254: Transitioning Into Tech with Danielle Thompson
October 13th, 2021 · 51 mins 28 secs
About this Episode
01:17 - Danielle’s Superpower: Empathy & Communication
01:56 - Going From the Hospitality Industry => Tech
04:58 - Education Technology (EdTech)
- Disruption = Reinvention
07:18 - Anthropology + Tech / Working With People
- Anticipating Needs
10:25 - Making Education Fun + Inclusive
- Cultural Relevance
- Revamping Outdated Curriculum
- Connecting With Kids
16:18 - Transitioning Into Tech
27:57 - Resources
- Virtual Coffee
32:39 - @CodeSchoolQA / twitch.tv/thejonanshow
34:08 - The Streaming Revolution
- New Opportunities For Connection
- Hybrid Events
- Introvert Inclusive
- Reaching New Markets
39:45 - Making Tech Safe, Secure, and Protected
44:03 - Advice For New Devs: Work on Technical Things Sooner
Mandy: The secret in tech is that nobody knows what they’re doing!
Danielle: Ask questions and lean into community. Tech needs you.
Arty: Don’t be afraid to reach out to community members for help.
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ARTY: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Episode 254 of Greater Than Code. I am Arty Starr and I'm here with my fabulous co-host, Mandy Moore.
MANDY: Hey, everyone! It's Mandy Moore and I'm here with our guest today, Danielle Thompson.
Danielle is a newly minted software engineer working in the education technology sphere of the nonprofit world, after making a major career change from working in hospitality and events for many years. As a code school graduate herself, she loves to help demystify tech for others with non-traditional backgrounds and works to open doors into tech with her friends at Code School Q&A, weekly on Wednesday nights at around 7:00 PM Pacific at twitch.tv/thejonanshow.
Outside of work, she can typically be found with a nose buried in a book, hanging out with her doggo, and making delicious craft beverages.
Welcome to the show, Danielle!
DANIELLE: Thanks so much for having me, Mandy and Arty!
MANDY: Awesome. It's great for you to be here. So before we get into the meat of our conversation, we always ask our guests the standard question of what is your superpower and how did you acquire it?
DANIELLE: Totally. I think that my superpower is a combination of empathy and communication. I think I came by both pretty naturally—popped right out of my mom having both, I'm assuming. But both have definitely been amplified over the years by all sorts of experiences and hardships and just keep working to make them even more of a superpower.
MANDY: That's really great.
So I want to know about before we dive into your experiences as a new developer, I wanted to know about how you came into technology from your career change in hospitality, because I did the same thing.
I was a waitress when my daughter was born 10 years ago and I was working for about a year before I was able to walk out. It was Mother’s Day, my boss was being a complete jerk to me, and I was making enough money at that point that I just said, “You know what? I don't need this. I quit,” and I started my career in tech full-time. So I'm curious about your journey as well.
DANIELLE: Yeah. Obviously, COVID has happened in the last couple of years and that was one of the major factors in me getting to this point of leaving hospitality and getting into tech. But I had already kind of been thinking about what comes next. I've been a manager for a few years and was trying to figure out how else I could grow and what new things I can learn and challenge myself with. And outside of ownership, which is a major headache, there wasn't really much that I could push further into, within hospitality.
So when COVID happened and I lost my job because I was working as an events and bar manager for a local catering company, it was pretty obvious that things were not going to be coming back for the hospitality industry anytime soon and I needed to figure something else out then. And so, I started looking into different returning to education opportunities because I actually have an anthropology degree, of all helpful things that I could have gotten a degree in.
But I found a code school in Portland, Oregon and jumped on that within a few months of COVID hitting to the full-time track and connected with a number of my cohort mates that we started doing the Code School Q&A on Twitch with the director of developer relations at New Relic and have been doing that for almost a year now and have officially made it in the industry as a software developer, too in the last few months. So you can do it, you can get into tech. [laughs]
It's pretty funny, too because the type of job that I ended up getting is in education and technology sphere and I actually had a job in ed tech about a decade ago when I was still in college and had a remote job working with some family friends that got me hooked up with their company. And here I am doing something a little bit more in-depth technically than I was doing a decade ago, but it's funny how things come full circle.
