On the Corner of Broadway and Tech with Carla Stickler

Episode Summary

In tech there seems to be a trope that the “real” engineers follow the same path, but the reality on the ground is quite different. Carla Stickler, a Software Engineer at G2, defies that stereotype in so many syncopated ways. Before she tackled tech, Carla made waves on Broadway! Carla talks about her 15 year career on Broadway in shows ranging from “Mamma Mia!” to “The Sound of Music.” She expounds on her decision to leave the world of Broadway, and some of the physical and emotional taxes it takes that reinforced her choice to leave. She wanted to take on a new challenge, and did she ever pick one! Carla discusses her switch and the many obstacles she had to surmount in such a sudden shift, but also the incredible growth that she undertook in her transition to tech.

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Carla
Carla Stickler is a professional multi-hyphenate advocating for the inclusion of artists in STEM. Currently, she works as a software engineer at G2 in Chicago. She loves chatting with folks interested in shifting gears from the arts to programming and especially hopes to get more women into the field. Carla spent over 10 years performing in Broadway musicals, most notably, “Wicked,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Sound of Music.” She recently made headlines for stepping back into the role of Elphaba on Broadway for a limited time to help out during the covid surge after not having performed the role for 7 years. Carla is passionate about reframing the narrative of the “starving artist” and states, “When we choose to walk away from a full-time pursuit of the arts, it does not make us failed artists. The possibilities for what we can do and who we can be are unlimited.”

Links Referenced:

Announcer: Hello, and welcome to Screaming in the Cloud with your host, Chief Cloud Economist at The Duckbill Group, Corey Quinn. This weekly show features conversations with people doing interesting work in the world of cloud, thoughtful commentary on the state of the technical world, and ridiculous titles for which Corey refuses to apologize. This is Screaming in the Cloud.

Corey: This episode is sponsored in part by Honeycomb. When production is running slow, it’s hard to know where problems originate. Is it your application code, users, or the underlying systems? I’ve got five bucks on DNS, personally. Why scroll through endless dashboards while dealing with alert floods, going from tool to tool to tool that you employ, guessing at which puzzle pieces matter? Context switching and tool sprawl are slowly killing both your team and your business. You should care more about one of those than the other; which one is up to you. Drop the separate pillars and enter a world of getting one unified understanding of the one thing driving your business: production. With Honeycomb, you guess less and know more. Try it for free at honeycomb.io/screaminginthecloud. Observability: it’s more than just hipster monitoring.

Corey: What if there were a single place to get an inventory of what you're running in the cloud that wasn't "the monthly bill?" Further, what if there were a way to compare that inventory to what you were already managing via Terraform, Pulumi, or CloudFormation, but then automatically add the missing unmanaged or drifted parts to it? And what if there were a policy engine to immediately flag and remediate a wide variety of misconfigurations? Well, stop dreaming and start doing; visit snark.cloud/firefly to learn more.

Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn, there seems to be a trope in our industry that the real engineers all follow what more or less looks like the exact same pattern, where it’s you wind up playing around with computers as a small child and then you wind up going to any college you want—as long as it’s Stanford—and getting a degree in anything under the sun—as long as it’s computer science—and then all of your next jobs are based upon how well you can re-implement algorithms on the whiteboard. A lot of us didn’t go through that path. We wound up finding our own ways to tech. My guest today has one of the more remarkable stories that I’ve come across. Carla Stickler is a software engineer at G2. Carla, thank you for agreeing to suffer my slings and arrows today. It’s appreciated.

Carla: Thanks so much for having me, Corey.

Corey: So, before you entered tech—I believe this is your first job as an engineer and as of the time we’re recording this, it’s been just shy of a year that you’ve done in the role. What were you doing before now?

Carla: Oh, boy, Corey. What was I doing? I definitely was not doing software engineering. I was a Broadway actress. So, I spent about 15 years in New York doing musical theater, touring around the country and Asia in big Broadway shows. And that was pretty much all I did.

I guess, I also was a teacher. I was a voice teacher and I taught voice lessons, and I had a studio and I taught it a couple of faculties in New York. But I was one hundred percent ride-or-die, like, all the way to the end musical theater or bust, from a very, very early age. So, it’s been kind of a crazy time changing careers. [laugh].

