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The Beauty of Diversity in Tech with Stefanni Brasil

Relicans host Pachi Carlson talks to Educator at hexdevs’, Stefanni Brasil, about making friends in tech, getting her start through Codecademy, and the importance of starting small and celebrating every tiny victory!

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Jonan Scheffler: Hello and welcome to Launchies, proudly brought to you by New Relic's developer relations team, The Relicans. The Launchies podcast is about supporting new developers and telling their stories and helping you make the next step in what we certainly hope is a very long and healthy career in software. You can find the show notes for this episode along with all of The Relicans podcasts on developer.newrelic.com/podcasts. We're so glad you're here. Enjoy the show.

Pachi Carlson: Hello and welcome to Launchies, a podcast for newbies, developers with non-traditional backgrounds, and career-switchers. I'm Pachi, a developer and member of the New Relic DevRel team. And I will be your host for today's show. You can find me all over the internet as pachicodes. Today I have as a guest, Stefanni Brasil, and she is a developer with a focus on Ruby on Rails. She's Brazilian like me, but she lives in Vancouver. She has a degree in Portuguese and French literature. And we're going to be chatting about all the good things like we always do. Welcome, Stefanni. So thank you so much for being here today.

Stefanni Brasil: Thank you, Pachi. I'm super happy to be here and to be talking to another Brazilian. Thank you.

Pachi: [chuckles] That's always awesome.

Stefanni: Yeah.

Pachi: So I always love to start with asking when did you first get interested in tech, and when did you consider working in it? Because some people I talk with liked tech. Like, they did some things when they were young, but they never thought about working with programming. So, can you tell me how did you get to work as a programmer?

Stefanni: Sure. Yeah, that's a good point because when I was growing up in a very tiny city [chuckles] very distant from all the big cities in Brazil, I didn't know anyone that worked with any technical profession. To give you more examples, my dad is a history teacher, and my mom was a housewife. And all my family didn't have access to all that education. I'm actually really proud and grateful for being the first person in my family to actually have had the opportunity to go and study at the university, and that all came because my father was a huge believer in education. But I didn't know anyone that was super technical, although I really loved science. I think that when we are kids we are so curious, and we want to do interesting things. So that was always with me, but of course, as I was growing up, I got discouraged, not only because I didn't know anyone that I could at least ask questions or guidance, but also because my father could only afford having a computer and internet when I was already a teenager. And by that time, I had already believed that oh, this is too hard, too advanced. I don't know anyone. This is not for me.

And so when I had to decide to go to college, I ended up going with the other passion of mine, which was to read, and then I went to do literature. Fortunately, when I was halfway on my degree, I got a scholarship to study in Portugal, and there I met a friend who was doing a master's in computer science, and she was the first person that I met that was doing something cool. And I remember that I just thought, wow, you're actually building stuff. [chuckles] And at the time also, I started this relationship with my boyfriend, who today is my husband. He was doing computer science. But this friend was a little bit different because she was a woman, and so I think I could resonate way more. And she also said, "Listen, you don't have to understand that much of math. You can just poke around with HTML and CSS." And so that sparked my old [chuckles] wish of doing something and not just consuming things. So that's how I got started with Codecademy, and yeah, it has been this way until now.

Pachi: That's great. For some reason, people that are not in this area we all believed that we had to be good at math. [laughs] And I feel like that scares lots of people away. And like you said, if we don't have people around us when we're young, you don't really consider it and just go with things that we know. So yes, I'm glad you met that friend.

Stefanni: Yeah, [chuckles] me too. I think that's the beauty of more people changing to tech because we need more people that don't look like they belong to tech either because that opens up so many opportunities. The world is too big. There are so many people that just need inspiration to know that it's possible. And yeah, that's why I think we need to have more diverse people, not just in tech but in science in general.

Pachi: Sure. Because I talk a lot about diversity and representation, tech, especially programming, has such a strong stereotype. So if you've never met a programmer, you have the idea that a programmer is a man that is super smart and went to college for five years or something like that. So like you said, it's really important to have diverse people so you can have some inspiration from people that look like you.