ARTY: Well, education in particular is something that also really needs some reinvention and innovation and with all the disruption, where do you see that area going? Just curious.
DANIELLE: Yeah, absolutely. I feel that a lot of the changes that we've seen in COVID with remote work being such a prominent thing now and people wanting more balanced, more time with their family, more time with their critters, more time just not being miserable and commutes and stuff. I think that that's going to have a really long-term effect on how education happens and trying to make education more quality as well.
I think it's really rad what the company I do works for. Our whole mission is to work to make education in America more equitable. So we do that by working very hard to work with experts in the curriculum sphere that ensure that our curriculum materials are as inclusive and culturally relevant as possible, that they are representative of a large and diverse group of people, and they even do a ton of anti-racism work as well and work to embed that within our internal and external culture, as well as the products that we create.
So I hope that our company will continue to grow and make changes in the education world in America in general, because I think what we're doing is really, really, really important.
ARTY: Definitely important and with all the change and stuff happening, I'm expecting some new and cool and exciting things that do make things better. One of the upsides of lots of disruption is it's an opportunity for us to sit back and rethink how things could be.
ARTY: And one of the benefits of not being entrenched in the existing fields of the way things have been is it's also an opportunity to look at all the stuff we're doing with a fresh set of eyes from outside of that existing world and bring some new fresh insights to tech. Maybe my anthropology degree will come in handy in some different sorts of ways. I imagine some of those skills that you learned in that have some applicability in tech as well. Have you found your degree helpful in other ways?
DANIELLE: It's funny. I think I ended up using my anthropology degree as a bartender far more than I ever would have as an actual anthropologist. That whole study of humans thing is something that is directly translatable to working with people no matter what field you're in. I feel that both my anthropology degree and my many years of hospitality experience have all led to a specific skillset that is very different from a lot of people that come into tech with more traditional backgrounds especially folks that go to college and get computer science degrees, and then they go to the tech industry and that's all they've ever known.
I've known so many other experiences outside of that and my ability to think about what other people need and want, to be able to respond to that, and embed that in all of the work that I do as an engineer to really be thinking about the user and the people that are interacting with whatever I'm building and even just thinking about working on a team and how I have so many communication skills built up from what I've been doing for work in hospitality for many years. I think that it definitely gives me a very specific and unique way of moving through the world and way of being an engineer as well.
That anthropologist hat definitely comes into play sometimes thinking about like, “Oh, like how do all of these dots connect?” and like, “How does this change over time and how do you see people like doing things differently now?” It's a definitely a fun lens to carry with me.
MANDY: Yeah. Having been done hospitality, I'm just shaking my head because –
I know I've brought so many skills from being in that world for 10, 15 years at one point.
MANDY: Just the way you talk to people and interact with teams and anticipate what other people need before they even know what they need, that's definitely a skill.
DANIELLE: Yeah, definitely. I think that whole anticipating needs thing, too, it's like it can be both an internal and external benefit where you can think both about who you're building products for and also who you're building products with, and how best to communicate within teams, especially having management experience.
That is definitely at the forefront of my brain a lot of the time, but then also thinking about like, “How can I make the best experience for somebody else that's actually going to be using this? How can I make this easy and intuitive and fun?” Especially within education, have to make sure that things are fun and interesting targeting kids that are K-12; it has to be meaningful, impactful, interesting, and engaging.
MANDY: So how do you do that? What are some ways that you and your company make education fun for young kids?
DANIELLE: I think I'm still figuring that out. We have many curriculum products that I'm still just touching for the first time, or haven't even looked at it yet and so, there's lots of fun, new things to discover.
But I think the types of people that we bring on to work at my company, they're all experts in their field and renowned for the work that they do and so, I think that the quality of people that we bring into work with us and the kind of commitment that they have to work towards making education better and more inclusive, that is incredibly important. And how they also do an immense amount of work to make not just inclusivity a part of the major formula, but also that they work to make things culturally relevant. So like, thinking about how to tell stories to kids that actually means something to them today.
