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Navigating Mid-Career Decisions


🖥 Presented by Women Who Code Career Nav & Stavvy 👩‍💻 Speaker: Alexandra Zajaczkowski, Allie Crane, Amy Munro, Kate Nachbar, Kayleigh DeMello, and Morgan Whittemore, Stavvy. Moderated by Ann Nguyen, Stavvy, and Anna Shur-Wilson, WWCode. ✨ Topic: Navigating Mid-Career Decisions
In this panel discussion, attendees will hear mid and senior-level members of Stavvy’s tech team discuss their career trajectories. The panelists span multiple technical skill sets and represent management and IC career tracks from QA to security, full-stack, product, and engineering manager. If you’re thinking about how you want to shape your career, this talk is for you!
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So I'd like to give a huge. Thank you to our sponsor, Savvy, who. Has been a great partner throughout this. And has put together this amazing event for you. So I'm going to pass it to. And to kick us off. Thanks, Anna. Hi, I'm annoying so a little bit more before we start talking to our panelists. We are a secure SaaS platform. We help real estate professionals, banks, law firms and customers collaborate and complete transactions. It's sort of like a marriage between Zoom, which we're on now, and a digital signing platform, DocuSign, something like DocuSign and with remote notarization. So it's like a marriage between some really interesting technologies. If you're interested, we have like a react type script front end, and our back end is Python with some services in Java. So, again, my name is Anne and I will be your moderator today. It's interesting that we're talking about midcareer decisions because I'm in my third career right now. I went from marketing to education. Now I'm a software engineer and I hopefully I will be retiring as a software engineer as well. So, Anna, if we could move to the next slide, please, with our panelists here. So we're going to talk about Navigating mid career decisions. It includes things to think about when you're in your current mid, your current role now, as well as your role in your career as a whole. And they'll also be sharing ideas and strategies to move to the next level. So I have my five panelists here. They're from different areas of Savvy, so you're going to be able to get different perspectives in case if you have questions about different areas that you're interested in. So, panelists, if you could just give us a history of how you got started and what your journey here was like to where you are now. I'm going to start with Alex, who is our product manager, Savvy. Hi. Thanks, Dan. Super excited to be a part of this today. So I just want to give a quick shout out. I saw in the chat we had Kyla say as a kid I wanted to be a bridge builder. I think that's pretty awesome. So I see myself as a product manager, as a bridge builder. So let's dive in a little bit how I got here. So my path has been long and windy and nonlinear. I graduated with a BA in English and World Literature. I'm a first generation American, so I did not have a lot of support. Navigating precollege life and postcollege life, I was in the arts, working in the service industry, while also in a nonforprofit theater company and living in a shoe box in Brooklyn. I found myself spending most of my time grabbing shifts and trying to make ends meet, and I had no idea what to do. My brother was a software engineer at Will Silly, and he encouraged me to go into tech, but I never saw myself being there, I didn't understand what opportunities existed, and eventually I gave in and applied to Toast as a QA person. So, quality assurance engineer. I worked out for Toast for about three months into QA before the pandemic hit. Then the pandemic hit and the company laid off half of its workforce, which is about 150 employees. They circulated a list of us that got into the hands of one of Savvy's founders, and I interviewed an opposition in QA. Once in QA, I realized I wasn't feeling stimulated enough and started four options within the company. And I picked up product while still doing QA and eventually led in myself a product role. So that's how I got here. Thanks, Alex. That's definitely a windy road. And we also have Allie, who is our staff software engineer. Ally, take it away. Hi, everyone. Yeah, mine was not quite as windy as that. I actually originally wanted to be an architect. That was like the first career that I ever was like, yeah, that's what I want to do. And then I realized how much math was involved in that and that was kind of a no go. So I ended up actually going to college for graphic design and art and graduated with VFA when I started my first job as a professional. So I started my professional career as a web designer. I learned basic HTML CSS in college and then kind of on my own time afterwards, especially at that job. I started teaching myself some really basic JavaScript, just kind of on the side. And then I kind of became a developer of a happy accident. Someone referred me for a job. I wasn't sure if it was web design or web development, and seeing as I had some very basic development skills, I decided to go for anyways. And it did turn out to be development. So I started my career building just basic interactive landing pages and emails at Staples, which I hope most people have heard of. And anyways, I found myself Jquery and basic JavaScript also in there. Like just continued that and started reaching out to other teams in an effort to try and reduce the amount of borrow plea I found myself using. Like every landing page was largely the same, but there wasn't really a good place to kind of make things reusable and that started to kind of bother me. So I started to make more connections in enough to try and make that easier and to make a slightly more integrated customer experience. And that process kind of helped me land on a new team that was rebuilding our ecommerce site using kind of the latest to greatest SBA tech, which at the time was Angular, two brand new. And that kind of launched me into the world of modern web based software development. So I've been running down the road ever since, going from Jquery to Angular, and for the last several years react I landed at Savvy. Like Alex, I was also a toast and got laid off, which was a jarring experience, but also was kind of a moment for me where I realized I actually felt like I had a good grasp on what I was doing. And it wasn't quite as panicky to try and find a new job just because I had a level of