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Learning Past Listicles with Vaidehi Joshi

In this episode, Vaidahi Joshi, Lead Product Engineering at Forem, and writer + creator of BaseCS, BaseDS, and the BaseCS Podcast, talks about becoming a programmer after being a writer who wrote A LOT of listicles!

She got her start by customizing websites by playing with HTML, CSS, and a little bit of JavaScript, and then attended a code school for a 12-week course. She then decided to “learn in public” by making videos explaining computer science concepts to others every Monday, for a year, while learning herself – and thus BaseCS was born!

Should you find a burning need to share your thoughts or rants about the show, please spray them at devrel@newrelic.com. While you’re going to all the trouble of shipping us some bytes, please consider taking a moment to let us know what you’d like to hear on the show in the future. Despite the all-caps flaming you will receive in response, please know that we are sincerely interested in your feedback; we aim to appease. Follow us on the Twitters: @LaunchiesShow.

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Transcript:

Jonan Scheffler: Welcome to the inaugural episode of the Launchies podcast. I'm joined today by my guest, Vaidehi Joshi. How are you, Vaidehi?

Vaidehi Joshi: I'm good. How are you, Jonan?

Jonan: I am doing as well as could be expected, I suppose. Actually, I'm really excited to be here right now, so I'm well. I'm going to take “well” for now because this podcast is going to be great. I'm really excited to record this.

Vaidehi: [laughs] I'm excited to be here, too! We're recording this on a Monday and so, this is, like, a great way to start the week. Also, I miss social interaction, so it's nice to have a conversation with someone. It feels like we're in-person. I'm in my closet, so it feels like you're in my closet, but that's okay. [laughs]

Jonan: I’m in my closet of a studio here. If you could see the mess that lies about my feet, I have a very carefully prepared camera view here on my thing.

So we are going to, with this podcast, help out people who are launching new careers in software. That's the goal. Primarily people from non-traditional backgrounds, people who went through code schools, career switchers. I am one of those people. I was a poker dealer before I went off to code school and got into tech, and you were a writer before you went off to code school and got into the tech.

Tell us a little bit about your story. How did you end up here?

Vaidehi: Yeah, like you mentioned, I was a writer, and I was trying to do it as a career, and I was like, “I'm going to freelance,” and that was very hard. This was back in 2014. Media and publishing have changed a lot since I was in school so being a freelance writer meant trying to find somebody to pay you to write some listicles, which that was not fulfilling to my soul. [chuckles]

Jonan: Really? That's shocking to me, though, because one of my favorite types of blogs to write is a listicle. “Seven hot tips on writing listicles” is one of my most successful.

Vaidehi: [laughs] I guess it's fine the first two times. But then when everybody's like, “Do you want to write a listicle about this?” At some point, I was like, “No more listicles! [laughs] Please.”

Jonan: No, I won't. I would sooner quit my job. You were doing that, and then you were not finding the success you wanted writing as a freelancer. So you thought, “Oh, I'll just go to school and then invent a podcast and a famous blog and curriculum and remake.” How did you end up here?

Vaidehi: [laughs] Well, it's funny. So I was doing freelance writing, and when you pitch to different magazines or editors, they'll just be like, “Send us your website or send us some clips, and it'd be great if you just sent us a link,” and so, I just did some Googling and saw that other writers had websites with their whole publishing history and I was like, “All right. So step one, get a website,” and obviously, at this time, I don't even know if Squarespace was around, but there were different website makers, but they were like very limited and do you could do. So I was like, “I'll just whip up a website in an afternoon.” This is really just to unblock me so I can send this to a couple of editors.

Lo and behold, I was not satisfied with the website making experience. I wanted to make something a different color. I wanted to add the spinner because I saw someone else had it on their website. I don't know how they did it, but I was very determined. I was like, “I'll just tweak this one thing.” There's got to be a way to make this animation. How do I create this little hover thing?

