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*APAC Heritage Month* This is What a Technologist Looks Like

Presented by Gretchen Scott, Janel Brandon
Originally aired on 

Today's guest, Janel Brandon a Senior Software Engineer at Clipchamp has the most amazing story! Her journey into tech is inspiring and magical, much like Janel herself. You don't want to miss this one.

APAC Heritage Month

Transcript (Beta)

Hi there, I'm Gretchen and you're listening to This is What a Technologist Looks Like.

So we're running a series of talks that go over six weeks to show you what opportunities exist in the technology industry, what the people in the industry are actually like, and to hear a little bit about how they got to be where they are.

I have to admit that I'm a little bit lost as how to introduce today's guest. She's achieved just obscene amounts of amazingness in her life, and I look to her as someone who is a constant inspiration.

I'm so glad she chose to get up and spend her time with us this morning.

I'd like to extend a very, very warm welcome to Janel Brandon, who is a senior engineer at ClipChat.

Good morning, Janel. Hello, good morning, Gretchen.

Good morning, everybody. Thank you. That was a very nice introduction.

Well, I did go through some of your career history and the things you did, and I thought none of that actually covers you.

You are more than the things. You're just an amazing human who I'm so glad is in my life.

But aside from all that gushy gushiness, could you tell me a little bit about your current role today at ClipChat and what you do?

Sure, Gretchen. So I've been at ClipChat for about a month, so it's still a new role for me, but I'm a senior engineer there and officially a senior front-end engineer, which is new for me.

I've always worked in the back end in my career, but I thought, you know, hey, let's mix it up.

Let's do something different.

So I love my role at ClipChat. I do spend most of my time programming, so that's the majority of what I'm doing, either writing code or reviewing code or looking at code and trying to figure out what it's doing because I'm new to the stack.

And ClipChat has a really nice model of an integrated team, so cross-functional team.

So we've got a growth marketer on our team and a product manager on our team, a designer, along with the engineers.

And I love that model because we always know as engineers that what we're building is helping our users and helping our product to be successful.

So that is a really nice model, and I'm enjoying it.

I'm having a blast. So in the technology stack, I'll just tell you a little bit about the technology stack we're using is mostly React on the front end, so that's a JavaScript set of libraries, really more than a framework, and Python in the back end.

And what we build at ClipChat is an in-browser video editor.

And what's super cool about this, and you can sort of think of us as like the Canva of video editing, is we have a really simple, easy-to-use platform because our mission really is to empower and inspire everyone to tell their stories.

So that's also just a cool thing, I think, to be building. Video is so powerful.

It always has been, but even more so now, right? Video is such an important communication tool for us, a way to reach our users and to reach our customers and our family and friends.

And so, yeah, it's a really cool product to work on, and I'm having a lot of fun.

That's brilliant, and I need to apologize a little bit there.

I'm having some wonky Internet issues, so if I vanish, Janelle is fabulous enough to carry on with some questions, but I do apologize for the technical difficulties.

We've got technicians coming again this afternoon. We were talking a bit earlier around, you know, searching Google to answer questions, and you said something to me about YouTube being the second most used search.

Search engine. That's right. That's right. So think about when you're searching for something, even if you use Google, a lot of the times my searches take me to a YouTube video, right?

So a lot of this is also, you know, a comment on how much we're using video to communicate and share information now, isn't it?

And so people are, you know, almost as likely to use Google, almost as likely to use YouTube as they are to use Google to search for something.

So that also tells us about how powerful the video platforms become.

Yeah, wow. So we're getting into telling stories differently again, aren't we?

As a human race, we're changing how that goes.

It's exciting. It is. I'm glad that you're part of the people helping make it easier.

So I've spent a bit of time with you in person, Janelle, and I learned about your journey into technology, and it's one of the, I don't know, it just seemed to have a plot every second scene.

Do you mind if we journey back a little bit in time and learn about your high school or experience at high school?

Yeah, sure. So I'm from the US, you might be able to hear that I've got a bit of an accent here.

I'm not, wasn't born in Australia. So I am in high school, high school in the US starts in year nine.

So in year nine, I was 14. And I lived in Georgia.

