In episode 29 of Mentoring Developers, special guest, Sara Ines Calderon is back to explore the many ways to get noticed and land that job you’ve been dreaming of. So, get ready, get set, and give a listen in as Arsalan and Sara tell all.
Sara Inés Calderón is a journalist and writer who lives in Texas and California. Follow her on Twitter @SaraChicaD.
Episode Highlights and Show Notes:
Arsalan: today, I have a very special guest, someone you’ve heard before if you went to listen to episode 18 at mentoring developers.com/episode 18. You would’ve heard my interview with Sara Ines Calderon. Sara is a new developer, but back when I interviewed her she had gotten her first job. Now she has moved into her second job, which is a better job. It pays better. It’s better suited and overall causes her to be happier. Is that true Sara?
Sara: Yes, I just finished my first week at this new job, but there’s definitely more levels of better than the first programming job, which from what I understand is how tech jobs go.
Arsalan: So, who are you? I think that our audience may have forgotten who you are. Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who is Sara?
Sara: I am Sara. I have actually transitioned in technology after working 10 years in the media, which ranges from newspapers to digital blog publications as well as a few media startups and doing social media, analytics, and things like that. Then I transferred through these Sabio, a boot camp in Los Angeles that focuses on diversity in tech. I became a .net developer there.
Sara: Then I moved to Austin and became a co-director of women who code Austin. Here, we do a lot of work around diversity, specifically gender diversity, but also ethnic diversity and LGBT diversity and a variety of things. So, that’s kind of what I do and who I do it through. Most recently, as you mentioned, I got my second tech job and this is my first week in that position. So, it’s kind of a new adventure and the next step in here we are.
Arsalan: In a very short amount of time, when did you start thinking about becoming a programmer or software developer? How long has it been?
Sara: The last startup at which I worked was a YouTube network and I started tinkering around with some of the backend interfaces on the YouTube platform and I started to realize that there was a lot of things going on there that I was curious about if I had that domain knowledge. I think in that particular startup, that kind of technical knowledge was going to allow me to grow professional in a way that I desired and wanted and in a way that having content knowledge never would have allowed me to. That was around 2011 or 2012 when I started actually thinking about moving into a more technical role. I didn’t actually get around to it until 2014, but here we are.
Arsalan: So, from 2014 to 2016, a short two year period, you were able to make this decision to go into software development. Not only that, you learned a little bit on your own and then you went to a code camp for a few weeks, right?
Sara: it was a 12-week program, so three months.
Arsalan: So, it’s a really short time to start a career. Then you got your first job and I’m sure you had to go through a lot of interviews and it’s not really that easy to get your first job and you can’t be that picky. Most of the time, if you’re a new developer, you just have to get a job, any job and a lot of times people work for free. Most of the time and are industry we are lucky enough that we don’t have to do that because the budgets are often large and companies are able to pay you, and they will pay you even if you intern.
Arsalan: If you work full time, then they will pay you something that is decent and compared to scale, even if it is lesser than your peers. It’s still okay to start, but very soon you’ll realize that’s not really what you want to do, or maybe it’s the people, maybe the culture, maybe the company, may be the money. What are some of the problems that people face during their first tech job?
Sara: This may be an age issue as well, because I’ve been in the workforce for the past ten years and many of the people that I run into who are just starting their first tech jobs are much younger than I am. There’s an initial resistance or puzzlement at why nobody wants to change, why they insist on doing things a certain way or using a particular technology, if it’s not the best fit. But, I guess that could be true of any field.
Sara: There’s definitely an old guard, I’d say, that tend to be white males, and they have a click and it’s hard to get into that click unless you remind them of them when they were your age. So that’s a common thing that I hear, is that it’s hard to find mentorship. It’s hard to find someone to help you. It’s hard to find camaraderie with the old guard, sometimes.
Sara: There sometimes also an issue with pay. I’ve seen some jobs here in Austin like that. I don’t understand why somebody would be paid in the 30s or 40s to do software when you can probably make more money waiting tables in this town.
Arsalan: So, you’re talking about jobs that pay $30,000 or $40,000 a year salaries for full-time software engineers. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, or if you have no experience. In America, in the US during 2016, you cannot pay people $30,000 or $40,000.
