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Blogging, Bootcamps, and Bettering Yourself with Julia Mathias

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ใƒป23 min read

Relicans host, Pachi Parra talks to Software Developer Julia Mathias about dropping out of college to attend a bootcamp, migrating from Ruby to Elixir, and managing life with ADHD.

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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 Parra: Hello and welcome to Launchies, a podcast for newbies, developers with non-traditional backgrounds, and career-switchers. I'm Pachi, and I'm a DevRel engineer at New Relic. And today I'm going to be your host. You can find me all over the web as pachicodes. Today I have here with me Julia Mathias. She's a back-end developer working with Elixir at Stone, and she's from Brazil. Julia is a college dropout and a bootcamp grad. Welcome, Julia.

Julia Mathias: Hi, guys.

Pachi: I'm happy to have you here today.

Julia: I'm really happy to be here too.

Pachi: So you're from Brazil.

Julia: Yes, I'm from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Pachi: I always like to start by asking when did you first get interested in tech? I know that some people start programming...but when did you first think, okay, I want to be a programmer like, I can do this?

Julia: I had been interested in tech my whole life pretty much. My dad used to be a programmer when I was a kid. It was never his main job. He worked in Telecom, but he did programs on the side to make more money, basically. And he used to program in Clipper, which is a really old language.

Pachi: Wow.

Julia: So yeah. So growing up, I always saw him programming. Then when I was about maybe 10 or 11, he stopped doing that. And it was something always in the back of my mind. And when I was a teenager, I had many blogs. I loved blogging. And I started doing my own templates for my blogs, for my friends' blogs. And it was very amateurish. I basically just copy-pasted parts of other people's templates onto mine to make mine. But it was always something that I enjoyed doing.

But I ended up going to college to be a designer because also when I was in high school, I very briefly went to technical school for programming for three months, but I found it really boring. And it was really early in the morning. It was really far from my house. Anyways, I only lasted two, three months, and I gave up. And I thought programming is more my dad's thing; it's not really for me. So I went to college for design. And when I went to college, I had several problems in college, mostly with mental health stuff, and I ended up dropping out multiple times.

And so my 20s were basically very...it was kind of a rollercoaster. A lot happened. I had a lot of different jobs. I tried a lot of different things. And so, in 2009, I finally got my mental health stuff sorted, got a proper diagnosis and treatment. And so it was like, okay, now that everything calmed down, what am I going to do with my life? [chuckles] And my career was all messed up. So it was like, maybe I could try programming because I know that the market is really good right now. And maybe it will be easier to re-enter the job market, basically. And I liked doing templates and stuff when I was a teenager; maybe I could study that. So I tried to start to study on my own. I tried doing Odin. I don't know if people know, but it's basically a Ruby bootcamp that is free online. But it was really hard for me. Basically, things weren't clicking. I could follow the material, but I didn't feel like I could really build anything on my own if I didn't have guidance.

So I started researching. I knew bootcamps existed, but I thought they only existed outside of Brazil. I thought it was a U.S. thing. So one day, I was searching online, and I was thinking maybe I could find a paid online bootcamp in the U.S. that I could do from Brazil. And I found out that there was a bootcamp in my city called Le Wagon. It's a French bootcamp, but they also have it in Brazil. And I was like, oh cool. But it was really expensive. So it was like, okay, I'm not doing that. [chuckles] But I continued to follow them on social media and stuff. And eventually, they had a job opening there for a community manager doing social media and events. So I ended up working for them and doing the bootcamp. [laughs]

Pachi: That's awesome. Hey, I can work for you.

Julia: Yeah, and that's how I did the bootcamp. So in 2020, that was like in 2020, I worked for them, and I did the bootcamp for six months. And this year, I started sending out resumes, and I found my first developer job.

Pachi: That's awesome. So about the bootcamp, I know how bootcamps work here. Mostly, they're usually six months too. And why did you decide the bootcamp was the best thing for you? Like, some people go to college, some people just go online. What was the thing that made you choose the bootcamp?

