Tackling Tech Head-On with Natalie Davis

Episode Summary

Where does the next generation of cloud engineer come from? The current generation walked a path that may not even exist anymore. So, when Natalie Davis, a Software Engineer at Netlify, decided to jump over to tech from another industry, she stood as a stellar example of how to do so! Especially for this next generation. Natalie talks about her bootcamp experiences, and her maneuver from retail into tech. Natalie talks about the ways that tech is addressing the problems at hand in tech. She discusses the various adversities that tech needs to confront when it comes to those problems. Natalie compares the relatively benign nature of tech compared to her background in retail, but importantly so she offers up areas where tech can improve!

Episode Show Notes & Transcript

About Natalie
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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 our friends at Sysdig. Sysdig is the solution for securing DevOps. They have a blog post that went up recently about how an insecure AWS Lambda function could be used as a pivot point to get access into your environment. They’ve also gone deep in-depth with a bunch of other approaches to how DevOps and security are inextricably linked. To learn more, visit sysdig.com and tell them I sent you. That’s S-Y-S-D-I-G dot com. My thanks to them for their continued support of this ridiculous nonsense.

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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud. I’m Corey Quinn. A recurring theme of this show has been where does the next generation of cloud engineer come from because of the road that a lot of us walked is closed, and a lot of the jobs that some of us took no longer exist in any meaningful form. There are a bunch of answers around oh, we’re going to get people right out of school from computer science programs into this space, but that doesn’t always solve some of the answers. Here to talk to me today is someone who took a different path. Natalie Davis is a software engineer at Netlify, and she entered tech by changing careers from another industry. Natalie, how are you? Thank you for joining me.

Natalie: I’m really good, Corey. Thanks for having me. I’m very excited to be here and kind of share my experiences.

Corey: So, you have entered tech within the last few years. You went to a boot camp, you spent a year as an engineer at a different company, and now you’re at Netlify, one of those companies that, at least for some of us was one of those things you vaguely hear about in the background, sort of a buzz, and the buzz gets louder and louder and louder, and no seems that every time I turn around, I’m tripping over Netlify. In good ways, to be clear.

Natalie: I mean, that’s definitely good news for me. [laugh]. Yeah, Netlify is a company I first grew familiar with while I was in boot camp. It was the first place I ever hosted a website, a nice little to-do app. And now a couple of years later, here I am, in the guts of it.

Corey: So, what were you doing before you decided, “You know what? I’m going to enter tech.” Because if you stand back and you look at it, like that seems like a great culture with no problems whatsoever inherent to it in any way, shape, or form. That’s where I want to be. Honestly, I find myself in tech these days, in spite of a lot of things rather than because of it. But again, I am cynical, jaded, again, old and grumpy because you don’t get to be a Unix sysadmin without being old and grumpy by somewhere around week three.

Natalie: So, that’s something I actually find very interesting. Because I came to tech after having existed in another industry—and I’ll talk about that in a moment—for about 15 years, I don’t find tech as toxic as people who have always been in tech find it. There are problems in tech, but we’re talking about those problems; we’re trying to come up with solutions. Whereas in retail, where I spent the first 15 years of my career, no one’s talking about those problems. And they exist, and they exist on an amplified level because not only are people being treated horribly, not only are people consistently being profiled and discriminated against, but they’re doing it for $10 an hour, so there’s not even the incentive of at least I get to live well. So, I always push back just a little bit on that, tech is so toxic.

Corey: That is a fantastic approach. I hadn’t considered it from that perspective. I mean, I sit here in something of an ivory tower. My clients tend to be big companies doing things in a B2B level, whether I’m talking about media sponsorships or consulting projects. The one time a year that I deal with the quote-unquote, “General public,” or a B2C type of thing is my annual charity t-shirt fundraiser.

And I have remarked before on this show that those $35 t-shirts cause more customer service headaches for me than the entire rest of the year put together because you sell someone $100,000 consulting project, and you’re responsible adults, and you can have conversations and figure out how to move forward, but when someone spends $35 on a shirt—for charity, I will point out—and it doesn’t show up, or it’s the wrong size or something, they have opinions, and they will in some cases put you on blast. But even in that sense, it’s not the quote-unquote, “General public,” it’s people in this industry, by and large, who are themselves working professionals, not people walking into a retail store and deciding the best way to get what they want is to basically abuse the staff.

