222: Evaluating Human Performance with Elyse Robinson

February 17th, 2021 · 50 mins 40 secs

About this Episode

02:05 - Elyse’s Superpower: Fearlessness

  • Moving to Mexico
  • Living in Mexico
  • Dual-Existing and Codeswitching
  • Elyse’s Podcast & Blog
  • A Day In The Life

19:41 - Auditor => IT Consultant

24:02 - Broken Interview Processes and Evaluating Human Performance


Damien: The ways that I can be fearless.

Arty: You only have one life. Don’t put limits on it.

Rein: Being intentional about making our networks more inclusive.

Elyse: There isn’t a pipeline problem in IT.

This episode was brought to you by @therubyrep of DevReps, LLC. To pledge your support and to join our awesome Slack community, visit patreon.com/greaterthancode

To make a one-time donation so that we can continue to bring you more content and transcripts like this, please do so at paypal.me/devreps. You will also get an invitation to our Slack community this way as well.


SPONSORED AD: Whether you're working on a personal project or managing enterprise infrastructure, you deserve simple, affordable, and accessible cloud computing solutions that allow you to take your project to the next level.

Simplify your cloud infrastructure with Linode's Linux virtual machines and develop, deploy, and scale your modern applications faster and easier.

Get started on Linode today with $100 in free credit for listeners of Greater Than Code. You can find all the details at linode.com/greaterthancode.

Linode has 11 global data centers and provides 24/7/365 human support with no tiers or hand-offs regardless of your plan size. In addition to shared and dedicated compute instances, you can use your $100 in credit on S3-compatible object storage, Managed Kubernetes, and more.

Visit linode.com/greaterthancode and click on the "Create Free Account" button to get started.

ARTY: Hi, everyone! Welcome to Episode 222 of Greater Than Code. Iím Artemis Starr and Iím here with my fabulous co-host, Rein Henrichs.

REIN: Thanks, Arty. Iím here with my co-host, Damien Burke.

DAMIEN: Thanks, Rein and Iím here with our guest, Elyse Robinson.

Elyse Robinson has been described as fearless. After losing her mother to blood cancer, she left America to mourn her mother in Mexico and decided to stay. Going into her 5th year of residing in Mexico, she is the Founder of NewsIn.IT and runs a blog, podcast, and a YouTube channel about her life in Mexico under ElyseRobinson.com.

Before becoming the fearless person Elyse is now, she was an auditor that kept the public safe and before COVID hit, an IT consultant in Mexico helping people understand the intricacies of the cloud.

You can find Elyse splitting her time between America and Mexico when she gets tired of tacos and Spanish, or Chick-Fil-A and English.†

Welcome to the show, Elyse.

ELYSE: Thank you.

DAMIEN: So you know the first thing we do on this show is ask every one of our guests the same question. So for you, Elyse, what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?

ELYSE: Fearlessness! Not many people would leave everything they know to go move to another country and then stay for almost 5 years. [chuckles] I tell people that closed mouths donít get fed. You have to put yourself out there for opportunities or else, theyíll just pass you by so I donít have an issue doing that.

Moving to a whole another country, not knowing anyone. Wanting to mourn, not knowing the language and not knowing the culture. Oh, that'll make you fearless all the way around. [laughs]

DAMIEN: Or the opposite. It could have had the exact opposite effect.

ELYSE: That's true. That's true. Because I know many people that have moved to another country and then they came right back and so. [chuckles]

REIN: What do you think made the difference for you in terms of staying versus leaving?

ELYSE: Everything just fell into place. I tell people all the time that I have not had a bad experience in Mexico; everything has been like roses and pearls, I guess. People are friendly. The food is good. I mean, I had a time of my life,

About a month and a half in, I called my father up and told him I wasn't coming back home daddy and he was like, ìOkay.î [laughs]

DAMIEN: Well, for my own benefit. What part of Mexico are you in that's so wonderful?

ELYSE: Well, I first had went to Mexico City, but I'm in MÈrida now. MÈrida is about, I live about 15 minutes from the ocean, which I can't even go to no more because of COVID. [laughs] But it's always hot. It's never cold.

But I mean, before COVID hit, I was supposed to go back to Mexico City, but Mexico City is one of the largest cities on earth. So it just didn't make sense to go back and be all up underneath all those people with COVID. Mexico City also gets cold so I didn't want to be in the cold either dealing with COVID since it affects your lungs, but I definitely recommend Mexico City if you ever go. Don't go to Cancun, go to Mexico City. [laughs]

REIN: So you couldn't have known this at the time, but you picked an interesting decade and interesting 5 years to move to Mexico with everything that's happened since.

