Alison quaglia

Alison Quaglia

Software Engineer Pinterest

Alison Quaglia is a full stack engineer with a passion for UX/UI, currently helping to bridge the gap between development and design at Pinterest. Prior to transitioning into tech, she earned a BA in Anthropology from NYU and spent over 10 years working in various creative industries in NYC including fashion magazines, photo shoots, product development, brand consulting and special events for clients like Showtime, Hulu and Wu-Tang Clan.


In this episode we talk about what being an apprentice engineer is like with Alison Quaglia, software engineer at Pinterest. Alison talks about switching careers into tech, landing an apprentice engineer role at Pinterest, what that apprenticeship looked like, and leveling up at Pinterest to software engineer.

Show Notes


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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 what being an apprentice engineer can be like with Alison Quaglia, Software Engineer at Pinterest.

[00:00:19] AQ: It’s just such a good feeling, too, because it’s like, “Wow, I was in your shoes. I was in that exact spot, not too long ago.” I remember all of those feelings and all of those things.

[00:00:29] SY: Alison talks about switching careers into tech, landing an apprentice engineer role at Pinterest, what that apprenticeship looked like and leveling up at Pinterest to software engineer after this.


[00:00:52] SY: Thanks so much for being here.

[00:00:53] AQ: Thanks for having me.

[00:00:54] SY: So you went from being an apprentice engineer at Pinterest to becoming a software engineer there, which sounds like an incredible opportunity. I just love this concept of apprenticing and apprenticeships. Before we get into the details of your apprenticeship, tell me how did it get started for you? Where was the start of your coding journey?

[00:01:15] AQ: I come from a very non-tech creative background. I actually studied anthropology back in college. And then throughout my professional career, I worked in fashion magazines and PR for years, doing photoshoots and working with designer clothing and accessories. I also worked as a freelance brand consultant with a bunch of small women-owned brands, including an ethical jewelry line made by Cambodian artisans that had a give back to fight human trafficking. I worked with natural skincare brands. I did special events for companies.

[00:01:47] SY: Oh my goodness! What an exciting life!

[00:01:50] AQ: Oh my God, it keeps going.

[00:01:52] SY: So cool!

[00:01:52] AQ: The last event that I did was actually with like Wu-Tang Clan.

[00:01:55] SY: Whoa!

[00:01:56] AQ: I was a celebrity babysitter for a moment.

[00:01:57] SY: Really?

[00:01:59] AQ: Oh yeah.

[00:01:59] SY: Are you allowed to say what celebrities?

[00:02:01] AQ: I won’t, no, but I will say that they were amazing and their child was also amazing.

[00:02:05] SY: Were they people we would know?

[00:02:07] AQ: Yes.

[00:02:08] SY: Ah! That’s so cool!

[00:02:09] AQ: But great experience, but lots of fun, random freelance and temp stuff.

[00:02:15] SY: Wow.

[00:02:15] AQ: And then the last full-time job that I had before switching into tech was doing global product development for a luxury fragrance company. So absolutely nothing relation to tech at all. So basically, I’ve been doing all this freelance and temp work and I kind of felt like a jack of all trades, but a master of none and also paying off my student loans at the same time. I really wanted to commit to something that was going to be more stable and something that paid well, where I could work remotely, where the jobs would be in high demand, hopefully involving some creativity and also hopefully something that I could apply those skills to causes that I care about. So my partner is actually also a creative turned software engineer, and he started suggesting that I should learn how to code or that I should at least make the switch into tech. And I was just so intimidated. I never pictured myself as a developer. I didn’t know many. I never saw developers that I felt like I could identify with in TV and in movies. And any time I looked at his code and stuff that he was working on, I was just like, “Oh my God! This looks like math. It’s super scary. I don’t know what that is. I don’t want to be a part of it.” I didn’t even think it was something that I could even do. So I kind of started dipping my toes into tech, through UX/UI. And I started studying that a bit, which felt like a really nice mix of my anthropology and arts background, merging with tech. So I was studying that and I really loved it. But then a friend of mine actually went to a coding bootcamp and she had also no tech experience and she just had a really great time. She found a really amazing high paying job really quickly afterwards. And that was really inspiring for me and made me wonder of like, “Oh, well, if she could do it, maybe it’s something I could do.”