Natalie: Yeah, yeah. I noticed that even within retail. I spent most of my retail career in better or luxury retail, but there was one year that I worked in an outlet—and I won’t name them—but that was the worst experience of my life. People calling corporate on me over 40 cent discounts. It was just unbelievable. [laugh].

Corey: It’s a different era, so coming from that, you look at tech and your perspective then is that you see that it has challenges in it, but it’s, “Oh, compared to what I used to deal with, this is nothing.”

Natalie: Correct. Although I did know that there were challenges in tech, but I viewed it more from a standpoint of how tech was impacting communities like mine. And that was part of what drew me to tech because obviously, there weren’t enough people like me in the room, and that meant that there was room for someone like me to enter the room and shake some tables. So, that was part of why I wanted to come to tech.

Corey: This is evocative of other conversations I’ve had, generally with people in the midst of an outage, where everyone’s running around with their hair on fire because the computers aren’t working, and there’s one person sitting there who’s just, you would think it is any random Tuesday, and at people ask them, “How on earth are you so calm?” And their answer is, “Oh, I’m a veteran. No one’s shooting at me. The computers don’t work. I know everyone here is going to go home to their families tonight. This isn’t stress. You haven’t seen stress.”

I have seen shades of that from folks who have transitioned into this industry from, honestly, industries that treat people far worse. So, that’s an area I haven’t considered. I’d like the direction, I like the angle you have on this. This is sort of a strange follow-up to that, but what inspired you to enter tech from retail? I mean, the easy answer is you look around, you’re like, “Okay, I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to go learn how tech works.” It’s never that easy.

Natalie: Yeah, it definitely wasn’t that easy. So, I married a wonderful man who is a firefighter. My brother-in-law works with non-traditional students at the high school age, his wife is a nurse. So, I’m surrounded by these people who actually have careers, who actually are doing things that they’re passionate about. And that wasn’t a part of my life before marrying into this family.

So, it kind of woke something up in me like, hey, I don’t just have to work for a living; I can work for a passion. And no, no one dreams of labor, sure. Like, one day, I’ll win the lotto and I won’t have to do anything except be a professional student, which would be my ideal path, but it did awaken the possibility that even people in my life can go have these passions. So, then I started thinking, “Well, what can I do aside from retail, without incurring another $100,000 worth of college debt?” And then I started—I jumped on Twitter. Following tech accounts now, and—

Corey: Oh, geez, you are a glutton for punishment. It’s one of those, “All right. So, I don’t think the industry is that bad. I’m going to prove it by going on Twitter.” Okay, let’s scrap it on that one.

Natalie: But around this time was the time where there was an article about automatic hand dryers and how they weren’t recognizing black hands as hands. And I think maybe there was something about an automated self-driving car—that’s what I’m looking for—that wasn’t recognizing black people as people in the same way that it was recognizing others. And I’ve always been a fighter. I’ve always been a rebel. You might not be able to tell it now I seem to have grown up quite a bit, and you know, I’m more conservative with the way I respond to the issues that I see in the world.

If I’m going to pursue my passion, it needs to be me fighting for something that’s important to me. Tech, okay, cool. Then there’s this thing about tech where, sure you can go the CS degree route, and I think that’s a great route. I don’t think it’s the right route for everybody. There’s almost like this Wild West aspect where if you can build, that’s it. If you can do the job, you can do the job.

And I didn’t think that it was going to be easy, but I know I’ve got grit, I know, I’ve got determination. I know if I set my mind to a thing, I can do a thing. And I liked that you could come in and just be able to do the work, and that would be enough. So, I jumped in a boot camp.

Corey: Would you recommend boot camps as a way for people to break into tech? The reason I asked i—I’m not talking about any particular boot camp here—

Natalie: Sure.

Corey: —but I’m interested in what is the common guidance for folks who find themselves in similar situations and decide that, “You know what? I think that I want to go deal with tech because tech does have its problems, but people aren’t literally spitting on you, most days, or throwing drinks at you and, let’s be very direct because there’s a taboo against talking about this sometimes the pay is a lot better in tech than it is in most other industries.” And we all like to—

Natalie: Oh yeah.