ELYSE: Yeah. I mean, I meet all kinds of people that say they want to leave because of well, at the time it was Trump or because of racism, sexism, all the isms, or their job sucks, whatever.

But my reason for moving was totally different. I literally had to quit my life to take care of my mother and help out my family. So I had nothing left and it just, for whatever reason, I think by that time Trump had got elected. Yeah, I knew by then because I left in November and it was what it was at the time because people literally think that people move because they just hate their country and that wasn't my reasoning, so. I thought I was going to come back, but I just didn't.

ARTY: So this fearlessness, where do you think it comes from?

ELYSE: I have no idea. I don't know. I feel like at least my motto is that you only have one life and so, why are you putting limits on it? I try not to put limits on my life and I want to experience all the things, all the things and fear always puts limits on things. If I am fearful, I try to put that to the side and do what Iíve got to do.

DAMIEN: So one of the things that would scare me in the situation like youíre in is working in another country and in another language. Did you speak Spanish before you moved to Mexico? Do you speak Spanish in your work as an IT consultant? How did that work?

ELYSE: No. I knew like three words. I knew uno, dos, tres. [laughs] See, no.

It was funny because I got lost my very first night in Mexico City. You hear all the things about Mexico; the cartel, they're going to sex traffic you and cut your body up, steal kidneys, all that stuff. So I didn't talk to anyone and I literally walked around in my neighborhood for like 2 hours before I finally broke down and was like, I'm going to talk to someone, [chuckles] or at least try. So everything worked out because somebody helped me find my place and everything like that.

But no, when I became an IT consultant, I focused on real estate companies because real estate companies, they're usually bilingual, the people that work there and so I didn't have to know that much Spanish, But I ended up moving to Guatemala to get my Spanish down because Spanish classes in Mexico are ridiculously expensive for whatever reason.

Mexico is one of those places where if you don't know Spanish, they will find someone that knows enough English to help you. [laughs] So for the longest, I never even knew Spanish. I never knew because I didn't have to know it.

REIN: I've had this question on my mind, but it's kind of heavy so if you don't want to talk about it, that's totally fine.

ELYSE: Okay.

REIN: But what is it like for a Black American, a Black woman to leave America and to go to a country that doesn't have a history of slavery? If thatís comparable.

ELYSE: Uh, it actually does have a history of slavery.

REIN: Does it? Oh.

ELYSE: Yeah. There's this Black Mexicans that look just like me. So they do have a history of it, but they might have been the firstódon't quote me on that. They might have been the first to eliminate it, though but all of Central America, all of South America, they had it. Of course, America, Canada,

But living in Mexico as a Black American woman. Like I said, I haven't had any bad experiences. I know of other people that have, but they live in small towns. I have not lived in a small town. So small town minds, small town behavior. Not to stereotype, but that stereotype is there for a reason. So they think these things and they're just not true, but it's been wonderful. I have no complaints.

REIN: Yeah. I feel like I just put my foot in my mouth. I want to just mention that I'm aware of the history of colonialism in Latin America. I didn't mean to erase that. So I would like to apologize for doing that.

ELYSE: No, no. There's plenty. It's in Oaxaca area and Veracruz area is where the Black Mexicans live and a lot of them are just very dark skin and they have the Mexican features, but then there are some that look like me and my Auntie and my Uncle and everybody else. But yes, Mexico does have a history of slavery. Yes, they do.

REIN: I guess, my question is, is the impact today different? You mentioned that you haven't encountered as much racism. I guess, what I'm asking about is more of the structural conditions.

ELYSE: That does exist. I think it comes more so into play because I am an American and so, they're more so curious about that, but it also doesn't come into play because a lot of times people don't even think I'm an American. They might think, since I'm closer to Belize, depending on how good my Spanish is for the day, I'm Cuban. If my Spanish is not that good, then I'm Belizean. So it's a strange dynamic.

More so in Cancun area, they would automatically know that I'm American because Americans come through all the time, but in smaller areas, they're like, ìYou're Haitian,î ìYou're Jamaican,î because there's a lot of them there and unfortunately, they have a stereotype that we're poor. So it's a very interesting dynamic.

But when I first moved to Mexico City, one of the first people that I had run into when I got lost was a Haitian guy and so, Iím asking him about like, should I live here, should I stay, things like that. He was born in New Mexico and so he doesn't know anything else like I do, but he said that he loved it. One of the first people I met was a Black person so it kind of put me at ease more so, especially when you hear all these things about Mexico.