But just before year nine started in the summer break before year nine, I got really ill, went to the hospital, thought my appendix had ruptured.

That's what the doctors thought. But turns out that I had this quite large tumor in my pancreas that turned out to be pancreatic cancer.

So that was removed. And I was sick for a while, but recovered miraculously quickly, all things considered.

So within sort of three months, three or four months, I was mostly through that.

And there's not many explanations for it. The doctors were baffled.

Many people were baffled. I'm still baffled, but grateful. But that was, you know, that was the first thing I was like, okay, well, didn't see that coming.

That was interesting.

And then about six months later, I was pregnant with my first child.

So in year nine, 14 years old, pregnant with my first child, living in Georgia in the Bible Belt of the United States.

And so I wasn't a very popular person at my school.

They did try to kick me out of school that the administrators did because they didn't want, you know, pregnant teenagers in their school.

And it was made worse for them, because I was the top student in the school.

So I was, you know, even in year nine, I was, I stayed the full year I was, you know, almost nine months pregnant.

By the time the school year ended, I couldn't fit in a desk anymore, had to have a table at the back of the classroom so I could sit there.

But I just really stood up for myself.

So I, you know, my mom helped me to stand up for myself, I just refused to leave.

So I told them they had no legal basis to force me out.

And I insisted that I stay. And I ended up staying through year 11. I was I was top of my class by a very long shot.

So I was very clearly going to be valedictorian of my class.

And, and also, they, they did not appreciate that either. So I ended up actually leaving after year 11, because they made it so difficult for me to attend year 12.

And I just started uni. So I started uni after year 11. And I was a chemistry major in uni.

And, and I was a chemistry major, because I've always been really curious about science and the way things work.

And my plan was to become to study medicine, but as a research scientist.

So that's, that's sort of what my plan was when I started university.

And, and that's what I did for a long time.

So now, by the time I was 20, by the time I was 23, before I was 23, I was in uni study, studying chemistry, and I had had two more children.

So by the time I was 23, I had three children.

And, and I was studying chemistry and working and taking care of my children.

And I was married. So you know, I had the help of, of, of, of my partner, too.

But it was, it was a crazy time. So that's how I started in uni.

And obviously, I didn't end up as a chemist. So there's, there was another change that happened there.

So I'm just going to keep talking because we've lost Gretchen again.

And I'll tell you that what happened was, I was studying chemistry, but I had taken a computer science class.

And I just sort of did it as an elective for fun.

It looked like it could be a bit of fun. And I really enjoyed it.

I had a great time in this programming fundamentals class, it was taught in C++.

And so Gretchen, I was just afraid.

That's all right. I just was moving on to even though I was studying chemistry, I switched at some point.

And that happened because I just taken this computer science course and enjoyed it.

And I started to actually tutor other computer science students.

So still a chemistry major, still studying chemistry, but I really enjoyed this, this computer science course I took that where we learned C++ and some fundamentals.

And I've always enjoyed being a tutor.

So you know, that's just always been a part of my personality. So I ended up being a tutor for the computer science department, and helping people who are taking this class.

And I ended up competing in a programming competition, again, just for fun.

So just for a good time, my professors, the computer science professors who knew me because I was helping out as a sort of a tutor in their classes, asked if I wanted to try competing in this competition last minute, because somebody had to pull out at the last minute, because they weren't going to be able to make it.

And this was the ACM programming competition. And I didn't have any expectations about it.

I really just went for fun. You know, I've always- And you were a chemistry major, right?

Like you were doing something else. Yeah, absolutely.

So it was just for a good time. But we did really well in the competition.

So even though the uni that I was at at the time never did well in this competition, we placed second in the competition.

And there were two women on my team.

So we had teams of three, and two women on my team. So that was always, you know, that was also- Yeah, so just because I competed in that competition, okay, which again, was just like you know, we're talking earlier about just like doing the thing that looks like fun, the door opens, it looks like a fun door, let's just step through and see what happens.

But IBM sponsored that competition, and offered me a job.

You're still a chemistry major.

Well, I was still a chemistry major, did not degree, you know, I'd taken the one computer science course.