confidence in my relatively new field. Still, to kind of find a seat at that table. So that landed to me at Savvy and it has been a whirlwind ever since then. Yeah, definitely. Thanks Ali. So next we have Kate who is our site reliability and security engineer. Multi talented. Hi. I do site reliability and security at Savvy right now. I also had a pretty windy road going into tech. About six years ago I went with my nowhusband to the security conference called Defcon. Folks in the security industry are probably pretty familiar with it with no context as what I was walking into. Just was sort of part of a bigger trip we had planned and was left inspired to want to join the tech industry. I didn't have a degree so I sort of assumed that was not a door that was open until I went to Defcon and I was like, oh, this is awesome and I can sell teaching, I can get there. So I ended up starting in a sort of support type role and pivoted into QA. Worked in QA for a couple of years, two different companies, also part of the Toast layoffs but that was also really for the better and ended up getting hired at my current company as an SRE and I sort of pivoted into the security space. So took about five years to get there but ended up in security, which is what is most interesting to me. That's awesome. Thanks Kate. So now we're moving away from our Toast Alums. We're going to talk to Kaylee who is our engineering manager of the platform team. Hi everybody. Thanks for being here. I'm wowed by the participation numbers in the lower left here. Oh my God. So my background let me know if you've heard this already, even in this panel, but I come from a nontraditional background where I went to college and left with a bachelor in creative writing, mostly because it's the first class I took that I could felt like I could enjoy for four years. And I figured I would figure out my career later. So when I left, I had a friend working for a more social justice oriented company. And I went into sales thinking my background in waitressing all through high school and college would get me somewhere. And I learned very quickly I hated sales. But what I liked was I looked for the inefficiencies in the organization and that could be a human process and efficiency or systems inefficiency or a lack of tooling. And I would go after the things that I thought would have the biggest value for whatever problem space I was staring at. So four years later, I've moved from sales and made my own role in marketing, where I had set up a whole bunch of email triggers, et cetera, that just literally didn't exist before. And I had this crossroads with myself. I could continue this path of carving out things that felt good and instinctual to me without anyone to learn from and without a real career ladder to shoot for, or I could take a huge risk and do something different. So I had a friend this is where a little bit of luck and risk comes into play. But I had a friend working for an ecommerce company doing a major replatforming, and their strategy, which is not advised, is to just throw bodies at it to make it go faster. But I was one of those bodies. And so I took a risk of myself to leave a salaried position. Good benefits at the time, a month of paid time off, which unlimited was unheard of at the time, to an hourly no health insurance, no benefits, and a three month commitment of working as a QA engineer. I took the leap. I loved it. And within that three month period, I was hired full time. I ended up staying in the company for nine years, which is also sort of unheard of within the tech space, but for me it felt like a new job every few years. I was being fed new opportunities and eventually I was right place, right time to be someone that could take over a role of managing a team and actually being a team lead. So I took the lateral shift from being an individual IC for QA into team leadership and eventually engineering manager position and also have loved that too. So I've joined Dabi somewhat recently at this role, but yeah, that's me in a quick nutshell. Thanks, Kailey. So finally we have another software engineer who specializes in the back end. Morgan, would you like to introduce yourself and give us a history? Yeah. Thanks man. Hello everybody. So my journey with tech originally started when I took a couple of programming classes in high school. Excuse me. I totally fell in love with it. So after that, I took a pretty traditional path. I did a four year bachelor's program in computer science, which ultimately ended up taking me a little bit closer to six years. Since then, I've always worked in small companies, so I've gotten the opportunity to wear a lot of different hats and get a lot of exposure to sort of different layers and functions of the business, working with customers, you know, working with other teams, and sort of at all layers of the process. I even did a stint in managing a recycling plant for a period of time, all of which was very valuable experience. So definitely confirmed my love for software development and my sort of desire to continue to be an individual contributor. So Savvy is actually the biggest company that I've worked for so far by far. I think we're at about 150 headcount. So, yeah, I've been with Savvy for about a year now, working on the back end, having a good time. So Morgan's also working on a really cool feature, auto tagging. You guys don't know anything about it, but I think it's really cool. So super excited to have Morgan with us. So before we dive into audience questions, I do have a few questions for our panelists which I think will help provide some insight into their journey along the way. So the first question is, can you share any challenges you faced along the way and how you overcame them to get to your current role? We could start with Kate in this one. Sure. One really pivotal one comes to mind. It's very early in my career as QA. I was maybe three or four months in, still kind of getting my bearings and understanding what that role looked like and figuring out how to navigate. Being in tech, it's always a little bit of a different language. It's different. It has its own sort of cadence. And they were looking to for me to test a feature, and when I went to test it, I realized only half of the feature worked. It was a pretty bad user experience because basically you clicked on something you expected. X did not happen half of the time. I dug my heels in and I raised the alarm and had a bunch of meetings, and I don't regret doing that. But at a certain