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Friends and Firsts – Volunteering a Path to Tech with Erin Claudio

Jonan Scheffler interviews Erin Claudio about working for groups Techqueria, an inclusive group with focus on the Latinx community wanting to be involved in any aspect of tech, and Ruby For Good, a volunteer-driven nonprofit that develops specialized technology and software solutions for nonprofit organizations to bolster their critical missions.

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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 We're so glad you're here. Enjoy the show.

Hello and welcome back to Launchies. I am Jonan, and I'm on the Developer Relations team here at New Relic, The Relicans. I am very proud to introduce my guest today, Erin Claudio. How are you, Erin?

Erin: Good, good. I'll give my little intro. My name is Erin Claudio. I currently live in Lake Leelanau, Michigan. I'm a volunteer at Ruby for Good and a regular contributor, question asker, and try to be of help for a group called Techqueria.

Jonan: This is awesome because those are all things I wanted to ask you about. I want to actually touch on very quickly how we came to meet because we have a friend in common. Her name is Ilana Corson. And I met Ilana because she was an instructor at a code school where I would go and speak sometimes and help out a little bit called the Turing School of Software & Design. If you are looking for a place to study right now, I know that Turing is online. I don't know if this is great advice. It’s part of a longer conversation but maybe wait until we start doing these things in person again. If you're going to go to a code school, that's one of two or three in the entire country that I recommend. They're fantastic. Anyway, I met Ilana there because I was there giving a talk. I was a guest instructor. And one of the other teachers mentioned, “Hey, we're all going to go to this bar tonight. Do you want to come and hang out and meet everybody?” And I was like, “Yeah, sure.” And he goes, “By the way, it's our friend Ilana's birthday, just so you know,” I was like, “Ah, okay. So I'm the person who does not know you and is showing up to your birthday party. And I decided that would go better if I showed up with a chocolate cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. So I got a message from Ilana the other day that said, “I have a friend who has been getting into Ruby and Python, teaching himself to code with Ruby and Python. He is extremely funny,” always a good pitch with me, “and I am missing the days of random strangers bringing me cheesecake in dive bars for my birthday.” So I reached out to you, and it was immediately clear to me that you needed to be on a podcast. [chuckles]

Erin: Yeah, I love the cheesecake story. If you show up anywhere with a cheesecake, I feel like that's a peace offering, and we should be friends for a long time. And even if you're not a drinker, it's perfect.

Jonan: Right. This is a perfect alternative when you don't want to show up empty-handed, which is all the time, according to my lineage. My grandmother and my mother and pretty much every person in my extended family advised me, “You don't show up to anything empty-handed.” Bring a cheesecake; no one's going to be sad about it.

Erin: [laughs] A bottle of wine or cheesecake. If you're unsure about the drinking, go chocolate cheesecake on top of just the cheesecake.

Jonan: Yes, exactly. Okay. So, Erin, you mentioned a couple of things that I want to highlight. First off, you have been described to me by Ilana as a self-taught developer. You started out in Python and C# and now have come around to Ruby. Is that correct?

Erin: Yeah. That's a pretty good summation. A little bit before September, a mentor of mine had said, “You should get involved with Rails. It's a really good community.” She'd said, “If you are decent at Python, give it a try.” And she had mentioned the Rails Conference and Ruby for Good. And I got a scholarship for the Rails Conference, and then I got involved with Ruby for Good. And after that, I was pretty sold on Ruby.

Jonan: Was that this September of 2020?

Erin: Yeah, September of 2020.

Jonan: So we were mid-pandemic already. And you had been teaching yourself with C# and Python and then discovered the Rails community through a friend, ended up going to RailsConf. RailsConf or RubyConf?

Erin: I might get it wrong, but I think it was RubyConf.

