In this episode, we talk about what it’s like to break into tech as a mother, with Arit Amana, software engineer at Forem. Arit talks about moving from WordPress freelancer to web developer, the challenges she has faced being a mother in tech, and her advice on how to level up and get promoted.
[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 it’s like to break into tech as a mother with Arit Amana, Software Engineer at Forem.
[00:00:19] AA: I was the only woman. I was the only parent on my team, and in the greater department, I was the only mother. So we had fathers, but I was the only mother.
[00:00:31] SY: If you have a question for Arit after listening, don’t miss the Ask Me Anything Session she’s hosting on the CodeNewbie Community Forum. Just head to community.codenewbie.org and you’ll find her thread on our home page and she’ll answer you directly in the comments. That’s community.codenewbie.org. In this episode, Arit talks about moving from WordPress freelancer to web developer, the challenges she’s faced being a mother in tech, and her advice on how to level up and get promoted after this.
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[00:02:08] SY: Thanks so much for being here.
[00:02:09] AA: Thank you. I’m so thrilled to be here. This is like surreal.
[00:02:14] SY: Oh, very cool. So you recently got a promotion from associate software engineer to software engineer at Forem. So congratulations.
[00:02:22] AA: Thank you.
[00:02:22] SY: That’s very exciting. So let’s start from the very beginning and talk about how you got into tech. How did you break in?
[00:02:30] AA: My father was a sales engineer. And so I was surrounded by technology. So in many ways I’ve kind of always been in tech, but I guess officially my journey breaking in started in 2018.
[00:02:46] SY: So what happened then? What got you interested in it? What got you introduced?
[00:02:51] AA: So before I started pursuing a career in tech, I was a freelancer. It allowed me to stay home with my children at first, my son, and then my daughter, and I implemented WordPress websites for small business owners, solo entrepreneurs, that level. And by implementing, I mean that I found a theme, installed a theme, and then found different plugins that did what my clients needed done or what they needed their websites to do. But I never got into the code. And so at some point, in my freelancing, I started getting clients with more complex requests that I couldn’t find the right combination of plugins to make happen. And so I then started to feel because then I would maybe search on the internet, Stack Overflow, or other sites, and I would hear about PHP and how, if I edit the functions of PHP file, then I could get this to happen and that to happen. And that was when I started to feel the disadvantage of not being able to code. And I felt like I was coming up against a roadblock in my freelancing career, so to speak. So that was when the idea first occurred to me that I could learn to code.
[00:04:14] SY: Tell me a little bit more about WordPress. I think most people are probably familiar just with the concept, but when it comes to WordPress as a coder, as someone who’s implementing it and building websites for it, what was that like and what kinds of things can you do with it?
[00:04:28] AA: Well, I got into WordPress when it was still majorly like a blogging platform.
[00:04:35] SY: Right. Right.
[00:04:35] AA: And so I started a blog for myself. I started a blog for some organizations that I was a part of in college. And so that was where I guess my WordPress love affair started. And then as WordPress grew and became the gigantic content management system or CMS that it is today, I began to learn other aspects of WordPress. You can still use it as a blog, but it’s really like a very rich CMS. You can have websites with it and then there’s this huge ecosystem of plugins that allow you to add different features and functionalities to the WordPress website that you’re building. And so that’s really what I capitalized upon, especially when I started freelancing officially. At first, you’re doing it like for friends or family or for like a couple bucks here and there, but eventually I ended up establishing a web development agency and having proposals and having pricing and kind of the whole nine. For example, one of my earliest clients was a massage therapist and she needed a way to accept clients through her website, create invoices through the website, get paid through the website. She just needed everything in one place. Right? And I was able to utilize a whole bunch of plugins to build out that functionality for her. And she literally went from managing her business on pen and paper to having this system. And that’s what excites me about tech. That’s what excites me about software engineering is the ability to improve lives, improve businesses, to make things easier, to make things more streamlined. That’s a lot of what I would do for my clients as a freelancer. It’s just streamlining their lives, streamlining their business processes.
[00:06:33] SY: So what are some of the limitations of WordPress? Because the things that you mentioned, paying bills and invoicing, frankly, that’s more than what I thought WordPress could do. I thought that was the kind of thing where like you had to switch over to “a proper coding framework” we’re to do.
[00:06:48] AA: Right.
[00:06:49] SY: So what can’t you do with WordPress? What are the limitations?
