Emma Wedekind MC’d a live show at ReactJS Girls with a panel of 3 amazing women — Eve Porcello, Marcy Sutton, and Kate Beard. It was a great discussion covering the biggest challenges they’ve faced, how no matter who you are imposter syndrome occurs and never really goes away, ways to support and encourage under-represented groups and people to get into tech, and how to choose a topic when writing a talk.
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I wanna welcome to the stage Emma Wedekind. She is going to be hosting a very special, a very live version of JS Party, the wonderful podcast. Please give it up for Emma!
I don’t know where you’re going, because you are my guest. Alright, so we’re gonna have a really special JS Party up here. I would like to welcome Eve, Marcy and Kate to the stage.
Can I get a really quick volunteer? You’re not doing anything scary; just one person. I need a timer, I need someone to keep time. Okay, thank you. I don’t have anything on me that would be a timer. Can you let me know, once we start talking about party things, when we’re nearing the 20-minute mark? Just wave at me. Because I know that happy hour is coming up. Start in 30 seconds… Please! [laughter]
We all contribute to the community in different ways. I know Eve has written a book, which she so graciously handed out today. You’ve written a couple books, right? And Marcy, you do a lot of accessibility work, you’ve joined Gatsby, you teach things… And Kate, I don’t know what your main Medium is - if you blog, or if you just are an awesome human, but we all contribute in different ways, and I would love to really quickly hear how you got started… Just a quick intro to how you got started in the community, how did you start contributing?
[03:51] I got started coding. I used to be a project manager. I would work with a lot of developers, they would tell me a lot of things, and I would wanna know if those things were true… [laughter] So I learned to code with a lot of help, from a lot of online resources, and then made the transition into consulting, and then into teaching. That’s kind of how all of that started, and I feel like working as a teacher, creating videos and things like that has been a really vital part of my career… Because I live up in the woods, in Northern California; no one’s gonna find out what I’m doing up there, unless I make some of that stuff for people.
I went to school for photo journalism originally, and it was right when digital cameras came out and newspapers were starting to close, and I sort of saw the writing on the wall that if I wanted to live in a city where I wanted to live, and I wanted to actually be able to afford to live there, that that was probably not gonna work. So I went back to school and focused more on web design and development. So I’m definitely more the creative side, which still comes out from time to time, but I’ve really latched on to coding because I saw it as a lucrative career, just to be honest with you. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that…
Not at all. Not at all.
I think it’s financial independence for a lot of people, and that was definitely true for me. Eventually, I found accessibility on the job, and I just learned that I cared a lot about it… So I gradually just moved closer and closer to it. I worked on the Angular team for a while, trying to make that more accessible… If you really wanna get me worked up, you can ask me more about that. [laughter]
Eventually, I found my way into React, and I just really love how fast it is… And Gatsby came along, and they offered me of position as the head of learning. And for me, being able to contribute back full-time, and focus on doc writing, and making the learning experience better - it definitely ticked all the boxes for me, so I’m pretty excited.
So I mentioned that I used to do photography and writing, so I think I’ve always enjoyed sharing stories and ideas… So when I was learning to code, I started going to meetups like Codebar, and wanted to start as soon as I felt comfortable, which still hasn’t happened yet, by the way… Start giving back by giving talks at meetups, and stuff. And once I’d done that, I wanted to start trying to apply to conferences and give them there as well… So I think it’s gone okay so far.
And for those who don’t know, this was Kate’s first big conference talk, and I think she did excellent. [applause]
Thanks. And I do have a blog on my site. It’s a Gatsby blog, actually. I have very good intentions for writing posts for it. I have a very long list, but haven’t quite got there yet.
Don’t we all…? [laughs] So one thing we don’t really talk about is failure. And I hate using that word, because it has this negative connotation. Failure is not a bad thing; it’s just not getting your desired outcome. So instead of using that word, I’m gonna ask what’s one time that you struggled in your journey to today? Just one big time that really impacted you and how did you overcome that? Let’s start with Kate and we’ll go back down the line.
Well, I think one that I don’t tell a lot of people is that actually my entire career in coding is because of a failure; my previous job didn’t work out, and I was kind of wondering what to do, and ended up finding Founders and Coders, and did the course, and now I’m enjoying coding so much… I feel like I’ve really found my groove. Had I not had that initial failure, which I think it’s quite a taboo to talk about having lost a job, and stuff… But yeah, I wouldn’t be here today without that having happened.
We’re super-happy you’re here. So thinking about this question you asked me a little bit earlier, and I had to really think – I mean, there’s lots of things that we struggle with on a day-to-day basis; coding is hard. And I’ve had a string of pretty terrible managers that I don’t think really understood the impact that their words would have. I had a manager say in front of me to a client that I was not a hardcore developer, and that just ruined it for me, to be honest, in that job… And there was so much that was going right, but that just took the wind out of my sails.