DAMIEN: Then not being in America for the Trump administration.


How did you feel about that?

ELYSE: Well, I actually came back very often. My father and my sister was getting tired of me because I would come back like every two months or so. So I came back very, very often and stayed probably like a month or so at a time.

I didn't work in America, of course and I didn't technically live here and funny enough, I'm back in the States now [laughs] for the holidays and I will be here until April because my sister is an essential healthcare worker and so, she took a travel contract. So I'm here, but I don't know. I guess, more so Mexicans wanted to know why Trump was the way that he was. So yeah, in the beginning I got a lot of flak about Trump and how crazy he was, but I definitely was in the States during Trump time a lot, I was.

REIN: You moved to Mexico, sort of, you just had to drop everything and move to Mexico and what was it like trying to pick things back up once you got there?

ELYSE: I mean, I don't know. I guess, I tell people all the time I live in a dual existence because in my house, I'm full English, but when I step out, I'm in full Spanish and it can be difficult to switch. When I come back home, I'm still saying, ìhola,î ìbuenos dios,î ìsi,î ìgraciasî and then I don't know, when I come back, though it's like an instant turn on. I don't know. It's pretty instant.

The only problem comes into play when I come backóhome, home is what I call itóbut that's really the only issues that I have is when I come back. Because if you're going months speaking another language and then you're only here for like a month or so, it's really different. But yeah, the dual existence gets difficult sometimes because I still do US things and I still live like an American and it gets to be a lot, a lot. [laughs]

REIN: Thereís like a whole new level of code switching now where it's not just different in English.

Do you have to code switch in Spanish, too? Like, are there different situations where you speak Spanish differently?

ELYSE: Oh, yeah. No, they think I'm a child a lot of times because I sound like a kid, I guess. [laughs] They think I'm a child! I went somewhere at one time and they were like, ìAre your parents going to come sign the papers?î I'm like, ìIím like over 30!î


So I think that kind of plays into it. I think I sound like a child and then I'm also skinny and Mexicans are not known to be skinny and I really look like a child when I cut all my hair off because sometimes, I'll go totally bald. So they probably think I'm some little African child or something. I don't know. I donít know. [laughs] But I get it a lot. I get a lot that I'm a child. They were giving me discounts on the bus and I'm like, ìWhy are they giving me discounts on the bus?î


They think I'm a child! So I don't know. I don't know, it's weird. [laughs]

DAMIEN: I also speak Spanish at the level of a small child.


So I can see that happening to me.

ELYSE: No, my voice sounds like a child too, though because when you learn another language, you don't sound the same when you speak your first language. Because I'm a part of a Black language group and I asked in the group, I'm like, ìHow does your voice down when you speak your other language?î and everybody's laughing because they don't sound the same. So I think I sound like a child when I talk. [laughs]

DAMIEN: Yeah. I know from watching Dora the Explorer, but I then start talking like Dora and that's not how I normally sound. [laughs]

ELYSE: Right, right, right. Well, yeah, itís very, very different.

ARTY: I was wondering what kind of stuff you talk about on your podcast and blog?

ELYSE: Ha! Whatever I feel like. Well, of course, recently I have been talking about COVID cause COVID has hit to Mexico very, very hard.

At one point, Mexico was number three on the list with the deaths and lastly, people are just ñ well, they're still coming, but people were steadily coming in the middle of the freaking pandemic and I'm just like, Iím oh my gosh, literally thousands of people were dying a day and people were like, ìI'm coming to Mexico because Mexico is like the only country in the whole wide world that's open!î So I'm like, ìWell you can catch the COVIDî [laughs] because I mean, if it was pretty bad in my little small town, I don't even want to know what it was like or is like in Cancun and Mexico City and the bigger citiesóPuerto Vallarta.

When I'm home, I don't go anywhere. I mean, I go to the bank because I still have to get my rent out because they're behind and I go to the spa because that keeps me sane. But other than that, I don't go anywhere.

ARTY: So like food wise, do you do groceries or what does your just day-to-day situation look like? What does a day in the life in Mexico like?

ELYSE: The food? Uh. Where I am now, I don't enjoy the food. It's one of the main reasons I need to get back to Mexico City is because it's a large city, they have everything you can think of. But big city life, this is one of the reasons why I love Mexico City so much is because I can live like an American and then I also don't have to live like in an American if I don't want to.