Now I'd done some stuff on my own, just because I'm a person who follows my enthusiasm, you know, so I took that one CS course, but then I like started to learn Java on my own, just because I was enjoying myself, you know, not for any other reason, just because it was a bit of fun.

So when IBM offered me, it was just an internship, okay, it was an internship, and I had to move to another city to take it with my three children and partner.

And it was a risk, but they were offering me $17.50 an hour for this internship.

And at the time, I was making about $6 an hour doing work I did not enjoy.

Easy choice then.

Yeah, and I thought, like, this feels like again, it was just a door opening.

It looked like a really fun and interesting door to me. And I had no idea where it was going to lead.

You know, it was just a three month internship. So there was five of you moving to move.

My husband had to quit his job. I had to quit my job, I had to leave my school.

So you know, it was in my husband at the time was like, Are you sure about this?

Like, No, I'm not sure about anything. We'll give it a go.

But hey, look, let's let's give it a try. Let's see what happens. And, and so I was able to convince him and that turned into a 17 year career at IBM.

17 years at IBM.

Oh, my gosh. And was that all still in the same city in the same place after that big move?

15 years in the same place. Actually, no 13 years in the same place in Austin, Texas.

And then another, you know, kink in the road, I was presenting at a conference in Malaysia for IBM, a technical conference.

And, and I met my second husband.

So my husband, Shane, my partner, who's Australian. And now I know why you're here with us.

That's right. So that happened in 2010. And, and I moved to Australia.

Still with IBM? Yeah, not technically. So I tried to move with IBM. Yeah, but I had a hard time getting the visa thing worked out.

So that can be difficult to do.

So what I ended up doing was working for a contracting company for IBM.

So the contracting company sponsored my visa. Oh, my gosh. And then so I was still working for IBM for another four years here.

But as a contractor, that's crazy.

So it's this massive plot twist from being 14 in a hospital to having children quite young, finishing high school through shared tenacity and stubbornness.

And all the way through your chemistry major, if you like. And things like you said, doors open, they look fabulous.

So you walk through them. What a way to live.

And I really love that. So you love technology, right? Like, this is really clear.

It's come through you find joy, which, which bits do you love, which bits around technology and programming make you excited?

I think it's so I like problem solving, you know, and I think humans do, you know, human beings, I think, I mean, that's what we do, you know, we solve problems.

And, and the really, some of those problems are fun, and some of them are not fun.

A lot of times that we call it a problem, we're sort of implying it's not fun, but I'm using problem in a more general sense, you know, we're just trying to do things to solve things to make things better.

That's what human beings do. And, and what I've found is that technology is such a hammer, you know, it's such a big hammer to make a difference, to have impact is to, to solve problems to create solutions that impact a lot of people that, you know, make resources more available to more people that make the world a nicer place to live in or easier for more people.

So I think that's what, you know, when I started working at IBM, still not sure if I'd end up a programmer or not, you know, still a chemistry major, I did switch to computer science while it was at IBM.

And they paid for my my CS degree, which was nice of them.

And, but, you know, even then, when I was first at IBM, I was just realizing working with, you know, programming and the technology that IBM was building.

And, wow, this is such a powerful way to create solutions in the world.

And there's so many different ways to do that with technology, isn't there?

So many different kinds of technology.

So I think that's why I get excited about it is because that what's possible with the same time and resources, you know, when you solve problems with technology, it's, it's huge, it can have massive impact.

And I get excited about that.

That's awesome. And, and what I've also seen you do along the way is make sure it's not just you solving problems.

But you said earlier, you've had a little passion for teaching and bringing people along the journey.

We met because we're both teaching at boot camps under the same company, but we were in different cities.

You've done fabulous things to bring a wide variety of people into the sector.

And we're talking earlier about a couple of women, you're currently looking at doing a little streaming session with, can you tell me a little bit about that?

Yeah, sure.

So I've always loved, I love people, you know, and I love, I love to work with other people on things that we're all excited about.

Because it's fun. It's just fun.

So yeah, so that's what brought me to Coder too, is that, you know, I really love to see other people get empowered to solve problems that are interesting to them too, that are important to them.