Stefanni: Yeah, exactly. And just to go back a little bit, when we were talking about not actually having to have a strong math background, that is just an example that today working with programming has become such a large area that you basically might not even need to understand, I don't know, databases. You can just focus on certain areas of programming, and you don't need to understand everything. So it's becoming easier in the sense that you can choose what you're most comfortable with. And that can also give you a foundation to later explore other areas as well.

Pachi: That is very true. There are just so many areas that there's no way that you're going to know all of them and know what you like the best. Sometimes you start with one thing, and then you have the opportunity of doing something else. And if you have something to get started, you just put your foot in the door.

Stefanni: Yeah. That's a good way to say it, yeah.

Pachi: So after you got started, you said you did Codecademy. How did you decide what you were going to learn, and where did you find the material to learn?

Stefanni: That's a great question, especially because I still see lots of confusion for people that are still going through the same that I was maybe five years ago, I guess. I think honestly, at the time, we didn't have lots of resources as we have today. I think Codecademy was the main recommendation everywhere. Today it's a little bit different. I guess if you search for "Learn how to code," you will get so many results. It can be paralyzing.

Pachi: [chuckles] Yes, it's so much.

Stefanni: Yeah. So let's say that at the time that I got started, I did some basic research, and it looked to me that HTML and CSS and then later JavaScript. And also, my friend said, "Start with HTML and CSS."

Pachi: I like your friend. [chuckles]

Stefanni: Yeah, she's great. [chuckles] I try to be that person for new people because I know how important it is. And then, after the HTML and CSS, I went to do the JavaScript on Codecademy. I remember how lost I was. Nothing made sense. [chuckles] And then I went to...yeah, that's the fun thing. At the time, I already knew that there were some initiatives for women in tech, and I searched about those groups in São Paulo, and that's how I found out about the Rails Girls community in São Paulo. And I'm super grateful for this community. It has welcomed me so well. That's how I got my first opportunity, and I just felt like I belonged there, and that's how I transitioned to Rails as well.

Pachi: That makes such a huge difference.

Stefanni: Yeah, so it was a mix of asking for recommendations, plus trying other things, and connecting with people in the area.

Pachi: That's good advice. I always recommend HTML and CSS because I think it has a low barrier. You can do simple things, and you can see them on the screen right away. So you can get a feeling for that. If you don't like... if you think that HTML and CSS are not for you, probably, the other programming things are going to become more complicated. [laughs] So I feel like it's a good introduction to programming. So yeah, it is really important we advocate that because some people are like, "No, HTML and CSS is not even programming, so go learn this instead." But you're just throwing the people into the really hard stuff, and they're just going to run away. [laughs]

Stefanni: Yeah, that's a great point. Of course, HTML and CSS won't give you like, oh yeah, the first job or whatever.

Pachi: Right.

Stefanni: But when you are starting with HTML and CSS, you'll have to go having in mind that you also need to learn how you learn how to code. I say this because I remember that when I was getting started, I used to make some notes in my notebook because that's how I knew how to study. But when you are communicating with the computer, it's different. You actually have to practice. You will, of course, still do some courses, see other people's code. But if you just look at it and you write down in your notebook, that's not how you're going to learn. So you have to also learn, oh, okay. So how does this work? Oh, so I also have a code editor. Oh, so the browser also has this console that I can play with. You know what I mean? If you want to get started with something that is more difficult and you're also trying something new, you're putting yourself in a very bad spot. So yeah, it's really important to start small. It's not a marathon. No one is looking at your shoulder and saying anything. You have to understand how you learn better, start small, and celebrate every tiny victory. [chuckles]

Pachi: It is really important to celebrate every tiny victory because as we go, you're going to forget about the things you have done. Sometimes you have been learning for like a year, and you're like, oh, I don't know anything. And then you go back to see all you have done in the last year. Yes, you do. When you started, you knew literally nothing, and now you know how to create a website or whatever, but especially people that are self-learners where you want to learn so fast. But people that go to college had four years in college before they started working. So we don't have to learn everything in a year. [laughs]

Stefanni: Yeah, exactly. And it's also different. I think honestly, for people that are transitioning to tech, that's what I did. I already had gone to college. I already had all the experience working with all other things. So that shows that not only do I like to learn but that I have done other hard stuff before. So we just need to remind ourselves that it's a process. It's going to be hard, which I think acknowledging that it's going to be hard is something that is missing in all the resources for people that are learning how to code. But we can talk more about this later.