It was funny because when my sister and my nephew came to visit me, they were like, ìNo wonder you don't want to come back. You have all the American eats and you can do all the American things.î I mean, Mexico City has Six Flags. Mexico City has Cheesecake Factory, Red LobsteróRed Lobster is one of my favorites. I can just get all my American eats and be perfectly fine. That's why I say when I come back home, I get Chick-fil-A because we don't have Chick-Filet but yeah, lots of tacos.

But where I live at now, it's really weird because it's not real Mexico. I don't even consider it to be real Mexico because it's really heavy European dominance. So they have a lot of Italian restaurants and like steakhouses and stuff, it's really weird. I don't know.

REIN: Weird. In America, we don't really have the places where you just don't have a local cuisine so that's just the stuff that you eat, but I guess, in Mexico I would expect to go eat Mexican food a lot.

ELYSE: And I do, I do, but I mean, I'm still an American. We have the variety that other countries do not have and so, I still like my Indian, I still like my Thai, I still like my Vietnamese and that's to the point where I really want to come home is when I get tired of eating the same things all the time. [laughs]

But MÈrida is a weird city. I don't know. I don't even consider it to be real Mexico and honestly, if it was the first place that I moved to [laughs] because MÈrida is really big with especially the older expats because it's hot. It never gets cold. It's on the beach. So there's a lot of older expats that want to live there and come live there and so, I guess, maybe they might cater to them, but it's really an odd place. Like I've asked Mexicans, I'm like, ìWhere do you go to get tacos?î and they were like, ìWe don't do tacos, tacos will give you the runs.î I'm like, ìWhat?!î [laughs]

Meanwhile, when I was in Mexico City, I would step out my front door and there's all kinds of taco carts. Now MÈrida is ridiculously hotót can easily get 110óso there won't be taco carts on the street. But there should be some type of place where I can get decent tacos because I used to literally leave the house and just go to the taco cart and get six tacos and go back up to my house. [laughs]

DAMIEN: You described a very interesting way of transitioning to living in Mexico and not transitioning; some things changed and lot of things stay the same, especially when you're there in Mexico City.

But you did go from being an auditor to an IT consultant. How did that transition work?

ELYSE: Yeah, because people always ask me that. So I guess, when I was like 10 years old, I wanted to know how those websites worked because the internet was just getting started with dial-up and stuff. Showing my age, [chuckles] but I wanted to know how those websites worked and so I taught myself how to code.

Shout out to the very first website that taught me. It was Lissa Explains it All and it still exists and it was funny because I had sent the lady a message over a year ago and she just checked her messages and she was like, ìOh, thank you. It still exists.î She's the same age as me. I thanked her and told her I learned how to code because of you.

My parents actually thought something was wrong with me because I was 10 years old and I didn't go outside and play that summer. Like, I wanted to learn how to code so I did it and then I progressed to taking classes in high school and college, of course.

I won't sit up here and say that I did not get internships because I did, but they were government internships and so not stereotype, but it's true. [laughs] The government stagnates you because they don't get the latest and the greatest, they're slow, there's a bureaucracy and they're like 20, 30 years behind on so much things. So I wanted an internship and not necessarily Google or whatever, but even FedEx would have been fine. [laughs] I didn't find one so I was like, ìOkay, well, whatever, then I'll switch to accounting.î

Switched to accounting, accounting was good to me. They actually have entry-level positions and funny enough, I went and worked for the government, though so. [laughs] But it wasn't hard to find a position; they didn't make me jump through all these hoops and all this other kinds of stuffs. I stuck with accounting and became an auditor and then of course, life happened. And that was my next step to Mexico.

So then when I got to Mexico, I fell back on my IT skills. I learned about the cloud. One of the first things I built on the cloud was my podcast and so, I learned that on AWS, you can run a podcast for like pennies a month instead of paying Blubrry or something, I don't know how much it is, $25 a month or something like that. So yeah, I did that and then I built an email service on AWS, too. So instead of paying MailChimp $50 a month, it would be free or pennies for AWS to send hundreds of thousands of emails.

So I got interested in the cloud that way and then of course, Mexico [chuckles] is a third world countryóit might be second world now I'm not a 100% sure on thatóand so they're behind on a lot of things. I came with this idea that I was going to put them into the cloud. They like to use Facebook Marketplace and Facebook Pages to conduct business and my whole thing is if you're going to sell real estate to international people, are you going to look on Facebook Marketplace or Facebook Pages for property? [chuckles] No, you're going to want a website. So I built the websites on AWS using the cloud and then the databases in the background to pull the properties, depending on how big the real estate company was, and that's how I became an IT consultant.