[00:04:16] SY: Yeah.

[00:04:16] AQ: So yeah, I started playing around with freeCodeCamp and super simple HTML, CSS. And I found that it was really fun, but I felt like it was kind of igniting a part of my brain that I hadn’t really used much since high school, college and I really love to learn. So that was really exciting for me. I’m a huge nerd and love school. So I was like, “Oh, okay, well, maybe this is an option.” And considering at that point, either going down the path of UX/UI design or going down the path of learning to code, I started talking to different bootcamp grads and doing research. I visited some bootcamps. And kind of from talking to people, I found that a lot of people were saying that if you were a developer who could also design or vice versa that you were kind of a unicorn. And I was like, “Oh, I want to be a unicorn.”

[00:05:12] SY: Yeah. Who doesn’t want to be a unicorn?

[00:05:14] AQ: Right. I was like, “That sounds amazing.” So I applied and enrolled in an in-person 15-week intensive coding bootcamp. And that’s basically when I made the official switch.

[00:05:26] SY: Wow! Okay. So tell me a little bit more about the bootcamp decision, because one of the things that we’re so fortunate with these days compared to 10, 20 years ago is the number of cheap, free, flexible resources we have available to us. Right? What made you decide to ultimately do a bootcamp anyway?

[00:05:50] AQ: As I mentioned, I love being in school. I love being in a classroom and really having that sort of dedicated focus on learning. So when I’ve tried to just learn things completely on my own, I find it can get easy to get distracted or discouraged if you don’t understand something. The UX courses that I was actually doing before were totally felt self-paced remote. And there were so many times where I would have a question and then I couldn’t get an answer from somebody. And so then it slowed me down. I knew that enrolling in a bootcamp was going to be more money so it was a really big consideration for me. I actually made a whole spreadsheet, comparing all of the different bootcamps.

[00:06:38] SY: Yeah. Good for you.

[00:06:38] AQ: And the costs and the languages that you’ve learned and all sorts of things. And I really made sure to do my research and talk to a lot of people before committing to that decision. But ultimately, I felt like it was the best one for me because I really lucked out. I had an amazing cohort of people with me and going in every day and learning together was just so exciting and so valuable. And even being able to slide over a chair to someone and be like, “Oh, can you take a look at this?” Or like, “Oh yeah, I know what that is. I can help you there.”

[00:07:11] SY: Yeah.

[00:07:11] AQ: And sort of having that really collaborative learning environment was amazing and I think was really helpful for me.

[00:07:18] SY: When you look back on your journey of learning to code, from that first introduction to the online stuff, to the bootcamp, what was the most challenging part for you?

[00:07:28] AQ: I mean, honestly, everything was brand new.

[00:07:32] SY: Right. Fair. Yeah.

[00:07:33] AQ: You know, it was like learning all of these different languages and concepts. The bootcamp is very, very fast. You know, 15 weeks sounds like a long time, but it’s not when you’re learning Ruby, Rails, JavaScript, React, Redux, SQL, all of these things that were completely brand new. And I just remember feeling at the end of every day that my head was going to explode, like so much knowledge had been funneled into me every single day that it was a lot.

[00:08:07] SY: Yup.

[00:08:09] AQ: I think just in general, coming as a person who was coming from very non-tech background and experience and also I think that some people are very naturally inclined to a lot of these things. And we definitely had people in our cohort that picked stuff up immediately and they were like, “Oh yeah,” and they just hit the ground running. But I was always one of those people that it took me an extra minute. And I needed to reread something a few times or I had to work harder at it that didn’t come as naturally. So it was very challenging, but very rewarding because as you’re coding something and you do something and it works and that thing pops up or it does what you expected it to do, it’s like all of these tiny little wins compounding over and over like, “Oh, I did that.” “Oh, I’m learning.”

[00:08:57] SY: Yeah, absolutely. Everyday. I was definitely not one of those naturally inclined coders for sure. It was definitely like, “Okay. I got to think how to think.” I mean, luckily, I think in my bootcamp experience, most people were generally on the not naturally inclined group, but there were definitely a couple people that were very inclined and I was like, “Ugh, you jerks! How dare you get this faster than me?” But yes. I mean, I think that’s one of the good things about tech is it takes time, it takes patience, but I really do believe that anybody can learn it and just it not feeling natural is just part of the process and part of the experience. It kind of is what it is. So tell me about that apprentice engineering position. Tell me about how you heard about it at first. I don’t think there’s that many apprenticeships around or available periods. I’m curious how you came across it and how you ultimately found and landed that job.