Jonan: Okay. So you went to RubyConf, and both of those conferences have similar programs that are described as Scholars Programs wherein the conference will sponsor you if you're a first-time attendee to come to the conference, and they will also pair you up with someone from the community who's been around a while so they can walk around with you and introduce you to people and give you the lowdown on the conference scene and how to best get the value from being there at the conference. And a spoiler alert, for those who may not have that opportunity, the answer is not sit in the back and listen to talks and never speak to another human the whole conference. You're not there exclusively to listen to the talks. Although there's a lot of value to be gained there, the value is in the people. So you came into this Scholars Program, and you had a mentor, and the Rails and/or Ruby community felt very welcoming to you.

Erin: Yeah. I'd never been to a tech conference before. And then you add the challenge of doing a remote conference, and I'm guessing that without the experience of having a mentor would have been what you just described. I would have sat in the back. I would have heard a couple of talks, and then I would've moved on. Having a mentor was incredible. She regularly introduced me to people, the opportunity to apply for jobs, and already having spoken to the person that you would be applying to. And my mentor, her name was Kinsey. That soft intro made this so much more approachable. And the other portion that was really important (and we maintained a relationship afterward) is that she had talked about the importance of networking. And I think we all have a scummy idea of networking where we think, oh, I'm going to go schmooze people versus I'm just going to go talk to some people and maybe we'll get along, maybe we won't, I don't really know. But I'm not interested in trying to tic for tac or something like that. It felt very quickly like Rails was home, and it felt like I could potentially have a career in this field, and I could easily see these people being my coworkers.

Jonan: Yeah. That's exactly how I felt coming into this community as well. And I'm so pleased to hear that you got paired up with Kinsey because Kinsey is fantastic, really, really good at this thing, and has been involved in running several of those programs over the years. So it was a great opportunity for that first mentorship. You had touched briefly on this, and I want to talk about this because this networking thing, air quotes, “networking” is a complicated issue. I was told early on in my career by my friend, Davy, “Oh, I do that. I just call it making friends.” And I have since called this thing making friends because it distinguishes it from that very transactional thing that a lot of people in other industries do, which is networking. You talk about my network like, oh, I've got these people in my network because I went to a meetup and I handed them my business card, and we added each other on LinkedIn, and now we're networked. And that's such a cold explanation and a transactional relationship. You're losing an opportunity to be human and get to know people genuinely. I know people like that who operate in tech. There are quite a lot of them who do this transactional thing. And I intentionally avoid them.

Erin: For me, especially in Rails, people come from so many different areas, and as me coming in as new at the conference, you think, or you have this preconceived notion of everyone has a CS degree, and everybody's been doing this a long time, and they are so much dramatically better than you. And you go to the conference, and you quote, unquote “network,” or you quote, unquote, “talk to people.” And you're like, oh, you were a bartender two years ago, and now you're a senior dev at this organization, and you're a super impressive human being. And it's almost like I'd rather hear a little bit of that story. Like, we can talk about Rails and things, but I really want to hear like, what was that like? What was the decision-making process? And those conversations are fun to have at conferences. And like you said, that's somebody I could talk to about fantasy football team or whatever it might be versus let's just talk about how I might work for you one day.

Jonan: Exactly. And I use as my measure is this someone that I would welcome into my home? If you come to Portland for a conference, you better look me up because I got a room for you, and we're going to make some dinner and hang out. That's what I want from my group of friends. And if someone comes up to me is and is like, “Hey, nice to meet you. I would love to exploit our casual acquaintance for mutual professional gain,” then I'm not so into that plan. I'm not here for it. I came from a different background myself. I was a poker dealer, which was only the last of many jobs, maybe 40 jobs I had before I got into tech. And that's much more interesting to me to know you as a human being. So speaking about knowing you as a human being, let's talk about a couple of these other things you mentioned. I want to start with Techqueria. If I heard you correctly, that's the name of this.

Erin: Yes. You probably pronounce it better than I do sometimes.

Jonan: [laughs] And what is this program about?