At the time, I didn't really know, like, what I was doing, but I was basically hacking together what I wanted and doing some Googling and finding things, I think probably on Stack Overflow and just figuring it out, and I had a lot of fun making it. In the end, I don't even remember what the website looked like, but I just had so much fun building something and customizing it and feeling super empowered to be able to tweak things the way I wanted them that I just kind of forgot why I started it in the first place. [laughs] I just had fun doing it. I did a little bit of like HTML, CSS, tiny, tiny bit of copy-paste someone else's JavaScript and stick it on the page.

But my dad actually, he's been in software for his whole career, and he saw me doing this, and he was like, “That's cool, but you know you can build Airbnb and Twitter, those are web apps, and you could build something like that. You just need to learn the other side of it. You need to learn the backend side. There's this thing called Rails, you might want to look it up, they have workshops and stuff,” and he just planted the seed, and I thought, “Okay, I'll try it.” I don't actually even know if I ever launched that website. I just got so sidetracked that I made a whole different career [chuckles] of web development.

Jonan: I’m really impressed with this. This is the MySpace origin story that so many people have where they are, “Well, I wanted to add glitter to my MySpace profile.”

Vaidehi: Yeah!

Jonan: I remember playing with HTML and CSS earlier than that, I think before MySpace was yet a thing. But MySpace really kicked it off; I knew more people who were into it. The bit where you go and find the JavaScript and paste it on, I was always doing that for lightbox type effects, I really liked the image pop-up thing, and it was really difficult to achieve back then, especially with a transparent gradient border. You had to do some next-level wizardry to get something like that to work on IE6. It was ridiculous.

[laughter]

So you started out doing that and then you got into Rails and did some workshops and eventually made your way to this BaseCS idea. I'm sure many of our listeners know of you from your BaseCS work, but those who are unaware, where would they find that on the internet?

Vaidehi: Oh, well, they can go to basecs.org, B-A-S-E-C-S.org, that will give you the whole written blog post series, and then there's also the BaseCS podcast, which is basically audio versions of all these written posts, which I co-hosted with my good friends, Saron Yitbarek and you can find, I think pretty much everywhere that podcasts are

Jonan: It's syndicated worldwide [laughter] on your favorite podcasting host. How long did the BaseCS podcast–? You finished, it reached its conclusion, its natural conclusion this last year, but how many seasons did you run?

Vaidehi: Nine seasons, eight episodes each.

Jonan: Wow. I'm inspired by you as a content creator. You are prolific.

[laughter]

Just looking at our corner of what you have achieved for public content out there puts my entire career to shame.

Vaidehi: Oh, that’s definitely not true. [laughs]

Jonan: I might give up when I finish this podcast. I may just call it. I will look into writing. I hear freelance writing is the way to go.

Vaidehi: [chuckles] Yeah. Are you good at lists? They loved that. [laughs]

Jonan: Yeah, I'm really good at listicles. I love it so much. It's very fulfilling work.

What inspired you to make BaseCS in the first place?

Vaidehi: In between the freelance writing, I'm going to make a website Rails thing, and BaseCS. I also went to code school. So I, in 12 weeks, got a crash course in web development, which when you think about it, 12 weeks, you can't learn web development in 12 weeks, but you can learn enough to get you going. Enough to like put on the training wheels, just go out, and be like, “I'll figure it out on the job” because that's what you have to do.

But there was no real computer science element. I think we spent like a morning on computer science? Of the 12 weeks, one morning, maybe a day max, and it was something about trees and binary, and that's all I got. Looking back on it now, I think we were learning about binary trees, but it all went over my head. I was like, “Well, I don’t know what this is! This seems scary!” [laughs]

Jonan: It is scary, and it's a thing that the code schools do introduce into their curriculums, and because the curriculum is so packed, they rarely have time to do it justice, of course. There's no way you're going to replace even a portion of a CS degree with a day's workshop.

But again, it's about, I think, giving people enough to Google on enough to go and search on their own time and find the answers or at least dig down into things that they find more interesting. So you noticed this gap, and then you just went to work and produced all this content, and your motivation was this is the thing that needs to exist in the world?

