Originally aired on May 11, 2022 @ 9:30 PM - 10:00 PM EDT
Cloudflare Platform Week: Developer Speaker Series
As part of Cloudflare's Platform Week, we're thrilled to feature an array of expert web dev speakers, developers, and educators here on Cloudflare TV.
In her recent book, The Bootcamper's Companion, Caitlyn Greffly dives into the specifics of how to build connections in the tech field, understand confusing tech jargon, and make yourself a stand out candidate when looking for your first job. She'll talk about some of the top tips and share a bit about her experience as well as what she has learned from navigating tech as a career changer. You can get Caitlyn's book
here , with a discount for CFTV viewers.
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Cloudflare Developer Discord Hi everyone, welcome to the Cloudflare TV Developer Speaker Series. I am Dawn Parzych. I am the Director of Product Marketing for the developer platform here at Cloudflare and I am very excited this morning to be sitting down and talking with Caitlyn. I have been following her journey on Twitter for quite a while, watching her move from working in the beer industry into bootcamp and a software engineer. Caitlyn, thank you so much for joining us and agreeing to be here. Is there anything you would like to add to introduce yourself to our audience? Thanks. Yeah, I'm stoked to be here and also excited to chat with you like in real life and not just on Twitter. So yeah, no, I'm really excited to kind of just talk about Journey into Tech and the book that I wrote and I don't know everything we can talk about everything. Excellent. Yeah, we've got we've got 29 minutes or so left, so let's begin. Is that like you wrote a book recently about your experience not just going through boot camp, but where boot camp ends and the real world begins. So how do you take that knowledge from boot camp and use it to get a job and start living and practicing the things that you've learned? I read through your book and there were a couple of things that really jumped out at me. You mentioned like you felt like there were these huge gaps in order to be successful. I'm very new in my role here at Cloudflare and I can tell you I feel this way. Like right now it's just like I don't know all of the things that I need to be knowing. So I'm curious. Like you've been working in tech for a couple of years now. Are you still feeling that you have these big gaps in what it takes to be successful as a software engineer? Yeah, I think I mean, for one, if you're a software engineer who says that, you know everything, I don't trust you. And so I think, like there are still gaps and I'm six months into a new job right now also. So I notice them more in the beginning of a job, but I feel more confident that I'll be able to navigate them. So I think that's the big difference between like a boot camp where you're just trying to get like the fundamentals of the industry down. And it's hard to it's harder to fill in the gaps when you don't know, like the structure of the industry or like the basics of how things work, or understand that it's okay to Google literally everything. So I think like and then there's also the pressure in a boot camp too is like you have to fill those gaps fast because you have to get a job like depending on your situation. I was in the situation where I had quit my previous career and so I was like very much feeling the pressure from myself and from my bank account that I had to like figure out the gaps and fill them fast. Whereas now I feel like I have a team supporting me, I have time, I have like a little more confidence. And so it just feels easier to navigate now. But I don't think that I'll ever not have knowledge gaps in this industry because it just — tech moves too fast. Yeah, absolutely. Like what exists today didn't even wasn't even an idea. Yeah. Two years ago. What you describe about like that pressure for boot camp, I think that's very common with a lot of boot camp graduates. A lot of them are like career changers, like they're going into this from someplace else and they have obligations. They have rent to pay, they have bills, they have families. They're supporting whatever the case may be. So what advice would you give to companies out there that are thinking about hiring a boot camp graduate? - If they're a hiring manager, what advice? - Do it! First of all, just do it. I think in general, I don't see enough like junior developer job listings. Like I still look every once in a while for like friends or just like kind of to see what's available. Like almost every job board is like lead engineer, senior engineer. I think as an industry, we have the capacity to hire more juniors like we in general are an industry with money. And so I think like companies can really take advantage of the fact that like they want more seniors, that's great, but they don't come out of nowhere, like we have to grow them. And so you have to hire juniors. And I think boot campers specifically have a unique skill set because they have a skill from their previous career, whatever it was that they can bring over. For me, I came from sales. I feel like communication and being willing to like talk to anybody. Like I've gotten feedback that on my team we were having a discussion and I was like, Oh, I'll just reach out to