I’ve since moved and am in a job where I see my perspective as an asset… Because we all have different learning styles, different skill levels, different experience and perspective, and having people on your team writing docs who aren’t necessarily those hardcore developers - going back to Caroline’s talk - I think I see the value in that now. So I took something that was my big insecurity and something that drove me away from a good job, to something that actually helps me on a day-to-day basis.
If something doesn’t make sense to me as a documentation person, chances are other people are struggling with that same idea. So I’m grateful that I was able to turn that insecurity and that struggle into something beneficial.
I think just getting started coding was really tough for me. I quit a lot of times along that way, and I’m always kind of quitting, all the time… Like “This is too hard. I can’t do this. I can’t branch out into this new thing”, and that’s something that I struggle with, because I feel like unless it’s perfect, it’s not gonna be right. So yeah, just being fearful of that, living in a place where there’s not a whole lot of jobs makes it such that it’s like “Hm, I’d better figure that out…” So getting stuck and out of your own way has been really helpful to me.
I think this goes to show that when we’re up here, we have maybe this sense of authority that we know exactly what we’re talking about, but I still think that we ourselves are overcoming impostor syndrome. I don’t think that ever goes away. So here’s a question people ask - how do you overcome impostor syndrome? It’s like, I don’t know that we actually do; I think we get better at managing it… So it’s really reassuring to hear these esteemed, smart women sitting up here telling us they still struggle.
If you were to mentor yourself, how would you give the advice? What would you say to a young woman, or to anyone, regardless of gender or identity - what would you say to encourage them? We’ll start with Marcy.
I’m gonna go back to some advice that I got from a nutritionist in my late twenties… I was really struggling at that time. When you hit 30 - I don’t know about you, but my body started to change… So I went to this nutritionist, and her whole thing was about self-compassion. That was transformative advice for me, because she told me to treat yourself like you would treat a friend. That was huge for me, because I was like “Wow, I’m really beating up on myself.” And it goes so far beyond nutrition, health, mental health, but also learning to code and being supportive to yourself, even when you’re doubting your abilities. It sort of helps to get outside of your own head and think of it like “Treat yourself like you would treat a friend.”
I like that. Kate, what’s your take?
Hm… How to get over impostor syndrome…
Do you want me to come back to you?
I think so, yes.
Okay. Eve, do you have an answer? I mean, we don’t each have to answer this. This is a conversation, so…
Yeah, something I’ve really been inspired by lately is Sean [unintelligible 00:14:01.24] sharing his journey of learning in public… I think that’s something I totally did not do at the beginning, because I was like “I don’t know what I’m doing. I shouldn’t be sharing my thoughts about my process of learning, and I never even thought to do that…” And I look at someone like Sean, who’s constantly giving back his resources and time to other people. I think that’s amazing.
So anybody who writes a blog post, makes a video - your perspective is valuable, and I think that people hesitate to share that stuff early, but you should.
Right. Just because it’s been done before doesn’t mean it’s not valuable.
Yeah, for sure.
And I think perspective - that’s the operative word for me. Like you mentioned, we’re up here and we have some sense of authority, but something that I think about a lot is that everyone is only ever sharing their own story and experiences, and even the biggest experts, they’re only able to share what they know through their experience. So your experiences are going to be just as valid. There’s rarely ever one single way to do something, so you should share your experiences and share your knowledge as much as anyone else.
Absolutely. I fully agree. One question that we got on Twitter which I found very endearing was “What advice would you give to people who want to support under-represented groups?” How do we support under-represented groups appropriately? What’s the best way to go about encouraging more under-represented to get into tech and to stick with it? I know we’re all pondering up here, like “Hm…”
[15:46] I think doing things like this, like giving a platform… For example, all of the speakers today were women, or for example there’s also the AfroTech Fest, which is for the BME community in the U.K. So offering platforms for people to share their knowledge and experiences like that is really important. And then I guess trying to find people to mentor, if you have the time and energy to do that… Sorry, I’m gonna keep mentioning Codebar, because it’s wonderful… But that is a meetup for under-represented people in tech. So even just going there and offering your time as a coach to help people out with their projects and their journey in learning is really good.
That’s excellent advice. Yeah, I think the mentoring aspect is really valuable, because if you are a bit more senior in your career, you can help people who need some encouragement. I was gonna add that adding seats at the table for under-represented people, to not only participate, but lead. Give more leadership positions to women of color, in particular… And creating those spaces. Sometimes that means getting out of the way and letting someone else shine, no matter where they are in their experience level or skill level.
I think that’s something I’d like to see more - new, fresh voices, and giving people the space to feel safe and comfortable to actually share their experiences. Because the more I listen to what people are actually saying, the more it’s changed my experience to hear, like “Wow, people are feeling comfortable enough to tell me what their experience was really like.” As long as you’re listening, it’s pretty amazing the doors that unlock when people are safe enough to tell you what they’re experiencing.
I’d say money - giving people money; telling people how much money that you make…
I like that. I like that, because it’s such a stigma. I don’t understand the stigma behind it.