Corey: —dance around the fact that, “Oh, compensation. No, no, no. You should do it because you love it.” It’s, yeah, being able to do what you love is one of those privileges that comes along with having money and making money doing the thing that you love. If the thing that you love is getting screamed at on Black Friday by hordes of people, great. You’re still going to not necessarily be able to afford the same trappings of a life that you can by having something that compensates better.

Natalie: Thank you for bringing that up because I certainly should have mentioned that the pay was attractive to me in the industry as well. Like, I thought only doctors and lawyers made six figures or better. I didn’t realize I could get there.

Corey: I’ve always had the baseline assumption that everyone is in tech to some degree for the money. Whenever I meet someone who’s like, “No, I’m in tech and I’m not doing it for the money.” I like to follow up with that because sometimes they’re right. “Really? So, what do you do?” Like, “Oh, yeah, I work for this nonprofit doing tech stuff.” “Okay. I believe you when you say that.” When I work for one of the FAANG big tech companies, and people are, “Oh, yeah, I’m here because I love the work.” [pause] “Really? Like, you’re out there making the world a better place by improving ad conversion rates? Okay.”

Like, we all tell ourselves lies to get through the day, and I’m also not suggesting by any means that money is a bad motivator for anything. The thing that always irked me is when people don’t acknowledge, yeah, part of the reason I’m in this industry is because it pays riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice that I had growing up. I never expected to find myself in a situation where I’m making, as you say, lawyer and doctor money. Honestly, I look around and I’m still astounded that the things that I do on computers—badly, may I point out—is valued by anyone. Yet, here we are.

Natalie: I wholeheartedly agree. Every time that direct deposit hits my account, my mind is just blown. Like, “You all know I was just putzing around on my computer all week, right? And like, this is what I get? Cool. Cool.” But to get back to your question is, boot camp—I’m sorry, I don’t remember exactly how you phrased it.

Corey: No, no, the question I really have is, is boot camp the common case recommendation now for folks who want to break in? Are there better slash alternate paths—if you had to do it all again—that you might have pursued?

Natalie: I have to say, people reach out to me for advice: How did you do what you did, they never liked what I have to say because I’m going to start with, you have to understand who you are. You have to understand what works for you. I know that I’m incredibly capable, and I learn quite well, but I need structure in order to do so because if you leave me to my own devices, I will get lost in the weeds of something that does not matter much, but it’s quite interesting. And now I’ve spent a month learning about event handlers, but I don’t know how to do anything else. So, for me, boot camp provided both the structure and the baked-in community that I need it because no one in my life is in tech; no one can talk to me about these things. I needed a group of people who I could share the struggle that learning to code is. Because my God, that was a struggle. I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life, and I don’t think many of them had me doubting my abilities the way learning to code did.

Corey: There’s always that constant ebb and flow of it, where you—it’s a rush, like, “I am a genius,” and then something doesn’t work it, “Oh, I’m a fool. Why didn’t anyone bother to tell me this at any point in my life?” And it’s the constant, almost swing between highs and lows on a constant basis. There’s a support group for that in tech, it’s called everyone, and we made it the bar.

Natalie: [laugh]. Yeah, I haven’t stopped experiencing that since I’ve gotten—although I’ve gotten much better with dealing with the emotions that come along with that.

Corey: Yes, sometimes I find going for a walk and calming down helps because if I keep staring at this thing, I’m going to say something unfortunate, possibly on Twitter, and no one wants that.

Natalie: Well, I kind of want it. It’s fun to watch. [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, but it’s tied to my name, and that’s the challenge.

Natalie: Ah, yes, yes. So yeah, I mean, there are people out there who have gone the self-taught route, and oh, my goodness, those people are so inspiring and amazing to me because I don’t think I could have pulled it off that way. I think something else you have to think about is the support system you have. I don’t know that I would have been able to dedicate myself the way I did in boot camp if I didn’t have my husband, who was able to kind of shoulder the financial burden on our family, while I was just living in this office for 14 hours a day. And that’s unfortunate, and I think that’s something that I hope gets addressed by someone. I don’t know who; I don’t have the solution.

But yeah, it took a certain level of privilege for me to pour myself in the way that I did. So, that’s something that you have to think about, what kind of time do you have to dedicate? Now, when you’re thinking about that, also understand that it’s a marathon, not a race, right? It doesn’t matter if Billy did it in a year, if it takes you five years to get there, that’s how long it took you to get there. But once you’re there, you’re there.