Pachi: [laughs]

Stefanni: And yeah, so if you already had other experience, use that. Don't just throw it away. What can you reuse from that? Maybe you can even apply what you're learning to your current work. So don't just throw it away. Embrace your diversity and be grateful that you like to learn. Believe me, not everyone likes to learn, and look for things, and ask for help. So if you have that, you are someone that will succeed. You will just take some time.

Pachi: Yeah, that's important; just know that you have to take some time and just get going really because programming is learning all the time. [chuckles] You never stop learning.

Stefanni: Yeah. Honestly, I go to some groups, and I think there is this misconception that you buy this course or you go to this bootcamp and after three months, magically…

Pachi: [laughs] Magically.

Stefanni: ...you will get a high-paying job, and you will know everything. I'm not saying that I'm against bootcamps or anything; I’m not. I'm just saying that it is sadly something that is putting people on a long, frustrating path. And I think the effect is being the opposite of what people wanted and that I can say from my experience. I remember that I went to a local meetup in Brazil, and there was this person that was trying to motivate people to learn how to code. And they kept saying that it was easy. It was easy; It was fun.

Pachi: Oh, yeah. Those are the worst. [chuckles]

Stefanni: Yeah. And I got so frustrated because, of course, I thought the problem was me, yeah. If this is supposed to be easy, then clearly, this is not for me because I'm having such a hard time. And so when you say to people, "It's going to be easy. It's going to be fun," you have to say, "Listen, it's a process. You will get there. You will feel stuck. You will feel frustrated. You will feel like you will never understand it all." And like you said, you won't ever finish learning all the stuff. And if you say that to people, I think you actually increase the odds of people sticking to it rather than saying, "Oh no, it's easy. Come, there are lots of jobs out there. If you just do this course that I'm selling you, in three months, you will get a 400k paying job." [laughs]

Pachi: [laughs] Like we like to say in Brazilian tech Twitter it's like, every week there’s a newsletter about those things. But yes, that's something that I actually am always telling people around me. Like, I stream on Twitch, so I have lots of streaming friends that they teach do not use the word easy. Nothing is easy. And that's something that I am very strong about. Maybe it may be easy for you right now, and you might forget that it wasn't easy for you in the beginning. And like you said, if this person is saying this is easy and I'm having such a hard time, so the problem is me, right? That's what you think. But that's wrong. Everybody learns differently. Everybody learns from different things, right? So maybe you're just doing a class that is wrong for you, or you're trying to watch videos when you learn better reading or something like that. And that is for everybody listening; never say that things are easy because they're not. [laughs]

Stefanni: Yeah, thanks for saying that. I think we need more people saying that. And also something related to when you are learning how to code like I said, you're going to have to learn how you learn better because you're going to be exercising another side of your brain, let's say. [chuckles] And it's really normal for you…for example, let's say that I want to learn Rails. I go straight to a Rails tutorial, and that's okay because you don't know what you don't know, and that's okay. That's part of the process. But what you have to keep in mind is, oh okay, so I'm doing this tutorial. It's getting super hard. Like, I don't understand. Instead of saying, "Oh, you know what? That's me. I suck." Take that moment to see to actually think, oh, so this is becoming a little bit harder than I expected. Maybe I'm missing something else, and that something else is also going to lead you to another path to explore. But that's great because you are noticing the gaps in your knowledge and what you need to focus on before you go to the next thing. And that's going to be pretty frequent in your entire journey.