To fall back on being a Black American in Mexico and starting your own thing, not to say that America doesn't have a lot of resources, but Mexico has tons of resources to get you started doing business in Mexico. [chuckles] And being Black also helps, too because everybody's curious about you, so. [laughs]

DAMIEN: So what I heard in that story was you ran into some really broken interview processes in tech so then you all went off and became an auditor and did that for X number of years and now that you're in Mexico doing your own consulting, it's different. You don't have to deal with the broken interview processes that we have in this industry.

ELYSE: Yeah. I have interviewed recently just to see [laughs] and at this point, I kind of want to come back for grad schools because I said, I need to quit playing around and do something with my life, but. [laughs]

So I have interviewed, and I don't know if it's gotten worse, but I see that it's really out there, and in comparison to audits and in comparison to say, the government process of interviewing, because I have interviewed at the government Level II for IT, it's really out there. I don't understand why.

REIN: What are the tech community is like that you've been a part of in Mexico, or how are they different from a bunch of white dudes with beards getting together in the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco?

ELYSE: One of the first people that I had met moving to my second apartment in Mexico City was a programmer. So I asked him about the process and everything and he's like, ìYeah, no one does that here.î So I don't think it's like as gatekeeped in Mexico because you'll see women working in all types of industries, going to work in their little business suits and things like that. [chuckles]

Not to say it's equal because sexism is really bad in Mexico. They've literally been having marches for the amount of sexism that that's been going on in Mexico. But you do see women working in these roles and I have not talked to a woman in IT, only males. So I guess, I'm kind of biased on this. [laughs]

DAMIEN: Can you talk a little bit about the difference between entering or interviewing in IT versus auditing or government?

ELYSE: Yeah. So Iíve interviewed at, I can't remember because it was so long ago, but I want to say it was KPMG. So I have interviewed at the big four and everything like that and of course, they do the are you a culture fit questions. It's more so on are you a culture fit, I guess. They're not asking you what is the difference between a debit and a credit [laughs] in accounting.

With IT, they're asking you what is the difference between a join and whatever else in SQL and to spit something off the top of my head like that, that's detrimental to my psyche. [laughs] Because I've done it for years, I might not know the name of it, because it doesn't matter if I've been doing it for years and I couldn't even see it at the entry-level point because they didn't even do that at the entry level point for me.

But the government process is very sterile because they're not supposed to be biased. They're supposed to give people with disabilities and women and minorities, equal opportunity. There is no video, usually. Everything's on the phone. There's probably no names on resumes and things like that. Like, they cut all that stuff out so there's no bias in the interview process because if your name is Hardeep, [laughs] you'll have some type of bias, potentially.

So the government process is very sterile and then they rate you. It's very different. There's no hoops to jump through because if I have a portfolio of work or I've been working for this employer, then you just basically need to check references at that point, I guess, instead of having me do a coding interview on something that I wouldn't know what it was beforehand; putting me on the spot.

DAMIEN: Yeah. I've definitely seen that the gotcha questions of testing esoteric tech knowledge, but I've been on the other side interviewing people and because of the way we managed to structure the interviews, I get to meet the people before looking at their resumes, which I prefer. But I'll do some pairing with the person and then go, ìWell, this person does not know how to write code,î and then ñ like just don't understand the concept of giving instructions to a computer and I go back and I look at their resume and find like 5 years senior software engineer at this company I've heard of.

ELYSE: So my question is though, do you think people are faking their portfolios, too? Because I mean, there's no portfolios and in accounting so it's basically their word against yours and like I said, you would check the references to be a 100% sure, but I guess, people can fake references at this point, too. But the background check comes into play because I've heard people say you need to do a video talking about yourself and then you have to have all these ñ you have to have ten projects, contribute to open source, and where does it end? [laughs]

REIN: My wife is an accountant, but she's in tax and I really don't understand how you would interview someone for that job because so much of it is looking stuff up all the time.

ELYSE: What type of process can we do to where people aren't spending 6 hours doing these interviews? [laughs]

REIN: I mean, the tax code is so big that no one can remember it, then it changes. It has changed a lot under Trump. How do you demonstrate expertise in reading and parsing the tax code? That's weird to me. I don't know how you do that.

ELYSE: That's why I said. More so I guess, it would be a culture fit because I'm trying to think back to one of my interviews for my auditor interviews, I don't recall them asking me any accounting questions. It was basically personality type questions like, do I want to work with you because every job, you're going to need some type of training to get up to speed and that's the other problem.