Erin: So Techqueria -- I found when you start your path to be a developer, you're looking for communities, any inviting community. I don't remember exactly how I found them. They mostly exist as a Slack group, and it's an inclusive group. Its focus is definitely the Latinx community, but it has allyship. You don't have to be Latin to be part of it. And it's every aspect of tech. So it's not just coders; it’s people who want to be program managers, or it's people who want to work in the advertising side of it, marketing. It doesn't really matter. So there are code sessions, there's resume review. You can call, and you can vent, or rather you can write in on Slack, and you can vent about an issue you might have. It's just a group of people that are trying to help Latin folks and allies move forward in their careers or just find a home.

Jonan: It's such an important piece, I think, for people coming into tech, and it's often one of the more difficult ones to find a group of people who can relate to you on that level. There are a huge number of shared experiences in the Latinx community, and they are cultural or professional. You end up having a group of people who can genuinely empathize for a lot of reasons with your experience. And it's so important, especially for that pressure release valve that is the venting piece. Just being able to show up and know that people will understand the thing and be like, “My boss, Jonan, said the whitest thing ever today,” which is definitely a thing that I do, “and I felt like it was weird.” But you're going to tell this community of people who'll be like, “Yeah, that was weird, but it's funny,” instead of like going to someone -- If you'd come to me and said, someone did this thing, maybe I would be like, “Oh, this is clearly a very serious crisis, and we need to talk.” You just want to have that sense of community and shared experience because it helps you feel like this is a more welcoming place. You can see examples of similar people here in the community.

Erin: It's funny. When I started going to Techqueria, some of the things -- And we'll have group Zoom chats, and they have local Chicago Area ones, that's the closest group that I'm part of. You'll hear professionals will introduce themselves as George Martinez. And then they realize they don’t have to...they can pronounce the name Jorge Martinez. And it's funny to hear that shift in folks where they're like, oh, this is a group of people who can pronounce my name the way that I'm used to pronouncing it. I don't have to change it. So like you said, it's shared experiences. It's just a place where you don't have to justify a lot of things, or humor is similar. It's just a good group of people.

Jonan: And there's less code-switching to do, which is a whole level of mental exhaustion you don't need when you're trying to be welcomed in a community like that. Oh, I should actually -- I do like to clarify these things that code-switching, in this case, is not related to actual code. What I'm talking about is the thing that is sometimes required of underrepresented folks in a place where they need to, for example, pronounce their name, George Martinez, instead of Jorge Martinez because they need to, I guess, blend. I'm not actually going to pretend that I have a good understanding of that whole piece, but this is a distinct thing that we are talking about in this case. So while we are on the subject of code, let's talk about this Ruby for Good thing that you were talking about.

Erin: Yeah, Ruby for Good, so through Techqueria, one of my mentors, Jennifer Konikowski, recommended that I join Ruby for Good. They were doing their conference, their virtual get-together, the night beforehand, which was not the best decision. I should have done a little bit more homework before I'd gotten involved with it, but I signed up, and Jennifer said, “Come on into this group.” And the group is called CASA, and CASA is building an app for foster care children. It helps the CASA system manage their volunteers, and it's an in-production app. And all of these terms were very new to me. And I didn't know what bundle install was showing up there. And somebody was kind enough through three days to walk me through a lot of the process and helped me make my first commit or rather make my first work on an issue and send it up to GitHub and go through that process, and I have been regularly with them. My goal is to get into the top 10 of commits. I think I'm in 14th place right now, and they're just super inviting. And it was such a dramatic shift. As a self-taught, or as somebody from a bootcamp, I feel like we do so many vanity projects, these little things that never see the light of day, and you get stuck in this loop of only being able to do these things that exist for yourself or your knowledge base. And to get working on production code and the intricacies of working within a team, meeting stakeholders’ needs, and having a mentor who's working on something much larger scale than you've ever worked on before, was incredible. It was an incredible experience. And we have weekly meetups on Wednesday nights, and people are still welcome to come. And it just feels good to spend your time building stuff while you're trying to build towards your professional career that you know is going to help other human beings versus just my little silly whatever it might be app. And it's also nice that we live in this time where tech that's a big word; it's a big loaded term. And people talk about all the negatives of tech. And I was like, well, I'm involved in a super cool little niche of tech where it's very helpful, and people are trying to use their skillset to help other people out. So it was a pretty meaningful experience.