someone on the other team or like the product owner over there and talk to them. And someone was like, Are you comfortable doing that? Like, do you want to do? I was like, I cold call all the time. I can talk to anyone. Like if there's someone that needs to be talked to, like I'm happy to do it. So I think like, you know, there's a variety of skills you need on a tech team beyond just the ability to code. And that's like you can get people who've like really cultivated those skills over a years by hiring a career changer. Yeah. Your point about, like, not having enough junior people is... Jobs can stay open for a very long period of time. I've heard stories of people like having jobs open for like six months or nine months, like, Okay, how long would it have taken you to bring that junior person on and start to train them? Could you have had somebody in that role already helping in some way, shape or form? As opposed to leaving it open and waiting for that absolutely perfect senior candidate? Like you need to be able to like build bridges and like put a ladder down for other people to like start building their careers and work their way up that career ladder. So aside from like companies hiring. So if companies are like, Yep, we're on board, we're bringing in junior engineers, we're hiring boot camp graduates, what are things that as a software engineer or somebody that's going to be working with these bootcamp graduates, that you would say these are things to think about and consider as you're going to be partnering and pairing with these boot camp graduates? Oh, we've seemed to have lost Caitlyn. Are you back? I am. I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. Live TV. It's fine. I spend most of my day on Zoom, so who knows? Yeah, these things happen. I was asking, like, what are things, as a fellow software engineer, your company is bringing in bootcamp graduates, what are things that they should be keeping in the forefront of their mind as they're going to be appearing and partnering with bootcamp grads? Yeah, I think for me, when I was hired, I was hired on to a very supportive team and some of the things that I felt like helped me was that I, I had small groups that I was learning in, which I thought was great, so me and a couple other women were in like a book club where we were reading Clean Code and that was really cool because it was like, for one, a screen break, and it was also nice to kind of chat about like the theory of writing code and some of the bigger ideas behind it, which can be something that you don't get as much of in a boot camp. So that was really nice. And then I was also I was in a different group with some more senior developers where we were learning we were going through a Udemy course together and it was nice to go through that with more seniors who are also learning because it showed me like, it's not just me that's learning. And I think that's like a really important thing to convey to your junior, is you're not the only one who doesn't know all the answers. I think that took me a while to figure out. Like I always assumed that the more senior developers, which was literally everyone, everyone was more senior than me. I thought that they knew all the answers and I knew none of them. And I started to see that they would, you know, they would get stuck, too, and they would ask questions. And I think creating an environment where you ask all the questions, and, yeah, you an environment of like learning and support, getting positive feedback on like small things that you do, even if it's the first thing I did was, I don't know, center the text on a button and people were like, wow, great job. Like they were so excited for me and I felt really proud even though it was so small because it, it wasn't just centering the text on a button, it was navigating a large code base, it was getting my environment set up. It was understanding the process and the flow and like meeting a bunch of people on the team and understanding their parts. And so I think you have to like take a step out of your experience and see that like they are learning a lot. Like you might take it for granted how much they know, but like for them that's huge. And giving them like props is going to mean a lot to them. Yeah. We tend to in anything we do like minimize all of the steps that are needed to get to the starting point. You read documentation or blogs and it'll be like, Well, just do these things and start here. But like that's assuming people know like these ten steps that took place prior to where you're starting and. We need to do a better job, I think, as a community, of like not assuming like there's this implicit knowledge in all of these things we take for granted. Like, yeah, people are starting like they need to know, like do these five things first. If you already know these five things, great, then skip ahead to this step. But if you don't, we're going to give you what you need to move forward. And that's kind of like where the idea for writing my book came from is like the implicit knowledge, the like things when I got into the community and was, you know, in my boot camp and in my first job where it seemed like assumed that I was to understand these certain things and I had no idea what was going on. And so I wanted to like, just like write those down so that