Vaidehi: Oh, that wasn't even my motivation at first. My motivation was just, oh, I have this job,, and I'm learning, but I'm not learning this whole section of computer science and software engineering, and I don't know where I'm supposed to learn this because at my job, I wasn't reversing link lists and I hadn't learned it in code school. I kept feeling a little bit, like, inadequate. I was like, “I know that there's this gap, and I'm too scared to learn it now, but one day I'll fill it in.”

So I think maybe like a year or so into my career, after doing a little bit of technical writing just on what I was learning at work, I was like, “Well, what if I just decided to focus on filling in that gap that I've been sort of avoiding for a while?” I was like, “Well, I'll just pick a thing, and then I'll just write it,” and at the end, worst case, I have a bunch of posts of all the things I learned. I didn't even think best case, really. I didn't even expect anybody to read it, to be fully honest.

It was a nice side effect. It really catapulted my career, but I didn't go into it thinking, “Oh, I'll make the thing that doesn't exist.” It was more just like, “I want to learn it, writing it will keep me accountable and maybe at the end of the year, I'll know some stuff and I'll know a little bit of computer science.”

So now you can look back on it and be like, “Oh, this is the resource that I wish had existed then, and it didn't exist, and so, I just wrote it.” It's convenient for people now because they don't have to go through the pain of writing it themselves; the resource exists for them.

Jonan: I think given that I've now been in software for ten years and looking at your content, I’m super intimidated. I want to just point out [chuckles] to people who are out there getting started now, the point of this exercise, according to you here, is that it was valuable for you in your learning. Not necessarily because you were producing something for other people to look at and consume, that’s a very intimidating wall to climb over. You were just taking notes to teach yourself these concepts, and you were taking them in a little bit more of a refined style and with better design, but you were taking notes and working through publicly learning by teaching.

Vaidehi: Yeah, it was very much like, “Oh, I'm going to learn this in public, and I'm going to try to learn it myself and then try to explain it to someone else.” So I think there's that two-fold thing.

What I think a lot of people, if you look at the posts, you'll be like, “Oh, she wrote up this thing.” But what you don't see is all the hours that I spent Googling and trying to read seven different resources, sometimes reading a CS paper and sometimes being on the brink of tears being like, “I don't understand this. How can I explain it to someone else if I don't understand it?” That part is not visible, and I think, in the content, unless you yourself have also tried to teach yourself, then you know. [laughs]

Jonan: Yeah, then you know the pain.

Vaidehi: But it's not always obvious that like oh, the learning has to happen first before I could go teach anybody because I didn't know this before. It's not like I was like, “Oh, I'm a master chef. Let me teach you how to cook.” I was like, “Oh no, I'm going to learn, and I'll teach you by the end of the week,” which is kind of a wild thing to think about in retrospect. [chuckles]

Jonan: Yeah. It's a lot to take on. But I think that when I'm doing this type of thing, I very often will be driven by that deadline, that content, the conference-driven development people talk about where they’ve submitted a talk and then, “Oh no, I got accepted to speak. Well, I better learn that thing.”

It feels as though you need to be an expert to speak on a topic, but you really just have to know a little bit more than someone who knows nothing about the topic. If you start there, it's actually easier for you having understood the very beginning of that journey, which is what I think is so valuable about people with a non-traditional background coming into this industry. They actually have more success; I think teaching early on because they are learning these things. It's very fresh in their minds. “If you read this paper about binary trees, you're going to be really confused, but let me explain it to you quickly,” and they doodle something that is almost like a key unlocking the rest of the information for whoever they're teaching, right?

I imagine if you were starting again, you'd do it about the same way because it's worked out great for you.

[laughter]

But if someone is new to software, there are probably going to be people listening to this episode who have not yet joined us here on the dark side. How would you suggest they get started with regard to producing content like that? Give them maybe some practical steps to get something out the door.