Julia: I had a really bad experience at college. I didn't want to go back, and it was so much time. I didn't want to spend another four or five years doing college to start working again. And so, I was kind of burned out of going to college because I ended up going to college multiple times. So I just didn't want to do college again, at least or right away. I just wanted to find work as fast as possible, so that's why I chose a bootcamp.

Pachi: That's good. I know that in Brazil, it is not as common as here. Here in the U.S., bootcamps are a big thing. But yes, they're expensive. [chuckles] It's a big-time commitment. So you did the bootcamp for six months. How long did it take for you to find your first job after you finished your bootcamp?

Julia: It took about a month. It wasn't super hard. The job search was okay. Of course, I doubted myself a lot, especially after getting a few nos, you start doubting. And it was hard because my bootcamp, for example, didn't teach any React. We only learned Ruby, Rails, and some JavaScript, but it was only pure JavaScript and not any framework. And initially, because I had done design, I thought Iโ€™m going to go into front end, and I thought it would be easier for me. But I didn't know React and most front-end job openings these days want React. So most tasks had something to do with React, and I was really stressed out.

And the job that I ended up going to and that I ended up accepting the offer was the only back-end job I had applied to [chuckles] because it was in Elixir, and I was interested in the language. Because I came from Ruby, a lot of people were already talking about Elixir, and a lot of people were switching from Ruby to Elixir. And I was like; it seems like a really interesting language. It's new, so I'll be able to be a part of the community and see growth from the beginning. So I was really interested in that. And this particular position, we were actually trained for a month in Elixir before starting to work.

Pachi: Oh, that's good.

Julia: So that was also really appealing to me. So yeah, it wasn't super easy. But I definitely got a lot more interest from companies than when applying for design jobs, for example. People were getting back to me a lot more. And I was getting the opportunities to do a lot of interviews. Even if they all didn't pan out, I was at least getting to try. [chuckles]

Pachi: So you went from Ruby to Elixir. So when you started your job, you didn't know any Elixir. So how was that, learning a brand new thing with the job already?

Julia: It was really hard. I didn't even get to study on my own before starting the job. It was really close, the date that I got the offer and the day that I started. So I didn't really get to study. And before, I was still trying to do a bunch of other technical tests because I didn't know which one I was going to go to, so I didn't really have time. And in the beginning, it was really difficult. Elixir, for those that don't know, is a functional language, so it's not object-oriented. So that part and shift to understand it was hard for me. And I didn't really even have super strong foundations yet in any language, to be honest. So it was hard, but people were really supportive at my job, so that made things a little bit easier. And I'm still really learning.

Pachi: How long have you been in the job?

Julia: I started in March, and I only started really working in April, so three, four months.

Pachi: And how are you feeling now?

Julia: I'm feeling good. I really like what I'm doing. I was worried. When I finally got the offer, I was like, oh my gosh, it's only back end. Because initially, what I really wanted was full stack because I like both. So I was like, oh my gosh, it's only back end. Will I find it too boring? I don't know. I was really worried, but I'm really enjoying. It's really fun. The people I work with are super nice, super helpful. Everyone is always ready to help me. So it's been really nice.

It was also nice because I got in with 33 people. It was like a class. And all the girls in the groupโ€ฆthere were nine girls in the group, 9 or 10, I don't remember now. But we all did a WhatsApp group at the beginning. And after the month of classes was over, we all got divided into different teams, but we still keep in touch in our group. The support that I got from them was so cool, and we support each other so much. So that made the experience even better for me. I think getting in with a bunch of people and knowing everyone was in it together made it easier.

Pachi: Itโ€™s really helpful when you're getting started and having people to help you. Sometimes you should talk about it to understand because when you are programming, and none of your friends know what you're talking about, I feel like we usually have a hard time explaining to our family what we do because it's not something that is straightforward like, I'm a cook; I just make dinner. It's something a bit more complex. So having friends that really know what you're doing makes a huge difference. And outside of having these friends, what do you think really helped you to get through those first few months at your new job? What advice would you give to people starting new jobs?