I don't know, a weird example is thinking about some outdated curriculum that's talking about using a landline for a phone, or something. Kids are like, ‘What's that?” Actually integrating modern things like cell phones and things like that into the curriculum where kids actually touch that and use that every single day so it means something to them. Whereas, outdated curriculum that is just some story to them. It doesn't have tangible meaning. Being able to bring that into materials is really important to keeping things engaging and also, relevant and fun.
MANDY: So the time when little Tommy was walking to the Xerox machine.
DANIELLE: [chuckles] Yes, yes.
MANDY: Somebody brought up a Xerox machine the other day.
DANIELLE: Oh wow.
MANDY: My goodness.
DANIELLE: [laughs] Yeah, definitely. But I think it's just a constant looking at how we do things, and making improvements and making real connection with the people that are actually using our products to use. That both means working with teachers and getting a better understanding of what is helpful to them, what makes things easier for them, what helps them bring better quality curriculum to their classrooms?
But then I think it's also connecting more directly with those kids that are engaging with our curriculum, too and figuring out what works and doesn't work for as many parties as possible. I think that's the anthropologist hat coming on again like, how can we bring as many people to the table as possible on the expert side, on the academic side, on the teacher side, on the student side? And even working to bring families to the table, too and looking at how families interact and not just parents, because it's really important to know that kids don't have just parents that are taking care of them—sometimes it's grandparents, sometimes it’s foster families. And really thinking about a wider range of who is around these kids, and how to get them onboard and make things easy for them to interact.
ARTY: It seems like getting into tech and these new tech skills that you've learned are also relevant in figuring out how to teach kids tech because we've got this new generation of kids coming into the world and learning how to code becomes more like learning how to read and write is fundamental skills move forward in the future. Are there ways that some of the things that you've learned through your own tech experiences you can see application for in education?
DANIELLE: Absolutely. From what I've been seeing, I feel like there are a lot more resources out there for teaching kids how to code and teaching them more things about technology. I think that's amazing and should totally keep happening. I think having been a bit more focused on adults in my own outreach for helping people find their ways into tech I might be a bit more acquainted with reaching out to those folks. But I'm sure that that intersection of being in education for K-12 students and this passion that I have of helping to find their way into tech, or build more technical skills because they are skills that are so transferable in many industries. I'm in education, but I have a technical job.
So there's lots of ways that those technical skills can be incredibly valuable and frankly, life-changing. The amount of opportunity and even just financial stability that can be found within tech is one of the main reasons that brought me to this industry and has really been a life-changing opportunity. It has opened so many doors already and I'm just like three months into my first developer job.
Even before I was ever actually officially an engineer, I was able to find community and able to find an outlet for helping others and outreach to immediately turn around and hold a handout to try to help others make their way into tech as well. I hope to continue doing that work in more meaningful and impactful ways over time, and have wider and wider reach as well.
ARTY: You had mentioned earlier about some of the difficulties of getting into tech and some of the challenges with finding resources and things that you were specifically missing when you actually showed up on the job. I'm curious, what was your experience like going through coding bootcamp and what were some of the gaps that you experienced that once you got on the job, you were like, “Oh, I didn't learn that.”
DANIELLE: Yeah, definitely. Coding bootcamp was an incredibly grueling experience for me personally. I was on a full-time track six-month program and [chuckles] not having much technical experience whatsoever outside of editing my Myspace profile back when that was a thing and having [laughs] about a decade ago doing some basic HTML, CSS editing and maintenance for the company that I worked for an ed tech originally. That was what I was working with when I started coding bootcamp. So it was a real hard learning curve and a very fast-paced program for me to just dive into headfirst.
My poor partner was like, “I basically didn't see you for six months. You were just a basement dweller at your computer constantly.” I would literally get out of bed, roll myself downstairs, get to my computer with a cup of tea in hand, and I would stay there until easily 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 1:00 every night just trying to keep my head above water.
But a few months in, things started to click and I wasn't fighting with all of these computer puzzles [chuckles] trying to do this. Like, I always feel like learning coding languages is a combination of algebra and a foreign language. So at a certain point, my brain just started getting into that better and things started making sense. That was a very exciting moment where I got much less miserable [chuckles] in my code school experience and in the pace at which I had to move to keep my grades up and everything.