Jonan: That's awesome. I feel the same way. I think that for everyone who's now here or transitioning into tech, there comes a moment where you experienced that rush of adrenaline, that joy of having achieved a thing in tech. And the very first one is like, wow, I got something to appear on the internet. I changed something that is on the internet. Because before I was in tech, there was the internet, and then there was the rest of humans. And it was like, I don't even know really how that came to exist, but it's cool, I guess. And then I put something up there, and I was entranced. And I was like, what? I can change the color, and I can add glitter? I was going nuts. And the next level of that is I built something that another human uses. That's so much more meaningful to me. I remember when I had my first professional role in tech, I was working at a company called LivingSocial, and they were a kind of a Groupon competitor, that kind of coupon thing. I changed a piece of code on the homepage and realized that a million people were going to load that page that I, in a very small way, changed the color of a button that a million people would see, and it blew my mind. It felt so good.

Erin: My first real big moment was when me and my wife were in Louisville a couple of months ago now, and a bus pulled up next to us. And CASA has many different locations, so they started in the Washington, D.C. area, or at least the work that we're doing is out of the Washington, D.C. area. And they must have a location, obviously in Louisville. And a bus pulled up next to us, and it had a CASA logo on it, and my wife was like, “Don't you volunteer for them?” And I was like, holy cow, I do volunteer for this organization, and they may use my app one day, and somebody might touch the button that I helped make, and it is profound. It's silly, it's small, but it's also very addicting, and why I think we continue to get involved with this. It's a very cool feeling to remove that separation that you talked about.

Jonan: I think both of us have done this thing where we minimized our contributions like, oh, I just changed the color of a button, and it's just this small thing. But I think what people don't realize, especially getting into tech, is it's always a small thing. Everything that you see out there on the internet from a company is the product of many people doing small things all together as a team. And that's another big piece of the value that you're getting from Ruby for Good while working with another volunteer organization, building an actual application, which I absolutely advise, by the way. You're 100% correct in your explanation of that many people get trapped in this tutorial hell. You hear people describe it as tutorial hell where you're doing a tutorial, and you build a toy, build a to-do list, and a fake Twitter, and whatever. And none of those things end up really being used or helping you to grow. You looked at a web page, you copied the steps step by step, and you did the thing. And when you're in a world now where at Ruby for Good, they say, “Okay, we're helping out CASA today. What we are trying to achieve is we need a signup form for this thing.” And then you and your team go, and you figure out how to get the signup form and what fields should be there. And you are designing the strategy around a business goal or a part of a business goal. That's a very different experience than just okay, and now we're going to take the array, and we're going to reverse it, and now we're going to take the array, and we're going to sort it.

Erin: And for me, what was very profound -- Before you realize what building applications is you think of, for lack of a better term, the cowboy coder where there's this genius in the basement building some amazing thing. And there are eight monitors up and doing all these things, and they're entering the matrix. And then you start building stuff, and you're like, oh, it's three people sitting around with coffee, and we're going to discuss this. And I'm going to throw a couple of ideas at you. And I'm going to Google search something eight times, and I'll get back to you in two hours. And somebody else is like, “Why don't you try this?” And so that for me with Ruby for Good was so important; that connection with other people, and the patience, and the problem-solving as a group is also deeply addicting and very different than I think what the perception is of what this work is.