It was funny because I asked a lady yesterday, I worked for the government so I have clearance, I asked her, ìAre you filling these roles?î [laughs] She said, ìNo, these roles have been open for months,î and I said, ìI'm not trying to get in your business, but I was just curious.î She started stuttering like she wasn't prepared to answer that question and she's like, ìNo, they've been open for forever,î and I'm like, ìYeah, I know they are. That's why I'm askingî because number one, you're looking for a cloud engineer and number two, you're looking for somebody with a top secret clearance. That's probably like one out of a million people on this earth, a billion, too at this point. [laughs]

DAMIEN: Thatís an absolutely ridiculous requirement like, it's only reasonable, to hire somebody you think you can get clearance for and then work to get their clearance. To require that sort of thing in advance is absolutely ridiculous.

ELYSE: This is what I'm talking about and that's why I asked her because I get these things in my inbox all the timeócloud engineer with a clearanceóand they're like, ìYou need a top secret,î and I'm like, ìWhat's the chance of somebody having a top secret and is a cloud engineer and also knows enough about being in the cloud to fill your requirements?î Because like I said, the cloud is so vast number one, you would have to train someone on a lot of things and a top secret clearance? [laughs]

DAMIEN: That dovetails with the other thing you said, the question being in an interview, ìDo I want to work with this person?î and that's actually the final question I use when I'm done with an interview. It's like, ìDo I want to work with this person tomorrow? Do I want to work with them tomorrow? Are they capable of doing the job?î And by capable of doing the job, I don't mean they know everything right now because they've never worked here before. They sure donít know our code base. Also, things are going to change so can they learn?

So do I want to work with you and can you learn?

ELYSE: Yeah. Not to say that I want to hire somebody that knows nothing and then train them up, which at this point, that might be what you have to do especially when you want some obscure requirements.

But my thing is, can this person learn? Are they hungry? That's my whole thing. Are they capable of learning because some people are not capable; [laughs] they'll throw in the towel real, real quick. So can they figure out some things?

REIN: You know that thing I said about how accountants are always looking stuff up? Software engineers do that, too.

ELYSE: Oh yeah, I know they do and I do it all the time with my own projects. It's like, you're asking me the difference between debits and credits. I can give you a baseline, but at the end of the day, I'm going to look it up to make sure that I got it right. As long as I know it and understand it to an extent.

So those little questions on those things kind of insane and going back to what he said, people faking experience. Are you saying that people are faking their portfolios, too or do you not? Because that's the thing, people are saying do a portfolio, but no one has ever looked at mine. [laughs] Even as a contractor doing my own thing, no one has ever asked to see work that I've done before. They're like, ìOkay, well, she sounds good so we're going to hire her.î [laughs]

REIN: A lot of people that have worked at big companies don't have portfolios so they can just show people because it's not their work.

ELYSE: Yeah, and that's the other thing because I worked for the government and a lot of things that I did was secret so a lot of things I can't talk about. So it's like what am I supposed to say here? [laughs]

REIN: As far as I can tell, every industry is just really bad at this, but tech might be one of the worst at actually evaluating human beings.

ELYSE: Yeah, and like I said earlier, my sister's in health care and she recently just left to go on a contract to help out for COVID. So I'm asking her, I was like, ìWell, what did they do to see if you were qualified for the job?î She was like, ìWell, they just checked my license and they checked my references and that was it! î That was it. So it's crazy out here and I've had places where they were like, ìWe're going to do seven interviews.î Seven interviews for what?!

DAMIEN: The only way to know if a person is capable of doing the job is to do the job with them. To work with them over a course of weeks, months, years. So obviously, references are probably the best, but if you call up a stranger and say, ìHey, this person who used to work for you. Are they good at the job?î They're going to say yes or nothing because they risk litigation, otherwise.

I live in Hollywood, you see this in movies where directors, especially top named directors, work with the same cast over and over again because they've worked with that cast, they know how they work. Even not top named directors. If you go to a casting agent, you'll find that they bring in the same people over and over again and the same people get hired because somebody can say, ìOh yeah, I worked with them. They were great.î

ELYSE: Yeah. I understand where you're coming from. I do. But for a field that says there's such a shortage, [chuckles] such a shortage, it doesn't line up.