Corey: What inspired that? I mean, it doesn’t seem like it’s a common pattern of someone who had an established career as a Broadway actress to wake up one day and say, “You know what I don’t like anymore. That’s right being on stage, doing the thing that I spent 15 years doing. You know what I want to do instead? That’s right, be mad at computers all the time and angry because some of the stuff is freaking maddening.” What was the catalyst that—

Carla: Yeah, sounds crazy. [laugh].

Corey: —inspired you to move?

Carla: It sounds crazy. It was kind of a long time coming. I love performing; I do, and it’s like, my heart and soul is with performing. Nothing else in my life really can kind of replace that feeling I get when I’m on stage. But the one thing they don’t really talk about when you are growing up and dreaming of being a performer is how physically and emotionally taxing it is.

I think there’s, like, this narrative around, like, “Being an actor is really hard, and you should only do it if you can’t see yourself doing anything else,” but they don’t actually ever explain to you what hard means. You know, you expect that, oh, there’s going to be a lot of other people doing it in, I’m going to be auditioning all the time, and I’m going to have a lot of competition, but you never quite grasp the physical and emotional toll that it takes on your body and your—you know, just ongoing in auditions and getting rejections all the time. And then when you’re working in a show eight times a week and you’re wearing four-inch heels on a stage that is on a giant angle, and you’re wearing wigs that are, like, really, really massive, you don’t really—no one ever tells you how hard that is on your body. So, for me, I just hit a point where I was performing nonstop and I was so tired. I was, like, living at my physical therapist’s office, I was living at, like, my head therapist’s office.

I was just trying to, like, figure out why I was so miserable. And so, I actually left in 2015, performing full time. So, I went to get my Master’s in Education at NYU thinking that teaching was my way out of performing full-time.

Corey: It does seem that there’s some congruities—there’s some congruities there between your—instead of performing in front of a giant audience, you’re performing in front of a bunch of students. And whether it’s performing slash educating, well that comes down to almost stylistic differences. But I have a hard time imagining you just reading from your slides.

Carla: Yeah, no, I loved it because it allowed me to create connections with my students, and I found I like to help inspire them on their journeys, and I really like to help influence them in a positive way. And so yeah, it came really natural to me. And my family—or I have a bunch of teachers in my family so, you know, teaching was kind of a thing I just assumed I would be good at, and I think I fell naturally into. But the thing that was really hard for me was while I was teaching, I was still… kind of—I had, like, one foot in performing. I was still, like, going in and out of the show that I’ve been working on, which I didn’t mention.

So, I was in Wicked for, like, ten years, that’s kind of like my claim to fame. And I had been with that show for a really long time, and that was why—when I left to go teach, that was kind of my way out of that big show because it was hard for me to explain to people why it was leaving such a giant show. And teaching was just, like, a natural thing to go into. I felt like it was like a justifiable action, [laugh] you know, that I could explain to, like, my parents for why I was quitting Broadway.

So, you know, I love teaching and—but I—and so I kept that one foot kind of in Broadway, and I was still going in and out of the show. It’s like a vacation cover, filling in whenever they needed me, and I was still auditioning. But I was like, I was still so burned out, you know? Like, I still had those feelings of, like—and I wasn’t booking work; I think my heart just wasn’t really in it. Like, every time I’d go into audition, I would just feel awful about myself every time I left.

And I was starting to really reject that feeling in my life because I was also starting to find there were other things in my life that made me really happy. Like, just having a life. Like, I had—for the first time in a very long time, I had friends that I could hang out with on the weekends because I wasn’t working on the weekend. And I was able to, like, go to, you know, birthdays and weddings and I was having, like, this social life. And then every time I would go on an audition—

Corey: And they did other things with their lives, and it wasn’t—

Carla: Yeah.

Corey: All shop talk all the time—

Carla: Right.

Corey: Which speaking as someone who lives in San Francisco and worked in normal companies before starting this ridiculous one, it seems that your entire social circle can come out of your workplace. And congratulations, it’s now all shop talk, all the time. And anyone you know or might be married to who’s not deeply in tech just gets this long-suffering attitude on all of it. It’s nice to be able to have varied conversations about different things.