[00:06:52] AA: Well, I will speak from my experience. And so one of the biggest things that I experienced, like I said, I started having clients with more sophisticated and complex needs, is it’s very easy for your WordPress installation to get bloated.
[00:07:07] SY: Okay.
[00:07:07] AA: So that’s a big thing. And of course, when you’re dealing with bloat on a software level, then you’re talking about speed reductions. Your site becomes slower. It loads slower. And there’s different ways. I mean, there’s caching and other techniques that you can use to speed up your site, but that’s a big thing. And if you’re not careful, you can have a lot of duplication because some plugins do some things, some do others, and sometimes you may not be able to get the perfect combination of those plugins. And so then you end up with redundancies. That’s another thing that I also experienced. And so I need Plugin A to do A, B, C, but it only does A, C right. And so you might end up with redundancies as well.
[00:07:53] SY: So when you decided, “I think I need to learn some more complex tools and get into coding beyond WordPress,” how did you know where to start? What did you pick as a step one?
[00:08:08] AA: Well, step one for me was just Google. Right? So I just Googled it, learning how to code was one of my first. I actually remember the day I typed that query because I was pregnant with my daughter at the time. And yeah, I just typed that in. And of course, you get all these results. And so I just started sifting through them. And so pretty quickly I figured out that you have your free or your inexpensive resources online. You have courses. You have platforms like Udemy that have like a collection of courses. You have standalone courses that people have created. And so I figured that out, but then I also figured out that there’s bootcamps for them. I didn’t know. In my mind, I figured that if you want to learn a new skill, like in an organized fashion, you go back to school, find a college, find a university somewhere. Right? And so the whole bootcamp thing was brand new to me. I didn’t know that those existed. And so that was my first step. And then I figured I would use the free resources. I’m pregnant. I’m not looking to go back. Even the bootcamps that I found, now with the pandemic, a lot of things are remote, but back then you were like relocating to New York or San Francisco or Chicago, right in all of these. And so in my mind, that was like just not an option. And so I just focused on using free resources to kind of dig in and discover, “Is this something that I can do?”
[00:09:43] SY: What was it like emotionally to go through that time period? Because on the one hand, you already know WordPress, so you were probably somewhat technical with the tech stuff, but you’re also going on a new adventure. You’ve got your, was that the first kid or how many kids do you have?
[00:09:58] AA: That was the second. So I have my son and I was pregnant with my daughter. Yeah.
[00:10:03] SY: Right. Right. So you got that to deal with. What was it like emotionally? What were you going through?
[00:10:07] AA: Oh, well, on the one hand, I mean, anyone who’s been pregnant knows that’s like a whole world of emotions and physical changes and everything going on. So there was that, but then at the same time though, Saron, I was excited and I should say this because I like to identify where privilege has helped me in my journey. One huge privilege that I enjoyed at the time was my partner for the most part was paying all our bills. And so I wasn’t working. I didn’t have like a job-job. I had my freelancing agency, but I didn’t have a job-job. And at the time being pregnant, I wasn’t taking on any new clients. I was kind of winding things down after the delivery. Right? And so the privilege was having all this time, not having any responsibilities that kind of took my mental energies and things like that. And so I didn’t just have the time to delve into all these free resources, but I could get excited about it. And so on the one hand, yes, like being pregnant and still caring for my son, that was challenging. But at the same time, I really got excited when my HTML rendered or when the CSS did what I wanted it to do or the function worked, like those were the moments of just being super excited at gaining this new skill.
[00:11:42] SY: Age is a really big topic in the tech industry. Ageism is a huge thing. And you hear about all those stories of people who started when they were five, when they were 12. How old were you when you first got into coding?
[00:11:55] AA: I wrote my first line of actual code at 37.
[00:11:59] SY: What was that like for you? Was ageism something that you encountered? Was age an issue for you at all?
[00:12:05] AA: It’s an interesting question because at the time I think I was naïve.
[00:12:10] SY: That’s great.
[00:12:11] AA: Yes. And I'm grateful for that, because I feel like if I had all those thoughts and all those considerations, I may have just talked myself out of it. But I was naïve and I was ignorant. And thankfully, all my Google searching didn’t bring me across a whole lot of content around ageism and kind of all that. And so soon after I started using the free content and it was great, but I didn’t feel like I had direction, like I was learning all this stuff, but I didn’t feel like I had stuff to really show for it beyond a few code pens and things. And then I also felt isolated. I felt like I don’t have anyone to check my work. I don’t have anyone to tell me, like am I making progress or not? And so I started seeking a little bit more structure in my code learning process, and that’s when I considered bootcamp. And I only say that because when I did start bootcamp, my bootcamp paired you up with a mentor that you met with every week for the duration of the course. And my mentor was invaluable. We still talk till today. We’re still in each other’s lives. He was invaluable, Saron, in making me believe that I could do it.