Vaidehi: Yeah. Regardless of whatever content you're producing, I think this sort of just ties into all creative work, which is that the hardest part and the thing that most people are not able to overcome is the showing up. I think a lot of people are like, “Oh, I want to create something,” or “I want to become this great artist,” or “this great writer or musician,” or whatever. That's all well and good, but in order to do that, you have to show up and do the work. That is just the long and the short of it, really. It's like, I think a lot of people are like, “Oh, how did you just create this thing?” and I was like, “Well, because I woke up every morning and I wrote for 2 hours.” [chuckles]

Jonan: Yeah.

Vaidehi: I put in the work,, and so, I like to think of it less as I'm trying to achieve this end of creating a massive curriculum or enough content to fill a book. I wouldn't approach it with that attitude. I would say, “Okay, be ready to show up to do the work,” whatever it is, whether it's recording your podcast, whether it's writing the articles, whether it's streaming, whether it's live programming on the internet every Sunday or whatever. Be prepared to do it,, and then pick something you're genuinely excited to do.

Jonan: Yeah.

Vaidehi: Because as anybody who has done creative work will tell you, three or four weeks in, you're like, “Eh, I could just not do it this week,” or “I'll just hit snooze on the alarm,” and like, “I don't want to do it.” I think that's the barrier to entry. It’s just developing the habit to show up and do the work.

For example, if you're like, “Oh, I really want to get good at writing about technical concepts.” Pick one technical concept and just commit to exploring it and writing about it. Or say, that you want to record a podcast or create a set of videos, pick something you're excited about and then create a schedule, create some sort of structure that's going to make it really hard for you to get out of it. Because your brain will create excuses for you and you'll be like, “Oh, I just don't want to do it.” But that's the thing that keeps you from doing it.

So the first step is to just take the first step forward. It's like going to the gym; writing is just like going to the gym. You’ve got to flex those muscles and if you don't go to the gym, then your muscles are going to atrophy.

Jonan: And your habits will break. I got a new game for my Nintendo Switch, this Ring Fit thing. Have you seen these?

Vaidehi: I haven't, no.

Jonan: In a post-gym world, I have a small gym in my house, but it's just a bench and I have an elliptical and a rowing machine. I don't really have the full range of equipment and especially the opportunity to do a lot of aerobics stuff. So I got one of these spring fit deals with a ring that you squeeze and you jog in place and things. It's a video game that you play along. It's a pretty shallow video game.

[laughter]

It's clearly like, here's the exercise and also some videos to look at.

[laughter]

But I’m impressed actually, it kicks my butt when I get on there. It's a lot of good exercise; a lot better than I expected from one of these video game things. But the part that keeps me going every day is that every day when you log in, the first thing it says is, “Welcome. You've been doing this for this many days in a row.” I don't want to have to log in and have it say one again; I don't want to have to restart that streak.

I think the daily habit is the key; that 2 hours a morning sitting down and getting started and just producing something. I think a lot of people get stopped trying to make it good, but every good blog post you read is a product of a hundred bad ones.

Vaidehi: Yeah, and sometimes there are some that are not as good and that's okay. You still did it and by virtue of going through the actions and doing it, you reinstated the habit that day and then also, you made it that much easier to show up the next day and maybe write something a little bit better. Maybe you go back and you look at it and you're like, “Ugh, if I could go back and rewrite this from a year ago, I would,” and maybe sometimes you do and that's okay. It doesn't need to be perfect.

Perfection is definitely the enemy of the good and I think a lot of the times people are worried about either no one's going to read this, or what do I say, or how do I start, or it's just, “Oh God, I want to write about this thing. But I just don't even know how to begin. What's the first sentence?” and so, nothing gets written down on the page.

Jonan: Yeah.

Vaidehi: So it's just like, write garbage. It's okay. You'll probably get into a flow and then you can go back and delete that paragraph. It's fine, no one's going to see it. The point is just that you do it and then each time it gets easier and then eventually, you get into a really nice flow and then it's like exactly what you said. You don't really want to stop. You're more compelled internally to show up for yourself and put in the work.

Jonan: I've had this process throughout my career where I will write a blog post and each paragraph, rewrite it a dozen times. Have you ever tried to live collaborate on a blog post or had a request to share the outline and then people will watch you from the company as you live edit? This is my worst nightmare. I can’t stand it.