point, there was a point when I should have let it go, and I didn't. And the funny part was they ended up fixing it six months later because I think there was a lot of customers who thought similarly. But learning when to it was a challenge early in my career. I always really wanted to do the right thing. And while that is good, I think I dug my hills in too much. So learning when to say, okay, I'm going to find a report and move on, versus when to take your Hilton, it's hard and it's always a judgment call, but there's times to push and there's times to not. And kind of learning that balance was definitely a challenge early in my career. Yeah, definitely. Sometimes you have to know when to stop for sure. Okay, so the next person I have is Allie. Can you share some challenges along the way? Sure. So I did have some little support in my first two Devils. I guess three. I kind of moved it at one point within my first company, just from the status landing pages into software engineering land a little more. The mentorship that I got was a little bit limited by the team size I have, and then my mentor is just having other priorities. My first team was really a marketing team. It was not an engineering Oregon. Everyone was just kind of like, just figure it out. So that wasn't necessarily easy. My second role there definitely had a little bit more help, but it was tough because these were people that were also fighting with other priorities within the business. Time was just limited. It was like team of like five people and we're all trying to do a lot, so it was definitely tough there. I spent a lot of time trying to figure stuff out on my own the hard way. So the plus side, most lessons do on the hard way is that the things that I have learned have stuck with me a lot. I've gotten much better at figuring things out without quite as much banging my head against the wall. So that's useful skill got really good at googling too, which is also a. Skill. To overcome some of that, I started making myself just a lot more visible. Any place that had something that I wanted to learn or that I cared about and being like as curious as possible about how to do something or how to improve something. That led to if nothing has a lot of connections, even within the company, and moving around a little bit. And it does take time, but for me that's led me to some really good conversations, some really good learnings, and it's usually coming from people who want to see that kind of curiosity and want to nurture it. So being as visible as you can and just expressing that curiosity is huge. Yeah, definitely. So just a plug out about Savvy. Ali is sort of our front end leader as I view it. And Ally's definitely been very instrumental in like, making sure we're not sold in our own little world as the front end team. So definitely big props to Ally's there. And that's interesting to hear that she got that from her own learning and then pass it along to us. So the last person I'll ask this question too, in regards to challenges you faced along the way, is Kaylee. Yeah. So did ow to both, I think, the examples both Kate and Ali brought up. But for me, I'll go a little bit broader and say I think imposter syndrome can get the best of everybody, especially if you've changed a career into tech later than in post college, and especially if you've done a lateral move from, let's say, QA into engineering and then even just IC into management. You have all these moments where you go from knowing something really well, being an expert in your space, to suddenly feeling really out of your depth. And how I have learned to cope with that is to first definitely recognize that those feelings are real and totally valid. And I think also to say that sometimes we are our own worst enemies and we unintentionally limit ourselves by this idea of what we think we're capable of. And in those scenarios, I think it's really beneficial to build a group of people around you who can be your mirror and you look to them instead and have them tell you what they think that you are capable of, because they actually probably have a better view of it than you do. And where that kind of comes into play more crisply in my journey is that when I made that shift from QA IC to team lead, I was in a room with a bunch of directors discussing a reorg for our development teams. And it's crazy to think that I was in there, but I was in there because I was so opinionated and I had such a good view on how the teams were working and what folks were capable of and what the relationships were that it seemed natural for them to invite me. And then when the moment came up to say, okay, we want to spin up this new team, this previous team left, who's going to do it? Are we going to hire, like, pull up from internally, or are we going to hire from external sources? And someone threw my name out and it wasn't me. Right. I would have been glad to be like, hey, what about me? But I wasn't thinking about myself in that way, but someone else was. So, yes, that is a challenge. There have been many challenges, and there'll be many more. Right. That's kind of the fun of being in tech. Yeah, for sure. That's a great story. Definitely a good part of being at the right place at the right time and sort of making your own look. Okay, so sort of in a similar question, which is what is something that surprised you about getting to where you are? And we could start off with Morgan. Sure. So one thing that's surprised me throughout my career so far is how much there is to learn and take away from situations that, on paper, might not seem like they hold all that much value. I've been in some fairly toxic work situations in the past. When you're in that kind of situation, the first priority is always to get out of it when you have the means to. But coming away from those situations, I was surprised at how much there was to take away from that and to apply to my next search and then defining what I want in my career and what I want the environment that I'm in to look like. So whether you're in a great culture where you're really happy or in a not so great one, there's a lot to be gained by paying really close attention to your environment. What about it feels toxic? What about it feels supportive to you and really analyze and commit those things to memory so that you know what to look for and what to look out for in the future. And this goes not just for your working environment too, but in the culture, but the tech and the nature of your work too. If there's