Julia: I think the advice is really to ask everything. [chuckles] Ask everything and then document things. When you ask something to someone, and someone explains it to you, either record it. Sometimes I would record calls with people, or I would right after take notes of if they said certain comments, I would go to my terminal and copy all the comments. I have a notion where I have my own documentation for several things.

Pachi: I love that.

Julia: So I always do that. Whenever I do something that I know that I probably have to do it again and I won't remember the exact steps, I write down everything I did so that when I have to do it again, I won't have to ask someone again the same thing. Of course, you can do that, but I try to ask people a lot of questions. But also, when they answer me, I try to take note of everything they said or record it so that if I needed to do it again, I can just look at my notes or look at a video.

Pachi: Yeah. I feel like asking questions is very important. Some people are afraid of it, but at the same time, after you do, you just...I think it's great that you document that because sometimes you just forget. And some people ask questions without even looking a bit. So there has to be a balance on that. Like okay, I tried, and it didn't work. I'm going to ask for help. And I'm going to make the most of the help I got because the person helped me. But I love your idea of just documenting everything. That's really helpful. I forget everything. [laughter]

Julia: I forgot everything too. And I have ADHD, so my memory is terrible. So if I don't take note of things, I will definitely forget.

Pachi: Yes, as a person with ADHD, I know that can be tough. So, how do you think that affects you? I feel at least with me; because of that, I had to create a system for everything I do. It is still hard to keep the system, but I try. So, do you have a system that you use to manage your ADHD?

Julia: I do. There's this app called Amazing Marvin that is a to-do app, but they also have some project management features. They basically have a bunch of features, and you can turn the features on and off. For me, what helps is having everything visually in my calendar. I have a terrible sense of time, like time passing, so having everything in my calendar and seeing the line going down the calendar on my day. So I know what I'm supposed to be doing and what I'm going to have to do next. It's really helpful.

And before, I thought that having a calendar, having everything organized was something that only boring people did [chuckles]. You know when someone is like, "Oh, let me check my calendar to see if I can do this." I was like, oh my gosh, this person is just so like...I thought that only certain kinds of people were like that or people who were just born organized or something. Because I think no one teaches you that. No one teaches you how to organize your time or what to do.

So I ended up also developing my own systems. And basically, I try to...the moment something is on my head; I try to write it down or put it on the app. I have several things set up in the app to help me, but I just write it down and put it somewhere because if I just hold it in my mind, I'll definitely forget.

Pachi: That's good.

Julia: I just document everything. At the end of my workday, I write down a brief summary of everything I did so that the next day I know where I am in the task I'm doing, stuff like that. I kind of say, oh no, I tried this. Like, if I'm in the middle of trying to fix a bug, for example, I'll write what I tried and what I think I should do next so that the next day I know where I am situated.

Pachi: I just started something similar today. I was doing that, like at the end of the day, just write down everything I did. But it happens that I forget what I did during the day. [chuckles] So now I have a Google Docs open in front of me that is always open. So after I do something, I go down and write, "I just did that." So after this podcast, I'm going to write "Hey, I recorded a podcast" [laughter] because if I don't, I'll forget I did.

Julia: I also do that. I also have little tasks, and whenever I do something, I write it in the task and click done. And then I can look at what I did for that day. It also helps me sometimes because I also forget. [chuckles]

Pachi: Yes, and the day is so long. When you're doing something...I don't know if you have that but usually, when you have ADHD, and when you get into hyperfocus and really get into the zone, everything else is gone forever until you finish what you're doing. It's like, forget about me. I'm not doing anything until that's done. I feel like for everybody, itโ€™s important to have a system. But if you have mental health issues, it's harder. But just having something to just keep track of...and like I said, it doesn't always even work. Every day in the morning, I just write down okay, I'm going to do this, this, and that at this time. Sometimes I do only half of what's on my list. But I try, and I think that's the first step. [chuckles]

Julia: Yeah. And also, for me, I am also terrible at estimating how much time it's going to take to do something, and so that's the other thing that having it visually helped me because I also do it if I change something. Let's say that I took more time on a task than I thought I would, I go back to my calendar, and I change it to when I actually ended it so that I have a record. So next time I have to do something similar, I can look like, oh, last time I did this, it took me three hours, and not one as I thought.