DAMIEN: That's the other half of it, too is I can take any reasonable human being and make them into an excellent software engineer. I've done it. Those weren't reasonably human beings; those people were awesome. [chuckles] But I think I can do it with reasonable people, too and I think a lot of our industry does not know how to do that. We don't. There's so much, especially in engineering management, they don't know how to make engineers better engineers or how to make people integrate engineers. So what are you going to do?

ELYSE: I don't know, but I guess, IT was started kind of funny. I was a little bit too young to really fully understand, but I know at one point they were just throwing money at the most stupidest things. Maybe that's why these ridiculous requirements have come about because accounting has been around since the beginning of time, medicine has been around since the beginning of time so that's my only thought on that. [laughs]

DAMIEN: Yeah. If you could just solve that problem for us real quick, just right here on the podcast, that'd be great.


Just go ahead and tell us what to do.

DAMIEN: Weíd all appreciate that.

ELYSE: I mean, interviewing like I said, at the government where they interview one time because everybody's already on the panel so they can get a feel for you because they're like, ìOkay, well you're going to interview with so-and-so,î and then the second interview, youíre going to interview with so-and-so, the third interview, you're going to interview with so-and-so. Can you just make it one whole thing so everyone can ask their questions, kind of like what we're doing right now and get it over with? [laughs] I mean, that's one of the first steps. [laughs]

REIN: If you look at like big companies like Google, they get so many applicants that they mostly just care about saying no to people. They mostly care about weeding out the people they don't want and they'd be happy to say no to people they do want; that's more important to them than saying yes to people. They would say no to someone they do want and say yes to someone they don't want because it's hard to fire people, which is good. But their hiring process is entirely built around saying no as quickly as possible and if Google can't do this with all of the resources they have, what hope do the rest of us have?

ARTY: I don't know how useful it is to compare ourselves to Google, though because the problem totally shifts. When you move away from a filtering problem and you turn things around, you've got an attraction problem then instead. I think a better way to frame it is to look at it as how can we put ourselves out there as a company such that we attract the right people that are likely to be a good fit for us?

Because you can get a whole bunch of the wrong people, but if you do a really good job at characterizing yourself, your company, your team, and things in a way that really shines and shows through what it is you're about and interested in and what your culture is about, then it makes it easier for the right people to find you.

But not have ridiculous requirements. I imagine this Venn diagram with cloud engineer and then top secret security clearance where you've got like this set up for, you can only talk to us if you're a unicorn. Instead of doing that, focus on the things that you really care about and then eliminate all of the impossible to fill the requirements and just focus on the competencies that are actually relevant instead.

ELYSE: Yeah. I mean, I don't know because every organization has some type of IT in it. So just like accounting, those probably are the two biggest fields where everybody is going to need it. It really needs to be fixed because everyone needs IT just like everyone needs accounting.

ARTY: To your point earlier, in talking about there's a shortage and a supply problem. If that's the problem to solve, then figuring out how we improve education and support and learning for people that are interested in those sorts of fields. How do we support mentorship kinds of opportunities so that you can get more help and support on your journey?

ELYSE: Oh no, there's plenty of programs out there. Plenty because I've done them. I've done them 2 years ago and I've done them now, but just like back then, I got discouraged with the process. I mean, if the process is ridiculous, it's going to turn a lot of people off and they're just going to go do something else. So that's another reason why it needs to be fixed.

I don't want people to go to school for computer science or whatever, and they don't know anything about this whole process, theyíve got to go through this hazing process, basically and they wasted their time because that literally could have been me, but I got smart on it and I switched to accounting. [laughs]

REIN: It seems like if the problem is that getting hired is a lot about who you know and that this is really discriminatory that on the one hand, you should change that by getting better at assessing human performance. But that seems like a really long-term plan that will take decades and so, maybe the thing to do in the short-term is to try to get more people those opportunities to be known and to be a part of that network.

ELYSE: Yeah. I don't know because like I said, there's all types of organizations and everything else to help, all of that. There's plenty of that. Where the problem comes into play is like I said, there's such a shortage then why are so many people just out of the loop? Because you can go all up and down Twitter and people are constantly complaining about it. Theyíre constantly complaining about it.

I haven't looked to see if there's anything else for accounting or any other field. But like I said, I did two fields alreadyóaccounting and medicineóand obviously, they're not like that, so.

REIN: It's really interesting. This is true about capitalism in general. There are a lot of jobs that need people and there are a lot of people that need jobs and it's not efficient at all.