Corey: There are certain one-way doors that people pass through. Another common one that we see a lot of in the industry is the idea of going from engineer to management. Once you have crossed through that door and become a manager, you can go back to being an engineer and then back to being a manager, but crossing into the management realm the first time is one of those things that is not clearly defined in many places. And every time you talk to somebody like, “How do you break that barrier?” And the answer is, “Oh. I was in the right place at the right time, and I got lucky,” is generally the common answer to it.

I keep looking for ways to systematically get there, and that was interesting to me because I wanted to be a manager very much back in the first part of the 2010s. And I put myself in weird roles chasing that, and I think I wanted to do it for the right reasons, namely, to inspire and to be the manager I wished I’d always had. And it turns out I was really bad at it on a variety of different levels. And okay, this is not for me. I decided to go in a bit of a different direction, even now, the entire company rolls up the reporting chain that does not include me. I have a business partner who handles that. No one has to report to me on a weekly basis, which is really something we should put on our careers page as a benefit to help attract people.

Natalie: [laugh]. Absolutely. I mean, I’m thinking about that, and like, what does my next five years look like? Do I want to go into management role? I’ve got a ton of leadership experience in retail.

It’s not a direct translation, but of course, there are some transferable skills there. But also, it is beautiful to be an individual contributor, to not have to follow up with a team of 12 to see where they’re at and what they’re working on. So, I still haven’t decided where I want to go.

Corey: When I have the privilege of talking to high-level executives about the hardest part on their journey, very often the story they say is that—especially if they started off in the engineering world, where, “Yeah, I love what I do, my job is great, but…” and then they pause a minute, and, “Back in the before times, it was easier.” [unintelligible 00:16:13] you’re like, “Oh, here. Let me buy you eight drinks.” And then they get really honest. And they say the hard part really is that you don’t get to do anything yourself.

Your only tool to solve all of these problems is delegation. So, you’ve got to build and manage and maintain and develop the team, and then you have to give them context and basically let them go and hope that they can deliver the thing that you need when you need it delivered. And for a lot of us who are used to working on the computer of, I push the button and the computer does what I say—you know, aspirationally, after you wind up fixing it eight times in a row, only to figure out that comma should have been a semicolon. Great—and then you’re, “Oh, yeah. Okay, that makes sense.”

It is hard for folks in an engineering sense to often let go and that leads to things like micromanagement, and the failure mode of a boss who shows up and basically winds up writing code and reverting your commits in the middle of the night and they’re treating main as their feature branch. And yeah, we’ve all seen those weird patterns there. It’s a hard, hard thing to do. You’ve been management in a retail role. Do you aspire to manage people in the tech industry as your career in this zany place evolves?

Natalie: I just haven’t decided, I think in some ways, it makes a lot of sense. I did enjoy mentoring and coaching and helping people level up. That was kind of my specialty. I got a lot of people promoted, and that felt good to see them kind of take off and fly. But I am kind of in love with the, how do I make this thing do what I want it to do.

That digging in and the mystery and the following the trail and console logging 6000 different variables, and then finally, finally, finally, it works, and I don’t know if I want to give that up. Honestly, the thing that pushed me into management and retail, initially, was I can make a lot more money in management than I can as a sales associate. And with that incentive kind of removed—and sure I can make more money as a manager, but money ceases to be the same kind of motivator once your needs are met. Like, I’m in a good place, I don’t have to worry. So, now I have to think about, do I really want to go back to not being able to do the work—because I found it difficult even in retail not to just jump in and make the sale because I know how to make a sale and I can see where you’re going wrong. And I’ve got to let you fail, but then I’ve lost the sale.

So, I don’t know that I want to give up the individual contributor role. But I’m very open. I feel like in this stage of my career, anything is possible. I’m just kind of exploring what’s out there and seeing where it leads.