Carla: Yes. And so, I was like having all these, like—I was, like, having these life moments that felt really good, and then I would go to an audition and I would leave being, like, “Why do I do that to myself? Why do I need to feel like that?” Because I just feel awful every time I go. And so, then I was having trouble teaching my students because I was feeling really negative about it, and I was like, “I don’t know how to encourage you to go into a business that’s just going to, like, tear you down and make you feel awful about yourself all the time.”

Corey: And then you got into tech?

Carla: [laugh]. And then I was just, like, “Tech. That’s great.” No, I—do you know what—

Corey: Like, “I’m sad all the time and I feel like less than constantly. You know what I’m going to use to fix that? I’m going to learn JavaScript.” Oh, my God.

Carla: Yeah. I’m going to just challenge myself and do the hardest thing I can think of because that’s fun. But ki—I mean, sort of I [laugh] I, I was not ever—like, being an engineer was never, like, on my radar. My dad was an engineer for a long time, and he kind of always would be, like, “You’re good at math. You should do engineering.”

And I was like, “No, I’m an actor. [laugh]. I don’t want to do that.” And so, I kind of always just, like, shooed it away. And when a friend of mine came to my birthday party in the summer of 2018, who had been a songwriter and I had done some readings of a musical of his, and he was like, “I’m an engineer now at Forbes. Isn’t that great?”

And I was like, “What? How does that happen? I need you to back up, explain to me what’s going on.” And I just, like—but I went home and I could not stop thinking about it. I don’t know if it was like my dad’s voice in the back of my head, or there was like the stars aligned.

My misery that I was feeling in my life, and, like, this new thing that just got thrown in my face was just such an exciting, interesting idea. I was like, “That sounds—I don’t know what—I don’t even know what that looks like or I don’t even know what’s involved in that, but I need to figure out how to do it.” And I went home when I first started teaching myself how to do it. And I would just sit on my couch and I would do, like, little coding challenges, and before I knew it, like, hours would have passed by, I forgot to eat, I forget to go to the bathroom. Like, I would just be, like, groove on the couch from where I was sitting for too long.

And I was like, oh, I guess I really liked this. [laugh]. It’s interesting, it’s creative. Maybe I should do something with it.

Corey: And then from there, did you decide at some point to pursue—like, a lot of paths into tech these days. There’s a whole sea of boot camps, for example, that depending on how you look at them are either inspirational stories of how people can transform their lives, slash money-grabbing scams. And it really depends on the boot camp in particular, is that the path you took? Did you—

Carla: Yes.

Corey: Remain self-taught? How did you proceed from—there’s a whole Couch-to-5k running program; what is about—I guess we’ll call getting to tech—but what was your Couch-to-100k path?

Carla: Yeah, I was just going to say, Couch-to-100k tech gig.

Corey: Yeah.

Carla: So, my friend to had gone to Flatiron School, which is a boot camp. I think they have a few locations around the country, and so I initially started looking at their program just because he had gone there, and it sounded great. And I was like, “Cool, great.” And they had a lot of free resources online. They have, like, this whole free, like, boot camp prep program that you can do that teaches Rails and JavaScript.

And so, I started doing that online. And then I—at the time, they had, like, a part-time class. I like learning in person, which is funny because now I just work remote and I do everything on Google… it’s like, Google and Stack Overflow. So—but I knew at the time—

Corey: I have bad news about the people who are senior. It doesn’t exactly change that much.

Carla: Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard, so I don’t feel bad about telling people that I do it. [laugh].

Corey: We’re all Full Stack Overflow developers. It happens.

Carla: Exactly. So yeah, I just. They had, like, a part-time front-end class that was, like, in person two nights a week for a couple months. And I was like, “Okay, that’ll be a really good way to kind of get my feet wet with, like, a different kind of learning environment.”

And I loved it. I fell in love with it. I loved being in a room of people trying to figure out how to do something hard. I liked talking about it with other people. I liked talking about it with my teachers.

So, I was like, “Okay, I guess I’m going to invest in a boot camp.” And I did their, like, immersive, in-person boot camps. This was 2019 before everything shut down, so I was able to actually do it in person. And it was great. It was like, nine to six, five days a week, and it was really intense.

Did I remember everything I learned when it was over? No. And did I have to, like, spend a lot of time relearning a lot of things just so I could have, like, a deeper understanding of it. Yes. But, like, I also knew that was part of it, you know? It’s like, you throw a lot of information out you, hope some of it sticks, and then it’s your job to make sure that you actually remember it and then know how to use it when you have to.