[00:13:32] SY: Why?
[00:13:33] AA: So we met every week and I would bring whatever I was blocked on or like challenge I was having with the assignments or the project that we were building. He’s a great teacher, but he’s also very intuitive. He was able to say, “Okay, do you need to take a step back? What is frustrating you? Are you frustrated with the actual problem or are you frustrated that you’re not getting it?” And so I feel like he was very hands-on in his mentoring and he would give me feedback. He would be like, “You’re doing great. You are actually progressing at a very fast speed,” even though it doesn’t feel like it. And so the thing that he gave me, Saron, was a sense of efficacy. He made me believe that I’m actually learning this stuff. I’m actually doing well. I’m making progress. And so by the time I was getting around to all the content and like commentary and opinions about ageism and the realities of it, I was already hooked. It was almost like it couldn’t then turn me back at that point.
[00:14:38] SY: Tell me more about what your week look like. You had a meeting every week with your mentor. How did you spend the rest of your time learning?
[00:14:46] AA: Yes. So the bootcamp that I joined, it has since been acquired. It was called The Firehose Project. All the content was already preloaded and it was like a kind of a DRIP program. And so you would finish a module and then the second module would open up. And so that was one of the reasons why I chose that bootcamp was because I knew I didn’t want to do live classes because I never knew whether I would have sleep the night before. So at this time…
[00:15:15] SY: Flexibility.
[00:15:16] AA: Yes. And at this time, I had had my daughter and she was an infant. And so I had no clue what my days were going to look like. So I needed a hundred percent control over my lesson content and just the ability to go as fast or as slow as I needed. And I didn’t need the additional shame of falling behind my cohort and then having to join like a little cohort because I felt somewhat right. And so I thought about a lot before I chose the bootcamp that I did. And so pretty much my day to day was during the day, my daughter wasn’t a very good napper.
[00:15:54] SY: Oh, no!
[00:15:55] AA: Yeah. And so during the day, I prioritize just absorbing content. I wasn’t doing any coding, not even any typing because during the day it was just all about her and being with her, and of course, running the home and that my son was school age. And so he would go to school and then he would come back. And so during the day, I would watch videos. I would listen to content, watch content and just absorb. But then during the evenings, so one of the things that I prioritize as a mother was I prioritize sleep training my daughter, because I figured out that if I know that I can consistently get her down for the night, say around seven, then I could study from 7 to maybe 11 without interruption. So that was how I structured my day. And so during the day I’m just absorbing content, but then as soon as she went to bed and my son was old enough where after dinner he could just be on his own, then I would buckle down from 7:00 PM to like 11:00 or 11:30. When my daughter woke for her night feeding, that’s when I would code, that’s when I would work on projects and assignments, and that’s when I would do the deep focus work.
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[00:17:57] SY: Let’s get into that first job. Where was the first place you worked and how did you get that position?
[00:18:02] AA: I worked at Capterra. They were acquired by Gartner. And how I got the job was interesting. When I completed bootcamp, Capterra was one of the first places that I applied. One of their recruiters, who I’m still in touch with till today, she reached out to me with the position and the position was for a Rails developer, which was important because the only thing we learned in my bootcamp was Rails. That was it. We didn’t learn anything else. All my skills were in this one area. And so that dictated the types of jobs that I felt I could go for. And so she reached out to me and the process was a take-home challenge and then a phone conversation with someone from the department and then the final onsite interview. And everything went well. The take-home was crazy. I felt like I wouldn’t get it done, but then I finally did on the last day, and I didn’t even have time to refactor. I just sent it in. I was like, “Yeah, whatever.” And then the phone conversation was great. And then the in-person, that was about three hours long. And that went well as well, but I didn’t get the position. Yes. I heard back the next day and they were like, “Oh, we’re just not in a position to offer you the job right now.” It was like I said one of the first jobs I had applied to and just the fact that I got so far to get to the last round and then to be denied, that hurt. That really, really hurt.
