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Interview w/ Ali Spittel (part 2)

Published 3/20/2019

We all have different experiences coming into development, and today we talk with Ali Spittel, a software engineer at Dev.to, Director at Women Who Code - DC and lead instructor at General Assembly.

In part 2 of our interview with Ali we cover what Ali's working on now and things she wishes people would ask her more about.

Ali on the Web

Ali on twitter

Ali's website

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
How do you know that you are cut out for this job? For being a software developer? It's a difficult question, and there's not a perfect answer. That's one of the many things that we discuss with today's guest, Ali Spittle. This is part two of my interview with Ali. If you missed the first part, make sure you go back and listen to that before you jump in to this episode. My name is Jonathan Cutrell and you're listening to Developer Tea. This show exists to help driven developers find clarity, perspective, and purpose in their careers. And if this show has done that for you, in any way. And I'd like to ask you for a quick favor. Just a little bit of your time to leave a review for the show on iTunes. In the life of a podcast, reviews are kind of the number one signal of whether or not that podcast can continue doing what it's doing. It's the best way to help other developers find the show and encourage them to listen. Find Developer Teaon iTunes and leave a review today. Thank you so much for taking the time to do that. Now, let's jump straight into part two of my interview with Ali Spittle. We've talked about the moment of uncertainty or I guess those many moments of uncertainty for you. A lot of people are listening to this, they share that. I know I certainly share that feeling of walking into my job and wondering, do I actually belong here? But I'd also love to know what was the moment where you felt truly like you were exactly where you were supposed to be, like the light switched on. People were appreciative of the work you were doing. You felt very confident with it. So you had a moment that you can remember and that you can share with us. That felt like that. Honestly, so many moments with working with students, I've had exactly that feeling where something has clicked for them and they just understand programming, build some cool thing and everything comes together. Especially when you're working with students who aren't getting it super immediately and so much more rewarding when they do figure it out eventually. And then also really cool working at a boot camp, like seeing the successes of students after the fact and seeing how well they do that's been another really, really cool moment for me to see that career improvement there. As far as code goes, I think that some of the apps that I built during my first job were really, really cool and more on the onboarding side still on dev. But recently I built an auto save feature for the editor for writing blog posts. And so that was a fun feature to work on. Got to work with some different tools that I've worked on recently. It's exciting. It's fun to look at those things from the wide lens but also the very specific lens because all of our memories are, you know, they're single moments. And when we compile them all together, then we start to create these kind of larger fuzzy memories. But usually, and this is why things like reviews and feedback and single interactions can be so important. Somebody might remember that single interaction that you have with them for the rest of their life. It's very possible that it'll stand out to them. I know many of the time, many of the moments in the history, even of just this podcast, I've received a message or something like that. And it was so meaningful to me. And the person who was sending that message probably didn't realize just how meaningful that moment would be for me. It may have been meaningful for them too, but we often underestimate, I think we often underestimate the meaningfulness of those individual moments. So I think it's very important to take those moments seriously. That's something that I'm really passionate about. I have a document keeping track of my own wins. So I take like screenshots of those really nice letters from people that, you know, sometimes they're so nice, they like make you choke up. And it's really cool. It makes you keep doing what you're doing. And so, yeah, I definitely keep screenshots of those. I keep quotes from, in your reviews, I keep just notes of cool things that I've built. All of that, I have a massive document just tracking all that. And if I'm having like a bad day or really imposter syndrome flare up day, then I'll go back and read through that. That's a great idea. I've actually heard of doing the very similar thing of keeping, you know, basically the best thing that happened to you every day and just writing that down. Similar concept. Yeah. Allie, I'd love to ask you a question about other people's influence on you. Have you had someone who really helped you, you know, you mentioned providing that feedback to you in those critical moments that gave you the reassurance that you needed to continue? What kind of leadership or what kind of relationships along the way have you found to be most valuable? Because there are people who are listening to this podcast right now who are in positions of leadership and they have the opportunity to help people who are in positions just like you were. You know, what would you tell them in terms of helping people become the developer that they really have the potential to become? Yeah. So I think for me, one of the interesting parts of my career is that I've worked at kind of flat hierarchy startups for most of my career. And so there has been some of that leadership, but then also in some ways I've been doing a lot kind of for myself. One example of this would be