But the gap in between finishing code school and actually getting that first job is also another often-grueling process. There's so many jobs open in the tech industry, but basically, it's mid-level and above. It's like, I think two-thirds of the industry positions that are available are for mid to senior roles versus one-third of roles that are for junior associates. That is a big struggle, especially if you're not able to lean into community and building real connections, just sending applications out to the ether and never even hearing a peep back from companies. I think that whole experience, it's really hard for yourself esteem, especially having put in many months around the clock of work towards this new career that you've been told that you can get, that you can achieve. It's almost as much as a process getting that first developer job as it is to actually build those tech skills.
I think one thing that is so important to stress in that in-between time is to lean into community, to connect with as many people as you can that are already in tech, even if they don't exactly have a developer job. Like, talk to anybody that will let you talk to them—talk to people in QA, talk to developers, talk to managers, talk to project managers. That was one of the things that I felt I needed to do early on in my coding experience to really have a better understanding of what was even an option for me of getting into tech and what could all these different jobs look like, and then making that transition to actually getting the first job. Yay, hooray for first jobs and being employed again.
But I think one of the things that has been most striking in that change for me is going from this incredibly grueling pace. 8:00 in the morning, or so until 10:00 plus at night, non-stop coding for the most part, and then going to a 9:00 to 5:00 job where I can also make my own hours and I can take appointments as I need to. Like, I can go and get a haircut if that's something on my schedule and it's cool. As long as I'm getting my work done and showing up and contributing to my team, things are fine.
So that transition of like, “Wait, I don't have to be at my computer a 1,000% of the time?” [laughs] and the pace at which you learn things, too is just much slower because you can have balance. That transition of feeling like you're not doing enough because you're so used to this hefty schedule, that's been a major transition for me.
I think also coming from hospitality, too where you have to be there in person and oftentimes, somebody is going to call out sick at least every other week, or so. So you might be working like a shift and a half, or a double. There isn't a lot of balance in the service industry, especially now with COVID adding so many extra layers of complication to how that job works. Being able to just be like, “I need to go make a doctor's appointment,” and can just do that. It's like, “Okay, cool. Just put it on the calendar. You don't really need to tell me. As long as it's on the calendar, that's great.” [laughs] That transition has also been very strange.
And I think maybe just the trauma of [chuckles] working in hospitality and not being able to just be a human sometimes and now all of a sudden, I'm like, “Oh, I'm a human and that's allowed? Okay.” Still have to check in with my boss frequently about like, “You sure it's okay? You sure it's okay that I'm a human, right? Yeah.” [laughs]
MANDY: [chuckles] That was one of the things that I really loved coming into tech was the scheduling, open schedule, making my own hours.
MANDY: And you're right, it was very strange at first. When I was waitressing, it was just always a go, go, go kind of thing and you had to be there, you had to be on, and if you didn't have tables, if you had time to lean, you had time to clean.
DANIELLE: [chuckles] Yeah. Always be closing. You know, ABCs. [laughs]
MANDY: So yeah, sometimes I still find myself on a random Thursday. I'll have my work done and I'll just be sitting here and I'm like, “Why are you sitting at your computer? Go do something, then check it and if there's stuff there –” Like, you don't have to have your ass in the seat from 9:00 to 5:00, or 8:00 to 4:00. You don't have to sit here for 8 hours and just stare at your inbox waiting for work. It's totally asynchronous and it's totally okay. I find myself having to give myself permission to leave my desk and just go and do something and work that asynchronous schedule. So tech is a really big blessing when it comes to that.
DANIELLE: I totally agree. I think also, not being neurotypical myself, I have ADHD, and so, being able to actually allow my brain to work in the way that is best for how my brain just naturally operates. Like, I can sit at my desk and fidget constantly, and it's not going to bother anybody because I work from home, [chuckles] or I can shift between sitting and standing and sitting on my bed, or sitting on my stool and just move at my desk as much as I need to. I can also step away and go clean some dishes if that's what's making noise in my brain. I can go and take my dog on a walk and get some fresh air.