[00:19:38] SY: Yeah. Did they say why?
[00:19:39] AA: So they were in the process of building out their engineering team. So they were in a place of like huge expansion as far as their engineering team. And so part of the reason why they didn’t offer me the position was coming in as a junior, I would need that mentoring and that oversight and they just felt like because they were hiring so much that that wouldn’t really be something that they could offer me. I did ask for feedback about my actual performance and there were like, “It was great. For the level that we were hiring for, you’re definitely skilled,” but it was that mentoring and that oversight that they felt couldn’t be provided, which was fine. I understood it at least on a mental level, but emotionally, I was gutted.
[00:20:28] SY: It’s tough.
[00:20:29] AA: Yes. Then I went through another five months of like interviewing everywhere and nothing sticking. And so several months after, I was actually in a place where I was planning on at least taking a break from applications and doing some freelancing work because I was feeling defeated and nothing was coming through and I felt like, “Let me go back to doing what I know how to do,” which was my freelance work. Right? And so I had made that decision and then the same recruiter called me and she was like, “We have another junior position open. Everyone that you met at the in-person last year, they all remember you.”
[00:21:17] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:21:17] AA: Yes. “And they would like to find out if you’re still on the market.” And I was like, “Yes, I am.” And so after I spoke with her, I just had one conversation with the department head who I met at the in-person and the conversation was more about, “Are you still interested? Are we still aligned on goals and things like that?” And so right after I spoke with him, I got the offer.
[00:21:43] SY: What was the process like for you? You said you were going through the interview process for five months. How many jobs did you apply to? What was that journey like? Walk me through that part of your career.
[00:21:56] AA: Yes. I applied to close to a hundred jobs from August through December of that year. And the job hunt for my first dev job was the most demoralizing part of my journey. And I say it with no shame and I just put it out there because it’s the truth. For me, it was the truth. Every rejection, whether it was at the first round, second round, final, out of the almost hundred that I applied to, I only had three final rounds. Majority of the jobs I was rejected at the first round. And every rejection just threatened to be an indictment on my ability. I just kept hearing that refrain in my mind, like, “What are you doing? You are stupid to think that you could do this.” I mean, people have degrees in computer science. When you talk about imposter syndrome, it was huge for me. But then I think people that ask like, “Okay, why did you keep going?” And I think one of the reasons I kept going was, first of all, I paid $6,000 for my bootcamp education. So a part of me was like, “That is not going to go to waste.” That was number one. And then in my mind, I was like, “I need to give it my all. If I’m going to quit, I need to know that I literally gave it every last drop of energy and strength.” And I felt like if I did that and it still didn’t work out for me, I could feel better about quitting and saying, “Okay, this career transition attempt didn’t work.”
[00:23:37] SY: What do you think made it so difficult? And you’re definitely not the first person, right? When we talk to people who are trying to get that first job, that first job is the hardest job. And luckily, it gets easier from there. And it’s taken people many months, sometimes a year or more to land that first job. What do you think it is that makes that first job hard, particularly in your situation?
[00:23:59] AA: Now as a mentor in this software engineering space, especially for early career devs, I realized that a lot of what made it more difficult for me to land my first job are things that early career devs can work on improving. I know for me, one of the things was not being able to communicate my skills, right? So I had this portfolio that I had built and I had this experience of bootcamp. But being able to talk about my work when I was asked about, say, for one of my projects where I implemented payment through the Stripe API, for example, just answering questions about that, I would falter because I had never thought about it on that level. I went through the project material. I built what they asked me to build. I followed the instructions. I built out the models, all the stuff, but I had never really thought about what I was building. And so I would go on interviews and I would get questions, like, “Why did you choose the Stripe API? Did you consider other payment gateways and other payment methods?” Just on surface, very basic questions, but I had just never thought about my work on that level. In my mind, it was enough that I had banged out the project.
[00:25:27] SY: Done it. Yeah.
[00:25:27] AA: Yes.
[00:25:28] SY: Yeah.
[00:25:29] AA: Yeah. It’s one of things that as a mentor now, especially through my nonprofit, Our Time For Tech, is I try to encourage early career devs to go beyond the surface and really think about what you’re building and how you’re building and why are you choosing that approach for that function or that feature, and really give yourself the opportunity to think about it so that you can communicate more effectively because you may have the skill, but if you can’t communicate effectively, then you appear to not have the skill, which is unfortunate. Right?