just like my co-instructors from GA, working with them. I learned so, so, so much about writing code and but then also just how to be a good team and how to teach and all that. So really working with them, even though we were all on the same level, was really, really incredible and a really, really helpful experience. And these people can have a big effect on our lives and just like you said, you know, even if you're in a flat structure, there are still people who have major influence over what we do. If you're, you know, if you're somebody who reviews code, for example, take an extra moment to notice the good things that the people are doing in the code that they're working on. And then if you have that critical feedback, it's very difficult to get that positive signal as well. So that's something that I encourage, you know, with every piece of negative feedback, we really should be leaving more than, more than one to one ratio of positive feedback if we can swing it. Unless that code is just truly terrible, find a way to, you know, to inject more positive feedback. That's probably one of my biggest pieces of advice for anybody who's in a managerial position that positivity needs to be weighted more heavily than negativity when providing feedback. Totally. And I also think along those same lines, making sure that any criticism or things that can be improved, the ways to improve are like really tangible and actionable. So instead of this is bad, like, well, we can do this better because of X and Y. And we can do it that way through X, X, you know, A or whatever. I think that making sure that that feedback is something that that person can actually improve on and knows how to do at the end of your review is really important as well. Absolutely. I think there's a sliding scale of absolutely horrible feedback, which in my opinion is no feedback at all, right? That's kind of the very worst into the scale. The next tick up from that would be feedback that says, you're not meeting expectations and that's it. If that's the only piece of feedback that you get and you don't even, for example, you may not even know what the expectations are, right? But you know that you're not meeting them. That is a pretty horrible feeling. You know, it's a bad emotion and you're not really going to get somebody to be motivated out of that and certainly not improve from it. And then all the way on the right side is what you're talking about. Ali, exactly what you're saying, which is providing very clear instruction or at least a tangible kind of doors to open and say, maybe this is a way that you could improve that or maybe this is another way you could improve it. Totally. I have news for you if you are new to software development or even if you're now it. You have a lot of bugs in front of you. Some of those bugs you won't ever even find. Many of them you'll find before you ship your product. But every once in a while you'll find a bug in production. And the problem with this is that the bug that goes to production is likely to affect your customers. And you probably won't hear about it until after that has happened. Seeing your customers as a QA team is a bad idea. If you're waiting on them to report the bugs to you, then you've already lost the game. Now, if you're smart developer then you're already thinking, well, I should be catching this in my tests. I should be writing automated tests and catching these problems in my CI or catching them in my QA process. And while that's true for a lot of bugs, it's not always true. You can't prevent every single bug because you can't predict what people are going to do with your software. On top of that, we're kind of bad at writing tests that cover every single case. So how can we solve this problem without writing a thousand tests? Well, we come at it from a different angle. And that's what CENTRY allows you to do. CENTRY lets you know when an error has occurred in your application and it sends you all of the information you need to fix that error, for example, a stack trace, and even the information of the commit for the code that the error is attributed to. You can get alerts in Slack or an email and this allows you to triage issues immediately before they affect your customer base. Go and check it out. CENTRY.IO gets started today with CENTRY. That's CENTRY.IO. Thanks again to CENTRY for sponsoring today's episode of Developer Tea. OK, so I went to Shiftgears here for a moment because you're involved with the Dev community and that's Capital Dev as in the organization dev.to but also the actual Dev community. The developer community who gathers in various forms on the internet. I'd love to know what do you wish and this is a big question. So feel free to take the time to answer it. What do you wish we could change together about the software development industry, about the online communities that we develop? What do you wish we could change together? Yeah, I wish it was a much safer place for people from underrepresented groups in tech. Actually, this last Friday, when we were recording this, was International Women's Day and Dev to the company that I worked for, post this She Coded campaign where women tell their stories of working in tech and their advice for other women coming after them or in the field already. And mine this year, instead of actually writing out like any of that, I just took screenshots of some of the harassment that I've gotten online over the last couple of months. And that was it. I kind of provided it without any additional words or filler from me, just the screenshots. Like, because nobody can really debate that. They're pretty concrete and seeing them all next to each other like that, I think was kind of an eye opener for some people who don't have to not eat that. I think that it's a problem both in person events and then also on on space and it's pretty much everywhere online. Unfortunately, I get some of these emails to my