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Jessica Wilkins - Growing your tech career through writing

Season 4, Episode 7 | November 16, 2021

In today's episode, Dan and Bekah talk to Jessica Wilkins about how writing can help you to grow your tech career. She gives us tips on getting started and on taking feedback.


Jessica Wilkins's profile photo
Jessica Wilkins

Jessica Wilkins is a self taught developer and technical writer from Los Angeles, California.

In her previous career, she was a professional oboist, educator and owner of JDW Sheet Music.

Jessica's interest in programming came during the pandemic when she wanted to build the Black Excellence Music Project which celebrates black artists from the jazz and classical fields.

She now works part-time as a junior developer for a small tech company and is a staff author for the freeCodeCamp News publication.

This week Bekah and Dan sat down with Jessica Wilkins, a self-taught developer and a staff author for the freeCodeCamp News publication. Jessica talks about how to get started with tech writing, how to differentiate between constructive criticism and negative feedback, and how to avoid gatekeeping by eliminating assumptions from your writing, avoiding terms and phrases like "it's so easy!", and sometimes adding prerequisites to your posts.


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Transcript:

Bekah:

Hello and welcome to season four, episode seven of the Virtual Coffee podcast. I'm Bekah. And this is a podcast that features members of the Virtual Coffee community. Virtual Coffee is an intimate group of developers at all stages of their coding journey. And they're here on this podcast, sharing their stories and what they've learned. And we're here to share it with you here with me today, is my cohost Dan.

Dan:

Thanks Bekah. Today, we had a great time hanging out with Jessica Wilkins. Jessica is a self-taught developer and staff author for the freeCodeCamp news publication. Jessica talked about how to get started with tech writing, how to differentiate between constructive criticism and negative feedback. And how to avoid things like gatekeeping in your tech writing by eliminating assumptions about your audience. And avoiding terms. Uh, like "it's so easy" and "just do this." Uh, she gave some tips, like adding a prerequisites to your posts or, uh, other resources. Um, Basically, um, Outlined her entire process for all of her tech writing that she does. And, uh, she does a lot of it and it's all pretty awesome. Um it was a really great conversation and i know you were going to enjoy it

Bekah:

We start every episode of the podcast. Like we start every Virtual Coffee. We introduce ourselves with our name, where we're from, what we do and a random check-in question. We hope you enjoy this episode. My name is Bekah. I am a front end developer from a small town in Ohio, and my favorite childhood movie was Beauty and the Beast.

Dan:

That's a good one. Hi, my name is Dan. I am a front end developer from Cleveland, Ohio. And, um, yeah, my, my favorite movie is Star Wars. Um, I think if I had to pick one, it would, it would be Return of the Jedi. Um, yeah. As, as a child, I watched that. just, just a lot. So it's easy choice for me.

Bekah:

The solid choice.

Jessica:

Sounds pretty good. Hi, I am Jessica Wilkins and I am a musician learning how to code. I am also a technical writer for freeCodeCamp News. my favorite movie was actually the Toy Story movies. And so the original one, but all four of them are amazing.

Dan:

Those are on big rotation at our house with, with our kids. Uh, we also enjoy them. They're solid.

Jessica:

I totally cried. When Andy went to college, I bawled like a little baby. I was like, oh my gosh, he can't leave. And then he was giving his toys to the little girl. I'm like, I mean, teary-eyed now.

Dan:

Yes.

Jessica:

ya know?

Dan:

I actually tried to discourage that. That's I started three. I tried to actually discourage Toy Story 3 just because it. It's very good. It's about it is emotionally, uh, affecting

Jessica:

Right,

Dan:

absolutely.

Bekah:

my oldest is 12 and he'll look at me and be like, are you crying? yes.

Jessica:

It's very sad. We grew up with Andy.

Dan:

Dude, I entertainment. Like it takes on a whole new slant when, especially when you have kids. Cause like I just find myself being, you know, uh, affected by this stuff in different ways, you know? And it's like, I don't it's matter. It's cool.