And so, yeah, so Carly and Kat are two Coder alumni, and they're doing great things.

And, you know, Carly was doing some streaming, I've wanted to do some streaming.

So I'm talking about live code streaming.

And it's because I really love this idea of making in public, so that people can see the process.

And we can sort of get rid of these myths and these, you know, misunderstandings, like, you have to be some kind of genius, or you, you know, people who have been programming for a long time, know all the answers, and, you know, can do anything.

It's the process of solving problems for me is just the same as it is for anyone.

And the more experience that you have, you just get faster and better at it.

But there's still, it's still always challenging, which is, you know, part of what makes it fun, it wouldn't be very much.

So, you know, I like this idea of seeing that even somebody with more than 20 years experience as a programmer, still has to look things up, still gets things wrong, still makes mistakes.

And I thought it'd be interesting to see, you know, a more experienced person programming with a less experienced person doing it together.

So you can see how we approach the problem differently, you know, the questions we asked will be different.

And the way that we approach the problem will be different. And I think that might be valuable, you know, I think it might, it might be nice for people to be able to see that.

And hopefully, they can learn some things from it.

And also just feel like they belong, you know, I think it's, we do great things in the world, when we feel like it's a world that we belong in, we do a lot more, don't we?

And we, I want people to feel that they belong in this space of technology.

And it doesn't, you know, require any particular background. It doesn't require that you're, you know, good at math, it doesn't require that you make straight A's in school.

So, you know, I think I want to demonstrate, you can say those things, right, and we get those messages in a lot of ways, we hear that.

But, you know, hearing something when you've got the all this conditioning in place, this sort of cultural conditioning, and this, you know, the, the, our institutions or educational institutions, you know, or have been telling us, no, you have to be this kind of person to do this kind of work.

Just hearing the words doesn't always hit home, you know, when people still feel discouraged, and they still feel like this isn't a place for me, I don't belong here.

So I think we have to show we have to demonstrate as much as we can.

Look, I belong here. And I'm not the kind of person, you know, that they say you have to be in order to belong here.

So that's what I'm hoping that we achieve with that streaming.

And look, the reason I do any, the number one reason I do anything, Gretchen, is for the joy of it.

That's always number one.

Number one. Which is infectious, though. And that's why people love doing things with you.

Because that always, they bring this kind of, I don't know, happy joy with them.

You can't help but want to be doing the thing Janelle's doing.

And because what's the point? What's the point of being in this life and living?

If we're not having a good time? You know, like, what, why be here?

If it's not, if it's not to have a good time? Exactly. So we've talked a little bit around, you don't have to be a certain way to be in tech.

But do you think there's a particular skill set that lends itself to a career in tech?

Yeah, I think that there are things.

I don't know how specific they are to tech. But what I'll say is that, you know, it's all about problem solving first.

And this is true across fields, a lot of fields, right?

But certainly, when we're building things with technology, it's always to solve a problem or to provide some solution to something to make something available.

And problem solving requires good communication. Because if you're solving interesting problems, you can't do it by yourself.


That's too hard, right? That's too big and too wild. So you can solve problems on your own.

It's just that, you know, the really interesting ones, the ones that like, you know, really create something amazing require working with other people, we have to work together.

And we have to work with people with that come from different backgrounds with different domain knowledge.

And that requires good communication.

Because if we can't talk to each other and work together to solve the problem, then we aren't as successful, right?

And we probably have less fun, too.

So, so I think communication is important. Now, the thing about communication is there are all kinds of ways to communicate.

So it's not like any particular kind of communication is important.

It's just important that you can communicate.

So those skills are important. I think curiosity is important. And we're all naturally curious, but you have to give yourself permission to be curious, I think.

And that also comes with a bit of, you know, permit, you know, courage, being courageous, being willing to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes and not be stopped by those mistakes.

I think you have to have a lot of determination, or maybe stubbornness, some of both, right?

Because it's regularly it happens that these problems are hard.

Yeah, it's stuck. And, you know, when you get stuck, you need to just keep, you know, look for the next thing.

Okay, well, this, this way didn't work.

Where's what's the next thing we can try? So I think, you know, being a person that's not, not easily stopped by obstacles, you know, having that determination, I think it's super helpful to have a growth mindset.