someone else trying to like navigate the industry is like, okay, like I know what a scrum master does. Like, I understand what a sprint is like. I, you know, just some basic things that like people throw out these words without thinking. Like, I'll talk to friends that aren't in tech and I'll talk about the sprint that I'm working in. And they're like, What are you saying? And it's just such a normal word in my vocabulary that I don't even think that other people don't know it. Yeah, I've been, like you, I'm a big fan of, like, learning in public. I love the fact that you've journeyed and like you've journaled all of this. I think part of that learning in public, though, is also being willing to share the failures and mistakes you've made. The fact that, like, I didn't know this, I had to go and Google how to do this thing that I've done like 100 times in the past. I talk a lot to my son about like failure and like, we learn from our mistakes and but like, just don't keep making the same mistakes over and over again because then you're not learning. Right? So I'm going to ask I ask a lot of people this when I talk to them, are you brave enough in this public forum to share a recent or like super memorable failure that you've experienced? I mean, most of my tech interviews come to mind, but I failed a lot of tech interviews. But I think the most recent thing is in my job, I was working on a component that was just like a search component to do search on our site, but it had to do a couple of things. And I've had this mentality since I got into development that's like I grab like a ticket in the upcoming sprint and I'm like, You know what? I don't know how to do this, but I know that I will know how to do this by the end. That's the only way to like move forward is to like, figure it out. And maybe I do that on my own. Maybe someone else hops in to pair with me, but like one way or the other, like, it's getting done. This has been the... I think we may have lost Caitlyn again. This is the joy of live TV. We will give her a moment. And while we're waiting to see if Caitlyn is able to join us again, I did want to do a quick shout out here that if you are watching it live, we are also having conversations in our Discord channel. So if you haven't already joined the Cloudflare developer Discord, we encourage you to join that Discord and drop questions. Comment. Join the conversation in the Cloudflare Developer Discord. Caitlyn, you're back. Hi. Just a little commercial break here and there. Where did I get cut off? [laughter] I talked for a while. So, anyway, I was saying that, like, I was recently working on a component, and it's the only time that I haven't. Like I haven't finished it. I haven't figured it out yet. And I had to kind of like pause working on it and go do something else and like, the next thing I'm gonna do is have like a meeting with the whole team to discuss moving forward, how we're going to do it. Because I just, I just couldn't, I couldn't figure it out. And that to me felt like a failure because I've always when I grab work and commit to it, I do it one way or another. And so that was humbling for me and a hard week. And after that, I grabbed some easier work to boost my confidence back up because I was just like, Oh, this is so, this is so hard. But I think that's like part of it is just getting really stuck and knowing, like, I'm learning the new lesson of like, there is like a limit to what I can do, maybe at my level or maybe just like in general. Sometimes you like have to pull in the team. I'm not just going to be able to do absolutely everything that gets thrown at me. So, so yeah, I assume we'll get it working eventually before it goes live. But that was that was a hard lesson to learn. Sure. And I think that's a common thing. Like we can't do everything like there are limits and at times, like you just need to take a break. And you mentioned that in your book as well, like the importance of taking breaks. And it reminded me of a book I read with my son, which falls very much in this is, called Learning How to Learn. And it talks about a lot of different strategies that you can do to when you're learning, like the Pomodoro technique of setting timers. And one of the most important things that they mentioned and I hadn't even considered this is a change of scenery that sometimes if you're used to like working in a certain space, looking at a set of four walls, just getting up and like moving to a different location changes the way your brain works and it like kicks it into gear to help you learn, like, oh, I'm someplace different. I have to learn something new here. So it's just like an interesting kind of like parallel where you talk about the importance of taking breaks. Yeah, definitely. I think like sometimes I will like just pick up and go to a coffee shop. That was not possible for a while, but it's starting to be possible again. And I love that. I love — I miss my giant monitors, but I love just like working from somewhere different. I like the background noise and just in general, I think like another thing like as a career changer, like coming from sales. I was not told to take breaks. You did not take breaks in sales. You are A-B-C, always be closing, but it's different work now. It's like it's really heavy thought work. And I find, at least for