[00:10:01] AQ: I mean, I started hearing about apprenticeships at different big name companies. I heard that Twitter had one and I think Asana and maybe Lyft and then found out afterwards that Pinterest actually had one too. And Pinterest has been one of my dream companies for many years.

[00:10:21] SY: Really? Cool.

[00:10:22] AQ: Oh yeah.

[00:10:22] SY: Oh, that’s awesome.

[00:10:23] AQ: I’ve used interest for so many years and it is such an incredible app.

[00:10:28] SY: It really is a good app.

[00:10:30] AQ: It’s amazing. I mean I use it for recipes probably more than anything. My partner and I have a van that is semi-converted. It’s like a camping van and stuff. So inspiration for that.

[00:10:42] SY: Oh cool!

[00:10:43] AQ: And home decor and all sorts of super fun things. So as soon as I heard about the apprenticeship at Pinterest, I was like, “Oh my God! Where do I apply?”

[00:10:53] SY: How did you end up landing it? What was the process for applying? What did that look like for you? The first step was like a take-home coding challenge that you did on your own. And so you had to submit that. And then from there, I think we had a one-on-one live coding interview with… at the time, it was like a third-party partner. And then we had a recruiter screen, like a chat with the program manager and then it went straight to the sort of final rounds and it was like four and a half hours of interviews with four different people doing… I think three out of four were live coding and then the other one was with a manager. So more just talking about projects you’ve worked on and your career up into that point and any other stuff there. It was such an incredible experience. And I just remember being so nervous.

[00:11:47] AQ: Yeah.

[00:11:48] SY: Especially before the final rounds and pacing around my apartment. The second I got into that interview, everyone was just so nice and so supportive. My cohort had 15 of us from all of the applicants. I understand it was very competitive, but I remember getting the phone call and just jumping around and doing a happy dance because I was so excited.

[00:12:14] AQ: Oh, wonderful! Oh, that’s so great. So I have to say I’m a little surprised at the intensity of the application and interview process because when I think of an apprentice, the assumption I’m making, and please tell me if this is incorrect, is that they don’t really know very much quite yet. Right? That’s kind of the point, right, is that you’re not quite ready for that first job. It’s the step before the first real official, full software position. And so I see it as kind of half learning, half training with some deliverables. And so I wouldn’t expect a position like that to include four hours of interviews and one-on-one coding sessions and kind of the stuff that you described. So tell me a little bit more about the expectations for an apprentice. When Pinterest is hiring for their cohort, what are they expecting of you and what level should you be at to be a good apprentice?

[00:13:17] AQ: For the Pinterest apprenticeship, we were really treated as full-time engineers from the beginning.

[00:13:22] SY: Okay. Cool.

[00:13:23] AQ: So we had a dedicated mentor, and obviously, we had our manager as well, but we were fully fledged members of the team just with the additional added support. So when I was an apprentice, I was working on features and projects that were seen by millions of users every day. And they really gave us a ton of responsibility and opportunity for impact from the beginning. So I think that even though we were all bootcamp grads, and it’s different for everyone, right?

[00:13:57] SY: Right.

[00:13:57] AQ: Because you have some people who are straight out of the bootcamp, have never had anything else before. You could also have people who went to a bootcamp and then stayed on for like a year to do the TA, help with the bootcamp, where they would kind of go through the whole thing again. So we had some people who did that. And then you might also have people who were self-taught and went a different route in that way. So I think they just wanted to make sure that everybody was sort of starting off at that same base level. And the level that you convert into after from your apprenticeship to full time is basically that of a new grad. So that could be someone coming out of their computer science degree, like from college likely with at least one or two internships under their belt. So yeah. So we were definitely held to a really high bar. But it was incredible in that way because there was also a ton of support. Obviously, they knew that we were coming in with a more limited amount of knowledge than other people, but that’s where our mentor really stepped in and my mentor was exceptional and we did technical deep dives every week.