Pachi: That's really good advice because sometimes I have no idea how long it takes. I just know that I did it. And that is especially when you have imposter syndrome, we feel like we didn't work because we forgot what we did. So it's like, hey, what did I do today? I'm being so unproductive. But most of the time, you are not. You're just not paying attention to your time. So I think that's really great advice to write down when you start things and when you actually end things so you can really know where your time is going.

Julia: Exactly. And also observe patterns. I noticed that I'm not a morning person at all. In my work, my hours are flexible. I can pretty much choose when I work. But when I was starting to work at 9:00, I noticed that from 9:00 until 12:00, I was really unproductive. I was not getting anything productive done and stuff. And I used to work from 9:00 until 5:00 or 6:00, I don't remember and then do yoga after. And so I thought you know what? Let me do yoga before work because I'm going to be doing something with my body. I won't be using my mind, so it will be okay, and then I can get into work. And it was so much better for me. Because that time, it was time that I was just wasting. So now I start working later, but when I start working, I'm much more productive.

Pachi: Yeah, if you can, have flexible work. It's definitely good to have the option of working when you're more productive. I'm the opposite. I like to get everything doneโ€ฆthe most important thing is done in the morning because in the afternoon, like after 5:00 p.m., I'm gone. All the energy is out of my body. So I know that. And I usually start the day with energy, and it starts going down. So I have the most important things in the morning or the things that get more attention. And then, at the end of the day, it's like, okay, I can record a podcast. Recording a podcast does not require as much focus, so I usually do that later in the day. But yes, knowing when your brain works the best definitely helps a lot because sometimes, if you're just forcing it when your brain is not, it's just not going to work. You're just going to be frustrated, and you're wasting your time and just, yeah, not a good feeling. So you mentioned that you have ADHD, and you were diagnosed not that long ago. Were you in college? How did you find out about that?

Julia: I was diagnosed in 2009. It hasn't been very long. Basically, I started any kind of treatment really late. I had to be in a really bad place to start treatment because I thought my family would have some issues with me going to a doctor and stuff. I basically was just kind of...I also didn't know at the time if I was just faking it in a way. I was like, is it really that bad that I need a doctor, basically? And looking back, for me, it's absurd that I was even questioning it because now that I have the perspective of where my life wasโ€ฆand basically, a friend did an intervention. And it was like, "Julie; you have to go to a doctor. You just have to." So I did. And at first, I was just diagnosed with depression, but I started treatment for that, and it wasn't really working. So I started talking with my doctor more. And she was like, "Hmm, I think you might have ADHD." So she basically tested me for it, and then we started treatment.

And it was so much different, and it made so much sense when I started looking into ADHD. I think I never thought I had it because people focus much more on the hyperactive part of ADHD, and I'm not hyperactive. I'm the inattentive type. So I was very much that kid who was always daydreaming in class, never remembering anything, leave the stove on and forget, very spacey kind of person. So I didn't know that that could be ADHD too. But when I finally got diagnosed, I started reading a lot more about it trying to understand it, and it made a lot of sense.

Pachi: I got diagnosed last year. So I used to think I was just lazy. Why can't you just focus? Why can't you just study for another hour? Why can't you finish that? You're just so lazy. And then I was like, okay, I'm not lazy.

Julia: Exactly.