That whole shift of having balance and being able to be empowered to advocate for what I need and how I learn and people are like, “Yeah, cool. Let's do that.” I think that's also very much a part of the company that I work for and the ethos that we have, which is all about making education better. So why wouldn't that also translate to the staff and how can we help you learn? It's such a wonderful thing to be a part of a team that's super invested in how I learn and helping me learn.
I think another thing that was a big, strange thing about my transition into tech was I ended up getting a junior engineer role in a tech stack that I hadn't worked with, which is pretty common from what I've heard from mid engineer on. Because once you have some of the foundational building blocks of a handful of programming languages and some of those computer science foundations, you can pick up most programming languages. But it's not so common as a junior engineer to get that opportunity to work with a full tech stack that you haven't really worked with before. So that was another big transition like, “All right, you trust me time to figure this out.”
ARTY: So it sounds like you walked into another big learning curve with your new job, too. It sounds like you were also in a much more supportive culture environment with respect to learning and things, too. What was the ramp-up experience like at your new company?
DANIELLE: In some ways, I still kind of feel like I'm in ramp-up mode. I'm about three months in. But because we have so much of our product that is built around very specific curriculum components, that has very specific contextual knowledge, it's just going to be a process to figure out which projects have what information and have certain numbers of records, and are tied to certain standards that are required in different states and for common core versus for some of the states that we work with, what that looks like. But figuring out a whole new tech stack was and continues to be a very interesting challenge. I have to remind myself when I have gaps in my knowledge that it's actually to switch gears back into learning mode, that that is a thing that's supported and encouraged even.
I even have little sticky notes on my desk that say, “Start with what you know, not what you don't know,” and that tension of when I reached the end of what I know and then going and finding maybe not necessarily the right, or correct resources, because there's so much out there that's good. That can be helpful. I think it's more about finding something that does work with how my brain learns things and being cognizant of how I learn. But also, remembering to dig into that fate that is being a developer, which is constant learning and ever-growing evolution of how we do things, and what things we do within the sphere of the developer. So I've signed up for perpetual learning and that's pretty great.
MANDY: What are your favorite resources that you used and continue to use as you're still learning, and finding community, and things like that?
DANIELLE: Yeah. I have certainly continued to lean on the curriculum for my school. It's online and it's free and that's rad. It's learnhowtoprogram.com. It's all put on online from Epicodus in the Portland area. Anybody can access it and that's wonderful. I'm a big fan of really great resources being available for free and making that more accessible. So continuing to use platforms that have that kind of ethos in mind is pretty great in my opinion.
Reading the documentation is another great way to keep learning what you need to learn and sometimes documentation can be kind of dry, especially as a new developer, you don't always know what exactly it is that you're looking for. So being able to parse through documentation and figure out what's most important, but then also filling in the gaps of some of the things that you don't yet know, or understand with YouTube videos, or deeper dives into like, what does this one specific term mean? I don't know, let's go find out and plugging in some of those gaps is really helpful.
I think figuring out how you learn, too whether that be very hands-on, whether that be visually, whether that be with audio, getting lots of repetition in; it's super helpful to lean into whatever works best for your brain for learning.
I think perhaps even more important than digging into resources that are online is lean into community. I really can't say it enough, build community. If you work with Ruby, like I work with Ruby, build community within the Ruby community. Connect to people online, get on Twitter, connect to tech Twitter, follow different people that work with the languages and the tech stack that you work with, and join places like The Virtual Coffee and other really rad developer spaces that are meant to help you find the answers that you need and to maybe do it in a way that's a little less arduous because you're with people that are like, “Yes, happy helper.” Like, “How can I make things easier for you?” It seems like a much easier way to go through tech when you can do it with others and remember, that there are human resources out there for you, too.
MANDY: You also had mentioned that you were connecting with folks over Twitch.
MANDY: Can you tell us a little more about that?
DANIELLE: Absolutely. So a friend of mine in my Epicodus cohort, she reached out to the director of developer relations that had done a lunchtime chat with us at one point and she was like, “I don't know what I'm doing. I am so stressed out. I don't know if I can actually finish this school and let alone finish school, but actually make it as a developer and I have questions. Do you have some time for some answers?” And he was like, “Yeah, do you want to actually do this online on Twitch? And how about you bring a couple of friends and let's just ask lots of questions and I'm going to record it?”