something that you really don't like about a particular programming language, maybe you find that you really don't like JavaScript because it's weekly typed, right? Or you don't like the way that your company does development. That's something that you don't want to take for granted, that it will always be that way. You can research and check it out and see, is this the industry standard? Are there alternatives that other companies are doing? What other options might I have? So I think there's a lot to be learned when you kind of just take stock, pay attention to what's going on for you internally in the environment that you're in and really notice and pay attention to what resonates with you and what feels fulfilling for you and what does not. Because at first blush, it sometimes feels like there's not much of a benefit to a current situation. But even if it's just that I never want to work with this technology, or I never want to work in a culture like this again, all of that is really valuable, has been valuable for me for positioning for the future and sort of figuring out what your past will be. Definitely it's a lesson of having your past and form your future decisions. One thing about JavaScript though, like TypeScript is a great alternative. Kate, what has surprised you about getting to marrying her now? Sure, maybe less booking where I am now as much as something I've been learning lately. But I think especially when I was younger and I was self teaching a lot and I even finally started going back to get my degree. I'm doing computer science degree after the fact, but I've been learning recently that the tech side is important, right. To move up the ladder, get promoted, what have you. Obviously, technical ability is very critical. Communication though is also perhaps equally important. And I think I always knew to keep learning and going down that path on my own and keep self teaching. I've got stacks of books all around the house, but it was always on the tech side. So figuring out how to communicate around technology, I think that always really surprised me recently is how important that is. Yeah, for sure. Soft skills are definitely super important. So my next question so is what skills or learning from your past roles have you, have helped you excel currently? And we could start with Alex. Awesome. Yeah. So to take you back off of the idea of soft skills, I would not take that for granted. Whether every single experience that I've had in my past has accumulated and added to what I do now. So I worked in a variety of fields throughout all my twenty s. I was waitressing, bartending, catering. I have some funny stories where I was in the middle of New York City and a generator went out on me and I had to go to home depot and fix it and line of people. I've had ten SCO flying off in a storm and car batteries die on me during my job. I also work in an ocean logistics import company where I would get cussed out by a British sailor when a vessel wasn't making it on time. So what I would say is that I've dealt with a lot of pressure and unhappy people and don't have a customer facing roles. And throughout all of that there were uncontrollable factors and I think the most important thing is learning how to get through your challenges and persevere, persevere and persevere. Even if you don't know what you're doing now and how it's going to add up to your future, don't take it for granted. So, yeah, thanks. Alex. And I have Hailey. Would you like to share us what previous skills or learning from previous roles helped you currently? Yeah, I would say it's more of an inner journey than the roles themselves, but for me, I realize that I am someone who follows my instincts and they brought me to really good places. The two things that I find myself doing most often is just one being pretty relentlessly curious. So just trying to be that person to ask maybe the obvious and not so obvious questions either from my own learning or to make sure that everyone in the room is really understanding each other, I think that's pretty beneficial. Just even if you're the one loan voice, do it, you're probably helping someone out more than you know. And then just to take risks, really, and giving myself opportunities to surprise myself and what I think I can do or I'm capable of, or even like, for instance, I think management gets a really bad rap. I'm happy to talk about that further if anyone wants to talk about it, but for me, what I've learned about it is that I feel like people are like one of the most interesting, challenging puzzles to solve for and when you're running a whole team, you have x number of variability between every single person. Every single person has their own motivations, et cetera. And so I couldn't have told you that's what I wanted to do five years ago, ten years ago, but here I am now and I'm loving it. So just, again, take risks on yourself and follow that gut instinct somewhere you're going to learn something. Worst case, you learn something. Best case, you love it. Yeah, that's awesome. All right, so for our last question before we turn it over to the audience, are there any aspects of what you did to get to your current role that someone else can replicate to get to a similar position? Let's start with Ally. This is kind of a tough one to answer because it feels like it's very individual. It's a very multifaceted topic, and I feel like it's very often wrapped up with how do I get to your level? And I think it's very important to note first that titles aren't everything. Like, they vary company and even person. In person. It can be frustrating if that's like, your sole focus. But that aside, like, curiosity, tenacity and patience are absolutely key. Figure out how things work beyond just the surface level. Don't just learn the how, but the why. It is so incredibly important to understand why things are the way they are, what other things are trying to solve for. You need, like, the full picture to really, truly excel at something, I think so. Like, as much as you can find opportunities that will give you the freedom to make mistakes under guidance and seek out people who answer your questions and engage your curiosity, aim to be constantly improving. Like, especially in the tech space, things are constantly changing. There's no shortage of learning all of the pieces that complete the picture, whether it's purely technical, whether it's like all of the other aspects of the business that play in, or the experience that you're building for whatever