Pachi: It's just the way my brain is. And like you said, if we started reading that and talking to people like, oh, that makes so much sense, and that's okay. I feel like there is some prejudice on that. Like, you don't have an issue. You just overdiagnose. But I feel like, especially women, we are underdiagnosed for that.

Julia: Yeah, there are actually studies that say that women are underdiagnosed.

Pachi: Some people don't even have to take meds. It's just knowing that you can have coping techniques for that. And some people do like, "I take meds, and they are great. And they work for me. But some people are like, you, don't have to. Some people...I don't know if you feel that but just finding out I had that and learning more just made so much sense. There are some things that I used to do like okay, if I tried that, it would be a bit better. I used to forget everything. I have a little notebook and a pen in every room. So I'm going to just write things down, and I won't forget. This little thing just really getting to know yourself better. I feel like it's just so helpful.

Julia: And also, it was freeing because I guess before, I was just trying to do what people usually say, I don't know, "Just get organized." People don't really give very helpful advice. "Just get organized, just do that," but no one explains. And when I also started reading more things about ADHD, something that people always said was do things that make sense for you. It doesn't matter if it doesn't make sense for anyone else. It looks crazy to other people. Just do what makes sense for you. It was very freeing for me to like, oh yeah, I can do that. [chuckles] I don't need to do it the way everyone does. I can just do what works for me and stuff like that. I have scissors everywhere because there are certain things that you need to have in every room so that you don't stop something just to go get something else.

Pachi: Because sometimes when you go somewhere else to get something, you forget. [laughter]

Julia: Yeah, exactly.

Pachi: Like, okay, I go to the bathroom to grab something, and then I go there, and I'm like, wow. Why am I here? [laughs]

Julia: Yeah, exactly. I have a scissor in my bathroom because sometimes I cut like...you know when your cream is almost going down, and you want to cut the package to get the rest of it?

Pachi: Yeah.

Julia: So now I have a scissor in my bathroom just for that [chuckles] just so I don't have to go grab a scissor from somewhere else.

Pachi: And that's great. You just know whatever works for you. Everybody is different. And with ADHD or without ADHD, everybody is different. And I feel like everybody tries to fit in little boxes, and that's okay if you don't as long as it works. That's all that matters. What advice would you give for people that were like you, struggling with mental health but don't think so? You're not sure if you should look for help or not.

Julia: I think that people should...if they have the opportunity to go to a doctor, they should always try to go. Don't think, oh, maybe it's not that bad. If it's not that bad, the doctor will tell you basically. But don't just think that your life has to be a disaster for you to start treatment. Don't wait till it gets that bad.

Pachi: If it gets that bad, it's much harder.

Julia: Yeah, exactly. Don't wait till it gets that bad for you to do something about it. I did, and I definitely regret it. I wish that I had gone to a doctor when I was in high school. So much could have been avoided in my life, I feel like. But yeah, do it as soon as possible. And also try to...people say don't read things online, but there are good sources online too because sometimes the doctor won't tell you everything you need to know. So I also did a lot of research on my own after I got diagnosed. I would literally read articles from medical publications seeing about medication, about the kind of treatments for ADHD, what kind of studies people were running. And you can be informed about what's happening with you. But I would definitely tell people to try to look for professional help.

Pachi: I don't think you should use the internet to diagnose yourself, but it definitely helps you get to know better and have options. Because if you go to the doctor and you have all these symptoms, the doctor has all these issues that can fit you. But if I say, "Okay, I have this and this, and I have a friend that has depression, and I have this thing that's similar to her. I'm not saying I have that, but I noticed that." So I think it helps the doctor. Don't go, "Hey, I have ADHD, so you have to medicate me." It's just like, "Okay, I read that. I'm not sure it applies, but I think it does. And I want your opinion." The internet is there for a reason. You just have to use it wisely.

Julia: Exactly.

Pachi: So my last question for you today this podcast the audience is mostly people starting to learn to code. They're getting their first job. Sometimes people are thinking about it, but they're not sure if that's for them. So could just share your best advice that will help people getting started in tech?