She reached out to me and another friend of mine and here we are many months later still answering questions online about how to get into tech and what even are some of these things that we're talking about technically, or let's look at other roles outside of just developer, or engineer, that you can get into.
So that has been an ongoing theme of how can I help others? How can I help provide community for people that might not have been as lucky as I have been to already have a preexisting community with many of my friends and my partner that were in tech? How can I help create that advantage for others and how can I help reach more people and help them understand what their options are and connect them to the people that need to know to get jobs?
I think Code School Q&A, we are super, super excited about open doors for people to whether that be better knowledge, whether that be real human connection; what's most important to us is just supporting people as they are making transitions into the industry like we've been doing over this last year and a half.
MANDY: So what is the Code School Q&A look like when you join? Walk me through it if I were to show up, what would I get?
DANIELLE: Absolutely. So there's generally four of us on the stream and we ask a handful of questions, whether that be from our own experiences of like, “Okay, I'm a developer now and I've got some questions about some of these transitions that I am experiencing.” But we also lean into the audience as well and see what kind of questions they have, whether that be folks that are still in code school, or folks that are thinking about maybe potentially going back to school, whether that be computer science in a university setting, or bootcamp, or even self-taught people. We even have a number of folks that are already in their careers, too that are there to reach out and chat and provide additional feedback and support.
So I really feel like it's a bunch of friends just getting together on Wednesdays and that group of friends just keeps building and expanding. It is very much like a support group, but it's also fun. Like, our first question of the day is what are you drinking and how are you doing? Because we all hang out and chat, and drink while we're talking about how to get into tech and definitely try to make it as fun as we can and crack jokes and interrupt one another and it's a good fun time, but helping people is what's most important.
MANDY: And this is all live? Unedited?
DANIELLE: All live. Unedited. Yes, yes, and 7:00 PM-ish AV is a whole beast in and of itself. I just had to set up a Twitch stream for the first time in this whole time of streaming over the last year. I've been writing my princess pass and just shown up [chuckles] for every Twitch stream and now I know how much goes into that. I still had probably another few hours of set up to get past just a minimum viable product of we need to be online on the interwebs and you need to be able to hear and see me. Got there, but it's a whole thing.
MANDY: Twitch is certainly interrupting the industry, I believe.
MANDY: Especially since the pandemic. All of a sudden everyone's on Twitch. We're doing conferences live, we're doing like – how do you feel about the whole Twitch revolution and how is it different from how people traditionally came and connected in tech?
DANIELLE: Yeah. Having been in events myself—that was part of what my role was within hospitality—I personally really love that there's now this whole new opportunity for connection. I think it also makes connection way more accessible because folks that were already living some kind of quarantine life because of autoimmune disorders, or disabilities, or whatever that looks like, they couldn't easily make it to those conferences and now they have a way to connect with those conferences because of hybrid events.
I think it's a really rad innovation that we're seeing and it's a really wonderful way to even just as an introvert. I'm like, “I don't have to leave my house to be able to see my friends and have a good time? Yes! I am super interested in this.” I can – [overtalk]
DANIELLE: Yeah. I can hang out with my dog and give him scritches whenever I want, and still see my friends and build community within tech. Heck yes. Very interested in this. I think that accessibility feature that it provides is just, it's really wonderful to know that more people can become a part of tech communities because there's now this whole online outlet for folks that couldn't otherwise afford a flight to get halfway across the country to make it to this conference, or couldn't afford to get in the conference. There's lots of ways that just makes things more accessible.
MANDY: Do you think it's going to continue much beyond the pandemic? Like, do you think when it's all over, we're just going to be like, “Oh, we're back to conferences,” or do you think this is going to continue to the streaming and the slack chats and the live Q&As and things like that. Do you think that's going to continue?
DANIELLE: I hope so and I think so. I think that even just from a business sense, you can tap into whole new markets by having this addition of hybrid events. You can reach a whole new subset of markets and I think quite frankly, it'd be kind of foolish to not take advantage of the new ways that we've figured out that we can still have meaningful and authentic community.
