Relicans host Pachi Carlson talks to Frontend Developer/Designer at Chec/Commerce.js, Jaeriah Tay, about engaging with the developer community, that in the beginning of your programming career, things are hard, and it’s okay to lean on Senior Devs for help, and the key is to dive in and start building.
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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome to Launchies, proudly brought to you by New Relic's developer relations team, The Relicans. The Launchies podcast is about supporting new developers and telling their stories and helping you make the next step in what we certainly hope is a very long and healthy career in software. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of The Relicans podcasts on developer.newrelic.com/podcasts. We're so glad you're here. Enjoy the show.
Pachi Carlson: Hello and welcome, everyone, to Launchies, a podcast for newbies–– developers with non-traditional backgrounds, and career-switchers. I'm Pachi, and I'm a developer, a member of New Relic’s Relicans team. And I'm going to be your host for today's show. And you can find me all over the internet as pachicodes. Today I have here Jaeriah as our guest. She's a multilingual front-end developer and designer, and currently, she's building design products and integrations at Chec/Commerce.js. Coming from a design and entrepreneur background, she found herself at an intersection in tech where she applied her passion in building software, working on documentation, developer resources, and designing UI. And outside of work, you can find her spending time with her son, biking, playing the violin, and engaging with the developer community. Thank you so much for coming today. Welcome.
Jaeriah Tay: Thank you. Thank you, Pachi, for having me on. I was just saying how this marks off my first official podcast, so it's going to be fun. And really, thank you for having me on. So I really appreciate it.
Pachi: That’s so exciting. Thanks so much for accepting. I always like to start with this question: when did you first get interested in working with tech? Like, when did you realize that it was something that you wanted to do in life?
Jaeriah: Well, I guess in the light of the theme of the podcast that we're on, I certainly did not come from a conventional background, so it was a lot of, you know, definitely wasn't a straight path into tech. This November coming up would be my official two years in a tech startup right now. But yeah, thanks for the intro, Pachi. As she outlines, I came from originally, well, professionally came from going from tourism and then into fashion design background. And then from there, I've always been tinkering with design, doing illustration, and then somehow decided to start up a food production company with my family. My family came from primarily the food industry background. So we started a food production company, and we found ourselves with very limited and lack of resources. And I was like, hey, I'm going to take on the challenge to build our branding from the ground up. And then, it took me on a path of going back and self-teaching design, doing digital illustrations, graphic design. And then we were like, hey, we need an online presence. Back then, this was, I think, in 2013. I guess the first platform you would always look into at that time...I don't think there was...what is that contract platform where you can find graphic designers and web designers? I don't remember. It’s not coming to me. Fiverr?
Pachi: Fiverr or something like that.
Jaeriah: Yeah. But pre-Fiverr...I mean, I'm based in Vancouver, so it was Craigslist. So we found some contractors to build a website, and then it turned out it was a total scam. So I had to take ownership over the website. And it was like, oh, what is WordPress? How do you build websites? Yeah, there was a bit of tinkering with HTML pre...I think a lot of us did...I don't know if you know GeoCities and Nexopia, maybe. I think you can do some customization, but I don't remember. It’s so long ago. [chuckles] So yeah, I'm going to try to take control of this and learn a bit. So it started with some WordPress customization, getting into the PHP world. And that was more of a deeper dive into what web development was back then. And then, I decided to, personally with my partner at the time, extend my family, and I had a son. And when he was a year and a half, I decided, hey, this web development and software engineering is something that I could see as a very viable career to upskill and get into. So with some support from my family, I was able to go back to school, do a certification at a local tech institution here in Vancouver. Then I started applying for jobs halfway through the program, and then now I'm here. So yeah, a lot of twists and turns sort of, but it definitely wasn't a straight path into tech. And I'm really happy I got in.
Pachi: That’s really interesting that you got started because you needed it, and then it just evolved from there. I feel like that's very common, especially for a woman to never really consider a career in tech until something happens.
Jaeriah: Exactly. That's very true.
Pachi: Most of the women I have interviewed are not like, “I just got out of high school, and I knew I wanted to do programming.” It was more like, “Something happened in my life, and I found that out.” That's very interesting. Thanks for sharing that. And what are you doing currently?