Bekah:

It's been wild rereading novels. I read. As like a young adult to my kids. I, because I always young adult fiction and I always loved the young adult character. Right. And now as a parent, when I read it, I with the parents and the novels and I'm like, oh, they don't understand what they're doing to their parents. So, yeah, it's very different, lots of crying and young adult novel reading.

Dan:

Yeah. at some point I realized it with Calvin and Hobbes. I was a big Calvin and Hobbes fan Growing up and found myself recently, you know, identifying much more with parents.

Bekah:

Um, welcome. Jessica is so great to have you here with us today, because we did a lunch and learn recently with Jessica and we'll put the link to that in the show notes. And she did such a good job about talking us through writing and writing career. And it is our monthly challenge this month, every month we hold a monthly challenge, in the community is welcome to do it. And this is. The one-year anniversary of when we started monthly challenges. And so it's one of my favorites. It's the blog writing challenge and it's based off of NaNoWriMo national novel writing month. And so Jessica is just an amazing writer. And we kicked off the blogging challenge and our goal was hit 50,000 words. That's what, uh, as a community, that's what it was last year. We didn't quite make it. We almost made it, this year the, today is Tuesday, November 9th. We have already have we, where are we at? We're past halfway.

Jessica:

I think we're at 27,000, I think. Yeah.

Bekah:

and largely in part due to Jessica

Dan:

Yep. Over well, over 28,000. Yeah.

Jessica:

Oh, cool.

Bekah:

So extra happy to have you here to talk about this challenge with us. But before we jump into that, we always like to get your origin story and you have a awesome one. So tell us a little bit about how you got to this point your career.

Jessica:

Yeah. it's definitely unique there. So I grew up in Southern California. I grew up in a town called Palm Springs, which is like two hours south of Los Angeles in California there. And, uh, grew up with a single mom who was a teacher. And so. Uh, I got into a music pretty early at seven, and then just kind of stuck with it. And it pretty early on, I decided I'm going to be a professional musician. Uh, and so I started with piano and then I at 11 started learning the oboe, which is like a woodwind instrument. And I. At first didn't really like it. Cause I didn't sound that good at it,

Dan:

Yeah.

Jessica:

then I started to kind of get into it. I was like, okay, cool. So then I started doing like festivals and private lessons and all that fun stuff. And I decided like 15, I'm going to go, try to go to music school or conservatory. And go down that route and be a classical professional musician. so, uh, when I graduated from college or from high school, I went on to Eastman School of Music, which is in Rochester, New York, uh, and study there for four years on oboe performance. And then I graduated and went on to a Master's at University of Michigan, which is in Ann Arbor. and then after that, I decided to Southern California because the cold was just not agreeing with me. So after six years of really cold weather, I was like, no hard pass. Let's go back to Southern California. So I came back and decided that I wanted to start my own sheet music company and run that. And then also, uh, perform and freelance and so. Uh, from 2015 to 2020, uh, all I did was perform and record and run my sheet music company and teach. And so I was kind of busy with all that fun stuff. And then 2020 happened and everything changed. So for everybody, but me, it was just okay, go home. And there's no work for you. and I'm like Great. So what am I supposed to do now? So I just worked on the business and try to keep that going and afloat and changing there, for a few months. But then in June of 2020, um, you know, US was going through a lot with COVID and then race relations with the George Floyd murder And so a lot of people were talking about diversity issues within many industries, including myself, right? My industry with the classical world of operas and orchestras, cause there's a huge diversity problem, with, uh, with black representation, especially. And so people were asking me. Yeah. Can you give me information about composers I can learn about so we can start to change. And I decided there should be a website. Like there should just be one place where people can find all this stuff. I, I was like, well, maybe could build it. I've never built anything. I've never coded before, but Hey, we've got all this time, so maybe we'll learn and see what happens. So that's how I got into programming and been doing this for about a year and a half now. Yeah, so that's kind of my origin story and how I got into, where I'm at now.

Bekah:

awesome. Does that site still exist out there?