Jonan: That's so important; that perception is blocking a lot of the growth that I want to see in the industry. The popular media idea of a hacker or a developer is someone who sits in the basement, probably pale, young, and male, and has eight monitors up. And while I would love to have eight monitors, don't get me wrong, my life in tech has been very different than that. And the humanization of the process of building software is really important to me. This is a really good example of why we have our team doing the streaming that we're doing. I was on my stream the other day building a Rails app. And I'm building this API. Here's the entire API. I'm sure just in describing this, you can already imagine how to build this thing. Someone sends you an email address on an API endpoint, and you reply whether or not the email address exists in your database. It’s just true or false. You’re like, “Are the answers true or false?” So I spent about two and a half hours, maybe getting the Rails app set up and generating the thing. And then we ran into an issue with bundle installing a thing, and then we were chatting on the stream. And by the end of the stream, then I made my endpoint. I was like, yes, I made it. And when I generated my Rails app, I'd used the dash-dash API flag, which says to a Rails app, “This is an API. It will only ever be an API. Don't bother with all that user interface stuff.” And then, I immediately took my API, and I put it under an API directory so that my API was effectively API API. Those kinds of mistakes, making those publicly and showing people that yeah, someone who's been building Rails apps and hanging out with Rails apps people for 10 years, 12 years still does that. And I'm still googling things, and I'm looking up Rails guides ten because this is hard. This is not a thing that people do as if by magic, no matter how much syntax they memorize, right?

Erin: Yeah. As part of my education, I had a one-on-one mentor who was helping me through C#, and he has been coding for 10 or 15 years. He's been in the business for 20 years. And he was a super bright, successful guy. And our first pair coding session, when I got to the point where I was stuck, he was like, “Well, let's Google this.” And for me, that was so mind-blowing. I was just like, I can't believe...and we're both just sitting here researching back and forward. And that is not what you think the norm is. That's not who you think the coder that you most admire is still just looking on Stack Overflow or going on Slack to find the results for these things and trying them and often hearing, “Well, hit the buttons. Do what they ask you to do, and we'll find it together.” It was important for me. And I think a lot of people need to see that to remove that myth of the mega genius coder.

Jonan: That's actively damaging, and people don't realize it. And there are a lot of people here who pretend to be the mega genius coder on purpose.

Erin: [laughs] Yeah.

Jonan: People who rather than saying, “Here's a list of words separated by spaces,” They'll say, “This is a space-delimited list.” I know that it's easy to forget, but delimited is not a word that most humans use. And there's a lot of that. There's a lot of this terminology that we use sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally because there is this thing you've got to do in consulting work sometimes where you have to sound real, real smart. And the key there is to just drop acronym after acronym until someone's eyes glaze over. And they're like, “Wow, I knew we hired the right wizard.”

Erin: [laughs] We got the super genius. Hire him immediately.

Jonan: I knew we'd find him. Get up out of that basement. We want to pay you money.

Erin: [laughs] Yeah, it's Ruby for Good, and having those experiences is good. It changed my view of this entire process, and it just makes it seem so much more approachable. Those were great,; you great experiences. And I can't recommend enough for people to get involved in situations like that.

Jonan: So you have been programming now for a sum total of one year-ish?

Erin: A year and four months, a year and six months, something around there.

Jonan: A year and six months, less than 18 months, and you know three languages. You did a lot of volunteer work. You helped an app that matches foster children up with their volunteers in a network. You've had a lot of software career for someone who's 18 months into the industry.

Erin: I was talking about this with my partner the other night; one of the benefits of the pandemic is that because so many things went remote, the opportunities if you seek them out, some are there. And you got rid of drive time, and I just kept on putting myself out there. And if you fall flat, try again. You just got to keep on pushing. And it has been a lot of fun. And I'm very grateful to have found the Rails community.

Jonan: I'm really grateful for all of the people who have helped me be where I am today. And it is absolutely true of my experience as well that I would not have made it without all of that support along the way. I stand on the shoulders of giants. So thank you to all friends: past and present. The one piece that I'd like to add to this story; yes, the Rails and Ruby community are incredibly welcoming and open. Yes, also, you are an incredibly driven and intelligent human being. I know this already...this is the end of our second hour, maybe speaking to each other. It is obvious to me that you have a work ethic that is to be admired. You are going about this with strategy, finding your way into the industry. I think that there are a lot of people who have a lot of other stressors coming in, worried about how am I going to make my rent? Now I've done this expensive transition. I've paid for this huge code school. It's this panic thing. And operating from that place of panic can sometimes be a disservice to your future. Do you have any advice for people who are setting out to follow in your footsteps today?