[00:15:11] SY: Wow.

[00:15:12] AQ: And we had like at least two one on ones per week, but he was always available for questions or to walk me through things.

[00:15:19] SY: Tell me why you think they chose you. What do you think you did or what about your application stood out that made them choose you?

[00:15:27] AQ: I do think that there were a few things that I did differently during my job search process that were a bit more in traditional. Like for example, I wrote a lot of tech blogs, articles that I posted up on and I did a number of tech talks as well. And I think that those things were a bit more unique. Also, I think interview style is so different between everyone. I really value communication. So I think really talking through things and trying to work well with the interviewers, being clear about what I was trying to accomplish or what my thought process was behind everything that I was doing throughout the interview. I would think maybe those may have helped a little bit.

[00:16:14] SY: Yeah. I definitely think that all the extra code related, but not exactly coding stuff, at least in my career, has definitely made a difference, the speaking, writing, podcasting, all those other things definitely help you at least stand out. Tell me a little bit more broadly about your strategy for applying to jobs. You applied to the Pinterest position, but of course you can’t put all your eggs in one basket. So when you thought about getting that first paying gig, that first paying job, and you were trying to figure out what companies to apply for, how many to apply for, and you’re kind of putting together a plan, what went into that strategy for you?

[00:16:58] AQ: So I think that a lot of people come into the job hunt with like, “I need to apply to 200 postings per week,” or something like that. And they have like some number that they want to hit. But what I really tried to do was to target companies and roles that I was actually excited about. And I tried to target in that way so that I could really be most genuine about my excitement about that role. I mean, if you’re writing a cover letter and you’re like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do this thing that I’ve actually never wanted to do.” I feel like it comes across. If it doesn’t come across in writing, it might come up in the actual interview as well. And so I have a lot of companies that I was really passionate about or had heard good things about, or maybe it was a company that I had never heard of, but they had a really great mission that I aligned with. And that meant a lot to me or the role itself was really exciting. And I think that my strategy of sort of targeting those kinds of roles and opportunities that I could genuinely be passionate about. I think that probably came through on a number of them, at least like in cover letters or interviews and so on. And that actually worked out really well for me. I think I officially job hunted for like three and a half months. And I think in that time, I tallied it up and I only applied to 45 different roles.

[00:18:27] SY: Wow!

[00:18:28] AQ: And then there were a number that reached out to me directly.

[00:18:31] SY: So does that mean that there were 45 companies that you were excited and passionate to work at?

[00:18:37] AQ: Yeah. I mean, it was also roles, too.

[00:18:39] SY: Fair. Fair.

[00:18:39] AQ: So that was kind of a combination of like either roles or companies. And I think some of those jobs that I applied for were probably at the same company too. For example, if I saw Pinterest was hiring like an entry-level thing and an apprentice, I probably applied for both of them.


[00:19:15] SY: So one of the questions that we get a lot from people, especially more on the self-taught side, is how do I know that I’m ready to apply for a job? Right? How do I know that I’ve learned enough that I’m going to be successful? When am I ready to kind of put in that first submission? And so when you think about where you were when you started the job hunt journey, because when you applied to jobs, it’s a commitment. Like you said, it took you three months. I don’t how many hours that adds up to, but for a lot of people, finding, applying code interviews, like all that takes a good chunk of effort, energy, and focus. And so how did you decide when you were ready to take on that task?

[00:20:00] AQ: Yeah. I mean, honestly, job hunting can be a full-time job in itself.

[00:20:03] SY: Yep. Absolutely.

[00:20:04] AQ: I mean, I think especially coming out of a bootcamp, there’s so much that they don’t teach you. So I know with mine, they didn’t teach us data structures and algorithms and JavaScript fundamentals. And I started off with the rest of my cohort. We started doing these practice interviews and we really needed to focus on those JavaScript fundamentals and do a lot of self-learning before I felt ready to really start interviewing. So I did some Udemy courses and I read the Grokking Algorithms book and a bunch of other stuff. And I don’t think you ever really feel ready because I certainly didn’t and I still don’t even know because there’s always more to learn and there are always going to be questions that you don’t know the answer to. But I think that one thing I found was that the more that you practice, the easier it becomes and you do start to see some patterns about questions that are very, very similar. Essentially, they’re the same question, but they just have some little bit of wording tweak to them. Or you start to learn about different methods for solving different algorithms. So I think getting some basic knowledge, even if a person were to come out of a bootcamp, do a really good Udemy course or something on data structures and algorithms and read You Don’t Know JS, like the book, or something to kind of fill in some of those JavaScript fundamentals. I think even just those things you’re probably ready.