or whoever your customer base is. So truly earning your secret table takes years and years of doing all of that. It does take a lot of patience. It can have a lot of frustrations in there. But like everyone else has already said here, all of that contributes to your own growth. Don't take any of that for granted. Roll it all in there. It does take time, but doing that will make you unstoppable. Definitely feels sort of like having more of a growth mentality for sure would help you get there. And the last person I'll call on would be Morgan for the same question, which is anything someone else could do to replicate getting to where you are now. Yeah. So I would say learn what you like, learn what it is that's important to you in a job and when you have the opportunity to do so. Be picky. I figured out fairly early in my career that I wanted to be in a place that had strong engineering principles, and more specifically, I wanted to get more hands on experience with writing tests. So I made that a critical part of my next job search, where I ended up here at Savi. And during my search, I was sticky. I did my research. I didn't apply to companies that I could discern had questionable or poor cultures, looking at glass door reviews, indeed blind, and just researching what the sort of sentiments are of people who are there. In my interviews, I prioritized asking questions about those engineering principles and about testing. I wasn't just guiding myself by what sounded good at the moment or who was going to pay me the most. I was guiding myself through these elements that I had. Already decided that were important to me. So just sort of having some vision for what it is you want to be doing. You don't have to have it all figured out by any means. But if it's just a programming language that you want to work with or certain engineering practices that you want to get experience with, always have that in the forefront of your mind and be really picky about that even before you apply, you know, really discriminate. Does this organization meet these criteria for me? And don't be afraid to prioritize getting that information from your interviewers as well, because you always want to remember you're interviewing them as much as they're interviewing you. And sometimes, depending on the job market, even more so having something tangible to set your sites on. And I think this also makes you more attractive to potential employers because it shows that you're passionate. It shows that you care about the work that you're doing. You know, you're not just complacently showing up for a job. You have this thing that you want to be there for. You're showing up because you want to work, whether it's with that particular technology or that particular project management format, you're showing that you will be present and you will care about the work that you're doing. Thanks, morgan okay, so we're going to go to our audience questions now. If anyone has questions, please type it into the Q and A functionality in zoom. So we're going to start now. Funny enough, the first question is to me, which is how did you personally navigate your career change? It's bold and brave to do three career changes. Most people would have settled by now by career, too. So I've always been interested in tech. I actually dropped out of CS on Undergrad because it wasn't the most supportive environment, so I've always kind of wanted to be where I am now. When I was working in marketing, I did a lot of VBA programming just to make spreadsheets, do what I wanted to do, did a lot of freelancing. When I moved into education administration, I worked with a lot of student data, so it's a lot of querying report generation and data analysis. And then finally, by way of boot camp, I got into software engineering, mostly specializing in the front end right now. But yeah, so it's just kind of always something I wanted to do. And I'm glad I landed here finally after like, 15 years of just doing other stuff and trying to get in. So, yeah, that's my answer. But moving on to our panelists, I have a question regarding layoffs for our three members. Toast alums. Like, how did you handle the situation of being laid off? The first thing is, like, deep breaths and be kind to yourself. They say there's two types of people in tech, people who have been laid off and people who have not been laid off yet. It happens to almost everyone. It's frustrating. It's disheartening. I think it's really frustrating when the company tries to build the sort of familial culture because then when you're laid off, you sort of feel cast out of that. And I saw a lot of that with some other folks in the Twist layoffs. And the second thing is to do your homework. Things like separate are negotiable. Make sure you understand what you're signing before you sign it and understand and consult with as folks as you can because there's a lot of sort of technicalities and making sure you really understand the documents you're signing and things like that. And it's okay to say I need an extra couple of days to review this. I'm going to get back to you by Friday. But mostly be kind to yourself in the process. It's always frustrating, but that's, I think, the most important thing. Thanks, Kate. Alex Riley, I don't know if you want to add anything to it. Sure. So I think it's really dependent on what situation you're in. Completely agree with Kate to be kind to your yourself. It's a difficult situation to be in regardless of how long you've been in the industry for. I would say definitely if you can do take the time to take care of yourself, you're number one, right. Take care of your mental health. Know that it's not a reflection of you and your abilities, but it is just circumstance and business, so it is not personal. I would say also, if you have the time and capabilities, it's a great time to upskill yourself, right. So when you get yourself kind of recomposed and ready to get yourself out there again, there's a lot of free courses out there where you can upskill yourself and so use your time wisely. Thanks, Alex. OK, so you got muted, anne I muted myself. Awesome. So the next question, I'm going to combine two questions. The first one and it's directed to Kaylee. The first one it says, I'm not familiar with a QA engineer role. What does QA do? And Kaylee, what drew you to become a QA engineer? This hunting down inefficiencies tendency. These are great questions. And then I just also want to throw out there that it's funny that even on this panel that many of us