Corey: One of the challenges that I’ve always found is that when I have a hobby that I’m into, similar to the way that you were doing this just for fun on your couch, and then it becomes your full-time focus, first as a boot camp and later as a job, that it has a tendency in some cases to turn a thing that you love into a thing that you view is this obligation or burden. Do you still love it? Is it still something that you find that’s fun and challenging and exciting? Or is it more a means to an end for you? And there is no wrong answer there.

Carla: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit of both, right? Like, I found it was a creative thing I could do that I enjoy doing. Am I the most passionate software engineer that ever lived? No. Do I have aspirations to be, like, an architect one day? Absolutely not. I really, like, the small tickets that I do that are just, like, refactoring a button or, you know, like, I find that stuff creative and I think it’s fun. Do I necessarily want to—

Corey: You can see—

Carla: —no.

Corey: The results immediately as [crosstalk 00:15:15]—

Carla: Yeah.

Corey: More abstract stuff. It’s like, “Well, when this 18 months migration finishes, and everything is 10% faster, oh, then I’ll be vindicated.”

Carla: Yeah. No.

Corey: It’s a little more attenuated from the immediate feedback.

Carla: Yeah. I’m not that kind of developer, I’m learning. But I’m totally fine with that. I have no issue. Like, I am a very humble person about it. I don’t have aspirations to be amazing.

Don’t ask me to do algorithm challenges. I’m terrible at them. I know that I’m terrible at them. But I also know that you can be a good developer and be terrible algorithm, like, challenges. So, I don’t feel bad about it.

Corey: The algorithm challenge is inherently biased for people who not only have a formal computer science education but have one relatively recently. I look back at some of the technical challenges I used to give candidates and take myself for jobs ten years ago, and I don’t remember half of it because it’s not my day-to-day anymore. It turns out that most of us don’t have a job implementing quicksort. We just use the one built into the library and we move on with our lives to do something interesting and much more valuable, like, moving that button three pixels left, but because of CSS, that’s now a two-week project.

Carla: Yeah. Add a little border-radius, changes the su—you know. There are some database things I like. You know, I’m trying to get better at SQL. Rails is really nice because we use Active Record, and I don’t really have to know SQL.

But I find there are some things that you can do in Rails that are really cool, and I enjoyed working in their console. And that’s exciting. You know when you write, like, a whole controller and then you make something but you can only see it in the console? That’s cool. I think to me, that’s fun. Being able to, like, generate things is fun. I don’t have to always see them, like, on the page in a visual, pretty way, even though I tend to be more visual.

Corey: This episode is sponsored in parts by our friend EnterpriseDB. EnterpriseDB has been powering enterprise applications with PostgreSQL for 15 years. And now EnterpriseDB has you covered wherever you deploy PostgreSQL on premises, private cloud, and they just announced a fully managed service on AWS and Azure called BigAnimal, all one word.

Don't leave managing your database to your cloud vendor because they're too busy launching another half dozen manage databases to focus on any one of them that they didn't build themselves. Instead, work with the experts over at EnterpriseDB. They can save you time and money, they can even help you migrate legacy applications, including Oracle, to the cloud.

To learn more, try BigAnimal for free. Go to biganimal.com/snark, and tell them Corey sent you.

Corey: One of the big fictions that we tend to have as an industry is when people sit down and say, “Oh, so why did you get into tech?” And everyone expects it to be this aspirational story of the challenge, and I’ve been interested in this stuff since I was a kid. And we’re all supposed to just completely ignore the very present reality of well, looking at all of my different opportunities, this is the one that pays three times what the others do. Like, we’re supposed to pretend that money doesn’t matter and we’re all following our passion. That is actively ridiculous from where I sit.

Carla: Mm-hm.

Corey: Do you find that effectively going from the Broadway actress side of the world to—where, let’s be clear, in the world of entertaining and arts—to my understanding—90% of people in that space are not able to do that as their only gig without side projects to basically afford to eat, whereas in tech, the median developer makes an extremely comfortable living that significantly outpaces the average median income for a family of four in the United States. Do you find that it has changed your philosophy on life in any meaningful way?