Julia: I think if you're still unsure if it's for you or not...because I think there are two things, one thing is that it's true that maybe some people won't enjoy it and maybe it's not for them because of that. And then there are people that are just doubting themselves if they can do it or not. Like, they do like it, but they think they won't be able to get a job, or they're not good enough, so those are two things.

I think just try to build things; even if it's like a small thing, not everyone can go to a bootcamp or something like that. But these days, there are a lot of free bootcamps or something like that. I think trying to build something and, if possible, trying to build with someone else will give you a better simulation of what it will be like to work as a developer because very rarely you'll be building something on your own unless you're a freelancer that does small projects. But other than that, you will always be working with people. So trying to build something with someone is the best thing you can do.

And if you already learned something and you were just like, "Should I study more to get a job? " or "I don't feel secure enough," I would say try to get a job as fast as you can because you learn so much more when you're working than when you're just studying on your own. There's no difference for me like how much I've learned since I started working because I think it was really different for me from what I thought it would be like when I finally got work. The kind of problems I was working with and the kind of things I was building were really different than what I'm doing at my job now. And there are a lot more things involved than I thought. It's just, for example, New Relic, which is the company behind this podcast; it was something like this kind of tooling, stuff about monitoring.

And so many things that you use to build applications are not things that you're going to learn in a bootcamp. There's a whole world that opens up when you actually get a job, and you see the tools that people actually use to build things in the real world. So I would say try to get a job. Even if you don't make a lot of money at first, just really try to get as much experience building things that people will really use because it's so different when you have real users, real bugs that you have to try to solve.

Pachi: Yes, definitely. There is no learning offline that is going to teach you what you have to know. I feel like people often feel they don't know enough. But I always say at the end of the day, itโ€™s the interviewer that's going to decide if you know enough or not. It's not your job to know if you know enough or not.

Julia: Exactly.

Pachi: You're going to get lots of nos, but maybe you're going to get a yes, and that's all you need. And you're going to get feedback too. Good companies give feedback. So you don't know enough now, but somebody is going to tell you, "Okay, this is where you need to go. That is what you can be learning." So you're going to have a better understanding of what your next step should be, especially if you're learning online. I find that is very helpful, having the actual companies, people that work there saying, "Hey, that's what you could improve," Because again, we're learning in college and in bootcamps all by ourselves. We have this curriculum that's based most of the time in real life, but it's not the real experience, especially because tech is changing every day, and no curriculum can keep up to date with that.

Julia: Exactly.

Pachi: So yeah, just apply. You're going to get a lot of nos for sure.

Julia: For sure. And even the interview process is going to give an idea of where you are. The kinds of tests you're going to do you're going to see oh, I'm not good at...For example, when I started interviewing for a lot of React positions, I was like, oh my gosh, if I want to work in this, I really need to learn React. So you're going to get a better sense of where you are even from the tasks you get to do, technical tests. And then if you feel that you need to learn a bit more, then you can start studying too. But keep applying, keep trying, and eventually, you're going to get a yes.

Pachi: Yes, I think that's great advice. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today, Julia. It was a pleasure.

Julia: Thank you so much for having me.

Pachi: Where can people find you on the internet?

Julia: They can find me on Twitter. It's @thejuliams. It's thejulia M-S like thejuliams, T-H-E-J-U-L-I-A-M-S. So I'm on Twitter. I'm on LinkedIn too, Julia Mathias. And yeah, I don't tweet that much, but [chuckles] I tweet sometimes.

Pachi: But it's fun to be there. There is always something interesting happening on Twitter, especially on tech Twitter. [chuckles] Again, thank you so much. It was great talking to you. I learned a lot.

Julia: It was really nice talking to you.

Pachi: And thank you, everybody, for listening to Launchies. Stay tuned for next week's episode. We have a new episode every week with awesome people like Julia. And again, thanks for listening. 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.

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