Corey: This episode is sponsored by our friends at Oracle HeatWave is a new high-performance query accelerator for the Oracle MySQL Database Service, although I insist on calling it “my squirrel.” While MySQL has long been the worlds most popular open source database, shifting from transacting to analytics required way too much overhead and, ya know, work. With HeatWave you can run your OLAP and OLTP—don’t ask me to pronounce those acronyms again—workloads directly from your MySQL database and eliminate the time-consuming data movement and integration work, while also performing 1100X faster than Amazon Aurora and 2.5X faster than Amazon Redshift, at a third of the cost. My thanks again to Oracle Cloud for sponsoring this ridiculous nonsense.

Corey: Very often there’s this mistaken belief that, “All right, I’ve been an engineer, so now I need to be a manager to get promoted.” And they’re orthogonal skills. Whenever I looked at management roles, and the requirements are well, there’s going to be a coding on the whiteboard component to the interview, it’s, “What exactly do you think a manager does here?” Or the, “Oh, yeah. You’re going to be half managing the team and half participating in the team’s work.” It’s great. Those are two jobs. Which one would you rather I fail at?

Because let’s be very realistic here. There’s also a bias, it’s linked to ageism, for sure in this industry, but you look at someone who’s in their 40s or 50s, or 60s or whatever it happens to be, who’s an individual contributor, and you look at them, and there’s a lot of people that see that either overtly or subtly think that oh, yeah, they got lost somewhere along the way. They have gone in a different direction, they missed some opportunities. And I don’t think that’s necessarily fair. I think that it fails to acknowledge exactly what you’re talking about, that there’s a love and a passion behind some of the things you get to deal with and some things you don’t have to deal with when you’re working as an engineer versus working as management.

From my perspective, I’d argue everyone should at least do a stint in management at some point or another just because I have a lot more empathy for those quote-unquote, “Crappy managers” that I had back in the early part of my career, now that I’ve been on the other side of that table. It’s like, I used to be like, “Why would that person fire me?” And now looking at it from that perspective, it’s, “Why did that person wait three whole months to fire me?” It’s one of those areas where I see it now with the broader context.

And it’s strange, I’ve always said I’m a terrible employee, but I would be a much better one now as a result. So, I learned the lesson just in time for it to be completely useless to me, personally, but if I can pass that on to people, that’s why I have a microphone.

Natalie: Absolutely, yeah. There’s a lot of tension, especially when you’re kind of middle-level management because you’re trying to make your people happy, but then you’ve got these demands coming from the top, and they don’t want what your people want at all. And that’s 

Corey: That was my failure when I would—I failed to manage up completely. I was obstinate as an employee and got myself fired a lot and figured as a manager, I’m going to do exactly the same thing because it’ll work great now.

Natalie: [laugh].

Corey: Yeah, turns out it doesn’t work that way at all for anyone.

Natalie: But I think there’s something else interesting in that perspective in that I came to tech at what is considered a late age. I joined boot camp, I think maybe… I was 38 when I joined boot camp.

Corey: Understand, some people say, “I came to tech late—I was 14 years old—compared to some folks.” And it’s like this whole, “Oh, if you weren’t in the cradle with a keyboard in your hand, you’re too late for this.” And that is some bullshit.

Natalie: I laughed so much. I want to see more people like me join late because I can tell you, I haven’t had the typical boot camp experience. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that I have had a community that’s really supportive of me, but within a week of telling Twitter I was officially looking for work, I had three interviews with three different companies lined up. And that happened because I had previous experience, both in life and in the industry, so I understood how important it was to build my network and what that looked like, and kind of did that consistently throughout the whole time that I was in boot camp. If I had come at the age of 20, or 14, I wouldn’t have had those skills that—kind of—made it relatively—not relatively. That’s easy. That was an easy journey. I’m still blown away, and I pinch myself almost every day to think about the fairy tale entry I’ve had into tech.

But again, it happened because I came at an older age because I had those life skills. So please, if you’re out there and thinking you’re too old, you have to stop listening to people who haven’t lived enough life to understand how life works. You have to understand who you are, understand what your skills are, and then understand that tech is thirsty for those skills.

Corey: I wish that this were a more common approach. At some level, I feel like there are headwinds against people moving into tech later into their career, gatekeeping, and whatnot. And I used to think that it was this, “Oh because, you know, people just want to hire more folks that look like them.” And I’m increasingly realizing that is actually the more benevolent answer; I suspect, there’s at least some element as well, where when someone is new to their career, they’re in their early-20s, fresh out of school, they are not nearly as cynical, they are not as good at drawing boundaries. So, they’ll work for magic equity at a startup that might one day possibly turn into something, earning significantly below market rate salaries, and they’ll be putting in 80 hours a week because they’re building something.