[00:26:11] SY: Right. Absolutely.
[00:26:11] AA: But I would say that was one of the things that I learned from my experience was just being able to speak convincingly and intelligently about the work that I had done at my interviews.
[00:26:26] SY: So what were some things that you liked about that first job? Maybe things that didn’t work out for you? What was that first job like? What was that experience?
[00:26:34] AA: It was great.
[00:26:35] SY: Oh, good!
[00:26:36] AA: I mean, first of all, just the fact that I was working, Saron, like I would go to work and be like, “Is this really happening?” Like, “I am getting paid to code.” I had great teammates. One of the things that I’ve learned not just as an engineer but in life in general is assume best intentions. And I feel like my team was welcoming. They were willing to work with me. They were willing to slow down, explain things sometimes over and over. I have a dear friend. I met him at the job. He was one of the team leads. And the cool thing was most of the engineers would come in say around 9:30, 10:00 AM, but I would get in 8:00 because I had to leave at a certain time to pick up my children from daycare. And so I had bookends at both ends of my day. I didn’t have much flexibility around that. And so I would come in at 8:00 and he would also come in sometimes as early as 7:00 or 7:30.
[00:27:42] SY: Wow!
[00:27:42] AA: And so for a good hour or two hours every morning, it was just him and me. And so that turned into like this unofficial, like mentoring relationship because he was a team lead and so very skilled and very knowledgeable about all the code bases that we worked with. And so I would just use that time to ask him a bunch of questions and like pair on stuff that I was working on. And I was very weak in like database coding and queries and manipulation and things like that. And so we would sit together for that morning time and just work together and pair and talk about things and he would teach me different aspects of the code base. It was just amazing.
[00:28:27] SY: Oh, that’s great.
[00:28:28] AA: Yeah. I credit that with how I was able to level up in the time that I was there because I had that unofficial mentoring.
[00:28:38] SY: Anything you didn’t like about it?
[00:28:40] AA: Yeah. As far as what I didn’t like about the position, so at the time we had an engineering team of about maybe 30 engineers total, 25, 30, but we had our teams, which were smaller. So in my team of about eight engineers or seven engineers, I was the only woman.
[00:28:58] SY: Oh, wow!
[00:28:58] AA: I was the only parent on my team. And in the greater department, I was the only mother. So we have fathers, but I was the only mother. So for example, like I just mentioned, having to come in at a certain time so I could leave at a certain time to pick my children. And so I wasn’t able to stay on longer hours after office or after work events, and those events allow you to bond better with your team, get to know your team outside of work. I wasn’t able to attend any of those because you know of my family obligations. I also felt like just in terms of the day-to-day, so my daughter was going to daycare for the first time in her life. And as any mother would tell you, those first couple of months, they catch everything. And so every week it was some cold, some fever, like runny nose. And typically daycares, they’re not going to keep a sick child or a child with an active fever. And so I would get called out of work. I had to leave the office, come home, and we were not a remote company by any means. And so I could work from home, but I feel like the setup didn’t really support that.
[00:30:22] SY: Didn’t work. Yeah.
[00:30:22] AA: Right. And so I had a lot of that, the first three to four months of my being there. So that was challenging. And again, being a junior and being new at it, that only compounded my feelings of maybe isolation because when you have like an on-premise work environment, people working remotely are like an afterthought. Don’t take it personal necessarily, but you are an afterthought. And so I felt so out of the loop, when I would have to work from home because my children were sick.
[00:30:57] SY: Right.
[00:30:57] AA: And I don’t necessarily hold it against them, but they just don’t know. They’re single. They don’t have partners. They don’t have kids. And so everyone, I guess, does their best to accommodate, but I never felt a true kinship. I never felt like I had people on my team who really knew what it was like to balance a job like I was doing in a brand new field and also support and be there for your family.
[00:31:34] SY: What about the other fathers? Was there an opportunity to kind of bond and understand one another there?
[00:31:40] AA: In the beginning, and this is purely my opinion, from talking with them and getting to know them as I worked, I figured out that for many of them, their partners were home full-time.
[00:31:55] SY: Ah. Right.