[00:21:42] SY: Yeah. I think I saw a tweet earlier this week that said software engineering is one of the only jobs where the interview is harder than the actual job and I was like, “Yeah.”

[00:21:56] AQ: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds right.

[00:21:58] SY: THAT sounds right. So you wrote a really great article called Into the Unknown: Advice for Breaking into the Tech Industry. And you talked about all the things that you did to be a desirable job candidate, which we kind of touched on, but also a successful developer afterwards and a successful developer today. Can you tell us a little bit about what some of those things are, what are some of the things that throughout your career, you’ve kind of carried with you, you continue to do to help make you a stronger candidate and build a solid career?

[00:22:31] AQ: You know, one thing I think has been really beneficial is joining communities and going to virtual meetups and conferences and making those connections with other, for me, like female developers in the community, has been such a valuable tool and an asset. I’ve made so many incredible friends and mentors that way. And there’s always people to ask questions to and to learn from and get advice. And I think that’s always great. I think even writing tech blogs and giving tech talks, I think that’s also super valuable. I think that it’s really important, especially when you’re in a position where you have secured a job and you do have some experience to kind of pay it forward for the next round of people and help however you can. So writing tech blogs, giving tech talks, helping to explain concepts maybe in ways that are a little bit easier to understand for people coming from non-tech backgrounds I think has been really helpful both for me as a learner and for me as someone trying to help others, just kind of focusing on paying it forward. Actually, since now, I’m no longer an apprentice. The next cohort of apprentices has started and what’s called a supplementor, which is like an additional mentor to two different apprentices.

[00:23:53] SY: Cool! Oh, neat. Oh, what a fun title, supplementor.

[00:23:57] AQ: Yeah.

[00:23:59] SY: It sounds very powerful.

[00:23:59] AQ: It’s really amazing.

[00:24:00] SY: Yeah.

[00:24:01] AQ: It’s just such a good feeling too, because it’s like, “Wow. I was in your shoes. I was in that exact spot not too long ago.” I remember all of those feelings and all of those things.

[00:24:12] SY: So let’s dig into the apprentice engineer program a little bit more. You touched on this a little bit, the 15 people. You had mentors. You had two one-on-ones. You were treated like software engineers. Tell me a little bit more about the logistics of the program. What did the day to day look like? What kind of problems were you solving? Was it independent? Were you pair programming? Give me a picture of what it was like.

[00:24:36] AQ: So it was completely different for all of us because the apprentices are spread out throughout the engineering organization.

[00:24:43] SY: Ah, I see.

[00:24:44] AQ: So a team actually needs to request to have an apprentice engineer join, which was something I really loved to do because I was like, “Oh, okay, they want me to be here. They’re not just like, “Oh, we got an apprentice. We have to deal with this.” I’m like, “Oh, no, I’m wanted, this is awesome.”

[00:24:59] SY: Right.

[00:25:00] AQ: So all of our day-to-days were completely different. But for mine personally, I was working and still am in the growth part of the organization. So I was doing some pair programming, like with my mentor here and there. But for the most part, it was independent. I worked on a whole bunch of features and I did some bug tickets and worked on experiments because we run a lot of experiments within the growth organization. So I would come up with ideas, present them to the team. Use data to opportunity size them. If all looked good, I would go ahead and launch these experiments and monitor them and put together project reviews and basically everything that the full-time engineers on my team were doing.

[00:25:47] SY: Wow.

[00:25:47] AQ: Just with that sort of additional cushion of support whenever needed.

[00:25:51] SY: And what team did you end up being delegated to?

[00:25:54] AQ: So I’m on logged-out product.

[00:25:56] SY: Okay.

[00:25:56] AQ: Basically focuses on the logged-out user experience when they come to Pinterest on the webpage or the phone or on desktop or tablet and so on.

[00:26:05] SY: Got you. So what happens after the apprenticeship? How many people ended up becoming full-time employees at Pinterest?