me, that my brain works best if I like, look away from the screen for a while, like I have a dog, so I'll take her for a walks. And just like getting outside, getting some fresh air, looking away from a screen for a couple of minutes really helps. And I think a lot of us know that like you can solve code problems in your sleep, like that is a real thing. So it just shows. It's like your brain kind of keeps working on things in the background while you're doing other things. And, and it's a good excuse to go get some more coffee or something. I'm going to switch gears a little bit. In the book, you kind of jokingly talk about like being out and about and like being able to answer the question of like what's your favorite framework? So what is your favorite framework? So I have done the most with React, and I love React, but right now I'm in Vue. And so I've been working on Vue for the last six months and so I feel like I'm tied between those two. React was always my favorite. I've worked in Angular two. I'm not going to lie. That's not on my list of favorites. But I like I really, like, React and now I'm like getting, I'm getting more comfortable in Vue. I'm really liking it too. Great. So that was an easier question. Now we're going to go into one that's a little more controversial. You talk about the importance of having a portfolio of work that you can show people. Boot camp graduates or boot camp students, generally, as you said, like their career changers, so they're not going to have this big portfolio. And they also may have, like a lot of obligations outside of the boot camp that they're going to, right? They could have family members that they're caring for, they may be also working full time. They don't have the time to build this massive portfolio of work. Our portfolio's a way that tech is gatekeeping and preventing people that are in boot camps from getting in to tech jobs. I mean, probably a little bit. I think that most boot camps do have you create the portfolio as part of the boot camp. But yeah, it's true that like those people who have tons of extra time and can go above and beyond it, I do think that's going to be helpful with trying to get a job or get someone to notice you and bring you in for that first interview. And I think, I think in general, like the way we structure, like applying for jobs and tech interviews is kind of gatekeeping. And so, I would love if there were options for everything. So it's like you want to apply for this job, you can either submit your portfolio, you can do a code challenge, or you can do like a quick take home assignment that we've outlined or I don't know, something else. But I would love that for there to be options so that people can like look at their situation, look at like their strengths, what they want to portray and be able to choose accordingly. Because I know like I would choose any option over doing a leetcode challenge, but technically leetcode challenges are usually like the smallest amount of time commitment, because it will be like an hour maybe. For me it would be like 40 hours because I'd have to study for 39 hours first before doing one. So I would rather do a take home assignment where I feel more comfortable. But I would just love for companies to get used to giving those options. So it's like, okay, you didn't have the building of comprehensive portfolio can take a lot of time and if all you have time to do is build the one that your boot camp told you to build and you just can't do anything beyond that, then you should be given another option and not punished for not having the time that other folks do, so... I would love that. I would love for them to be just options for everyone. I think it would be, yeah, a great way to like make people feel like they have some control and that tech is for them even if they don't spend all their free time coding, which I do not, for the record. So what do you do in your free time if you can share some of your non coding time? Yeah, well when I wasn't writing this book which took up free time for a while, I have an old house. I like working on it, like working on it. So I have to work on it because it's old and demands a lot. I don't know. I live in Portland, Oregon, so I like getting outside and hanging out with my dog. So yeah. One of the lines I think is really early on in the book that you called out and it resonates with me. It's like you would talk to a friend of yours and like your comments was like, She seemed happy, she was well paid and she wasn't overly stressed out. Like, that's a big concept because I mean, sales is like high stress. But my immediate thought was like, I also know that like tech is high stress. So have your thoughts about stress in the tech industry changed it all since you've had that conversation with your friend and now that you've been working on it for a couple of years? Yeah, I think well, I think that I would venture to say that my entire time in tech, I've been less stressed out than I was in sales. Like there is there has not been a point that's been more stressful than like my day to day in sales. It was just it was just a way more stressful career for me. It didn't fit my personality to be in sales, to be honest. But I think that the first couple years in tech, I mean, I'm not even that far into my career. What am I like, three years