[00:31:55] AA: Yes. So that was another dynamic that I didn’t anticipate. So they had partners that were home full-time. And so even though they were fathers, and I don’t mean to like overstep in any way, but even though they were fathers, they could function as single people. That’s what it felt like. They could stay and attend all the after work festivities because their partners were holding down the whole fort, whereas I needed to get home to get dinner going and to pick my children. And so yes, there were parents with me, but I didn’t feel like that sense of understanding between us. That came later when my team got a new team lead and he is a father, but his partner is also working full-time and their job I think wasn’t as flexible as his. And so a lot of the childcare and just the considerations around caring for the children also fell on him. So he was the first and the only person with whom I felt like, “You get this.” Yeah. A lot of our conversations were just about that whole aspect of balancing everything and having your plans and then waking up and your child has a raging fever.
[00:33:24] SY: Oh, yeah.
[00:33:25] AA: Yes. And he got it. He got it because that was his life. So toward the end of my time there, I did find that sense of understanding with him.
[00:33:35] SY: So it’s fascinating because, in many ways, you were the only woman on your team, the only black person on your team, the only mother in the new organization, but it sounds like it was being a mother that was most impactful in your journey. Is that fair to say?
[00:33:53] AA: Yes. It is. I was the only black female. We did have another black person. He was with the database, I guess, department. So he was a database engineer. Yes. But you’re right. While I respect, I mean, I applaud women for standing up and speaking about the biases and the negative experiences that they’ve had around issues like race and gender, in my particular experience, I had more challenges and difficulty around my mothering and my motherhood than my ethnicity or my agenda.
[00:34:46] SY: Coming up next, Arit talks about the toxicity and disadvantages of hustle culture after this.
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[00:35:56] SY: Tell me more about the narrative of the tech world and how that’s influenced you. We have this narrative of like always hustling. We got to eat, drink, and breathe code. And as we just discussed as a mother, you probably have other obligations and other things that you need to deal with. How has this narrative affected you?
[00:36:18] AA: You know, I will say this. If it came down to how many hours in your 24 that you spent on coding, I would not be where I am today. I really wouldn’t. Part of that narrative aggravates me. First of all, it contributes to imposter syndrome, I think in a major way, because then the conclusion or the next consideration, when you take that narrative is if I’m not doing all this stuff, if I’m not coding five or ten side projects in addition to whatever else I have going on, then it means I’m not good enough. And if I’m not good enough, then how do I level up in my career? How do I land that first job? Or how do I get a better job? I think it’s not helpful. I think there’s a lot of emphasis on quantity as opposed to quality and how much you are learning as opposed to just how much you’re cranking out. I don’t think it helps at all. I mean, you definitely have people who have the kind of lives and lifestyle that makes that possible that they can spend 18 hours a day coding. But what about everybody else for whom that isn’t the truth? Right? And so I think that narrative is also very exclusionary.
[00:37:45] SY: Yeah. And I think that I’ve definitely seen a push recently, maybe in the last year, I would say, and I think the pandemic kind of fueled this as well of this idea of self-care and being aware of burnout. And I’ve just seen a lot of tweets, especially from people who have really big followings, which is always encouraging, people who are doing very well in their field talking more about, “It’s okay if you don’t have a side project. It’s okay if you’re not coding all the time.” And I think we’re moving in the right direction. At least that’s my hope. I don’t know if you’re getting that sense too. But I feel like we’re moving in the direction of giving people permission to have a life outside of code. And I think specifically, and especially for mothers, dads, not just parents, but people who have dependents and people who have other people to take care of, I think that’s a much more inclusive environment for us to create.
[00:38:39] AA: Absolutely.
[00:38:40] SY: So let’s talk about Forem and specifically your journey going from associate software engineer to software engineer because the next big thing after that first job is that first promotion. So what was that promotion like for you?
[00:38:53] AA: Oh, it was great. So when I came to Forem, I do like to say when I applied to Forem, Saron. I don’t want to sound like I wasn’t serious, but I was happy where I was. I was happy enough where I was, but I had been involved with the Dev Community Project, the Open Source Project, and also I had moved my blogging from Medium to Dev.to. And so I also had an appreciation for what they were doing and what they were building. And so when the job opened, and I’m being completely honest, I applied just to see how far I would get because I had so much respect for their engineers. I had worked on the Open Source Project and they were very accommodating and welcoming, but also very brilliant. And so I was like, “I don’t even know if I’m going to get past the first couple of rounds.” So that was literally that was my intention. And as I got further in the process, I was like, “Oh, snap! Okay. This is shaping out to be not what I expected.” And so I kind of tightened myself up. I was like, “Okay, Arit, come on. You got to bring your A Game now.”