[chuckles] There's definitely a way to monetize that and I'm sure plenty of people out there doing it, but I think it's also given voice to people that couldn't previously access those spaces and now they're like, “Don't take this away. This is community. This is this is what I've built,” and I think people are going to be willing to fight for that and I think that companies will see the business benefit of continuing to do both.
ARTY: So anthropology question then. [laughs]
ARTY: How do you think this will affect us as a society of connecting more virtually instead of in-person in that we're significantly more isolated now than we were before, too in terms of in-person connection? How do you think that's going to affect us?
DANIELLE: One of the first things that comes to mind is infrastructure has to change. I think that support for higher speed internet across the states across the world has become much more of a priority that is striking to people, especially thinking about kids having to figure out how to do online school. All of a sudden, when COVID first hit, some kids didn't have access to the internet, let alone a computer, or a tablet, or a phone that they could go to class and do their homework on.
So I think that we're going to be forced to make technology and the internet more accessible by building better infrastructure to support those things and I think it's only a matter of time before there is better social support for getting technology in the hands of kids, especially, but getting them devices. Like, I know there are a number of initiatives out there that are giving small grants and stuff for people to be able to get computers, or tablets, or whatever and I think that we're going to just keep seeing more of that. Hopefully, fingers crossed because it's super important to be able to keep connection moving and I think keep moving our society in the right direction.
ARTY: So do you have any concerns about that as well as how –? We all get plugged in and are affected and in not so good ways, too. On the flip side of that, where do you see things going?
DANIELLE: My partner is in InfoSec. He is a security person. So that's definitely my first thought like, how do we keep the things that are most important to us and that are now online? How do we keep those things secure and safe and protected? Figuring out how to fill the gaps that are inherent within the security industry right now of there's just not enough bodies to fill all the jobs and build all of the security that needs to be built and maintain those things.
That's going to be a whole new ball game that tech has to figure out and it's going to take a lot of manpower to make sure that we can protect people and protect the things that are most important to them, and even just protect those communities, too. Make sure that those communities can continue to thrive and also, be carefully moderated and curated so that there is safety for people to interact; that there is less bullying happening online, that there is less hate crimes that are being perpetuated online.
Creating safe spaces for people and providing agency for them online is a whole new ball game when we're not even really that great at doing so in real life, in-person. There are a lot of groups that are going to have to fight harder to be heard, to be seen, to feel safe, and I think that's just an ongoing thing that we need to work at being better at.
ARTY: So we need ways to improve the connectivity community stuff and then also, need ways as we do those things to create safety in our communities.
MANDY: Yeah, we just had a really great discussion with Eva PenzeyMoog about two episodes ago. She wrote the book Design for Safety and it was an excellent, excellent conversation about ways that as designers and engineers, we should be building our infrastructure safe from the beginning and not just going back – [overtalk]
MANDY: And doing it after the fact, but realizing who the most vulnerable people are and protecting them from the get-go.
DANIELLE: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's actually something that my company works really hard to do while we're designing our curriculum products is designing from the most vulnerable within our communities and using that as a starting point for how we build things and how we continue to maintain them. Because if you can keep the folks that are most vulnerable in mind, more people are actually going to be allowed to be safe, allowed to have agency, and allowed to grow. It's a far more inclusive space when we can think about the folks that don't always have access, or don't always have safety, or don't always have agency and designing with those people in mind first.
MANDY: And that's how we'll end up filling all these empty seats right now that are available in tech – [overtalk]
MANDY: Is by not eliminating these people, designing a safe environment from the start, and attracting different kinds of people into tech because tech needs more diversity.
DANIELLE: Tech needs more diversity. Yeah, absolutely and I think that's one of the reasons why I keep doing Code School Q&A is because I want to see more people that look like me in tech. I want to see more people that don't look like me in tech. I'm very excited to bring as many people to the table as possible because I think that's when we also get the most creative and innovative. When more tool sets are brought to the table, more diverse experiences are brought to the table, we build far more robust systems, products, and things just get better when we have more differences from which to pull and more experiences from which to learn.
MANDY: As we said in the beginning, you're a fairly new developer. So I wanted to ask you the question: what was one thing you wish you knew, that you know now, that you would have known back then? If you could give Danielle advice a year ago, what advice would that have been?
