh, cool!

 [00:39:58] FN: It was a naive and really oversimplified solution to the problem, but it still sort of solved the problem, and it solved the problem enough that the people that made the framework invited us to talk at one of their meetups. My team built a SQL package for Meteor, which was a JavaScript framework. I don’t even know if it’s still around.

 [00:40:19] SY: I was just wondering about that because we had an episode about that like 10 years ago. I remember interviewing someone about that.

 [00:40:25] FN: Yeah. So they had a NoSQL package, but they didn’t have a SQL package. And I don’t remember the specific details, but it was something about needing to be able to recreate some things on the client before they got sent to the backend. There were some technical challenges and we built something that sort of did the job. I mean, I’m sure that it looked like something that a bunch of people that just learned how to program did because it was.

 [00:40:53] SY: Yeah.

 [00:40:54] FN: But we got free t-shirts and it was a fun project to talk about at the time.

 [00:40:58] SY: Nice! Very cool. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

 [00:41:05] FN: So we’ll take this back to when I was first figuring out how to program relational databases in high school. I wish that I knew that that was a job opportunity, that I could have leaned into, and that having a little bit of technical skill can turn into something bigger if you just know where to look and have the right set of opportunities.

 [00:41:25] SY: Absolutely.

 [00:41:25] FN: And that women can program too.

 [00:41:28] SY: Yes, women can program too.

 [00:41:29] FN: It’s not just for men.

 [00:41:32] SY: Well, thank you again so much for joining us, Frankie.

 [00:41:34] FN: Thank you so much. This is a lot of fun.

 [00:41:39] SY: You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, hello@codenewbie.org. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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