But again, that's part of the process, and it's really important for you to take these times these moments to notice the gaps and focus on them but not to think, oh, I tried a bunch of things. Well, you don't just go...if you're learning how to run, if you're running for the first time, you don't just sign up for a marathon right away. [chuckles] You go for a walk every day or several times a day. But it has to be something that you understand the whole process, and then you plan accordingly. And that's why I think that it's important to try to be friends with someone that has gone through what you want to do because when those moments happen and you might not have an idea of what your gap is, it's really important to have someone that can say, "Oh, if you're struggling with this, it's because you need to learn these other concepts first. And then you can read this or do this tutorial." But that's basically how it's going to be, finding gaps and keep going. [chuckles]

Pachi: And there's always going to be a gap. [chuckles] It's always going to be there. That is very true. And I liked what you said earlier that it's going to be hard. I'm sorry, people, it's going to be hard, especially in the beginning; it’s it's not going to be easy, and it takes a while. And it gets a bit easier, but I think nobody that programs says, "This is easy," not even enough people who have been doing it for years because programming just changes too much. And I think it is really important, like you said, to find somebody. I think people that are starting, especially self-taught developers, it's so important to find a community or a mentor, just somebody around you that knows because, like you said, it's hard. You don't know what you're doing. You don't know what you don't know. Like you said, having somebody there to say, "Hey, I am learning this, but I cannot do that. Can you give me a minute of your time?" That really makes all the difference.

Stefanni: Yes, correctly. Yeah, you said it really, really well. And the most important part of being part of a community...and it might take some time until you find yours.

Pachi: Yes.

Stefanni: It's also part of the process. It's because learning how to code and getting stuck all the time eventually you will learn how to celebrate the tiny wins or otherwise it's really an unbearable process. You have to compare yourself just to your past self and keep going. But the point that I want to say is that being in a community will make you feel less lonely. I have seen some people saying that they started learning how to code during the pandemic because they had more time and they wanted to do something that was less lonely. And that kept me thinking; I’m really sorry to say this to you because the pandemic is lonely. It was depressing. It's still being in countries; not every country has the vaccines. So you are going through a very lonely period, and you chose to do something that is also very frustrating.

Pachi: Right? [laughs]

Stefanni: So if you don't know that, you might be directing yourself to a very hard time. But then, if you are in a community, you will see others struggling, and you will see there are some great people in the tech community that will give you so much support, and you don't have to go through that alone. And that's really, really important to understand because that is also something that I see a lot. People think that "Oh if I'm learning how to code, I should know everything. Asking for help, asking my questions, it's a sign that I don't know it all." And I think that's related to what you said earlier that we have this idea...although I agree it's changing a little bit. But there's still this belief that to be a real developer, whatever that means... [chuckles]

Pachi: Whatever that means. [chuckles]

Stefanni: ...you have to know everything by yourself. And that is so painful because you are missing out on a lot of opportunities because you're afraid to ask for help, to ask for guidance, and you're trying to figure everything on your own. So something fun is that I'm giving these examples because I see this happening today, but it's actually how I felt as well through the years. And I remember pretty clearly that I had this idea that oh if I ask for help, who is going to hire me? I don't know anything. That's also something that you will have to learn. First, no one knows it all. It's impossible.

Pachi: Right?

Stefanni: Look at all the technologies that are born every day, and then second, everyone searches for everything. The difference is that you just don't know yet how to search better, and so you think that it's because you can't search. It's just because you don't know yet how to search. But that is also something that you will learn.

Pachi: There is this joke that says, "The difference between a junior and a senior is that a senior knows how to use a search engine better." [laughs] And yeah, there are just so many things. You are never going to learn everything. There are too many things to learn, and that's okay. I think that's the thing; you just have to understand that it's okay, especially if you ask for help. But it's really hard to ask for help when you're starting. Like, you don't want to bother people. You want to know everything, so yeah.

Stefanni: Yeah, and also part of that is that depending on where you are, you might not even know how to ask, which is also another problem, not another problem, but it's another thing that you will have to learn. But yeah, I think we have been saying, "Oh, it's hard, it's frustrating," but it's actually also pretty good. And we all had our goals in mind when we decided to learn how to code. It's just not going to be all the time super fun. But eventually, you will get there. And I'm really sure that whatever was the reason that made you want to learn how to code and to change your career is strong enough for you to keep you going. But you don't have to do it by yourself. So yeah, maybe that's the message that I want to share.