Vaidehi: It's when I make the most spelling mistakes and I can't type. When I'm screen-sharing and I'm like, “I'll just take some notes or I'll just edit this.” The moment I do that, I'm typing things and I'm like, “I don't know how to spell. GitHub, how do I spell it?” I can't, I just mess up, but it's probably just because the eyes are on you and so you're like, “Oh, I'm so self-conscious.” But normally, obviously I don't make as many mistakes because it would take me so much longer to get my job done if I did. [chuckles]

Jonan: It’s so much harder. I think the part where you give yourself permission to just mess it up first, though is a fundamental first step. We have the content production piece and I feel like that actually, in today's world, when you're learning right now is probably one of the most important steps to launching a successful career in software and I, in this example, definitely do not hold myself up. I hope no one ever finds any of the websites I've produced over the years. [laughs] I currently have one that has exactly an email link and a link to my Twitter profile.

[laughter]

But you, I think have done a much better job of finding success here and I think that people, who I've seen rise up very quickly in the industry, I've talked to people out of code schools three and four years in who are making huge strides for their careers just with this catapult effect and then you do get to ride the wave of that for a while, right?

Vaidehi: Yeah.

Jonan: So beyond the content production, what else would you recommend people do? There are the obvious pieces, I think; build a project, build another project, build some more projects. What other tips do you have for people as far as guiding their learning? Because I feel like there are a lot of resources out there and for every good piece of advice, there are ten bit of bad advice. How do you swim through that?

Vaidehi: I think everybody's learning is sort of guided by their own interests and what I mean by that is any blog posts, or tutorial, or anything that says, “Oh, if you want to succeed, you have to learn TypeScript.”

Jonan: Yeah.

Vaidehi: No, that's not true. [chuckles]

Jonan: Not even a little bit.

Vaidehi: Yeah! It's just like, nothing should be so prescriptive. First of all, that's a whole myth. I would say you should start by learning the thing you're excited about and maybe don't even frame it as “I'm learning.” Just frame it as, “I want to do this thing.” “I want to build this thing,” or “I want to complete this course,” or just some small goal that brings you a little bit more towards fluency.

That's why I really like the advice of just build something you're excited about; maybe a tool or a website for your friend or your parents. Something that you honestly are going to be motivated by and it's okay if you look back on the code in 5 years and you're like, “Oh, this is total nonsense. Why did I do it that way?” The point is that you were figuring it out and that's okay. But if you have something you're excited about, you'll keep coming back to it.

I think as you start to build something, you'll start to learn what technologies you're excited about. So maybe you get really into CSS and you're like, “I want to make the most beautiful CSS,” and that's the thing you spend your time doing. That's totally awesome because you will have that spark from within where you're like, “I just want to figure it out.”

Jonan: Yeah.

Vaidehi: Like that feeling you get sometimes when you're at work and you're like, “I'm going to close the laptop, but maybe I'll just spend 30 more minutes trying to get this function. I just want to get this test to pass.” That really great feeling where you're just like, “Oh, something's pushing me to keep going,” and it is very much like an intellectual way of your writing. When you're starting off, if you find something like that, roll with it and you can worry about filling in the gaps later in your career.

I'm a great example of that. I didn't learn about computer science for like a year and a half, 2 years into my career when I had the inspiration to do it. I just was like, “I'll learn about this later, it's okay.” “I'm more excited about Rails” or “I'm more excited about these patterns that I want to learn about.” So whatever you're excited about. dive into that and try to learn different things. Don't get too sucked into one thing, because I think as you grow in your career, you'll start to see a lot of the same patterns.

There's this notion of like a T-shaped engineer where you get to learn. You're a little bit of a generalist, you learn a lot of things. You don't go into too much depth about any of them and then at some point you're like, “Oh, I want to learn about distributed systems,” and then you're like, “This is what I'm doing,” and then maybe you become a specialist in distributed systems, but you learned a little bit about other things, too. I think that is really going to set you up for success in your career because you need to be able to hop and move between different things and even specialists have context around other things, too.