Arsalan: We should talk more openly about salaries because a lot of new people coming into the field, even people who’ve been here a while, don’t really know how much they’re worth. They’re just happy to get an offer and they’ll take it. They don’t know how to negotiate. When it comes time for their yearly reviews, they don’t really know how to negotiate a better salary and then they’re taken advantage of. You can’t live in any midsize or large city in America on that kind of salary. Basically, you’d be living as a student. That’s shocking, but that’s prevalent and I’ve seen it over and over.
Sara: So, I’d say that it’s hard to find mentorship, acceptance, or camaraderie, which makes it hard to move up and get better. There’s also the gender component. I know several women who worked in situations dominated by men. So, all these things get said or insinuated. There are activities that the men will do and won’t include you. I don’t think they’re being bad people, but they’re just not thinking about being more inclusive because they’re just so used to working with men all the time and they don’t stop and think about it.
Sara: I think that more than anything the way that I would describe it is that first-timers and up feeling stuck. They are stuck technologically because they’re not working with technology that they love. They are stuck professionally because they can’t find people to help them move forward. They’re stuck culturally. Millennial’s are supposed to be the most diverse generation that the United States has ever produced and they supposedly have more open attitudes towards diversity than their previous cohorts. So they kind of get stuck culturally there as well.
Sara: I talked to college age students and I talked to different groups, everything from boot camp graduates to college students to high school and middle school students and some of the work that I do. What I tell them is that there are problems in other fields as well. But, there are great things about the technology field. It put me in a position to financially help my family. It allowed me to take boot camp grass out for dinner and talk to them. It allowed me to fix my car without worrying about it. Having that kind of financial stability will help you to have a better life.
Sara: When you choose technology as a career, he gives you the freedom to pursue things that you actually want to be doing, which isn’t necessarily the case in media. You are always held hostage to whatever opportunities are available and who you know who can put you at the front of the line for those opportunities. Any other industry is going to have these types of problems. It’s just the nature of corporate. But, what can you do once you’re there? Can you move away? Can you move up? Can you say “hey, in my free time I want to study Ember and become an Ember expert” and then get a job doing Ember?
Sara: You can’t necessarily do that and other fields. So, that’s what I think is good. My first job was good because it helped me to figure out what I did like and what I didn’t like about the technology. It also definitely helped me to get my foot in the door and helped steer me towards what I did want.
Arsalan: You bring up some really good points. One is that there are people in our industry who are not as sensitive to other people’s needs as they ought to be. So, it comes back to empathy, which I talk a lot about in this podcast. It’s very hard to have empathy if you don’t see the person for who they are. You may be thinking that you’ve always done this and you’ve always joked around and that you don’t mean it, but what you say affects other people.
Arsalan: When it affects other people, you need to watch it. You can do what you want in your own house. You can hold your views and act according to those views when you’re not affecting other people. But, in a professional environment it should not happen. Unfortunately, it does happen because were all human and there’s no code of conduct. Even if we had code of conduct, how do you implement? You would need to have this high-handed approach and fire people and that’s not a good approach either. So we need to just raise awareness and hope that people are good people. And once they realize there are affecting others negatively, they will stop. We want our industry to be welcoming to everybody. You don’t have to like them or how they act. You don’t even have to agree with them, but we should all be able to work together.
Sara: To your point, and this is the thing that gets me, as you said, the onus is put on you as a woman or you as a minority, whatever that means in that context. They’re saying that you’re being too sensitive, that you’re the problem, but let’s take a step back here. I’m not raising a big red flag about diversity. I’m just asking about why we’re talking about this, and you’re the one turning it into a huge deal. So, I think you’re the one who’s being too sensitive.
Sara: Often, if it’s a matter of sensitivity, I think they’re the ones because they’re so afraid of being called racist or sexist. I don’t think they’re racist. I just think they have a higher tolerance for racist things. Or, I don’t think you are a walking embodiment of sexism because I know you have daughters and you want the best for them. I think you don’t know how to behave around women in a professional context because you’re not used to it. You can’t even have that conversation because they are like “Whoa!” They freak out because they’re sensitive.
Arsalan: That’s one of the problems you face. Another problem is that generally you don’t get a good salary. It’s okay, but you know you should be able to get more, and some of the other issues. Now, you’ve come to a place where you’ve decided you need to move on, but you’re not ready because nobody knows you. You don’t have a portfolio. You just have your first job maybe six months or a year ago. So, what did you do and what could someone else do to set themselves up to be in a position to get their second job at a higher pay or where they will be happier?