Yeah. And also sharing if you did something that you think was successful; tell other people about it, even if that’s one-on-one. That’s mentorship, obviously… But that really helps people out, to think “Oh, well they negotiated this, getting this role” or “This person was able to…” I don’t know, there’s a lot of hidden bonuses that go on–
Taboo things, right? Negotiating salaries, and getting raises… Even leaving a job for a better opportunity - these things are so taboo, and it’s like… You even mentioned earlier - money is an incentive; we work to make a living and to support our families. We just happen to love our jobs. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
There’s also nothing wrong with not totally loving your job. You need to pay your rent, and for a lot of people it’s a job, and that’s okay.
I was gonna add that I met with some women in my town of Bellingham, which is a bit lower wage of a market, and we had this lunch one day where in a small group we felt safe and comfortable to say what we made… And when I told them what I made, they were like “Whoa… I am getting extremely underpaid”, and they both – well, one moved to Seattle, because they were living about an hour-and-a-half away. The other one - she kind of splits her time between, but they both significantly increased their salaries after that, just by knowing that “Whoa… I am undervalued and underpaid.”
Yeah, you should know your worth.
I think those conversations are important, and I think there’s kind of a fine line – I personally don’t share a lot about it, because I don’t wanna come off as braggy, but in smaller groups maybe that’s a more comfortable setting where you can actually talk with other people… So go out to lunch, go talk about it. It can change your life.
[19:50] Yeah. You’re your biggest advocate. No one’s gonna fight as hard for you as you will… So I love that. Cool. How are we doing on time? 15 minutes? Okay.
One question we also got was “How do you choose topics when you’re writing a talk?” I’ll just start… I chose design systems because it was the one thing I really felt comfortable discussing. I gear more towards the theoretical talks, because again, impostor syndrome… And every time I discuss something I discuss something extremely technical code-wise, I’m always convinced that it’s not correct, or I’m gonna get criticism for it… So I always steer towards these theoretical talks, which I think is where I shine. Hopefully, I can push myself outside those boundaries, but… If there’s something that you love and you’re passionate about it, talk about it. If you’re interested in it, people will also be interested in it, regardless of the topic.
Another thing that I was surprised to learn - we have a Speakers Guild Slack channel at the FT, and there’s people in there who have been giving talks for years, and it’s amazing to share knowledge… And one of the things that I was surprised to learn was that a lot of people - usually people who have a few years of experience, they’ll propose talks about things they don’t know yet, as a way of learning things… And as a fresh baby dev, I was just like “Whoa, that’s terrifying…”
Terrifying, but also really cool!
Yeah. So I think if you’re thinking of getting into speaking, don’t let the – if you don’t have any ideas, but you think “Oh, there’s this thing I wanna learn. It’s really cool, I wanna get into that”, you can write your talk about learning the thing, and then you’ll know it.
And then you’ll learn the thing.
Yeah, I think of it as is there something that I want the audience to take away from it? Like talking about accessibility - I wanna empower you to make a difference with that, so that motivates me to talk about it. At some point early in my speaking career I was like “Wow, I’m really interested in accessibility, and I wanna make change in the world by talking about it”, but I didn’t wanna be painted as the accessibility girl… Because you kind of worry about being like a one-note, or something like that. But that changed for me when I went to an accessibility conference, and there were a lot of people with disabilities there, and they were my people. I found my tribe, and I knew from that moment on that I could really make a difference
It’s kind of slow sometimes, it can get a little depressing, but some advice that I got about speaking was like “What do you want the audience to take away from it? If there’s something that you think people should know more about…” Maybe there’s lots of questions on Twitter about it; people are confused about it. Documentation is lacking. You can really learn about a topic, and learn while you’re researching for the talk and writing the talk, but you can also become a known person in the community, where people can ask you questions about a topic, and really just give people knowledge, sort of a knowledge transfer.
So yeah, I try to really think about like “What’s in it for them?”, because it’s not the Marcy Show.
Right, it’s not about us.
Yeah, it’s really about what are you trying to give people to take away? What can they go back to work on Monday and apply? Depending on the topic. Not all topics – some of them are more thinky, where you’re just gonna think on it for a while; those are awesome as well… It’s like, we need to give our brains a rest from hardcore code sometimes. But yeah, focusing on your audience takeaways I think is a good way to go.
You’ve got 40 seconds…
Okay, just building some sort of demo, and then trying to make a complex topic accessible to people.
I love that. I can’t wait to see one of your talks some day. So I don’t wanna be the person standing in front of you and your drinks outside, so… I wanna thank all of you, I wanna thank all the women at this conference. I have free stickers, and a couple of magnets and some coasters… So if you don’t like rings on your tables, come see me and I will give you one.
Please, if you enjoy this type of casual conversation, go ahead and follow JS Party, follow The Changelog; the men who run it are incredible, they do good things. Thank you all for having us, and I hope that we get to talk more after this.
Thank you, Emma.
Thank you, Emma.
Give it up for Emma. [applause]
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