working email about, you know, guys asking me out or whatever, telling me that they're in love with me or how I'm responsible for my own harassment or whatever. So that's all over. It's not just on Reddit, even the Reddit can be bad. It's not just on Twitter, even though Twitter can be bad. It's something that's really prevalent and a bigger issue than just one person or one place. And I think with that same issue, it's pretty prevalent in person events as well. And I know that it's not just me. This is happening to people all over the place. It's not just happening to women. It's happening to other underrepresented people. It's happening to everybody who is kind of visible and online in this industry. So that's something that I think we can really, really work together to improve as an industry. I agree. And I think it starts well and this is a place where I feel very uncomfortable talking. Because I feel like part of the problem is the need for the well-represented group to express too much. And I think that it produces this atmosphere where the underrepresented group, whoever it is, they feel like they are only. Only barely getting a chance. There are people who saw your post who had no idea that you were facing that. And for you, it's just another day, right? Would you agree with that? Yeah, totally. Yeah, it's definitely way more prevalent than I think people realize. And I think that people maybe know that it's happening but then aren't really confronted with it in the way that the people who are dealing with it are. And so that's really why I put that post together, which just like this really tangible, explicit representation of what these messages actually are. So that's kind of why I did it. And then, that's the main reason. And I think it's important to share those stories. But I also want to say that a lot of those posts that other women wrote were so awesome and really had great advice for moving forward as a underrepresented person working in this industry. Yeah, absolutely. This is probably of all of the topics that I've talked about on Developer Tea. I try to maintain this sense that I'm fairly confident in what I'm saying, but this is one area where I very quickly lose confidence in what I have to say because I just can't totally understand because I'm not in that. I'm not in one of those groups. And I encourage other people who are not a part of an underrepresented group like myself to try to listen as much as possible, like open up and listen as much as you can without a predisposition to whatever's being discussed. This is I'm edging on a political discussion and we want to avoid that on the show generally speaking because there's so many political opinions, differing political opinions. But I want to make sure that the people who listen to this show understand that having self-awareness, developing self-awareness about your own privilege is not just something that is good for society, it's not a political statement. This is something that's critical to your career. It's critical to the careers of your co-workers. And it's critical that we do this together because it develops diversity in software development. And we know empirically, not just as an opinion, we know this empirically that diverse teams produce better output. Yeah, definitely. That's so true. It's so important to think about the diversity in users when you're creating a product, for example, and I think that your team isn't diverged, it's not going to be producing products or applications for a diverse client's health. So I think that that's a really, really important thing. There are, again, so many studies on this. And it's so important for both people's careers and just like their lives, like, career is a huge part of your life. But even outside that, the thoughts that are going through your mind and the things that you're fixated on and all that, that tends to go back to what you're going through during the day at that job. And so it's really important to think about these things. When flipping it, comment to you is a flipping comment, but it can really impact somebody else's feeling of safety and their ability to feel safe in your environment. Absolutely. I'd love to know, do you have specific advice for groups who are not, who you wouldn't consider, underrepresented? Beyond, obviously, don't participate directly in the problem. Hopefully that goes without saying. But do you have other advice for people who they want to be a part of the solution, but they're at a loss for how to do that? What would you tell those people? Yeah, so I think it's going to depend from person to person how you can be the best ally for them. But for me, I like, you know, if I'm going to a big tech event, like I like to have friends that I know that I know that if a conversation gets weird or something like that, I can go back to that friend and integrate myself into that conversation pretty quickly to get out of whatever one I was in previously. So that's something that I have really found helpful with my friends. I also really appreciate people who will make my voice and my accomplishments heard. So you know, there's sometimes a tendency amongst some people to, you know, clean credit for somebody else's work or claim that they came up with an idea when they really didn't and having those allies who say, oh, well, she was just saying that. You know, you're taking credit for it now, but she was just saying that. So, you know, it's kind of her idea first and stuff like that. People who really put your accomplishments at the forefront is really important. Some of those people who have done that for me are, you know, some of my closest friends and the people that I really look up to and think super, super highly of as co-workers. That's excellent advice. I think that's excellent advice for people in general. When possible, recognize that the credit that you have to give to yourself, you probably partially or