[00:26:12] AQ: So most of them did. So basically the way that it works is every quarter we would have a review cycle. And we would be looked at in regards to full-time engineering expectations and see if there were areas that we needed to work on or if we were meeting or exceeding any of those marks, and then the program went for up to a year. And you could convert to a full-time apprentice engineer, basically at the six-month mark, the nine-month mark or the 12-month. We were actually the first cohort during COVID. So it was the first time they were doing the program remotely, which was definitely interesting and new.

[00:26:55] SY: Sure. Yeah.

[00:26:55] AQ: And it would've been great to be in person for some of it, but it was still a great experience. And by the end of it, the vast majority of us converted and stayed on as full-time engineers.

[00:27:06] SY: And was that kind of the goal of the apprenticeship was to transfer everyone over to full time or was it kind of like Hunger Games style, only one of you survives kind of situation?

[00:27:18] AQ: Definitely not.

[00:27:19] SY: Okay.

[00:27:20] AQ: So with the apprentice program, every apprentice that they take on, they are able to hire that person.

[00:27:26] SY: Oh, that’s wonderful.

[00:27:27] AQ: Yeah. So if all of the apprentices meet the mark, then all of the apprentices will be hired to stay on. So yeah, definitely no Hunger Games style.

[00:27:37] SY: Tell me a little bit more about your mentor-mentee relationship. You mentioned a couple one on ones. How was that relationship structured and how did they help you succeed?

[00:27:50] AQ: My mentor was and still is incredible. And we would meet for one-on-ones twice a week, but sometimes more if we were going to pair program through something. He was also always available if I had a question, but he also was really great about giving me the space to learn and figure things out on my own as well. For example, if I ran into an issue and I wasn’t quite sure how to solve it, he might ask me some questions to sort of get me going to the right answer without giving me the right answer, which was really great.

[00:28:22] SY: Yeah, that’s awesome.

[00:28:24] AQ: And he was also really wonderful about giving candid feedback anywhere that I needed to work on to improve. He still continues to be such a great resource. I mean, I’ll still have one-on-ones with him here and there and just to chat or whatever else.

[00:28:39] SY: So tell me about how things evolved over the course of that year, in terms of task projects, responsibilities? How do things kind of grow and change over those 12 months?

[00:28:53] AQ: As the time went on, I mean, you could think of it kind of as like learning to ride a bicycle where you start off and you have training wheels and you’re all wobbly and maybe you’re like, “Don’t let go.” Like, “I’m scared.” And then eventually you get more confident and you get better and you’re taking on more things and then those training wheels eventually come off. But at the end, I don’t know, you’re like mountain biking down mountains or something.

[00:29:22] SY: Right. Right.

[00:29:23] AQ: You know, from day one, I had all of this responsibility and opportunity, but a lot more support. And then as time went on, I think the support was always there, but it was more removed like, “Okay, we’re here if you really need us, but let’s you do this on your own.” And I would continue working with other engineers on the team as well to learn from others, instead of just my mentor. So kind of branching out in that aspect as well. But yeah, it was very organic and my mentor and my manager too. My manager’s also incredible. They both really set me up for success and made sure all throughout the way that I was meeting, if not exceeding, the expectations throughout the entire process. So by the end of it, it’s like when I changed from apprentice to full time, it felt like there was barely any difference at all because at that point I had been working at the scope of a full-time engineer for at least the past three months. So it was a very easy transition from there.

[00:30:34] SY: Coming up next, Alison talks about the major difference between being an apprentice engineer versus a junior engineer and what her transition into full-blown software engineer was like after this.


[00:31:01] SY: So when I think about an apprentice engineer, the most comparable role I can think of is a junior engineer, right? Or an associate engineer, I guess, is maybe the other way of putting it. How do you see those roles as being different? If you had to compare what you did, I know that, of course, an apprentice means different things to different companies. When you think about your experience going down that path versus trying to find a junior or associate engineering level right away, what were the differences and the idea behind that decision?

[00:31:32] AQ: So I’ve never worked as a junior or associate engineer.

[00:31:35] SY: Fair. Yeah.