You only do that once or twice in most people’s careers before they realize, wait a minute, that’s kind of a scam. Or they’ll have an exit and the founder buys a yacht and they get enough to buy a used Toyota. And it’s, “Hmm. Seems like that was an awful lot of late nights, weekends, a time away from my family that I could have been spending doing more productive things.” And they work out what it is by the hour that I put in, and it’s like fractions of a penny by the time they’re all done. And it’s, “Yeah, that was ill-advised.”

Natalie: Yeah.

Corey: There’s a cynicism that comes to it, where folks who are further along in their career or come into this industry, from other careers as well, have a lot better understanding of the dynamics of interpersonal relationships in the workplace, as well as understanding that when something smells off, it very well might be off. And early in your career, you just think, “Oh, this is just how it is. This is what workplaces must be. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me that?” To me at least, that’s why mentorship, especially mentorship from people in other companies at times and career growth is just such a critical thing.

Because I used to do the exact same thing till someone took me aside and said, “You know, you just did that thing today at 4:45 and your coworker came up with an emergency it has to be pushed out? Yeah. Watch what happens someone does it to me next.” And he did—great. Because I wasn’t able to get to it—“Okay, when did you first find out about this? When does it need to get done? Why didn’t you mention this earlier because I’m packing up to go home now? Well, I guess it’s not going to get done. I will do it tomorrow instead.”

And that’s not being a jerk; that’s drawing boundaries. And that was transformative to me because I used to think that my job was to just do whatever my boss said, regardless of the rest. Like, call my then fiance, “Oh, sorry. I’m not able to be there for dinner tonight because I’ve got to do this emergency at work.” That’s not an emergency. It’s really not.

Natalie: Yeah.

Corey: Basic stuff like that, but it’s the thing you only learned by working in the workforce and having a career for a period of time because it’s so different than what the public education system is, coming up through it, where it’s basically, comply, obey, et cetera. You aren’t really going to have much luck drawing boundaries when you don’t do your homework at night.

Natalie: Absolutely. I mean, two of the things that you just said that I love is, when you come to it after having lived a bit of life, you absolutely are able to suss out certain things, and kind of sense, “Ooh, that’s not good, and I don’t want to pursue this any longer.” I’ve been really fortunate not to experience a ton of things that a lot of people experience, regardless of race, gender, age, there are just some parts of tech that—I don’t want to say allegedly; that can be toxic because I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s experience. But because I’ve lived so much life, and so much of my career was understanding people, that the moment I started to see those signs, I just kind of separated myself from affiliation with that person, or that group, or that entity, and kind of pursued what I knew would work for me.

And then mentorship, and especially mentorship outside of your company. I’ve got great mentors at my company, but I’ve got at least three mentors who all work at different places who had just—I wouldn’t be here without them. They’re my place to go when, hey, is this normal? Because I didn’t have any experience in the tech industry. And I’d run everything by them.

I don’t always do what they tell me to do. Sometimes I get their advice, I listen to it, I think about how it might apply in my life, and then I just tuck it in my back pocket and do what I intended to do in the first place.

Corey: One of the things people get wrong about mentorship is that it has to be mentee-led, not mentor-led. And again, it’s never expected whenever you’re asking someone for advice that you’re going to do exactly what they say, but if you’re going to go to all the trouble of taking someone’s time, you should at least consider what they say. And it may not apply; it may be completely wrong. Every once in a while, we rotate through paid advisors at our company where we have people come in for time to advise us, and sometimes some of those valuable advisors we have, we never did a single thing that they tell us to do, but listening to them and how they articulate and how they clear it out. It’s, “Okay, we strongly agree with aspects of this, but here’s why it is a complete non-starter for us.”

And that is valuable, even though from their perspective, “You never take my advice.” And it’s not that, like, “Well, we think your advice is garbage.” No, it’s well reasoned, and it’s nuanced, but it’s not quite right because of the following reasons. That’s something that I think gets lost on.

Natalie: Yeah, yeah, I would agree with that. And I think you made a really good point. You have to consider the advice if this is someone whom you’ve come to ask how you might handle a certain situation, and they take the time to give their insight, you have to consider that. If you don’t consider it, why are you wasting everyone’s time?