So it's good to expose yourself to different things; work at different companies, work on different sized projects, try a few different technologies. Don't be someone who's just like, “I will only write JavaScript.”

Jonan: Yeah.

Vaidehi: Because I think it helps to have other things in there, too.

Jonan: And to be flexible. You're going to end up in a situation where you get burned out on whatever it is you're learning and not burn out in the broader sense like, “I'm going to quit software. I can't stand it here anymore,” which you will also experience in your career. But more just, “I'm tired of reading about CSS,” and the more toys you have sitting around yourself to play with, the better off you're going to be when that comes.

I really like your advice not to listen to the person who says, “If you don't do it my way, you'll never make it.”

[laughter]

Because that person is ridiculous. The gatekeeping and similar that goes on in this industry is really just mind blowing sometimes. But there are so many people out there producing podcasts and blog posts and producing content around this idea that this is the way. The one way to become a success and if you're not doing this, you are destined to fail. It's ridiculous and when you get into the industry and you get a little more experienced beneath you, you're going to realize immediately that those are the people who have no idea what they're talking about most of the time. Right?

Vaidehi: Yeah. I could say a lot to my past self from 6 years ago. I think I also held certain people in different developer communities on a pedestal a little bit and held them to a really high standard and then I think as I went into those communities, I saw flaws in all the different communities and certain people, who I think were very much hero worshiped like, when you go into the industry, you're like, “Oh, this person's amazing.” I always try to push back on that because I'm just like, “They just learned and they're getting notoriety for whatever it is that they built or created. Just remember that they're a developer, too and regardless of their credentials, everybody's here figuring out together.”

Our whole ecosystem just keeps changing. So maybe tomorrow, you are going to be the person who creates the next big thing, or maybe this person is going to retire and we don't need to put them on a pedestal. There's a lot of other problematic things that happen with hero worship in tech. I could talk about that for the rest of the podcast, but I won’t. [laughs]

Jonan: That could be a whole another podcast. We could call it Hero Worship: The Path to Failure.

[laughter]

Vaidehi: Don't do it! [laughs]

Jonan: Don't do it, it’s bad and wrong. I think a lot of people get that early on, though. You're walking through a conference and you see someone who you've seen on video or somebody who's given a lot of talks, and you're real shy to go up and talk to them. But the second that person steps out of that conference hall, they're just another person walking down the street. [chuckles]

Vaidehi: Yeah.

Jonan: We have all these people that we know from working in this community, but out in the broader world, they're anonymous personalities again.

My experience has certainly been even getting Twitter famous people like Vaidehi onto a podcast that they're just normal people with normal dreams and normal goals and all of the trials and tribulations that it takes to achieve those things, just like everyone else.

Vaidehi: And completely able to make mistakes and have bad judgment and are flawed and that's okay. I wish we would normalize that a bit more just because I think this all ties back into that feeling you get when you enter the industry or when you're even just thinking about entering the industry where you're like, “Oh, I am not like really qualified to be here.” That whole imposter syndrome thing.

Jonan: Oh, yeah.

Vaidehi: You attribute someone else and their success and you're like, “Oh, okay. So that's the gold standard. They know what they're doing. This person has spoken at this conference or keynoted this event so they are definitely qualified to be here, but I'm not,” which is, that's the thing that I think the whole hero worship thing sort of ties into because it's just a very limited way of thinking. It's so important to remember that all of us are figuring out this industry together and it's so easy for things to change. Just, if you think about the last 6 years, the course of my whole career, things have changed so much.

Jonan: And it's going to continue to change in every moment. It's such a dynamic industry, you're not really ever going to be able to prepare for what's coming. It's really easy to look around and see everyone else with their set of skills and then not having those skills decide that you've come up lacking. But consider that, over the course of our entire careers, we may acquire 1% of the knowledge of our subsection of software that is there and it's a different 1% for everybody, and the Venn diagram is small.

[laughter]

They overlap only a little bit. So you're comparing apples and oranges in this literal sense and then you just feel like you're never going to get there and if you keep that up, you likely won't because you have an impossible goal.