Sara: Sure. So, I would do a couple of things. One, create a digital presence that reflects what you want people to find when they Google you. So, why is it important what people Google about you? People are going to Google you before they hire you and they’re going to look at your Facebook page, your Twitter feed, your LinkedIn, your website. I had a legacy website with my name on it and it wasn’t responsive because it was built in 2012. My friend did it on WordPress and I wasn’t thinking about web, but someone brought it up at one of my interviews. You have to make sure that when people Google you, they’re going to find what you want them to find. I have since updated that website and now it’s responsive. So, that’s super important.
Sara: Two, you can also accomplish things through meet ups sometimes. You can volunteer to meet up or meet people at meet ups and create Segway into becoming that person that way. What I think is really important is to code and study outside of work. It sucks and it’s hard, especially because in my previous position I had to commute. It really dug into my personal time outside of work. That being said, I found that the more I did it, the more I found ways to do it better.
Sara: I didn’t know this when I first started out, but you can go onto GitHub and find an open source project that has some of the components you want and you can clone it and change it to make it your own. People do this all the time. Apparently, this is a thing and I didn’t know it. So, go on GitHub, look for some code and adapt it to what you want and create your own side project. That has been something that I think has helped me to either get interviews or get a job. It shows that you have an interest in your craft. Do you code outside of work? Do you do side projects? Are you trying to grow? Maybe that means you have certifications from Lynda.com or you do a Coursera course or some other thing.
Sara: So, that’s what I’d say. You need to work on your skills outside of work, whether that means going to a Hackathon, getting a mentorship, doing a meetup, writing your own projects. You need to make sure your digital presence is what you want it to be because people are going to be Googling you outside of your interview and resumes. So, what story are you telling them when they do that? Three, you need to do some research into what that means.
Sara: What was good about my first job was that I realized what I wanted. So, my list read that I wanted to work downtown or south so I can have a better commute. I want to be making in this range of money. I want to work in a place that values diversity. I want to work in a place that is supportive of my work with Women Who Code because I think that’s important. Those are things that I prioritize and I think that you should prioritize what you want. You should do some research accordingly and start networking within those circles. There’s a lot that you can do. You have to be intentional about what you want and then go and do it.
Arsalan: So, once you have your first job and you want to move on, you have your digital presence, everyone who looks for you finds relevant things. That’s good. If you have a good resume, how and where do you apply for jobs? Do you go to job sites? Or, do you just talk to people?
Sara: one thing that I think is really great about having a LinkedIn profile is that I found that recruiters who are more legitimate will find you on LinkedIn. There may be some sketchy ones as well, but a lot of the legitimate ones will find you there. It’s a little less sketchy than just putting your resume up on Dice or Indeed. My first position I found by applying through Dice. So, the job sites do also work. My second position I found through a recruiter who works for a company who I had spoken with previously about other positions. They kept up with me, I guess because I also kept up with LinkedIn. The job sites do work, but most of the people who I know who have gotten there second and third jobs have done so through recruiters. The ones who treat you well, treat them well back. Maybe you don’t need something at this time but maybe you know someone who you could refer to them.
Arsalan: So that’s good to know. You need to be everywhere. If you are looking for your first job, your second job, or even your third job, you may not know where that job is. You don’t know which city it will be in. Maybe you want to stay in your current Metro city. But, if you are very specific about the type of work that you want to do, then maybe you want to expand it a little bit. The recruiters are generally local. We may have some good recruiters here in Austin, but they may not know about jobs in Tennessee. Putting your resume on dice will allow you to reach more people, but also you will get more spam. Yet, you should be able to sift through it quickly and you’ll get better at it over time.
Arsalan: So, when you apply for jobs, you need a good profile. You need a good GitHub profile and you needed good Stack Overflow profile. You’ll also need a good, organized, LinkedIn profile. You need to tie it all together. What’s important is that if people find your resume. You should also be able to find your GitHub in LinkedIn profiles, so make sure the links are everywhere.
Arsalan: Make sure you’re also doing open source. If you clone a project, then people will know that you’ve cloned, say 10 things. It sets you apart from the vast majority of people who just do what they’re told at work. So it’s luck of the draw that if you get to work for a great company with great people, then you will learn many things. Otherwise, you won’t, and then you won’t stand out. Now we come to the point where you apply and you have a bunch of interviews lined up. What are the interviews like? Are they one-on-one #or are you just sitting among a group of scary looking managers? How does that go?