Erin: If I could go back and tell myself one thing or tell other people is that the importance of time management when you're going through that process is deeply underrated. I don't think they talk enough about -- For me, and I don't know if this is true for everybody, but it takes time to learn this stuff, and you have to be forgiving of yourself. I had thought that I could cram as much stuff into my brain today. I'm a reasonably intelligent person; I need to just watch this video, and if I don't get it, then it's my fault. And sometimes you have to sit there and go for a walk. And you have to think these things through and you have to let them flow in your brain. And this process for me took a long time. And the one thing that I needed to create the most of to help my learning was time. So I would say to people that those are real stressors; rent is a real stressor. But if you have to make sacrifices in other areas of your life just to be able to spend two hours every night coding in some way, if you have to wake up early, if you have to skip social media, whatever it takes for your focus to be there. For me, making some of those sacrifices were the big payoffs; accept that it's going to take me time, build the time for myself. I think that is something that they don't often talk about in code school or on a lot of different YouTube videos or whatever you have.

Jonan: I think that we talk a lot about work-life balance in the software industry, and I think it is tremendously important for a lot of reasons. This part that you're talking about going for a walk and getting a little space, you're going to sit there and bash your head against the bug for six hours, and the minute you step away and go for a walk, you'll have the answer immediately and come sprinting back to your computer. I've done it many, many times over the years. But beyond that, you do need to take, I think, the learning phase, the early learning phase of your career pretty seriously and think hard about time management and try and develop those skills first because that's how you're going to keep your sanity. When I started, I was in a code school. We would have eight hours a day of pair programming and lecture, and I would spend eight hours a day studying and completing the project work. And then I would go home after my kids were asleep. My son was two, and my daughter was about five. And I would get up in the morning before they were awake. I’d get a train down to Downtown D.C. and go back to school and rinse and repeat for six days a week. And on Sundays, we took the day off, and we would go to the aquarium or something in Baltimore. Well, that was actually Saturdays. We took Saturdays off because Sundays, I wrote my book reports and read a tech book every week in this program. So it was one of the more difficult things that I've ever had to do in my career and also changed my life. I used to work in a casino. I used to sit around with a bunch of people who were addicted gamblers, smoking too many cigarettes, and trying to convince people that the internet mattered.

Erin: [laughs]

Jonan: I would say things like, “Oh, you won't believe this interesting fact I discovered the other day.” “Oh, did you read that on the internet?”

Erin: [laughs]

Jonan: “Yeah. Yes, I did right there on Wikipedia.” “You know, anyone can write stuff there.” “Yes, I know. Thank you so much. It's your turn to bet, sir.” I came from that environment to now where I work in tech, and there are certainly a whole buffet of problems here as well. But they're very different problems that I'm much happier about addressing regularly. And I got here because of that sacrifice. You're right. You need to make choices. You are right that you need to focus on time management and as much as possible, and as early as possible, get away from the tutorial trap where you're just repeating alone in a vacuum these exercises because you need to explore those things. So we have the advice for someone coming in, and I want to talk a little bit about where you are right now. You've been here for 18 months and are in the process of looking for work right now. How's it going so far if you've been able to get to interviews? Because I know there's this hopeless step where you feel like you're throwing resumes into the wind, and you will get a lot more value out of those friends you've made along the way at this step. You're much better served to have someone actually refer you to an organization. But how is it going for you?

Erin: So, for a while, it was pretty scary. I think at one point, I had turned in 225 resumes without getting one response. And instead of shooting off as many as I could, I slowed it down and started what you did. I started networking, waiting for people to recommend me to organizations. I would also look for companies that had longer application processes because I knew that there was an eliminating factor, and people wouldn't want to go through on top of handing in your application, answering ten questions. So right now, it's going much better. In the past six weeks, I've interviewed with three companies. I've been the finalist for one organization. I made the second round for another one. I had a technical interview last night. So it is going considerably better. And each time, I learn a little something more about myself, about my coding ability, how to be better at this and how to continue to be better. So I'm much more hopeful and much more excited than I have been in a long time.