Pachi: I think it's very important and a good thing to have a goal because programming is a worthy career. At the end of the day, after you break into tech, it's worth it, but like you said, it's not easy. So if you have a goal like, why do you want to be a programmer? And it can be anything; it can even be money. Some people don't like to say that, "Oh, I'm programming because of the money." But if it's money, that's fine too because we have to pay our bills at the end of the month. But having a reason why you're learning, I think that's a very helpful thing.

Stefanni: Yeah, and that's a good point. There is another belief that, oh, you came to tech because you want to make more money. Well, yes, that was one of the reasons that I changed my career. And I'm not afraid or embarrassed to say that. I don't know where people live but in the world that I live in, we exchange value with money. [chuckles]

Pachi: Right. Same here. [chuckles]

Stefanni: Yeah. And honestly, I was starting to just see some people that didn't look like me or didn't care about people like me creating this product, and then only them making lots of money.

Pachi: Right. That's a really important point.

Stefanni: Yeah. So hmm, maybe there is something here, right?

Pachi: Right.

Stefanni: I actually believe that the way that minorities can change the game is by getting more economic power. And if you like this discussion, I really recommend Rachel Rodgers’ book, which is called “We Should All Be Millionaires.” [chuckles]

Pachi: I like this book already.

Stefanni: Yeah, it's great. I read it, and I need to read it again. So whatever was the reason that you want it, keep that in mind and trace a goal. And yeah, like you said, it's important, and it's also important because if you don't know where you're going, you're going to spread yourself across so many paths that you will get lost. And that is also something that I struggled with a lot in the beginning, and I see it happening still is; oh, so what should I learn? Let's say if you just search that on Google, you will find, oh, actually, to apply for this junior position, you have to know React. You have to know; I don't know, Kubernetes. You also need to be a DevOps, all of that stuff, but actually, you don't. And the sooner you focus on one thing, the better. So don't spread yourself too thin. Trace your goal, set your goal, and trace a backwards planning. I really like this term from Amy Hoy. So you want to get there, try to come up with a plan, and then again, you can ask for recommendations or some guidance. And that can also be really useful for you to note what the gaps are because you will only know what the gaps are as you start the process. So that can be a fun experiment to do. I wish I had done that. [chuckles]

Pachi: Yeah, I really like this advice: you have a plan and then just go backwards. That makes a lot of sense. Because you just go learning like, oh, somebody told me to learn JavaScript. You go and learn JavaScript. Oh, somebody on Twitter said React is cool. I'm going to go and learn React. Oh, somebody did a workshop about DevOps. You go and learn it. So you just keep learning all those things. And if you don't have that clear path, a clear place you want to be, there are just too many techs out there. It's just so easy for you to want to learn everything. But if you learn the wrong things, you're going to just be further away from your goal. So, yeah, I think that's a really good point to just know where you want to go.

Stefanni: Yeah. And also, you don't need to stay there forever. Let's say that you start with JavaScript, but then you realize no; actually, I would prefer something like Python because I actually want to work with more data. That's fine. But you already have a pretty good foundation. I think that the main problem is you try to learn everything, but you end up not knowing anything, and that's way more frustrating than, oh, I know JavaScript. I'm pretty good with JavaScript. What else can I learn now? Rather than oh, I'm learning JavaScript. I'm learning Python. And I'm learning I don't know what else is now trending. But yeah, just start with one thing; it’s way better than trying to do lots of things. And it will give you more opportunities, and you will be in a better position to actually figure out what you want to do next.

Pachi: That's really good advice. I wish I had done that too. [laughs]

Stefanni: Yeah, it's common. That's why I like to say to people, "Listen, it's going to be a process because you're going to have to learn so many things." And it's good because I can see that you have been through the same, so yeah, somehow it's good to know that we are not alone in this, right? [chuckles]

Pachi: Uh-huh. Yes, that really helps, especially when you're in the process because if you feel alone, it's just so easy to give up like, okay, nobody has done that, what I'm doing. Why am I here? Let me just go back to do whatever I was doing before. But if you see people struggling, people like you doing the thing, it's like, okay, she's doing it. I can do it too. I think maybe. [chuckles]

Stefanni: Yeah. I like that. If someone like me who didn't write a single line of code until after their 20s could do it, then yeah, I'm pretty sure everyone can do it. Anyone can do it. [chuckles]

Pachi: Yeah, that's very true. And that's the thing; I feel there's a bit of an elitist air around programming. Like, "Okay, not everybody can do it, just these people can." But everybody really can learn to program if they want to, if they really want to. And like you said earlier if they like to learn…because you have to like learn, that's the only thing that you have to like to be a programmer because there's always going to be learning involved. But outside that, anybody that really wants and has the physical capabilities, they can do it.