Sara: The second time around. I feel like was a double-edged sword, and I’ll tell you why. First, you have more knowledge so you understand the kind of information is out there. So, it’s harder to study for interviews. Ultimately, what I would say is that it was a little bit easier because I did no more, but more was also expected of me. So that’s kind of where I struggled because I didn’t know what the expectations were in this interview round. The first time around I had an economic and financial prerogative. The second time around, I could be more specific about what I wanted because I had more authority and more confidence. I probably should’ve studied more. The second time around, but it’s always the same questions. What is a float? Tell me about floats. What’s displayed? Tell me about the display properties in CSS. It’s usually going to be the same gotcha questions that they ask it every single interview. What’s the difference between an interface and an abstract class? They always asked the same questions, but maybe they ask you write a more complicated function, but it’s always going to be the same fuzzy areas that you’re going to be asked about. They’ll just take your code more seriously. The second time because they’ll assume that you have more skill.
Arsalan: Let me tell you a little secret. When you are a new developer or a new professional in any field, you go to these interviews thinking that you don’t know anything and the person who’s interviewing you nose so much and that they are going to evaluate you. The reality is that he is probably just as insecure as you are and he may be thinking that he is not a good interviewer and he doesn’t know what to ask. That’s why they are not prepared. That’s why they ask you the same questions over and over again. They probably pulled those questions off of the website or something.
Arsalan: That’s sad because I do take an interest in interviewing when I do it. I ask a lot of pointed questions. I have been told that I can be difficult, but I’m very good at evaluating. I want to put you through your paces, but I don’t need to evaluate on your answers necessarily because that’s not the point. Knowledge is easier to get. It’s the approach that’s hard.
Arsalan: If I go for interviews, I have a swagger. I go in there with the confidence of what I know. What I know may be very little, but I know it. The other thing is that the person interviewing me is not sure what to ask me because maybe he’s insecure, unprepared, or tired. Here’s the thing. Throw them a bone and give them something to talk about. Give them a question to ask you and the way that you do that is by guiding them through your answers. All they want to know is are you confidence? Are you good? Or, are you wasting my time? If you are enthusiastic then you are convincing them that you are not wasting their time. You have knowledge and passion, regardless of whether or not it’s what they had in mind. But, it doesn’t matter because most of the time they’re just happy to see that. So, that’s a good little tip for everybody out there. It always works because they are really happy to see someone who takes an interest in their craft.
Sara: Usually it’s almost exclusively going to be all men who are going to interview you and almost always it will be white men. I did a lot of phone interviews the second time around as well. It wasn’t so much the whiteboarding but just the conversation.
Arsalan: They might ask you to go on a white board and write the solution to a problem and just code something up. It happens. More recently have started seeing some pair programming sessions where they hook you up with the computer and you work with somebody else watching your screen so you can ask questions. That’s a completely different type of challenge. They want to evaluate whether you can code. But, let me tell you something else.
Arsalan: Not every section of our industry makes you go three coding interviews. I think that would come as a surprise to a lot of people because most new developers starting out here a lot about coding this or coding that. But, there is more to software development then just programming and coding. There are other things that are really valuable and the coding is just a small part of that.
Arsalan: That’s why I always like to bring people around to show them the full gamut of things that they could do. They could be kick ass coders. They could also be other people where coding is not their main job. There are a lot of automated testers there. I code to test code. That’s a completely different set of coding. There are people there who do functional testing and load testing. There is some coding involved, but a lot of it is analysis. They could be business analysts. A lot of business analysts do write codes. Not everybody is able to manage a project and so they come communicate with upper management. So, project management is another option. All of these things are within the scope of software development. That’s why I stay away from saying that we are programmers or coders because we are so much more than that.
Arsalan: I don’t want to miss UX, user experience designers and web designers. They are all part of this huge umbrella called software development. Even if you suck as a programmer, it could be true because not everybody is cut out to be a programmer, you can still work in the field of technology and do something that requires some core knowledge, but not have that be your primary task.
- Women Who Code Austin
- Lynda courses
- Coursera courses
- Developer Week|Hackathon
- Stack Overflow
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