Carla: Oh, my God, yeah. I love talking about on all of my social platforms the idea that you can learn tech skills and you can—like, there are so many different jobs that exist for an engineer, right? There are full-time jobs. There are full-time job that are flexible and they’re remote, and nobody cares what time you’re working as long as you get the work done. And because of that and because of the nature of how performing and being an artist works, where you also have a lot of downtime in between jobs or even when you are working, that I feel like the two go very, very well together, and that it allows—if an artist can spend a little bit of time learning the skill, they now have the ability to feel stable in their lives, also be creative how they want to, and decide what the art looks like for them without struggling and freaking out all the time about where’s my next meal going to come from, or can I pay my rent?

And, like, I sometimes think back to when I was on tour—I was on tour for three years with Wicked—and I had so much free time, Corey. Like, if I had known that I could have spent some time when I was just like hanging out in my hotel room watching TV all day, like, learning how to code. I would have been—I would have done this years ago. If I had known it was even, I don’t even know actually if it was an option back then in, like, the early-2010s. I feel like boot camps kind of started around then, but they were mostly in person.

But if I was—today, if I was right now starting my career as an artist, I would absolutely learn how to code as a side hustle. Because why wait tables? [laugh]. Why make, like, minimum wage in a terrible job that you hate when you can I have a skillset that you can do from home now because everything is remote for the most part? Why not?

It doesn’t make sense to me that anybody would go back to those kind of awful side gigs, side hustle jobs. Because at the end of the day, side hustle jobs end up actually being the things that you spend more time doing, just because theater jobs and art jobs and music jobs are so, you know, far apart when you have them. That might as well pick something that’s lucrative and makes you feel less stressed out, you know, in the interim, between gigs. I see it as kind of a way to give artists a little more freedom in what they can choose to do with their art. Which I think is… it’s kind of magical, right?

Like, it takes away that narrative of if you can’t see yourself—if you can see yourself doing anything else, you should do it, right? That’s what we tell kids when they go into the arts. If you can see yourself doing any other thing, you know, you have to struggle to be an artist; that is part of the gig. That’s what you sign up for. And I just call bullshit on it, Corey. I don’t know if I can swear on this, but I call bullshit on [crosstalk 00:21:06]—[laugh].

Corey: Oh, you absolutely can.

Carla: I just think it’s so unfair to young people, to how they get to view themselves and their creativity, right? Like, you literally stunt them when you tell them that. You say, “You can only do this one thing.” That’s like the opposite of creative, right? That’s like telling somebody that they can only do one thing without imagining that they can do all these other things. The most interesting artists that I know do, like, 400 things, they are creative people and they can’t stop, right? They’re like multi-hyphenates [crosstalk 00:21:39].

Corey: It feels like it’s setting people up for failure, on some level, in a big way where when you’re building your entire life toward this make-or-break thing and then you don’t get it, it’s, well, what happens then?

Carla: Yeah.

Corey: I’ve always liked the idea of failure as a step forward. And well, that thing didn’t work out; let’s see if we can roll into it and see what comes out next. It’s similar to the idea of a lot of folks who are career-changing, where they were working somewhere else in a white-collar environment, well time to go back to square one for an entry-level world. Hell with that. Pivot; take a half step toward what you want to be doing in your next role, and then a year or so later, take the other half step, and now you’re doing it full time without having to start back at square one.

I think that there are very few things in this world that are that binary as far as you either succeed or you’re done and your whole life was a waste. It is easy get stuck in this idea that if your childhood dream doesn’t come true, well give up and prepare for a life of misery. I just don’t accept that.

Carla: Yeah, I—

Corey: But maybe it’s because I have no choice because getting fired is my stock-in-trade. So, it wasn’t until I built a company where I can’t get fired from it that I really started to feel a little bit secure in that. But it does definitely leave its marks and its damages. I spent 12 years waiting for the surprise meeting with my boss and someone I didn’t recognize from HR where they don’t offer you coffee—that’s always the tell when they don’t offer coffee—and to realize it while I’m back on the job market again; time to find something new. It left me feeling more mercenary that I probably should have, which wasn’t great for the career.

What about you? Do you think that—did it take, on some level, a sense of letting go of old dreams? Was it—and did it feel like a creeping awareness that this was, like—that you felt almost cornered into it? Or how did you approach it?