[00:40:04] SY: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:40:05] AA: And so that’s the truth about how I ended up at Forem. But Forem has been amazing. As far as the promotion, when I came in, I had conquered the first mountain, right? Like getting your first dev job after bootcamp or whatever. And so now my sights were on leveling up. Right? I want to get better. I want to be stronger. Technically, I want to deepen my skills. And so I came in with that mindset of I want to level up, I want to get better at what I do. And so I carried that with me through my first year at the company. And so at the time when I came in, one of the founders was my manager, but then at some point in the course of that year, they decided to appoint different men because the team just was growing explosively. And so it became untenable for a couple people to manage everyone, the way they had been doing it before. And so they kind of split things up and split people and appointed new managers. So my new manager, Vaidehi, you know her, of course, she and I talked about my goals and my aspirations and I made it clear that I really want to level up and I want to get better. I want to be strong technically. I really do. The reason I emphasize that, Saron, is because in my tech community engagement, I find that I love being an advocate in the tech space. I love mentoring and I love supporting people, especially later-in-life career changers like I am. But one thing that I observe is it’s easy to kind of be so deep into that aspect of your tech community engagement that technically you kind of level off. And I’ve seen that. I’ve observed that just in general. And so for me, I don’t want that. I know that I want to be really strong technically anyway. So I communicated that. And so Vaidehi, together with everyone else on the team, they created like a leveling document defining what sort of skills and competencies are expected at each level of the engineering ladder, so to speak. She and I talked about that and I was able to look and communicate, “Oh, I do this already. Oh, I could be doing more of that.” And so that gave me like a concrete rubric. And so just through my communications with her, one of the things that I told her was I needed her as my manager to also be my advocate and my sponsor. So not just a mentor, but I needed her to speak for me in the decision-making rules. And that was important to me. And thankfully, she took it to heart. And so when we spoke, the plan was at some point maybe toward the middle of this year or maybe toward the end of this year, I would be promoted. That was the goal. But she went into those decision-making rooms and came out and she was like, “You know, Arit, we believe that you’re already there through the way that you’ve been able to demonstrate through your work and your PRs and kind of what you’ve had going on.” And so that was nice. And so I got my promotion about at least six months ahead of schedule.
[00:43:36] SY: Wow!
[00:43:37] AA: Yeah.
[00:43:38] SY: So they said that you were ready. Did you feel like you were ready?
[00:43:43] AA: Ooh, I did not. I didn’t. I felt like I was close. That’s why the promotion was a surprise. I felt like I was close. In my mind, I’m like, “Okay, you need to do a year.”
[00:43:56] SY: Wow! So under a year.
[00:43:57] AA: Yes. And so in my mind, I’m like, “Oh, you need to do a year first.” I had all these milestones that I felt I needed to meet before I would be worthy of that.
[00:44:11] SY: So what do you think they saw in you, in your work that you didn’t see in yourself?
[00:44:18] AA: Well, I got a lot of feedback from Vaidehi and she solicited feedback about my work from other team members that I had worked with. And one of the things was just my tenacity. I mean, I am hungry to learn. And this has been a gift for me. I think in my career as a software engineer, I have been very deliberate, more soul than any other thing I worked at in my past. I’ve brought a level and I think it’s because I appreciate what I’ve accomplished is not as common. So I don’t take anything for granted. And so I’m just very deliberate and intentional about my work. And so I bring that to my work. I want to learn. I want to grow. One of the things that I got feedback on was my willingness to attempt hard things.
[00:45:15] SY: Oh, that’s big.
[00:45:15] AA: Just like not being so intimidated that I stay in comfort zone land. I’m willing to try this big ticket and fail at it and need rescuing. But in the process, when I say rescuing meaning like a more senior engineer coming in. But in that whole process, I learned something. In that whole process, I get exposed to something new. And for me, that’s the payoff. And so I really don’t care about the “failure”. It’s just the fact that I had a chance to flex my muscles and see what I can accomplish. Yeah.
[00:45:51] SY: So for people out there who have gotten their first job and have officially broken into the tech industry and are hoping to get a promotion some time, maybe some time this year, what advice do you have for them? What are some things that they can do to really get themselves well positioned for that?