ELYSE: Yeah, that's true. But again, I think part of the problem is we can go back to the cloud engineer and the security clearance. How many people on this earth actually have that? [laughs]

DAMIEN: Yeah. Theoretical efficiencies and capitalism are dependent on people being knowledgeable and rational to things that are not true about human beings, but we can improve that.

I love what Arty said about really finding the relevant things and the relevant thing is not you know what a credit or a debit is, you know the difference between a join and a left outer join. Honestly, if I'm hiring somebody, the relevant thing is, do I want to work with you? Are you a pleasure to work with? I can teach you all about IT; I can't teach you to care about your coworkers.

ELYSE: Right. [laughs] That is true.

DAMIEN: And if I'm dealing with classified material, I need to be able to get people clearances. If I can't do that, I'm ñ yeah, that's not a thing.

ELYSE: Yeah, and if you want to talk about the clearance trust. The trust factor, too. I mean, we don't want you out here selling the secrets and giving away credit card numbers and social security numbers. I don't know, but something needs to be fixed because yeah, I don't know and it's definitely not a pipeline problem. It's not a pipeline problem. I'm truly thinking it is the interview process.

REIN: Itís also maybe a little bit that the jobs people end up getting suck so much. There are a lot of toxic workplaces and people were treated really poorly.

ELYSE: Yeah. I mean, that's why I'm really open to remote work because you don't have to look at people, you don't have to deal with them, and a lot of IT jobs probably need to be a remote so you don't have to go into the office. Especially now.

I joke with my father that all the people that's causing all the issues right now are the extroverts. [laughs] Us introverts, we're fine sitting at home and not too much people interaction and stuff. It's all the extroverts.

I guess, to an extent, it's probably the extroverts that's doing the hiring process and things like that so they come up with these ridiculous procedures to put people through these hazing processes, too. Recently, I saw job bulletin, it was Scrum master and a Python developer and I'm like, ìA Python developer doesn't want to talk to people like that.î [laughs] We just want to sit behind the computer and code! We're not going to facilitate meetings and do Scrum. You're crazy. I've seen tons of positions like that and I'm just like, ìGone are the days where you could just not have too much people interaction and just code or do whatever in IT.î

So I think that might be a part of the problem, too becauseóI don't want to be stereotypical again, butóIT is for those that would just want to sit behind the computer and not really deal with people that much. So I think that's also a part of the problem. Extroverts are trying to get into IT and they probably shouldn't be. [laughs]

DAMIEN: So the thing that I'll be reflecting on is really, the ways that I can be fearless. The story Elyse told us felt to me like something had to be done, so she did it and if it has to be done and you do it because there's no room for fear and there's a lot of areas in my life where I have a lot of fear and it's not necessary, I don't have to have it. I could just do it. So I'm going to be reflecting on that.

ARTY: The thing I've been thinking about is when you said, ìYou only have one life, so why are you putting limits on it?î You think about all the limits we put on ourselves and all the things we don't do and you can kind of imagine yourself getting old and looking back at your life and like, ìWhy didn't I do that? Why was I so paralyzed by fear that I didn't take that chance? I didn't do that opportunity. I didn't pick up and move to a different country?î [chuckles]

There's so many things in life that we have the opportunity to see yet all those limits hold us back from experiencing those things and why? Why do we let fear grip us in that way, as opposed to really living and experiencing our life? I find it so inspiring that you just picked up and left everything you knew, and moved to a different country without knowing anyone, without having any friends there. You found some stranger that helped find your place, ended up creating work opportunity and stuff with drawing on your skills that you had to make a living, and making the whole thing work and that's so powerful, just to be able to do that.

ìYou only have one life, so why are you putting limits on it?î

REIN: I have a couple reflections by the first one is that I need to learn more about the history of the transatlantic slave trade outside of the United States so that I don't sound like a dipshit on my own podcast and the second one is that, I think that folks in tech, especially people who look like me, should be intentional about making our networks more inclusive. If that's how the world works, then I think that's what we need to do and also, itíll enrich your lives if you do that because you'll get to it hang out and talk to more people.

ELYSE: I will say that I don't think that there is a pipeline problem because I know tons of engineersówomen, Asian, Blackóand we're all minorities in IT and we're pumping through it and like I said, all over just on Twitter alone, there's all types of complaints about the process. Being from accounting was my ñ I don't want to see my original field but the field that I switched to after I found out that computer science was not as fair. There was none of these issues that I ran into.

So living in another country for years and just frolicking has changed my perspective on so many things and I hope that the IT industry officially gets it together because they're missing out so much, so much talent. So much talent.

Support Greater Than Code