Carla: Yeah, I think I was the same way. I think I especially when you were younger because of that narrative, right, we tell people that if they decide to go into the arts, they have to be one hundred percent committed to it, and if they aren’t one hundred percent and then they don’t succeed, it is their fault, right? Like, if you give it everything that you have, and then it doesn’t work out, you have clearly done something wrong, therefore you are a failure. You failed at your dream because you gave it everything that you have, so you kind of set yourself up for failure because you don’t allow yourself to, you know, be more of who you are in other ways.

For me, I just spent so many I had so many moments in my life where I thought that the world was over, right? Like, when I was—right out of college, I went to school to study opera. And I was studying at Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, it was, like, the great, great conservatory, and halfway through my freshman year, I got diagnosed with a cyst on my vocal cords. So, basically what this meant was that I had to have surgery to have it removed, and the doctor told me that I probably would never sing opera. And I was devastated.

Like, I was—this was the thing I wanted to do with my life; I had committed myself one hundred percent, and now all of a sudden this thing happened, and I panicked. I thought it was my fault—because there was nobody to help me understand that it wasn’t—and I was like, “I have failed this thing. I have failed my dream. What am I going to do with my life?” And I said, “Okay I’ll be an actor because acting is a noble thing.” And that’s sort of like act—that’s sort of like performing; it’s performing in a different way, it’s just not singing.

And I was terrified to sing again because I had this narrative in my head that I was a failed singer if I co,uldn’t be an opera singer. And so, it took me, like, years, three years before I finally started singing again I got a voice teacher, and he—I would cry through all of my lessons. He was like, “Carly, you really have a—should be singing. Like, this is something that you’re good at.” And I was like, no because if I can’t sing, like, the way I want to sing, why would I sing?

And he really kind of pushed me and helped me, like, figure out what my voice could do in a new way. And it was really magical for me. It made me realize that this narrative that I’ve been telling myself of what I thought that I was supposed to be didn’t have to be true. It didn’t have to be the only one that existed; there could be other possibilities for what I could do and they could look different. But I closed myself off to that idea because I had basically been told no, you can’t do this thing that you want to do.

So, I didn’t even consider the possibilities of the other things that I could do. And when I relearned how to sing, it just blew my mind because I was like, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know this was possible. I didn’t know in my body it was possible of this. I didn’t know if I could do this.” And, like, overcoming that and making me realize that I could do other things, that there were other versions of what I wanted, kind of blew my mind a little bit.

And so, when I would hit road bumps and I’d hit these walls, I was like, “Okay, well, maybe I just need to pivot. Maybe the direction I’m going in isn’t quite the right one, but maybe if I just, like, open my eyes a little bit, there’s another—there’s something else over here that is interesting and will be creative and will take me in a different way, an unexpected way that I wasn’t expecting.” And so, I’ve kind of from that point on sort of living my life like that, in this way that, well, this might be a roadblock, and many people might view this thing as a failure, but for me, it allowed me to open up all these other new things that I didn’t even know I could do, right? Like, what I’m doing now is something I never would have imagined I’d be doing five years ago. And now I’m also in a place where not only am I doing something completely different as a software engineer, but I have this incredible opportunity to also start incorporating art back into my life in a way that I can own and I can do for myself instead of having to do for other people.

Which is also something I never thought because I thought it was all or nothing. I thought if I was an artist, I was an artist; I’m a software engineer, I’m a software engineer. And so, now I have the ability to kind of live in this weird gray area of getting to make those decisions for myself, and recognize that those little failures were, you know—like, I like to call them, like, the lowercase failures instead of the uppercase failure, right? Like, I am not a failure because I experienced failure. Those little failures are kind of what led me to grow my strength and my resilience and my ability to recognize it more free—like, more quickly when I see it so that I can bounce back faster, right?

Like, when I hit a wall, instead of living in that feeling of, like, “Ugh, God, this is the worst thing that ever happened,” I allow myself to move faster through it and recognize that there will be light on the other side. I will get there. And I know that it’s going to be okay, and I can trust that because it’s always been okay. I always figure it out. And so, that’s something—taken me a long time to, like, realize, you know? To, like, really learn, you have to fail a lot to learn that you’re going to be okay every time it happens. [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, what’s the phrase? “Sucking at something is the first step to being kind of good at it?”