[00:46:09] AA: I think the very first thing that I would say is you don’t assume that your goals and your aspirations are known by everyone. Do not assume that. Do not assume that. Just because you have a manager or they’re someone that you report to doesn’t mean that they are in tune with what you want for yourself. And so the first thing I would say is communicate. Spend some time thinking about what you want, what it will take to get there, and communicate that to your manager or whoever you report to. Hopefully, there’s some kind of leveling document at your place of work. And what I mean by that is a document that defines the skills and the competencies and the subject matter expertise that is expected at each level of the ladder where you work. Work off of that document. Have conversations with your manager about what you’ve already mastered and what you’re currently learning and what you’re yet to learn. And let that be a frequent topic of conversation. I’m not saying every single meeting, but let it be frequent enough in your meetings with your managers so that your aspirations are front and center in their minds. Yes.
[00:47:24] SY: Love that.
[00:47:25] AA: And then just being deliberate. As you work, look for opportunities where you can start to demonstrate those competencies that are expected at those higher levels. Keep track of your work. Even your tiny wins, keep track of everything. Because one thing I found in this tech industry is it’s nice to have people to speak for you and to advocate for you, but you are your ultimate advocate. You are the best person to speak up for yourself. And so just find that empowerment. Empower yourself to put yourself on people’s radar and be ready for the attention. That’s another thing too. When you put yourself on someone’s radar for like promotion or advancement, now the spotlight is on you. And so be comfortable with that and embrace that and be willing to be out there.
[00:48:25] SY: Now at the end of every episode, we ask our guests to fill in the blanks of some very important questions. Are you ready to fill in the blanks?
[00:48:32] AA: I am.
[00:48:33] SY: Number one, worst advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:48:37] AA: You have to be doing all the things to make it.
[00:48:43] SY: What are all the things? Tell me about that.
[00:48:45] AA: I can talk in the context of my journey into tech. You have to be learning. You have to be taking all the tutorials. You have to be building a hundred projects. You have to be active on the message boards. You have to be tweeting every day. You have to be cold emailing people and introducing yourself, like just all the things, and you have to do all of that to make it to succeed. I think that’s the worst because, first of all, it’s not true. And I think doing all the things actually increases the chances that you may not make it because you just end up burning yourself out and beginning to accept this belief that it’s harder than maybe it has to be.
[00:49:36] SY: Number two, best advice I’ve ever received is?
[00:49:39] AA: Turn your face failures into learning opportunities. I say that because I’ve tasted failure in my journey to where I am today. And there’s something about failure that could either turn you off or refine you. And I think it really depends on how you take it. I remember just the feelings of inadequacy and like not being enough in my job hunt for my first job. But I spoke with someone and she told me that rather than take every rejection as you’re not good enough and just leave it there, analyze your rejection. Why did they reject you? What can you learn from being rejected? Decide if it’s something worth pursuing to improve or if it’s not worth pursuing and just being more proactive. Take your failures and use them to improve, to refine yourself, refine your approach, tweak your approach, change your approach, but keep moving. Let the failure be a speed bump, not a wall.
[00:50:55] SY: Number three, my first coding project was about?
[00:50:59] AA: It was my first project in bootcamp. It was a quote generator. So it was built on Rails and the functionality was you could crowdsource quotes. And so anybody, you didn’t need an account. We had not gotten to user authentication yet. So anybody could submit a quote, the quote and their name, and then that went into the database. And then on the front end, if you click a button, new quote, new quote, and then it would select a quote randomly and just display it with the person’s name. Yes.
[00:51:33] SY: Very cool. Number four, one thing I wish I knew when I first started to code is?
[00:51:39] AA: Oh, the importance of networking. Oh, yes. If there’s anything, I wouldn’t change much about my journey, Saron, but if there’s one thing I could change, it would be just understanding the power of networking. When I was applying for my first dev job, I was just heating up the job boards. I didn’t email nobody. I didn’t tweet nobody. No, because in my mind, that was how you found a job. Right? You hit up indeed.com and you search and you apply. And that was all I was doing. And now that I’m in it, I realized the power of connections and the power of networking and the advantages that having someone already in the room can give you.
[00:52:25] SY: Absolutely. Thanks again for joining us, Arit.
[00:52:28] AA: Sure. This was fun. Thank you for having me.
[00:52:38] 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, firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us for our weekly Twitter chats. We’ve got our Wednesday chats at 9 P.M. Eastern Time and our weekly coding check-in every Sunday at 2 P.M. Eastern Time. For more info on the podcast, check out www.codenewbie.org/podcast. Thanks for listening. See you next week.
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