Jaeriah: So I'm at a tech startup. We are a commerce infrastructure company. So when I was halfway through my program, I was really actively searching for smaller startups, startups specifically, with smaller teams. My sister actually is in tech as well. She's at a medium-sized company. But I isolated my search to this. And I think I was also looking for remote-friendly companies as well. This was pre-pandemic, and then now it’s all normalized. Like, all tech companies have to have some kind of hybrid model of remote working. But yeah, so I work with this company now. I started a week after I graduated. I’m the first-ever junior hire. So I owe it to my team (I work with an amazing group of people) to really give me this opportunity. As a startup, you hear a lot of the horror stories, but I think I wanted to give that the benefit of the doubt. My only baseline of what startups are are from movies and series and from what friends have talked about and Twitter.
Jaeriah: I try not to get on Twitter so much. It can get a little... there are good sides and bad sides to Twitter. But yeah, so I started as the first-ever junior hire. They really did carve out a role for me. I originally applied for a UI designer role, and then I relayed my interest in wanting to go more into development. So yeah, they pretty much just made out this hybrid role for me as a front-end developer and designer. But most of my days are spent developing, in the past year, I would say. And then, since we're a small team, we're sort of cross-functional. So if we need to pick up some design tasks in upcoming cycles, I'll do that. But most of the time, I'm solely focused on development, building our documentation, our dashboard, and integrations using our tools, so it's fun. Every day is different, and I'm learning as I go.
Pachi: That’s great. For most people, I hear their first job was just terrible.
Jaeriah: Yeah. I can't echo that, but I see that a lot on Twitter, and I empathize with that because I do have some close friends and from other industries as well. I don't think it's really just isolated to tech. But I think you just have to be really intentional about your goals when you career switch. And I think I'm at a point in my life especially being a mother and coming into tech later, in my later professional years, I'm like, I really need this. I need this first new job to be something that I know I'm going to commit and invest my time in. And I'm going to carve out my career path for myself. And if it's at this company or the next company, I got to put myself first. And if my interest and passion align with the company's goals, then that’s great. So I find myself here at this company, and I'm just so happy. [chuckles]
Pachi: That really warms my heart to hear that. That is really, really great. I’m so happy for you. And so you are on a startup. I could say we usually don't hear great things about startups. And they made a junior role for you. In the beginning, what were your biggest challenges, like getting used to the role and the company?
Jaeriah: Oh God. [chuckles] You hear a lot of these experiences, and I definitely I’m in the same vein. I accepted early on that imposter syndrome is very, very real, and that happens throughout the whole spectrum of all the experience levels. So I think it was a lot of, personally, maybe a lot of self-direction to begin with. Not that I wasn't given the resources and tools, I was. And I very much know coming into a startup with a small team, I'm going to have to have that push and grit to be like, okay, this is hard, and I need to weigh out whether I can pull one of our senior engineers and ask for help. Or how long should I be trying to tinker and solve this problem, for a week, for two weeks, before I ask for help? But I think, in the beginning, it was a huge hurdle for me to ask for help just because I know how it was all hands on deck. When I joined, there were nine of us on the team, and we have two senior engineers. They're probably a group of the most talented people I know. And I think a lot of it was always weighing out like, I don't want to take time away from them. I don't want to take up engineering efforts. But in the end, it’s like, okay, I should not be spending two weeks on this problem where if I could just pair up with one of my senior engineers and he might point me in the right direction or tell me, “Okay, maybe you should break it down and focus on this area before looking at the bigger picture.” In the end, I think that's what software development is about. You're trying to solve problems, but at the same time, sometimes you just need a different set of eyes to look at it or maybe a different way to solve problems.
Pachi: Sometimes it’s just one little thing that you're missing, and maybe it’s because you have been looking at that for too long.
Jaeriah: I know.
Pachi: Like, how many times was it just one letter that was a mistake in the code?
Jaeriah: Oh God. I think it really helps to have your teammates or especially the seniors on the team to recognize that and be like, “Hey, we've all dealt with that. We've all been there.” And I think I have that around me. But a lot of it was like, I'm my worst critic. I'm my own blocker. I mean, I'm still dealing with this challenge today, asking for help. But I think especially remotely...I do go into our office a couple of days a week. But I find that when I'm working remote it might be a bit a lot harder than if I'm in the office, and I just slide my chair over and ask for help. So it's definitely a challenge that I'm still dealing with, but I think everyone can say the same as well. But ask questions, yeah. You just got to keep asking questions and asking for help.
Pachi: I think that’s important for you to say, “Okay. If I’m not able to solve this in X time, then I have to ask for help.” We think that we’re going to be bothering people, but in the end, it’s worse if we just waste our time and get behind, and we're not going anywhere. But I guess we're just afraid of bothering, especially when we are new before we get to know our seniors. So I totally understand that.