Vaidehi: Yeah, and that's why I earlier when you were asking, “What would you recommend?” That's why my answer is always just like, “What are you excited about because maybe that's your 1% thing.” Like, that's the thing you are going to spend your career getting really good at in some way and so, you should just follow what calls out to you rather than whatever the listicles say, like “Top seven things to do if you want to be different.” Don't, don’t read the listicles. If you get anything out of this podcast, it’s that I don't think listicles –.

[laughter]

Jonan: That's a good message. I'm definitely putting that in the title one way or another.

[laughter]

So we've got people here setting out into their careers and then at some point, I certainly felt this way, you reach a intermediate wasteland where you have done the tutorials and you've made some projects and maybe you haven't found the thing that you're really excited about. People early on in my career, they said, “Well, you're going to specialize,” but I didn't really know enough to specialize it to. “Well, maybe you're going to be really into databases,” and I was like, “That sounds unlikely.” “Maybe you're going to be really into this other thing.”

[laughter]

Now I've found myself in this cloud and the observability space with my career that I almost happened upon, but watching the inside of code run, that's pretty exciting stuff to me. I really like that.

I think that it's really easy to get lost and to lose motivation in that middle part and frankly, I'm not sure that I have great advice for how to get through that intermediate wasteland where there aren't as many resources that are generally about the tools that you're using in not in the way beyond the documentation. I always said, “Read the docs, read the code.” Do you have any more practical advice than I have there?

Vaidehi: Do you mean in the sense of like, “Oh, I don't know what I like,” or “I know what I like and how do I figure out how to get better at it?” Because I feel like those are two different things.

Jonan: Yes! Well done.

[laughter]

You are better at expressing my thoughts than I am. I think it's both of those things. Both of those represent common blockers for people who've gotten past this tutorial world, where they've made a website and they've got five portfolio projects and they know their HTML, their CS, their little JavaScript, and maybe some Ruby, or some Python.

What else do you do there? I guess, start with the first one, chasing your interests, finding your 1%. What would you recommend people do there?

Vaidehi: I would say try different things. Don't be afraid of trying something new because maybe you'll really like it. A good practical example of this is let's say, you work at a company and I don't know, maybe you have some sort of tracking system or you follow Agile or Scrum or whatever and you love to pick up bug fixes and you're like, “Okay, I love to fix bugs, but I don't really want to try out this new feature because it's all this frontend stuff and I've never done it.”

Go outside your comfort zone and try that thing because maybe you'll get that sense of excitement, but also, you'll get to learn something new and maybe you actually want to figure out how that part of the system connects to what you do know. So I guess, the main thing is don't be afraid to try new things and pick up things that seem intimidating. That definitely will put you out of your comfort zone because being out of your comfort zone is going to make you figure out, one way or the other, whether you like the thing or not and whether you want to keep going or not.

If you find out you hate it, that's okay. You learned something because you learned [chuckles] that you don't enjoy that thing and maybe you want to focus on something else. Maybe you would try it and you realize you like it so, maybe now a whole world of technologies opens up to you, which is very empowering because the only thing that was holding you back was yourself.

That would be my advice is just try different things and I think the same goes, too just ignoring technologies for a second. If you're just trying to figure out like, “Oh, what do I want to work on?” Maybe you work at different companies, maybe at a consultancy, maybe at a larger company.

There was a while where I was like really into payments and billing. That was the thing I was really into and I was really obsessed with figuring out how to integrate with Stripe's API. I think at every company I've worked at; I've done some sort of billing code because I was like, “This is so cool! How do you do this with banks?! How do you make sure the money's there?!” I was very interested in a very niche system that was reflected in software and it's like, if I hadn't tried to help write some billing code once, why would I ever found this very weird nerdy obsession that I have? [laughs]

Jonan: You know what I find very interesting today is databases. Totally.

[laughter]

Vaidehi: Ironic! [laughs]

Jonan: Yeah. [laughs]

Vaidehi: That was your thing! [laughs]

Jonan: [laughs] Yeah, I really like to know how they work on the inside. They're fascinating. Postgres is the one true database. Everyone out there listening to this, stop with the nonsense, use Postgres for everything. Yes, just do that. Trust me. It'll make your career better.