DANIELLE: I think that advice would have been to start actually working on technical things sooner; to start digging into the educational materials that were provided for me for free before I ever started school. I think that actually digging into those materials and having the courage to not just wait until I was in a classroom setting to be able to interact with coding languages and learning how to program, I would have had such a less fraught time getting through school and giving myself the opportunity to get a bit of a head start and more of a foundation before just diving in head first and hoping that I kept my head above water.
But I think also, again, leaning into community and not being afraid to ask for help, not being afraid to advocate for myself because it took me a good 2 and a half months before a really felt like I could speak up and say what I needed. That's 2 months of time that I could have been getting more of what I needed, getting more help learning faster and more efficiently, and just being less miserable in the early stages of learning and entirely new skillsets.
So don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself. I think especially as a woman coming into a technical space, there is some extra fears of not looking like I could do this, or not feeling like I belonged not knowing what I was doing. But the thing to remember was that nobody knew what they were doing; we were all figuring it out together in that school program. Being the one to be like, “Hold up, this is not making any sense to me. Can we start this over again? Can we dig into what's happening here?” Often times, other people were like, “Oh, I'm so grateful you said something because I also don't know what's going on.”
MANDY: Well, with that, I think that's an amazing thing to end on and we can move over to reflections, which I can go and start off with right away is that's the secret. Like, nobody knows what we're doing in tech.
DANIELLE: [laughs] Nobody knows, no. [laughs]
MANDY: Nobody knows.
DANIELLE: Nobody knows yet.
MANDY: That's the secret. Ask questions. Lean on your community. There are so many people out there. I know you mentioned tech Twitter, #techTwitter. There are so many nice amazing people that will have your back if you just put those questions out there and even say, “Hey, tech twitter, anybody free? Do you want to pair?” They'll be like, “Yeah, let's hop on for an hour, or two,” and especially right now is when people aren't really doing much again. [chuckles] People are out there. So again, it’s a secret. Nobody knows.
DANIELLE: [laughs] Yeah. I think I am totally on board with your reflections for the day lean into community and don't be afraid to ask questions.
I think it's so important to know that tech needs you. Whoever you are, tech needs you and whatever valuable skillset you bring to the table, whatever diverse experiences you bring to the table, it's needed. You need more people that aren't traditional and whatever that looks like. There is space and there is need for you.
I think come and ask your questions at Code School on Wednesdays. We need generally every Wednesday, 7:00 PM Pacific time. We are happy to answer your questions and help connect you to the people if we don't know answers because none of us totally know the right answer most of the time.
MANDY: And how can people do that work? What’s the URL?
DANIELLE: Yeah. Come visit us at twitch.tv/thejonanshow. We also have Code School Q&A is participating in Oktoberfest, too. So you can find us on GitHub by looking up the Oktoberfest hashtag tag and you can find us on Twitter at Code School Q&A as well.
ARTY: I just wanted to add that a little bit with lean into community, I was thinking about Mandy, when you were mentioning your story, when I was learning electron new technology I didn't know. I had this code base that I had to learn. I didn't know what was going on, I was frustrated, I couldn't get anything working, and then I tweeted and asked for someone to pair with me.
Lo and behold, some random person from the internet was like, “Sure! I'd be happy to help! Let's meet up air on this,” and I managed to get over the major hurdles I had with getting my environment to set up and getting unstuck, figured out how to run the debugging tools, and all those things really happened as a consequence of nothing afraid to reach out.
Even when you might feel like you're struggling with these things alone, there really is a community out there and people that are willing to jump in and help and I think that's really great cool thing.
MANDY: All right, well with that, I think we're pretty set to wrap up.
If you want to join us you are in Slack. Danielle will receive an invitation to join us as well in our Slack community. It is a Patreon where you can fudge to support us monetarily on a monthly basis. However, if you're not comfortable with that, or do not want to, you can DM anyone of the panelists and we will get you in there for free.
So with that, I want to thank you, Danielle, for coming on the show.
DANIELLE: Thanks so much for having me for a great conversation.
MANDY: Awesome, and we'll see everyone next week.Support Greater Than Code