Carla: Yeah. You got to let yourself suck at it. When I used to teach voice, I would make my students make just, like, the ugliest sounds because I was like, if we can just get past the fact that no matter what, when you sing you’re going to sound awful at some point. We’re going to try something, you’re going to crack, it’s not going to come out right, and if we can’t own that it’s going to suck a little bit on the journey to being good, like, you’re going to have a really hard time getting there because you’re just going to beat yourself up every time it sucks. Like, it’s going to suck a lot [laugh] before you get good. And that’s just part of it. That’s, like, it is just a part of the process, and you have to kind of own it.

Corey: I think that as people we are rarely as one-dimensional as we imagine we are when. And for example, I like working with cloud services, let’s not kid ourselves on this. But I have a deep and abiding love affair with the sound of my own voice, so I’m always going to find ways to work that into it. I have a hard time seeing a future career for you that does not in some way, shape or form, tie back to your performing background because even now, talking about singing, you lit up when talking about that in a way that no one does—or at least should—light up when they’re talking about React. So, do you think that there’s a place between the performing side of the world and the technical side of the world, or those phases of your life, that’s going to provide interesting paths for you down the road?

Carla: That is a good question, Corey. And I don’t know if I have the answer. You know, I think one thing—if there’s anything I learned from all the crazy things that happened to me, is that I just kind of have to be open. You know, I like to say yes to things. And also learning to say no, which has been really a big deal for me.

Corey: Oh, yes.“, no,” is a complete sentence and people know that sometimes at their own peril.

Carla: Yes, I have said no to some things lately, and it’s felt very good. But I like to be open, you know? I like to feel like if I’m putting out good things into the world, good things will come back to me, and so I’m just trying to keep that open. You know, I’m trying to be the best engineer that I can be. And I’m trying to also, you know—if I can use my voice and my platform to help inspire other people to see that there are other ways of being an artist, there are, you know, there are other paths in this world to take.

I hope that, you know, I can, other things will come up to me, there’ll be opportunities. And I don’t know what those look like, but I’m open. So, if anybody out there hears this and you want to collaborate, hit me up. [laugh].

Corey: Careful what you offer. People don’t know—people have a disturbing tendency of saying, “Well, all right, I have an idea.” That’s where a lot of my ridiculous parody music videos came from. It’s like, “So, what’s the business case for doing?” It’s like, “Mmm, I think it’ll be funny.”

It’s like, “Well, how are you going to justify the expense?” “Oh, there’s a line item and the company budget labeled ‘Spite.’ That’s how.” And it’s this weird combination of things that lead to a path that on some level makes perfect sense, but at the time you’re building this stuff out, it feels like you’re directionless and doing all these weird things. Like, one of the, I guess, strange parts of looking back at a path you take in the course of your career is, in retrospect, it feels like every step for the next was obvious and made intuitive sense, but going through it it’s, “I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m like the dog that caught the car, and they need to desperately figure out how to drive the thing before it hits the wall.”

It’s just a—I don’t pretend to understand how the tapestry of careers tie together, but I do know that I’m very glad to see people in this space, who do not all have the same ridiculous story for how they got in here. That’s the thing that I find continually obnoxious, this belief that there’s only one way to do it, or you’re somehow less than because you didn’t grow up programming in the ’90s. Great. There’s a lot of people like that. And yes, it is okay to just view computers as a job that pays the bills; there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

Carla: Yeah. And I mean, and I—

Corey: I just wish people were told that early on.

Carla: Yeah, why not? Right? Why didn’t anybody tell us that? Like, you don’t—the thing that I did not—it took me a long time to realize is that you do not have to be passionate about your job. And that’s like, that’s okay, right? All you have to do is enjoy it enough to do it, but it does not have to be, like—

Corey: You have to like it, on some level [crosstalk 00:33:10]—

Carla: Yeah, you just do have to like it. [laugh].

Corey: —dreading the 40 hours a week, that’s a miserable life on some level.

Carla: Like, I sit in front of a computer now all day, and I enjoy it. Like, I enjoy what I’m doing. But again, like, I don’t need to be the greatest software engineer that ever lived; I have other things that I like to do, and it allows me to also do those things. And that is what I love about it. It allows me that ability to just enjoy my weekends and have a stable career and have a stable life and have health insurance. And then when I want—

Corey: Oh, the luxuries of modern life.