[00:31:35] AQ: But I would imagine that, at least in terms of Pinterest, it’s probably about the same. I don’t know what those roles have in terms of mentorship involved, but I would think one of the main differences would be that the apprenticeship doesn’t guarantee a position at the end of it.

[00:31:53] SY: Right. Right.

[00:31:54] AQ: You know, you’re guaranteed up to that year and you’re given all of these opportunities to meet these expectations and to convert to that full-time engineer position. But if for some reason you’re not meeting those goals or something happens and so on, you won’t be sort of guaranteed that job at the end of it. Whereas like an associate or junior engineer, I would imagine unless that that company has some sort of a timeline attached where there’s like that probationary period. So I would imagine that would probably be the biggest difference.

[00:32:26] SY: So you’ve become a mentor or as you put it a supplementor, now what has that experience been like? What do you kind of see in the cohort behind you and how you’ve been able to support and help them navigate this role?

[00:32:42] AQ: So a supplementor is a little bit different.

[00:32:44] SY: Okay.

[00:32:45] AQ: As an apprentice, you’d have your mentor who is on your team and they’re kind of by your side throughout the process, but then they also did this really great thing where they added something called supplementors, which is an engineer that is not on your team that is from some other part of the engineering organization that is meant to be an additional in any way. So it could be if you are stuck on something and you don’t want to go to your team or maybe they’re not available for whatever reason or advice, it could be something team related. It could be pretty much anything. It’s just sort of like an additional mentor to have in your pocket to help support you on the journey. So I am currently a supplementor to two different apprentice engineers and they’re both amazing. They just started. So I’m very excited for them. It’s been really amazing being on the other sort of side of the table, because as we talk about different things, different concerns or stresses or even this very common feeling of imposter syndrome, it’s so easy for me to be like, “Oh, yeah, absolutely.” I have been there. I am still often there. I’m happy to try to provide perspective from just the other side of the table and someone who converted so recently as well.

[00:34:12] SY: So now that you are a full-blown software engineer, tell me about what that transition has been like. What’s it been like going from an apprentice to the full on thing and how has that changed? What’s the difference there?

[00:34:27] AQ: You know, obviously, it’s nice that there are no quarterly reviews anymore and there’s no worry about, “Oh my gosh! At the end of the year, what if I don’t have a job?” That part’s gone. So that’s the biggest change. But yeah, I mean, in the day to day, I’m still doing all of the kind of work that I was doing before, just without that additional support system that’s built in. But of course, if I ever do have an issue or have a bug that I’m unsure had to work through, I have incredible support on my team between the other engineers and our team’s tech lead. There’s lots of support kind of always built in. So yeah, honestly, there hasn’t really been too much of a difference.

[00:35:10] SY: So obviously, apprenticeships are a really, really great opportunity for apprentices and for people breaking into tech, getting that first job, but what do you think is in it for the company? Because I imagine, the more early career you get, the more support you have to provide, the more mentorship, the more time, resources, et cetera. And the work then the deliverables you’re getting back isn’t necessarily going to be at the same ratio as a more experienced person. Right? So when you think about kind of Pinterest position, what do you think is the advantage? And do you think that more companies should have programs like this? How can it benefit them?

[00:35:52] AQ: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that every company that’s able to provide this sort of experience, even if it’s a smaller company and they can only take on one or two apprentices, I think it’s so beneficial for everyone involved because, as you mentioned, it’s a great leg up for the apprentices themselves. I mean, these are people who are aiming to change their career and transition into tech and to get this experience and. Some of the bigger companies, the name on your resume is just an immediate jump up. It’s not even a step up. It’s like a jump up. Right? So there is all of that. But on the company’s side, I think it’s so great because for one thing, it really helps to diversify the engineering organization. In terms of demographics, there’s a lot more variety in apprentices and people coming out of bootcamps for many different reasons. I mean, going to college and getting a computer science degree is not always available to everybody, whether that’s financially or other life circumstances. I mean, it takes a really long time and it’s a huge money commitment. I mean, I’m still paying off my student loans from college right now. It’s definitely a very big thing. So I think that diversifying the engineering organization is so important for so many reasons. And I think that it also brings a lot of fresh perspective because you have people who have had lives and careers before their apprenticeship, which means they’re going to have a very different take on things. They may look at a problem or look at a feature and say, “Oh, well, have you considered this?” Or, “What if you look at it this way?” And that can totally open up someone else’s eyes to like, “Oh, you’re right. I never would have thought about it that way.” So I think it makes the product better. I think it makes the company better. It makes it a more inclusive place for everyone, which is amazing. It does involve some commitment on the side of the organization from the get-go in terms of having that additional mentorship. But because, especially in the case of Pinterest, because they are holding us to that same standard as a full-time engineer coming in at that same level, as like a new grad level, at the end of the day, there shouldn’t really be any gap of ability or knowledge because we’ve gone through this process for a year. And hopefully, at the end of it, we’ve proven that and we’ve grown to the point that we can be considered at that same level as someone coming in from college. There’s always going to be some things that maybe a computer science grad knows that an apprentice doesn’t, but you can always learn. You can always learn technical skills. With tech, there’s always so much to learn, but I think having that positive attitude and that desire to learn and that excitement about the work that you’re doing I think that makes all the difference too.