Corey: One last question I want to get into before we call this an episode. It is abundantly clear that you are a net add to virtually any team that you find yourself on based upon a variety of things that you’ve evinced during this episode. Why did you choose to work at Netlify? And let’s be clear, that is not casting shade at Netlify.

Natalie: [laugh].

Corey: Like, “You can work anywhere. Why are you at that crap hole?” No, I have a bunch of friends that Netlify and every story I have heard about that company has been positive. So, great. Why are you there?

Natalie: For me, it’s always going to start with people. I was happy at Foxtrot, my first employer. I was growing there, I was doing well. I liked everyone I worked with. But when Cassidy slides in your DMs and you have a chance to work directly with her and learn from her, you have to explore that opportunity.

So, that’s what at least led me to having the conversation. And then the way I was treated by everyone through the interview process. No one was trying to trip me up, no one was asking me ridiculous questions. And they were actively fighting to make sure that I came in at a pay rate that made sense, and that I was trusted and given responsibility. And I have to say, once I got there, I found out that I had taken the wrong role.

I asked questions about what I was doing. I joined as part of the DX team and my role was to be a template engineer. So, I asked some questions: How much of my role would be coding? Because I knew I couldn’t stray too far from the keyboard at this stage of my career. And I got answers, but I didn’t know the right questions to ask.

When I heard I was—be coding, I thought that meant like how I do now. I work on a product team with a PM and a designer, and they cut issues for me. But what happened in DX is it was much more self-directed, and the work was very different over there. It’s incredibly important work. It’s valuable work, but it didn’t line up with my skill set.

So, having that conversation with Cassidy, and then going on to have that conversation with my VP of engineer, a woman named Dana, and having the safety to have those conversations to say, “Hey, I know I just got here. This isn’t right for me. I owe more to the DX team and I owe more to myself.” And to be well-received, and to immediately begin to have conversations with engineering managers to find out the right place for me, made me incredibly happy that I chose Netlify, and it kind of reinforced the things they were telling me in the interview process were real.

Corey: The fact that you were able to make that transition within the first six months of working at a company and not transition to a different company, either by your choice or not, speaks volumes about how Netlify approaches engineering talent, and its business, and human beings.

Natalie: I agree one hundred percent because they could have very easily told me, “Hey, you were hired to do this role. You didn’t interview for a product team role, you’re welcome to continue to do the work that you were hired to do or move on.” But they didn’t do that. No one—in fact, they encouraged me to find the right place for myself.

Corey: We talked a minute ago about the one of the values of mentors being able to normalize, is this normal or is this not? Let me just say from what I’ve seen for almost 20 years in this industry, that is not normal. That is an outlier in one of the most exceptional ways possible, and it is a great story to hear.

Natalie: I tell you, I’ve had an absolutely termed entrance into tech. But also it goes back to, like, when I was in the interview process, I wasn’t really focusing on, like, what I would be doing as much as who would I be doing it with and getting a feel for both Cassidy and Jason. And I was one hundred percent confident that at the end of the day, what they wanted was to bring me into the company and for me to do work that fulfills me.

Corey: And it sounds like you’ve got there.

Natalie: Absolutely. I’m very happy with the things I’m learning. This codebase is huge. I’m digging in. It’s amazing. I couldn’t ask for more in life right now.

Corey: I want to thank you for being so generous with your time to talk with me today. If people want to learn more, where can they find you?

Natalie: I am on Twitter. My username is @codeFreedomRitr, but that’s spelled C-O-D-E-F-R-E-E-D-O-M-R-I-T-R.

Corey: Excellent. That is some startup to your word spelling there. That is fantastic. You could raise a $20 million seed round on that alone.

Natalie: [laugh]. I mean, can I count that as, like, an endorsement? Can I—

Corey: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I have strong opinions on the naming of various things. No, well done. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really appreciate it.

Natalie: Thank you for having me, Corey. This has been a lovely experience.

Corey: Natalie Davis, software engineer at Netlify. 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, whereas if you’ve hated this podcast, please leave a five-star review on your podcast platform of choice, along with an angry comment that you are then going to send to corporate and demand your 40 cents back.

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.
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