So if you're not familiar with growth mindset, you know, read up on growth mindset, because that, that is about, you know, being able to move forward through hard, hard, difficult situations, with just learning along the way and taking the lessons and using them to get better instead of using them to stop, you know, or to feel bad about yourself.

So yeah, which is great itself, right?

Yeah. Around curiosity and giving yourself permission to, in essence, be wrong and fail, because somewhere along the journey, we we forget how to do that, right?

You see a toddler learning to walk and they fall down. You know, if we had that kind of failure rate with something as an adult, you'd step away really quickly.

So somewhere between toddling along and learning to walk and adulthood, we're conditioned to be adverse to failure.

And I think, yeah, I mean, and there's failure and there's failure, right?

There's writing code that breaks up every production system your company has.

And that's not great. But there's a lot of steps between, you know, the start and the finish.

Oh, my gosh. So, you know, if someone came up to you at a meetup or on the street, I'm going to get used to you and said, go ahead, Gretchen, you cut off there for a minute, but finish.

So somebody and asked, I want to get into a career in technology. What would you say?

I would say, go for it. So try it. And, you know, what do you try?

So what do you try? And I think that a good piece of advice that I give people is to follow your enthusiasm, just follow your enthusiasm.

So, you know, maybe you you're at if you're at a meetup, if you've heard something that's interesting to you there, that sounds like fun.

You know, if you've watched a YouTube video and you're like, oh, that I think I could do that.

That looks like fun. I want to try that. Then just try it, just pick something and try it and, you know, try it with enthusiasm, try it with really enjoy yourself and just go for it and see what comes, see what comes, because there's so many different things that that we can do in technology.

So don't get hung up on, you know, you have to learn this framework or you should learn this language or, you know, you must learn these tools.

There's no musts or shoulds here, really, in this in this world of technology.

It's just too big.

It's too wide open there. You know, you might be interested in an Internet of things, you know, in programming devices that are embedded.

You might be interested in web development.

You might be interested in machine learning or AI. You might be interested in robotics.

So whatever it is, just, you know, find what looks fun, just the next thing, the next thing that looks fun to try and then try it and reach out to people that are doing the same thing and work with them, you know, look for opportunities to do something with someone else who's been doing it for a while.

So you get a sense of what it's like for someone who's been doing this for some time.

And you can also get their advice if you find that that person is in a position you'd like to see yourself in.

So it helps to get some mentors.

And those mentors are just people who are doing what you'd like to see yourself doing.

And you look at that person, you're like, you know, I really like what they're doing.

And I'd really like to do that. So, you are doing what you what you'd like to do and get their help and advice, look for opportunities to work with them.

And otherwise, just follow your curiosity, follow your enthusiasm, and trust that by doing that, you're going to end up in the place that's right for you.

I love that. I wish you'd been in my life when I was 16, 17, 40, trying to figure out what I'm doing.

Such fabulous advice. I've got one final question for the day.

What's what do you think is the single biggest myth about technology? Let's see, I think the biggest myth about technology is that you have to be some particular kind of person in order to participate.

So stereotypes, just stereotypes.

That's right. That's right. We need to just throw them all out because we need every kind of person working in technology.

That's important because we're building the future together.

And we want that future to include everyone and to be accessible to everyone and available to everyone.

And that means everyone needs to help build it.

All different kinds of people need to help build it. And that's been something that I've been, you know, felt really strongly about my whole career, the whole time that I've been here, is that it's really important that we get the message out that this is for everyone.

So hey, if it speaks to you, if it looks like fun, give it a try.

You don't know what will happen. Anything could happen.

Thanks for listening today, everyone. I hope that you got something from that.

You can find me on Twitter if you want, Janelle Brandon. And you can DM me.

And if you have any questions, then you can reach out to me there and I'd be happy to have a chat.

You're amazing. My Internet is not 10 seconds as we go. I'm so sorry, Janelle.

Thank you for coming. By Thursday, I promise, I have technician. I had a blast.

See you later.

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This is What a Technologist Looks Like
What does a technologist actually look like? And, what is it they actually do?
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