Jaeriah: Yeah, definitely. That's true. And it's like, when you're new, too, I find that it's really hard to timebox. It's like I came to my first ever tech job…we have been working within cycles where we have tasks that we need to estimate. The first time I came into an estimating needed with our upcoming cycle, I was like, what is this? How do I estimate when I don't know the scope of anything? But I don't think any engineers…you come in, and you have your criteria. But in the end, you might timebox something that's longer or shorter or estimate something that ends up being a two-hour task as opposed to...I mean, yeah, it's hard to know. So I find that it comes with experience, and the more I understand our product and the scope of the project, it will get easier. But then there’s another set of challenges after. It's always going to be hard. It's never easy. [chuckles]
Pachi: Yeah. I think that’s the interesting thing about being a programmer: you always have to learn new things. And that’s a challenge. You're never going to be comfortable in what you're doing because with each new project, there’s a new problem to solve, a new tech that you have to use. I guess that is what is exciting for most programmers.
Jaeriah: Yeah. I think most of us are in this field for this reason. In my previous careers, I was very stagnant on learning new things, and I found that when I got in...I came into tech just before I turned 30. And it's like, oh my gosh, I've been out of school for so long. It's like, how do you learn? I had to learn how to learn, which is still a challenge. I take a lot of notes that aren't organized, but I'm trying. [chuckles] But yeah, it's the learning that I think is why we're here and the challenge.
Pachi: Yeah, as long as we keep going. It’s never going to be easy, but the longer you go, the more you get comfortable in whatever you’re doing.
Jaeriah: I hope so. [chuckles]
Pachi: Yes, I hope so too. So I was checking your website, and I saw that you say you lived in three continents. That is pretty awesome. Where are you originally from?
Jaeriah: Oh, yeah. [chuckles] It's always a bit of a storyline, but yeah, so I was born in Toronto. Like, when people ask me where my hometown is or home is, I have to go into a bit of a spiel. But I was born in Toronto, left when I was quite young when I was about three, four. My dad is originally from Singapore, and my mom from Thailand. So we actually went back to Singapore because my dad had a job opportunity. But he immigrated to Toronto in his younger years. So he took myself and my brother back to Singapore, lived there for about eight years. And in between, we were going around Asia and living with family and traveling, left in 2000 millennium and have been in Vancouver since. But while I was in Vancouver, I was living in Europe off and on just doing volunteering work, and that was when I was in tourism. So I was in Italy for a bit. And then I was doing a lot of the kind of co-working...sort of, and I would get housing and food for free while I was doing tourism and hospitality. But since coming into tech, I've been in Vancouver.
Pachi: That's pretty fun.
Jaeriah: Yeah. So it's been hard since the pandemic, just not being able to see family and friends. But yeah, I think it's one of the top reasons why I see myself in tech for the long term, just because I don't ever want to fully settle down in one place. I want to be able to go and stay with friends, be with family around the world. So yeah, I think it's great that tech gives people that opportunity to do that. But I would say any desk job, really, if you're within the same time zone to be able to work remotely and choose the lifestyle and the work-life balance that you need.
Pachi: Yeah. And I feel like the pandemic has been weird. But I feel like some companies that were so resistant to remote now understand that there is no point for programmers to have to go to the office every day. It doesn't really make sense.
Jaeriah: Yeah, definitely.
Pachi: We can work from anywhere.
Jaeriah: Where are you based right now?
Pachi: So, yes, I'm similar. When somebody asks...I'm based in New Jersey, U.S., but I'm from Brazil. So I love that you asked, “Where are you based?” Because when somebody asks me, “Where are you from?” I have to be like, “Okay, you have to be specific.” [laughter]
Jaeriah: Yeah, exactly.
Pachi: I'm from Brazil, but I'm in New Jersey.
Jaeriah: Yeah, I get that. It's still a bit of a sensitive ground to trek when I get that just because I'm primarily from an Asian background. But I still get that till today. But I think there's a shift in the paradigm that people are talking about it today. It's like, I'll get that even in my hometown here. Vancouver is a very multicultural city, but I would get that where it's like, “Where are you from?” And I'll be like, “Canada.” It’s like, “So, where are you really from?”
Jaeriah: So I'm very used to that. But I'll kind of shift it. I'll try to pinpoint and be like, “What are you really asking?” Because I'm happy to share.
Jaeriah: Yeah. I don't take it in any way. It's because when I ask that to anyone of any background, it's purely out of curiosity. But if someone asks me that question, I will ask the question back. Like, “What do you really want to know?” Because I'm happy to share.
Pachi: That's a question with two answers.