actually came from a QA place and it was a stepping off point for ourselves. So you know, someone who wants to get in in the industry or you yourself want to get in, I think it's something you should look into. It's an interesting role because it's not something you really go to school for. It's not even something you really learn about until you learn about companies and software development teams and all the pieces involved. I'm going to use an analogy for QA because as Ali said earlier, you know, titles are meant to mean something, but at different organizations, what is expected out of the role can be different from each other. And so you can see the same exact title. One company would expect one thing out of you and another company would expect a different thing. So here's my expectation based on my experience. So imagine software is like building a house. And when you build a house, you have all of these specialties that need to be involved in the project. You have the plumbers, you have your tile guy, you have carpenters, you have a safety inspector at some point to come in and say like, yep, this looks good. And then you have a general contractor kind of has having eyes on everything and running the entire show. If I were to ask you what you think the QA role is, most people would say it's a safety inspector, and I would disagree. It's actually the general contractor. You want to know what exactly you're building, who everybody involved is in it, and what are they doing? Do they up to spec to your ability, like to your view or not? And to question, hey, are we doing the right thing? And is this the right cadence and are we doing this with the customer in mind, etc. So it can be a very powerful role for software engineering team, where developers can focus really, really narrowly on writing code, which is great because they're making all the micro decisions on how is this going to work short term, long term, longevity, scalability, et cetera. Someone in QA has to know the feature really well inside and out, but also have that broad perspective of how does this thing we're doing fit within the broader product and the organization as a whole. So that's my feeling. QA the great role to start in and also stay. And I have friends who are still in it and will probably be in QA their entire careers. Thank you. So just to kind of stick around the QA question, I do have another quick QA question and someone else could answer this. This question is I have years of dev and product experience and have been partial QA for a long time. I just now am finally fulltime QA. I'm surprised by how QAS looked down upon or treated as an obstacle often. Is this a typical culture across tech or is it possibly the team or company that I'm in at the moment? Any former QA focus on it? Yeah, I can speak to that. There's always going to be a little bit of friction because developers want to get their features out and QA often are the ones saying, hey, no, you have to fix this thing. In good organizations, I think Tessa had a pretty solid team for the most part. So good organizations, they learned how to partner well and they have QA on each team and they work with them and can help retest and things like that and have clear expectations going into it because there's times when I found something that there wasn't clear expectations for. So I think there can be a really strong culture around QA. I don't want to say there's always friction and it's always challenging, but in the same way, I actually feel this similarly with security. Right? Because sometimes with security, I have to say, no, here's how we're doing things. And it's just that the goals of that role, the goal of QA is to make sure the product is good. So there are good organizations out there, and it is always really disappointing when QA is down. And I think it's worth finding a role, a company that really does value QA. Yeah, for sure. Okay, so the next question is, I have an education in liberal arts, as many of the panelists here do as well. I feel that many engineering managers want to see CS degrees on a resume to hire or to get a promotion. How did you navigate in this in your career without one? Any takers? I could call on Ali? Sorry, I got distracted and blank on the can you repeat the last part of that? Sure. So this person has an education in liberal arts, and they feel that many engineering managers want to see CS degrees on the resume to hire or to promote. How did you navigate this without a CS degree? If I'm totally honest, when I'm looking, like, when I'm interviewing people, I very often don't even look like I'll glance at it, but I want to see what you can do. I think a lot of this is a product of the culture of the company that you're at. So many people come to this field of being selftaught and are just as capable by no means. Degrees are great. They add a ton of just other experience. It doesn't even necessarily need to be a relevant degree. Just like the process of going through to get a degree tells me a lot about people in terms of, like, you know, you set out to do something, you completed a goal, if nothing else. Like, it tells me that about you. So it's a lot of insight there. In my opinion, if you find a company that doesn't want to hire you because you don't have a degree, there's something that's going to be missing from the culture that you're not going to get because they're expecting a lot of the time too, probably that you have all these things coming out of the gate. If you want a place that's going to foster really, like, curiosity, then that's really just going to be a secondary thing that doesn't matter as much. So I don't know if that really answers the question, but, like, for me, I feel like I found those companies that didn't necessarily care that the degree I had wasn't relevant. And we're looking at the skills that I was presenting to them from what I had learned and taking that into very heavy consideration, which I'm very grateful for I know it's not common, but look for that for sure. Yeah, I could add something to that. Also, on the other side of the fence of being a hiring manager, I too don't really take a lot of stock into that line item for what education looks like. So doubling down on just what Ali was saying, it's about the organization and who in the organization, who are the people on the ground actually running it, and what are their perspectives. But if you are making the shift and you feel like there's a gap there, I think you can promote yourself in a different