Stefanni: Yeah. That's a great point. There is still this elitism, and I can see that pretty well with...maybe let me give you an example; for example, let's say that you have learned React, and you're feeling pretty well because React is so complex. I admire everyone that understands React because… [chuckles]

Pachi: Right? [chuckles]

Stefanni: ...it's an alien language for me. But then yeah, so let's say that you have a pretty good understanding of React, so you build some stuff. And then you see someone that says, "Oh, what? JavaScript?" Actually, to be a real developer, you have to know Go or C++, or actually, you have to code in Assembly." [chuckles]

Pachi: And don't use a mouse. You cannot use a mouse to be a real coder.

Stefanni: Yeah. Honestly, when people say things like that, they are mostly saying that because of them and less because of you. So just ignore it. Like we were saying in the beginning, working with code today, whatever it can be, it has become so large that you can choose what makes you more happy. And if that's going to make you more productive and do something with your life, then don't listen to others. There's always going to be those people. If you want to learn Go or C++ for whatever reason, do it because you will use it for something but not because, oh yeah, I have to know this to actually be a real developer. A real developer is one that works well with others, is always learning, and feels proud of how much they have accomplished. That's the definition for me. [chuckles]

Pachi: I agree. I like your definition very much. It makes so much more sense. Real programmers are those that program. That's it. [laughs]

Stefanni: Exactly.

Pachi: It shouldn't be more than that. Are you programming? "Yes." If you develop something, you're a developer. If you make some code, you're a coder, just like that. I love it. So I usually ask as the last question about your best tip for people that are learning, but I think we just talked about so many good tips. [laughter] So what is your number one tip, the one thing that you wish you knew when you started learning to code or when you decided to get started?

Stefanni: Yeah, that's a great question. Honestly, if I could go back in time and say to myself, "Listen, Stefanni, the more you get comfortable with not knowing things and getting comfortable with asking for help and talking to people that know what you don't know, the better you will be," because I used to sabotage myself a lot. I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who has done this. But I got some test challenges to do, and I wouldn't even do it because I was giving up before I started. And that's because I was comparing myself too much to others instead of focusing on oh, okay, so I want to get there. What is the next step? And let's see every opportunity as a growing opportunity. Actually, rejection is a myth. Of course, it's terrible when someone says, "Oh, we won't move forward with you," but that is not putting you in a box that says that you can't do anything else. It's just something else will come up, and you have to keep going. And yeah, just remember why you are doing this, and if it's not for you, maybe it's for someone else. You want to be that person that you wanted to have met when you were a kid. [chuckles]

Pachi: That's great advice.

Stefanni: So get comfortable with not knowing, with asking for help, and keep doing, keep trying, and get comfortable with doing things that you are scared of. I think that would have saved me so much frustration and time as well.

Pachi: I wish I had listened to this podcast a few years back. [laughs]

Stefanni: Yeah. Let's put it in a time capsule. [laughs]

Pachi: Thank you so much, Stefanni, for talking to me. That was so much fun. I learned so much. It was great having you. Where can people find you on the internet?

Stefanni: Yeah. Thank you, Pachi. I loved talking to you. It's really great to have another Brazilian talking about code. So thank you very much. I was super happy to meet you and talk to you. So I have my blog. It's my name, stefannibrasil.me. I'm also on Twitter. I also have a podcast. It's like a project, it's called hexdevs Podcast, but it's more like a side project. And yeah, but mostly on my blog.

Pachi: Okay, nice. Thank you so much. And like I said, I really had fun talking to you. I always love talking to Brazilian people. And thanks, everybody, for listening. This was Launchies for you. And please stay tuned; we’re going to have another episode coming up next week. And thank you so much. Have a good one, everybody. 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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