[00:39:06] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Alison, are you ready to fill the blanks?

[00:39:13] AQ: Sure.

[00:39:14] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:39:18] AQ: I think it’s to wait to travel until after retirement.

[00:39:21] SY: Oh, interesting. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:39:23] AQ: Yeah. I was definitely told to wait to do all of that fun stuff, all the life adventures until afterwards, but I really believe that travel shapes who we are and how we see the world. It creates more empathy for others. I really think it’s so important to travel as much as possible. And the sooner, the better.

[00:39:42] SY: Such a good advice. Yeah.

[00:39:42] AQ: You know, as much as you’re able, even if it's within your state, even if it’s within your city. I mean, whatever you can do, there are so many ways to open your eyes to something new. So yeah. I would say that.

[00:39:54] SY: Absolutely. Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?

[00:39:59] AQ: Probably to learn how to code and to switch careers into tech. I mean, this decision honestly has completely reshaped my life and my entire life’s trajectory. I mean, I’m able to work remotely now. Just so many doors have opened up and I’m just incredibly grateful that I had someone in my life who nudged me in this direction because, honestly, I don’t think I would’ve come up with it on my own.

[00:40:25] SY: Number three, my first coding project was about?

[00:40:29] AQ: Okay, this one I love. It was a CLI app that was focused on dogs called Frankenmutt and users could create and save their own custom mutts or mixed dog breeds. And I just went totally into this. I created a whole bunch of custom ASCII dog art.

[00:40:50] SY: Wow.

[00:40:50] AQ: And added all of these like funny sound effects and animations to the point where I was literally working on this and laughing at my desk with headphones on.

[00:41:00] SY: That’s amazing.

[00:41:02] AQ: And I think it was like the most fun I’ve ever had building a project. And very fun fact, this project was somehow chosen for the GitHub Arctic Code Vault. So this ridiculous CLI app exists there, which I think is pretty amazing.

[00:41:21] SY: That is so cool. My favorite moments are when I am building something, usually it’s code, sometimes it’s design, that just makes me giggle. I’m just sitting in the corner at my computer, just giggling to myself. And no one gets it. It’s fine. But I’m just having a blast. I’m having the time of my life.

[00:41:40] AQ: Yeah.

[00:41:41] SY: And number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?

[00:41:45] AQ: That there’s just an amazing supportive community that exists out there for people learning how to code and especially for women in tech. So in all of my previous professional work experience, I’ve never encountered anything remotely like this and there are meetup groups and Facebook groups and Slack channels that are literally just filled to the brim with people willing to help each other and provide mentorship and lift each other up. And I just think that’s just like the most amazing thing. I really wish I knew about that from the beginning because I would’ve been in those from the get-go. And I think, honestly, that’s been one of the good things to come out of this whole COVID experience is that everything went virtual.

[00:42:28] SY: Yeah.

[00:42:28] AQ: I mean, you can attend Women Who Code meetings across the country, in another country even, like you don’t have to physically be somewhere to connect with others. So yeah, I wish I had started that from day one.

[00:42:42] SY: Thanks again so much for joining us, Alison.

[00:42:44] AQ: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

[00:42:52] SY: This show is produced and mixed by Levi Sharpe. You can reach out to us on Twitter at CodeNewbies or send me an email, For more info on the podcast, check out Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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