Jaeriah: Yeah. Do you mean where are my parents from? I'll tell you where my parents are from. [chuckles]
Pachi: It's very funny for me. I don't know how it is in Canada, but in Brazil, we consider that you are from the country you’re born from. So I'm Brazilian. But if I have kids, my kids are going to be American. But here in the U.S., for example, my husband's great grandparents were Czech. So his mom said that she’s 35% Czech. And for me, because I'm Brazilian, that doesn't make sense. For me, she's American. [laughs] So it was very -- And it was like, “Oh, I’m Brazilian, sure.” And then I started talking in Portuguese. And then it was like, “Oh, I don’t speak Portuguese.” “But aren’t you Brazilian?” “Oh, my mom is Brazilian.” “Okay, so you’re not Brazilian.” [laughs]
Jaeriah: Yeah. And then you get down this whole debate and discussion of ethnicity, nationality, background, race.
Pachi: Yes. Where your family comes from is your descendancy, but you are from wherever you’re born or raised. In my first years in the U.S...I have been here for eight years now. But it took me a while to get used to that. [chuckles]
Jaeriah: And then home, right? That's a hard question for me because I never...it's like the Vancouver hot topic. No one's really from Vancouver. It’s such a multicultural city like you never...although my best friend she's the only one that's actually born and raised here, which is very rare. She's like a rare breed. Vancouver has never truly felt like home to me because I find that growing up with a more cultured background and always being in touch with that because of my parents, that I find myself gravitating towards cultures and communities that are richer in culture in terms of community, people, the way you interact. So I don't know. Yeah, it's still a question I ask “Where is home?” But that's fine for me.
Pachi: I always have the feeling that no place is going to be a 100% home because part of me will always be rooted in Brazil. But at the same time, I have been here for too long that if I went back to Brazil, I wouldn't be...it’s a weird thing.
Jaeriah: You'll be an outsider, right?
Pachi: Uh-huh. We’re citizens of the world, I guess. [laughs]
Jaeriah: Exactly. Not so much in the last year, but hopefully, that will change.
Pachi: But yes, that’s really interesting. I really like to talk to people that have been in more than one place, that have more than one [inaudible 00:21:06] Because, like it or not, we have a broader vision of everything.
Pachi: All the places that we have been. That's really interesting.
Jaeriah: And that's very important in an industry like tech. There's been a lot of, I guess, things have been surfacing in terms of diversity and inclusion, but there's been a shift, which I think is really good, and I feel good about it. Whereas before, you just think, oh, there's a lot of toxicity in tech in terms of sexism, racism, things like that. But I personally have never dealt with that, and I hope I won't. But yeah, I believe things will change.
Pachi: Yeah. Of course, there's still a lot of work to be done. But I feel like slowly...and especially with all the communities that have been created. Like, I met you through the Front-End Foxes. That’s a good place that’s exclusive for women. So I know we have a safe place there, a safe community. So how did you find the Front-End Foxes?
Jaeriah: Oh, I was actively looking for communities with women. So I'm the only woman on my team right now. But as we expand, I know that that will change because we're a small team. So I think it was very much that I wanted to seek out a community of women that share the same interests that are in the same industry. So I think maybe it was that along with trying to look for a Vue community because at that time, I had started a week in, and at Commerce.js we were building out our new dashboard in Vue. So I wanted to learn more about Vue. So I don't know how I stumbled upon it, but I somehow got connected with Ben. He was a part of Vue.js. He was a big contributor, and he drives the community at Vue.js. So he actually referred me to Front-End Foxes. So I think yeah, it took kind of two degrees, and then I joined. And unfortunately, this was when the pandemic started, so I couldn't attend any in-person events. But then we started running virtual events, which was really fun. I ran a couple of our sessions for a while and then did some workshops as part of Front-End Foxes, but that fell flat just because everyone's just so busy. There’s just so much happening that it's a lot to keep up with. It's like we're already online, cooped up at home all day. And then I just couldn't do another virtual event, though; with podcasts, it's different. [chuckles] I love podcasts. You're just chatting on the phone, and that’s I guess how Clubhouse came up and rose to prominence.
Pachi: Yeah. I really like it. You just sit down and talk about things that you're happy to talk about. That's why I like to leave the questions open. They don't have much of a structure because we can really get to know each other and know what you’re doing.