Jonan: That's awesome news. I'm so glad to hear it. And I am happy, of course, to recommend you to anyone I know. When you get an opportunity to apply at a company, hopefully, you already know someone in the door. And I want to explain that actually, as a hiring manager, what that means to me is that someone has met you in person, and we get to skip the step where our recruiter is trying to screen people who are just entirely in the wrong place. Like, they don't know how they ended up here, but wow, it's so fun to have an interview because -- I put up an ad on a job requisition posting on our site that gets shared to places like Indeed. And it says developer in it, so I get a certain number of applications from real estate developers who not only don't know how to code but are not interested in learning.

Erin: They’re at the wrong place.

Jonan: Wrong place, yeah. Well, oh, it's so funny that we ended up here, except that's an hour out of my day. So there is this screening step, and if a resume pops up in my system that came through a referral link, it's marked. It says this was a referral, and I will speak to every one of those people out of courtesy. I will absolutely take 15 minutes or a half-hour to get on a call with you and have that informal coffee chat to explain the position where I'm really mostly concerned about pitching you on the job. I'm trying to convince you this is a place you would like to work.

Erin: Can I ask you a question about that?

Jonan: Yeah.

Erin: How many times have you participated in one of those conversations where you left feeling shocked or excited about the individual and feel that you would not have had the opportunity to meet them or talk to them had it not been for the referral? There is that system that you're talking about where 300 people could have applied for it, and they might not have gotten through it, but because of that referral, they got a conversation with you.

Jonan: Most of the time. I think when I hire people, I work a little bit harder than is reasonable to see more humans. I like to talk to people in person and get beyond the resume because I know how disadvantaging that is and who specifically it's disadvantageous to because you are not your resume, and putting together a good resume is a unique skill that I have no need for. What you're not going to do on my team is write resumes; that’s not your job. So you're going to put together a resume and a cover letter, and yes, a cover letter if they want one is an important piece. And I want you to explain why you want to be here specifically and that you at least are familiar with the company and the position. So it does need to be a little bit artisanal handcrafted. But I want to talk to the human, and I have so many times spoken to people who would have otherwise been screened out in the recruiting step. I've, in fact, grabbed resumes over the edge, the ones that the recruiter has said, “Don't follow up with this person.” And I've looked through the resume a little bit and been like, “Oh, I don't know. I feel like they might be closed on the skills. So let me talk to them.

Erin: And the funny part, I think, and the important part, not just as me as the person who's been on the receiving end of that is that one conversation even if I don't get the job is so important to my ego (I hate to use that word) but my confidence, my self-confidence because I said, “Oh, I've had a conversation with you.” We're normal people. There's a potential relationship here. It may not be right, or it may not be right just right now. But at least I know that we have a kinship, and I feel like okay, maybe the next one versus being in that no man's land of never talking to anybody. It is for the people who are on the receiving end of that super benefit…as a person who's benefited from it, it's amazing.

Jonan: Yeah, I advise -- every code school I go to talk to about this. I do a talk about salary negotiation and teaching people to negotiate their salaries, and I've given it a couple of hundred times, maybe at these code schools trying to encourage people that this is a practice they should adopt. And in speaking to them, I am always campaigning against the paper, the world, and resumes plan, and they are always doing it anyway. [laughs] It's you are so much better served to stop with the submissions right now, spend the next two weeks finding every virtual meetup in your approximate topic area, go look up every meetup you can find on the planet about Ruby. We run one called Ruby Galaxy. Show up there, hang out in the chat, meet people. And when you have an actual relationship with someone, they are so much more likely to refer you to the company. And you can kick off a conversation with them say, “Hey, can I get 10 minutes of your time to just talk about the company?” When someone reaches out to me and says, “I would love to just pick your brain over some coffee.” Well, okay. I'm not super excited about the brain-picking part. That part sounds like it would hurt. And also, this is a very non-specific ask. Here's a very vague ask that you've made. “Can I get together with you so I can know a thing and you can tell me a thing?” Well, you could. I know I don't have time for that. What would be more likely to get a response from me is if you wrote to me and said, “Hey, I've been looking at applying at New Relic. And I'm specifically curious about this area of the organization, or I want to check in with someone. You seem like someone who is well in touch with the culture of the organization. And there are some specific areas that I want to ask about privately if you have the time because they mean a lot to me, and I suspect they mean something to you,” those kinds of questions where you clearly have taken the time to educate yourself about me. And yes, you are invited to go and find all my stuff online, and it's not stalking; it’s professionalism.