[laughter]

That's one of the things, though. I want to be clear: this is the one true way and if you're not using Postgres in your career is doomed to fail by Jonan.

[laughter]

I was going to point out that this experimentation phase is more important than just finding the thing that you care deeply about. There's a book that I've recently added to my collection of books to receive by osmosis while I sleep, as they sit on my nightstand. [laughs] One of them is called Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World and having read the entirety of the back cover of this book, I can tell you it is fantastic in its depth and breadth on covering this topic.

I'm actually really excited to read it because I grew up thinking of myself as a Jack of all trades, master of none. This is a thing that people commonly tell themselves and in software, you can make an entire career out of this in a way that is not maybe as immediately obvious in other industries.

But I think it's more important now than ever, as things increase in complexity, you don't need to know all of the landscape that is JavaScript. Let's be honest in three months, it'll be different. You need to know where to go to figure out the next step and maybe that's the best you can do is try and find out how to keep your pulse on that community or that tool or that framework. Find where the opinions are coming from and stay in touch with that.

So we have now reached the end of our episode and it has been fantastic. I could just keep making this podcast. I really enjoy talking to you, Vaidehi and I thank you so much for coming on. Do you have any last bits of advice for our Launchies out there just starting out in their careers?

Vaidehi: Yeah. I'll tell you the thing that I wish someone had told me, and that I still tell to other, newer engineers, and that I still actually have to tell myself every day, too when I'm in an uncomfortable position, which is: don't be afraid of failing at something.

Jonan: Yeah.

Vaidehi: I think that's really important because this whole episode I've sort of been like, “Try this and commit to the schedule and go outside of your comfort zone,” and I think the thing that's really scary about all of those unknown new things, there's always an outcome, which is, “Oh, I could not do well at this,” or “This could not be my thing,” or “I could make a mistake or I could break something,” or “Nobody could read this thing.” Whatever all of those failures are that you see as a potential outcome down the road, don't be afraid of them. Just be willing to try it and know that the stakes are actually much lower than any of us ever think they are. [laughs]

The world is never going to end. It's like, maybe you'll bring down the site or maybe you decide after six months, you don't want to learn this and that's okay because every failure teaches you something. In our industry, in particular, in tech, it's just changing so much that you have to be okay with stumbling a little bit. I think the sooner you get comfortable with that, the more doors will open because you'll be less afraid to try new things and to get uncomfortable and see what else is out there. I think that's one of the most empowering things about being in our industry and I hope everybody gets to experience that in their careers.

Jonan: Overcoming that fear of failure that prevents so many people from ever getting started.

Vaidehi: Absolutely.

Jonan: Thank you so much for coming on the show, Vaidehi. Where can people find you on the internet?

Vaidehi: Probably the best place to find me is Twitter. I am @VaidehiJoshi.

Ironically, to tie this all back, I told you that I started my career so I could make myself a website. I still don't have a website. [laughs]

Jonan: Mine is terrible. My website is so bad.

Vaidehi: I think mine just redirects to BaseCS because I'm just like, “Oh, it's fun! [laughs] People can just go there. So find me on Twitter and when I do make a website, you will know about it because I'll tweet about it one day, maybe 10 years into my career. [laughs]

Jonan: Oh no, I'm here at year 10, still bad.

[laughter]

I made one website during a talk one time and I never changed it. It still has my old handle on it in big, bold letters across the top. Don't worry about it. You make other websites, go get a job and you'll find one. Just keep trying. Worst case scenario, you don't have a job in software today. Maybe you're listening you're earlier on, but if you're just getting started learning to code, you don't have a job today. If you shoot the shot and you don't have a job tomorrow, same, same.

Vaidehi: [laughs] Nothing to lose.

Jonan: Nothing to lose.

Vaidehi: [laughs] Just go for it.

Jonan: Do it. Thank you very much, Vaidehi. We'll talk to you next time.

Vaidehi: Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.

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