Jaeriah: Yeah. So I guess coming into tech...when I was in school, I would say I think a lot of...I don't want to say strategy because it's not really...but I guess in terms of job seeking, networking I did some research as to how to go about that. And as I said earlier, I'm not too...I'm a Twitter consumer. I love to follow people that I look up to and people who have been in the field, but I'm not so much of a contributor. I don't tweet a lot. [chuckles] I think I have maybe 30 tweets in draft that I'm like, oh, I'm not going to put this out. But yeah, I was a bit stunted from trying to network on Twitter because of a bad experience in the beginning. But a month before I graduated, I was quite heavy on LinkedIn, reaching out to network and people of companies that I was looking up. And then pretty much stalking the current employees or past employees to ask questions, do info interviews. And surprisingly, people are so open to that, and that's great. And I think why I wanted to take up doing workshops and mentoring with Front-End Foxes was because I want to somehow give back to people that want to journey into tech. But yeah, it was LinkedIn and cold messaging and emailing that I was able to line up some conversations and interviews, and I ended up where I am right now. But I think a lot of it is really just you can't really just go the traditional route of just trying to apply what's out there. It's important to try to make connections as much as possible.
Pachi: Especially if you have a non-traditional background.
Jaeriah: Yeah, exactly.
Pachi: It would be nice if we could just get into the door like everybody else. But the truth is we have to fight a little harder to get that first step. But yeah, it’s worth it.
Jaeriah: Yeah. And while you're job seeking, build things. Put things out there, build in public, write blog posts that all rounds up to be experiences and projects. And I think that's very helpful. So some of that I would try to put out there. But yeah, a lot of it is a lot of outreach and networking, which might be tough for some people, and it was tough for me. I’m a strange introvert-extrovert; I have my moments. But you have to do that.
Pachi: But it's fun. I have one last question for you that I’d like to ask you. What is your biggest, most helpful tip for people like you that want to get started on tech or just got started? What is your number one tip for those people?
Jaeriah: Number one, if they want to transition into tech, I think things have changed, and I don't think it's...there's been a lot of talk of coming from CS backgrounds coming from some tech backgrounds, but it all depends ultimately where you see yourself in the end. But there are so many resources online. I haven't really gotten too much into freeCodeCamp, and I did a little bit and then some other learning platforms. But oh my gosh, I think if you were to think about going into tech and if you have the means to either quit your job or work part-time, but really go online search for all these resources, and start building projects. Put up your GitHub profile, start committing projects into it. So it just makes it that much easier when you have something to show for your practical projects and experience. I would really say you really just got to dive in and start building and who knows? Maybe once you get in, you're like, oh, maybe this isn't for me. But I would say you just got to dive in. Programming is a lot about just doing it. And Twitter, I didn't go that route, but Twitter...learning in public, tweet about it, put up your blog posts, share your projects. And yeah, build out your community, follow the right people that you look up to in terms of their career paths and where they're at. And Twitter-stalk people either on Twitter or LinkedIn. That's probably one of the best things about tech. People are just so open to pass it forward.
Pachi: That's very true. Even if you find somebody that is not, you're going to find somebody else that is happy to help you and just share with you what they know.
Jaeriah: Yeah, exactly.
Pachi: So I think that was great advice. So before we go, where can people find you online if they want to connect with you, get to know more about you?
Jaeriah: Yeah, sure. I don't have a big online presence. But I'm on Twitter @jaeriahtay, my last name T-A-Y. And I guess GitHub or LinkedIn. You can find me on LinkedIn, first name, last name. But GitHub is J-A-E-P-A-S-S, Jaepass. I actually just got on Polywork, which is quite cool. I'm just trying to put out...are you on?
Pachi: Yeah, I am, totally. I love it.
Jaeriah: I'm trying to go back on the timeline and trying to put in everything.
Jaeriah: But yeah, you can find me at Polywork with my first name as well. But I'm a newbie.
Pachi: Yeah, everybody just got on. But yeah, this last week, I spent a lot of time just getting to put all my stuff there.
Jaeriah: I love it. I think there's been a lot of talk about, like “Oh, LinkedIn sucks. There needs to be another game-changing app or platform,” and Polywork, I think, is the answer.
Pachi: Yeah. I really like what they’re doing so far. So yeah, check out Polywork. [chuckles] Thank you so much for coming to chat with me. That was so much fun. It was great to have you today.
Jaeriah: Thank you so much.
Pachi: Thank you, everybody, for listening. This was Launchies. And please stay tuned for the next episodes. If you'd like to be a guest or if you have somebody that would like to be a guest, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter. My DMs are open, @pachicodes. And thank you. Bye-bye.
Jonan: Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of the rest of The Relicans podcasts on therelicans.com. In fact, most anything The Relicans get up to online will be on that site. We'll see you next week. Take care.