There's a certain amount of research that should go into these positions. So spend the next week studying the companies where you would like to apply, studying the people who work there, finding the meetups where their engineers go and getting an understanding of their mentality and their culture, and maybe you'll meet one, and you'll have a conversation. That person is really well incentivized; in fact, monetarily, to have you join the organization. If they like you and they want to work with you, they will refer you for the role. And they will most likely get, in some cases, I've been offered $8,000 per engineer that I referred into an organization. As an employee already working there, there's no reason for me not to do that beyond: I don't think you're a fit. I don't think you're going to be happy here. I don't think you could succeed in this position, or I'm not going to talk about it publicly, but this is a toxic, poisonous place to work. I will try and steer you somewhere else. But that, again, is a conversation you want to have.

Erin: And I feel that it doesn't have to be specifically for Rails, but think back to any conference that you go to if you can do a scholarship or mentor-mentee sort of conversation and have someone like you, for me, it was Kinsey. Normalize those conversations. It is okay to sit down and talk to somebody and ask them questions about the workplace. It is okay to say, “Would you recommend me to work there? Is it a great place?” And from being on the outside and now being on a little bit of a different path now, it's important for people to have these conversations be normalized and just not be afraid to ask questions and say, “Hey, can you tell me about whatever it is that's going on at your workplace or other places that you've worked or a place that I'm interested in?” I love having those conversations, too, where somebody says, “You don't really want to work there. It's just not the right fit for you.” And you’re like, “Okay, great, moving on.”

Jonan: Yeah, and there are a lot of options in the world. Just keep swimming. And I have to say I have met with as many of the people in your position as I have spoken to maybe over the years in that salary negotiation talk. I've had conversation after conversation with someone in your position, and you are by far the most impressive. When you got your time with me sitting down with a list of questions, they were not hey, I had to come up with some questions, so I wrote some things down. It was obvious to me that you were taking advantage of the opportunity to have my time and respecting my time with well-informed and focused questions. And the next message I sent to Ilana was, “So Erin is a really impressive human, really glad you helped us get a meeting. He's fantastic. Thank you.” That's the kind of impression you leave, and you are a rare gem of a human being, Erin. And I'm proud to know you. So thank you so much for reaching out. I think you have so much good advice for people. And if you are out there right now and looking for someone to hire, Erin is the person. We're just going to skip the part where you read the resume. I'm going to just say, “Hire Erin. You can do your interviews if you feel like it, but I'm telling you right now you're wasting your time.” Where would they find you on the internet, Erin?

Erin: My LinkedIn, my name is spelled E-R-I-N C-L-A-U-D-I-O on GitHub. And my Twitter handle is Chi, as in Chicago, @ChiGreentino is my Twitter handle.

Jonan: Excellent. And that Twitter piece for those listening who don't yet have a presence on Twitter is very, very important. There's such a huge community of people out there. Yes, Twitter is a little weird. Yes, you could feel shy starting out. It's so worth it. You'll make friends on Twitter and build that sense of community for yourself that only exists virtually right now. And it will launch your career in many cases, highly advise it. So thank you again, ChiGreentino, for coming on the show.

Erin: Thank you.

Jonan: And I hope very much to have you back someday. And it would be amazing if we got the chance to work together. I would love that so much.

Erin: I appreciate it. I really appreciate all the kind things you said.

Jonan: Thank you, Erin. Have a wonderful day.

Erin: Thank you.

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 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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