maybe even wholly can give that credit to another person. And generally speaking, that's a better route, right? It's better for you and it's probably better for them. Totally. Another thing would be like trying to take up relatively equal parts of space. Like if you feel like you're dominating in conversation and there's another person that conversation that isn't speaking up as much, maybe taking a step back and asking them questions and trying to bring them into that a little bit more rather than like totally dominating in the conversation, I think that's another important one. That's a very hard one to do and I totally agree. In fact, I'm even self-conscious about this conversation about accidentally dominating and it's true with any guest. It's a difficult thing to do. Something that I've actually found that works well is to either have an awareness of time in the conversation. This is like a very practical representation of this. An awareness of time, so maybe a running clock. But another thing that really helps is to have, if you've seen those conversation balls, I'm not really sure what you would call them, but you basically throw the ball to the person who's talking. We actually do this at ClearBet. We have a microphone that we pass around during our all hands meeting and the microphone picks up people's voice. And it also acts as kind of a awareness that as long as I'm holding this, I'm the one that's taking up the space. And so it provides a little bit more of a tactile feedback to remind you, hey, you're still talking. Yeah, I really like that. That's really cool. Sometimes when students will do like a beany-beam or you're holding the beany-beam if you're talking or something like that. I think that's great. Allie, I'd love to ask you a couple more questions before we wrap up. The first one is when they ask everyone when they come on the show. If you had 30 seconds of advice to provide to developers, no matter what their background is, what would you tell them? I would say to get involved in the tech community. There's so much that you can learn from other developers and there's so much you can do for your career by making those connections and listening to other people's opinions and all that. So I would definitely say to find the tech community in your U, even if that's online and get involved with that as soon as you can. I think that's an excellent recommendation. It's actually what helped me launch my career in web development. I was very interested in design and ultimately got involved in a very different online community back then, but that propelled me into learning and loving learning about software development. So I think that's excellent advice. Next question I have for you, Allie, is if we were to end the interview right now, what do you wish we would have talked about? Is there a topic that you feel like you're really passionate about that we haven't covered yet? One that I always want to talk about is my new puppy Blair. She's my new best friend. So I love to talk about her. That's awesome. I have a retriever shepherd mix. She's a dark brown kind of twix color. She has like a caramel color and a dark brown color. And I've had her through all of the most important phases of my life basically in adulthood. That's awesome to hear. I've had her for two months now and it's definitely changed my life a lot. I think that honestly, it's led to a much better work life balance for me. I'm somebody who kind of tends to just work until you know, it collapsed. And so having her where I have to take her out and feed her and give her attention, you know, that kind of bounds my work day in a way that I didn't have before. I should have spent a really cool part of having it. I have similar bounds, but now I've moved, I've graduated from dog to wife and child. And my wife also has a very full career. So we have some collective responsibilities that if we don't get on them right at a certain time at night, and it's, it becomes really hard to play. And I've been able to catch up, especially feeding our sign before it goes to bed. That's a critical one. We can't skip that one. Yeah, that's big. That's big. Kids a whole nother level. Yeah, absolutely. Although there are a lot of similarities, I definitely remember the two month mark with my dog. So don't let anybody tell you that it's anything that it's easier. It's just different. Okay. That's good to hear. Yeah. I think it's got a lot easier to do. Yeah. Ali, thank you so much for joining me on Developer Tea. Is there anything else that you'd like to share anywhere that people can find you and learn more about your course, about your writing and about your teaching? Thank you so much. It's been a lot of fun. Dev2-slash-a-spetal is my profile there. You can read all of my writing, including the course on there. And also my sheet coded article, which we talked a little bit about today. And then the other site that I'm most active on is Twitter. I'm also a Spetal there. Excellent. Thank you so much for joining me. I know the huge thank you to Ali for joining me on today's episode. And thank you for listening to this episode. Thanks again to Century for making this episode possible. However to Century.io to get started today in finding errors before your users do. This episode and every episode of Developer Tea is a part of the spec network. Head over to spec.fm to find other shows for designers and developers like you. For example, the React podcast or tools day or framework or design details. There's quite a lot of content that is just waiting for you to go and consume it. Go and check it out. Spec.fm. Thank you to today's producer Sarah Jackson. Thank you once again to you, the listener, for listening to today's episode. Another reminder, if you have gotten value out of this podcast, we would greatly appreciate hearing from you. Leave a review on iTunes. Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, enjoy your tea.