way. Like we've talked about, the soft skills being so key. I think that's what makes actually people who have shifted careers later in life into technology really powerful because they have already figured out how to communicate in a professional way and an effective way with anyone, usually, right? Different organization, different people. So one antidote I can give you is someone I hired at my last job was someone who used to make prosthetics, went to school for prosthetics, thought he loved it, he hated it. So he quit his job, took a coding academy, and then he was also just furiously looking for some organization to land in. And his strategy was to actually start talking to folks on LinkedIn. And I was so impressed by his proactiveness and his communication that it opened a door to say, you know, I don't know if our organization really can take on someone who's so junior, but let's just have a conversation, initial conversation. It goes amazing. Okay. Let's go through an actual interview panel. Okay. He's definitely competent. Can we as an organization support him and we decide, yes, we can. And so we end up hiring someone we didn't intend to hire because of his approach and just him being able to really talk about himself in this way, that really connected with us. Yeah. Adding on to that. Don't hesitate to apply anyway. I have worked at a company that said degree required. I don't have a degree, and there's some statistics out there I'm going to totally butcher. But how women apply to they feel like they need to check all the boxes. I've worked at a place that says degree. It wasn't required, so don't hesitate to apply anyway. Yeah, for sure. Let the company be the one to remove you from consideration. Don't remove yourself from consideration. Okay, so our next question is a little bit broader. So what's your biggest challenge in your career so far? Any takers? Or I could start calling on folks? Let's hear from Morgan. Yeah, and I had seen a comment a little bit ago to this effect too. I think the biggest challenge that I've had is my own perfectionism. One of the most important things that I've learned is perfect is the enemy of good. And perfect very rarely or probably never really exists. And you have to remember that working in this field is a constant learning process. It's a constant learning process, and you're constantly growing, and there's constantly going to be things that you don't know or that you're going to trip over or that you struggle with and you're going to need help with. And that is so okay. It's so okay to not be perfect and to make mistakes and to reach out for help in those situations when you need it. And it's really important to, I think, internalize that and not hold yourself to a standard that's not realistic because sometimes what you'll find is that you're holding yourself to a standard that other people are not. And we're very often our own worst critics. So, you know, I think just navigating having that sort of perfectionism is definitely a challenge. Thanks, Morgan. Okay, so the next question I have was what would you say was or were the most helpful things to transition to tech from a nontraditional, nontech background? I can answer that. So something I think is incredibly helpful within the interviewing process when you come from a background that doesn't relate to tech, be very specific in the companies that you're applying to and try to find a connecting factor with something that you've done previously to that company. So I'll give you an example. With Toast, for instance, I came from the service industry that made it highly relicable. So it's like, okay, this person, they understand our customer base. It makes sense for them to work with us. So try to find that relatable factor. That would be my number one thing, is really try to focus and narrow down and find that relatable item. Thanks. So anyone else want to take a stab at that? Or we can move on to next question. Yeah, I can cover a couple things. It took me a long time, and I think that it isn't very often talked about. Like, it took me, I want to say, eight months of applying to places once I decided I wanted to be in tech. And I had been self teaching for a long time before that, and it was really frustrating. So again, being kind to yourself in that process and then also being willing to take a role that gets your foot in the door, because all of where I started was in this role. That's sort of support ish I don't. Know if it's complicated, feed on my. LinkedIn, but being willing to take something that gets your foot in the door and gets you involved and then, you know, when I was like, hey, I want to move to QA, that was a lot more organic transition. So I think finding the opportunities and the last thing is going to conferences, going to meetups meeting people, talking to people, getting involved. I'll cite an example. I help run DevOps Day at Boston, and we were desperate for volunteers, and we really got to know our volunteers, right. And we really needed people to help set up some stuff. And then we get to know these people and they don't have to be involved in DevOps yet, but then we get to know these people after the fact and build these really solid friendships. And now I have a person in mind who's like, oh, if I cease an opportunity for that person, I'll reach out. So these conferences and getting to know people and raising your hand and say, hey, yes, I will volunteer to move chairs, or whatever it is, meeting people and making those connections is really important. Awesome. All right, so moving on to our next question. So how do you know when you're ready for more responsibility in your role? You can't always be 100% sure, but how do you know if it's just nerves and it's not just not a mistake? I would say if it's a mistake, okay. Right. If you say yes to something that's not a good fit for you, then my expectation is that you're at an organization where you can talk to your manager about that and say, hey, I tried, it not for me, and push that somewhere else. And if that's not possible, then I would argue it's probably not the right organization for you. But you can't learn without taking risks. To be more specific about the question, I think if you have a sense that you're feeling very comfortable and kind of bored, that's a good signal that you need something new, not to knock. Feeling comfortable. I think there's a place in time where you want your work to be very stable, but check in with yourself about how you're feeling. Are you learning