Carla: [laugh]. Yeah, the luxuries of modern life. Health insurance, who knew? Yeah, you know, so it’s great. And then when creative projects come up, I can choose to say yes or no to them, and that’s really exciting for me.

Corey: I have a sneaking suspicion—I’ll just place my bet now—that the world of performing is not quite done with you yet.

Carla: Probably not. I would be lying if I said it was. I—so before all this stuff, I don’t know if your listeners know this, but in January, the thing that kind of happened to me that went a little viral where I went back to Broadway after not being on Broadway for a little while, and the news media and everybody picked up on it, and there were like these headlines of, “Software engineer plays Elphaba on Broadway after seven years.” It surprised me, but it also didn’t surprise me, you know? Like, when I left, I left thinking I was done.

And I think it was easy to leave when I left because of the pandemic, right? There was nothing going on when I—like, I started my journey before the pandemic, but I fully shifted into software engineering during the pandemic. So, I never had feelings of, like, “I’m missing out on performing,” because performing didn’t exist. There was no Broadway for a while. And so, once it kind of started to come back last year in the fall, I was like, “Oh, maybe I miss it a little bit.”

And maybe I accidentally manifested it, but, you know, when Wicked called and I flew back to New York for those shows, and I was like, “Oh, this is really wonderful.” Also, I’m really glad I don’t have to do this eight times a week. I’m so excited to go home. And I was like, having a little taste of it made me realize, “Oh, I can do this if I want to do this. I also don’t have to do this if I don’t want to do this.” And that was pretty—it was very empowering. I was like, “That feels nice.”

Corey: I really appreciate your taking so much time to talk about how you’ve gone through what at the time has got to have felt like a very strange set of career steps, but it’s starting to form into something that appears to have an arc to it. If people want to learn more and follow along as you continue to figure out what you’re going to do next, where’s the best place to find you?

Carla: Oh, good question, Corey. I do a website, carlastickler.com. Because I’ve had a lot of people—artists, in particular—reaching out and asking how I did this, I’m starting to build some resources, and so you can sign up for my mailing list.

I also am pretty big on Instagram if we’re going to choose social media. So, my Instagram is stiglercarla. And there’s links to all that stuff on my website. But—

Corey: And they will soon be in the [show notes 00:36:26] as well.

Carla: Ah yes, add them to the show notes. [laugh]. Yeah, and I want to make sure that I… I want—a lot of people who’ve seen my story and 
felt very inspired by it. A lot of artists who have felt that they, too, were failures because they chose not to go into art and get a regular nine to five. And so, I’m trying to, like, kind of put a little bit more of that out there so that people see that they’re not alone.

And so, on my social media, I do post a lot of stories that people send to me, just telling me their story about how they made the transition and how they keep art in their life in different ways. And so, that’s something that also really inspires me. So, I tried to put their voices up, too. So, if anybody is interested in feeling not alone, feeling like there are other people out there, all of us, quote-unquote, “Failed artists,” and there’s a lot of us. And so, I’m just trying to create a little space for all of us.

Corey: I look forward to seeing it continue to evolve.

Carla: Thank you.

Corey: Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

Carla: Thanks, Corey.

Corey: Carla Stickler, software engineer at G2 and also very much more. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn, and this is Screaming in the Cloud. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, and if it’s on the YouTubes, smash the like and subscribe buttons, as the kids of today are saying, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, same thing: Five-star review, smash the buttons, 
but also leave an angry comment telling me exactly what you didn’t like about this, and I will reply with the time and date for your audition.

Corey: If your AWS bill keeps rising and your blood pressure is doing the same, then you need The Duckbill Group. We help companies fix their AWS bill by making it smaller and less horrifying. The Duckbill Group works for you, not AWS. We tailor recommendations to your business and we get to the point. Visit duckbillgroup.com to get started.

Announcer: This has been a HumblePod production. Stay humble.
Newsletter Footer

Get the Newsletter

Reach over 30,000 discerning engineers, managers, enthusiasts who actually care about the state of Amazon’s cloud ecosystems.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
Sponsor Icon Footer

Sponsor an Episode

Get your message in front of people who care enough to keep current about the cloud phenomenon and its business impacts.