or so? But the first year or two I felt a lot more stressed, I think because I was trying to do more tech outside of work. I was trying to like level up really quickly. You know, when I first got hired, I wanted to get that first promotion, that first pay bump, and then after that I really wanted to get into a role that was more front end. And so I spent a lot of time outside of work, like applying for jobs and doing take home challenges and coding to like level up. And now I feel much lower stress. I think now that I've landed in a place where I'm not like, I don't think I'll be leaving anytime soon, at least not on my own accord. And I'm just like very happy doing my work during the day and leaving it at that. Like I'm happy moving up the ladder a steady pace. I feel like I see some folks [inaudible] good hustler. Looks like we've lost them again. Well, we see if she comes back, I will say quickly, I will be dropping in to the Discord Channel. Caitlyn has been gracious enough to offer a 20% discount on her book, The Boot Campers Companion to the Cloudflare TV viewers and our community members. I will put that link in the. Discord. For anybody that's interested. So if you are a boot camp graduate or looking at boot camp or you know, something, that is you can get a 20% discount on her book. And Caitlyn, you're back. I have lots of ways to fill in the gaps here. We're good, right? Yeah. Don't know what's happening, but great. Yeah. What were we? Thinking? Wrap it up. I think you were both done. We do have about 4 minutes left. I think we have time for two more questions. So the first one I'm going to ask is, you mentioned Taylor in your cover letter. And as soon as you said cover letter, like my heart warmed up. I do cover letters, I do a lot of interviewing. And granted, like when I'm interviewing, I'm generally interviewing people that are going to be doing like writing. And so to me, having a cover letter is like an essential thing. Like, I want to see how you can write and not just write a resume. But I find fewer candidates submitting them. And I've seen so many people in tech say like, cover letters just aren't necessary, that they're a giant waste of time. And so when you said mentioned cover letter, I was like, Oh, I love this. So why, in your opinion, are cover letters necessary? And like, how should somebody go about writing their cover letter? Yeah, I mean, I definitely get like, cover letters, they take time and they can be stressful and you want it to like sound perfect. I stress about cover letters a lot, but I think especially when you're a career changer, like we were talking about earlier, like you have qualities and skills from your previous career that are going to translate into your career as a developer, being on a development team and that your cover letter is a place for you to like, draw those connections for your future employer so that they don't have to think like how does being a teacher relate to being a coder? You know, like you can be like, you know what? I can handle all kinds. Of. Madness. I assume teachers have like all the skills, but it's like, that's the place where you can be like, this is the like exact skill that will help me and will make me an asset to your team. And I also think it's the place that you can show your soft skills because if you're giving a portfolio and then you're giving a resume, that kind of just says your technical ability and your background. But you can talk more about like your communication skills and show that off and show a sense of humor. Like in this job that I have now, I showed I like told jokes in my cover letter just because I was like, I want to work somewhere where people are fun and like enjoy that kind of thing. So I'm going to like put that in my cover letter and hopefully there's like a mutual attraction to humor there. So I think there's a lot of positives about cover letters. And even though they're a pain, I know, I think they're good. Right. Caitlyn, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us and agreeing to show up on Cloudflare TV during our developer speak your series and kicking things off for us. We have one and a half minutes left. Any parting words like things I think, you like, If you take one thing away from this, this is what I need you to know. Hire junior developers. But also I was going to say, I don't know if you mentioned this and one of the breaks, but I'll be hanging around the Discord Server today so I can answer any questions about getting into tech or like I did a talk at one point about how to support the junior developer on your team. When I was a junior developer, just because I think that is like a big question that a lot of companies or more senior devs have is just like how like it's one thing to convince your company to like post an ad for a junior dev, but then like, what do you do with them once they're there? So I think that I made a lot of notes when I was in that position and I was really well supported. So I have some ideas for kind of how to, how to do that successfully because I was on the receiving end of it done successfully. So that's great. I look forward to seeing you in the Discord Channel. And again, thank you so much. It was just wonderful getting to meet you and talk to you outside of Twitter. Yeah, definitely. Thanks. Thanks. - Bye. - Bye.