something new or you're growing? And if you're not, is that something you want to take on now? Yes or no? Regardless of what the responsibility is and how far away you think you might be from it, but starting to put it out there that you're interested. You. Might get opportunities your way that maybe are like a little bit lower risk. So, for instance, when I took on management, I didn't really know if I wanted it. And so we did like a trial period of like, okay, well, we have this open right here. Why don't you start here with this one person and see how you like it? And that's not something I would have come up with. That's something that someone else took my situation and offered to me. So being transparent about how you're feeling, even if you don't have a solution in mind, might get you to somewhere interesting if you start to open up about it. Sure. Does anyone else have an answer to that question? I absolutely agree with all of that. I also think a lot of time you kind of just naturally, if you are that type of like, very curious person, you kind of start leaning that way when you're ready for it, regardless of whether you're conscious that you're doing it. So definitely be aware of the things that you're doing, even if it's something that you're like, oh, like, that was new, that was kind of cool. I want to keep doing some more of that. I think it's a very natural progression as we mature and, like, just professionally and as people that you start leaning that way. So pay attention to that. Okay. Thanks, Ali. Any other takers? Might be moving on to our last question soon. Okay, so our last question is what difficulties, if any, have you had to overcome as a woman working in tech? You know it's going to come up first and then think, okay, so I. Think we've all experienced this, where just getting heard sometimes it's difficult, right, where I might say something and then someone else in the same meeting will say the same exact thing. And what I said wasn't acknowledged, but then what the guy in the room said was acknowledged. So sometimes having to navigate that is a little bit frustrating and difficult. In those instances, what I try to do, depending on the meeting, and it does depend on setting and who I know, but sometimes I'll take a moment to pause what's going on or I try to and just ask if what I said is unclear. Think of other scenarios. A lot of it I think it's uncomfortable to do it, but practicing pausing the meeting or practicing interrupting, practicing talking to your colleague that might have said something that didn't resonate. So I had someone introduced me based on not my skills, and that was very it didn't feel good. So practicing tough conversations, I think it's really important as a woman. I think someone else wanted to chime in. Oh, go ahead. Sorry. Everybody has something to say. Yeah. I feel like I've never really been particularly, like, girly girl anything. I've always kind of my dad was very good at teaching me, like, it doesn't matter. You can do everything that the boys can do, which I'm very thankful for. And I think a huge part of it is also like the culture of the companies that I've ended up at. I've been very, very lucky. But to some extent, you also just need to speak with as much conviction as you have all the time. When I started realizing that I could do that and people stopped questioning as much, that was like a game changer for me. It was like, oh, the things I'm saying make sense. And people are realizing that definitely not a universal thing, because I think it's tough. If you're in places that just don't support that type of that have a more toxic culture, it's tough. But do you? Thanks, Allie. Kate. I think I have run into questioning whether or not it's because I am a woman or because, you know, I think it sort of already came up. QA sometimes is liked down on. And since I was the only one of both, it's like, which one is it? Or neither, and they just don't like me. The answer to that I've gotten from mentors is just focusing on the behavior. It doesn't have to be about either, but saying, hey, what you said is not okay, and it doesn't have to be because you said it to me because I am a woman. It's because of the behavior versus the reasoning behind it and focusing on that behavior and then impact. Yeah, for sure. I think morgan, did you want to say something? Sure. Yeah. So I've been pretty fortunate in my professional career, and I haven't run into a lot of situations that especially have been cut and dry, being treated differently because of my gender. But it was particularly bad for me in school. So I would say to anybody that is still in school and is struggling with that, and I think this applies professionally, too. Find a mentor. Find somebody who you can talk to about these things and your thought processes and isn't going to gasolate you or tell you that you're thinking of things wrong or having those resources, I think is really important, other people to bounce things off of. Kaylee, I want to close this out. Sure. I do feel like I've been pretty fortunate with who I've been able to work with and the environment there, but I've been the only woman in a room many, many times over. So I think my best advice here is to hold people accountable. If you see behavior that you don't think is acceptable, you have to do something about it. Don't just sit there and eat it and assume that you deserve it or it's okay. It's usually not okay. So use the resources in the company to make sure it's known and that action is taken. If you feel like you can't have a one on one conversation first, and ultimately, if the organization, too, sort of fails, you get out of there. Yeah, for sure. All right, so I really want to thank everybody for joining us for this lunch hour. It's been great. I've learned a lot about my colleagues, and thank you for Women Who Codes for hosting us. I just want to say a huge thank you from Women Who Code to all the amazing panelists and to Anne, you're an amazing moderator. And I also want to thank the participants who gave amazing questions, many of which we could not get to. So I just wanted to share that Women Who Code has copy and pasted all of these questions, and these will absolutely help us plan future events, know what you're looking for. So definitely go to our website and join the community so that you can keep up to date, because we are taking your feedback, and we'll do something with it. So thank you so much, and thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you. You.