Jessica:

So I created, um, version one about six months into my learning and it's called the Black Excellence Music Project. And I built that with HTML, CSS, and Vanilla JavaScript. and then I revisited it a few months ago, um, over the summer of 2021 create a version two, which was built with React and Tailwind CSS, and has more artists and more games and all of this fun stuff. yeah, so this was always like a passion project. And so I got into tech I wanted to switch careers. I thought initially in June I was like, oh, this thing will just blow over eventually. And I go back to my old life and yeah. Obviously not what happened. I wildly miss, understood how COVID works. I totally thought this was just going to be like a couple of months and I was completely wrong. So, but, and then I ended up starting to get developer work, uh, and that was kinda cool. And then I started writing for freeCodeCamp, which was also kind of cool. and I was like, well, maybe I could have a career there. So yeah.

Bekah:

That is so awesome. So, um, that project is an open source project, right?

Jessica:

Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And so it's available on my personal GitHub, but it's completely open source. It's a, anybody could like in there and if they want to contribute there, I'm pretty open to that. So, yeah.

Bekah:

Right. It is really awesome. And again, those links will be in the show notes I just think seem like. Uh, so driven and motivated from everything that you've talked about your career as a musician, you know, at 15 years old, you decided that you were going to do this thing, and that's not an easy thing. So you have this, um, I don't know, Tenacity or, or something. How would you kind of describe that, that that's allowed you to go through these different things and accomplish so much.

Jessica:

I think that's in large part to both my mom and my grandmother. And so both of them were single parents. And so one was by choice. my mom, uh, worked as a teacher for many years and then in her forties decided that she wanted to adopt and have a child. Um, and so, uh, she had me when she was like 44 or 45. And then with my grandmother, uh, she was married, but it was unfortunately an abusive situation. So she had to get out and get to safety and raise two kids by herself and was also a teacher. but then went on to, um, you know, own land in certain parts of California and just be fiercely independent. so I just kind of picked up on that, where if they decided they were going to do something, they just went for it. Growing up with that type of mindset and energy, it's like, well, I guess That's just what we do here. If you just want to go do something. so when I discovered my love for operas and orchestra and this weird, beautiful instrument of the oboe, I was like, I want to go do that I want to go achieve that. And so I just went for it definitely didn't think I was going to get in to. The conservatory I was, it ended up working out thankfully, but leading up to it cause I got four rejections and then the last one was an exception into my dream schools. So at first I was like, well maybe I'll just start going to college. I have four rejections from other schools. But then at the very end I was accepted, uh, to Eastman. And that was the last school I heard back from. And I was like, okay, cool. I guess we're going. And we're going to my dream school. So that worked out.

Dan:

awesome. Oh, um, the oboe is an interesting choice. What, uh, w w do you have any reason why, like, what made you like lean towards the oboe, I know from, you know, I, I know it's very hard to learn and all of that stuff. I was just curious about that.

Jessica:

so I didn't actually choose it. Um,

Dan:

Sure.

Jessica:

I didn't choose it. Yeah. um, I was learning piano in elementary school, and then I tried to pick up trumpet. That definitely was not the right fit for me. I couldn't really make any type of sounds, but I wanted to be in band because all my friends were in band and I loved music. so I asked the, uh, band director at the middle school and I told him, I said, Hey, I'm really passionate. I want to learn something. his answer was, you should learn the oboe. And I'm like, Okay. what is that? He was like here. And so he got out and oboe and he got out of reed he put it together for me and put it, he said, okay, this is. You know, blow and just how you make an abasured. And I did that and it squeaked, he's like perfect. You should be our new oboe player. I was like, Okay, cool. And I'm like 11 years old, so I've just game for anything. And he probably totally planned that. Like, yes, we got another one because oboe's so rare in schools, along with like basoon. So that's when he heard that I was, I just wanted to join and he's like, cool. Let's just talk her into playing this thing. And we're all taken care of, but I guess I have to thank him for it because I ended up falling in love with it. So.

Dan:

Yeah, that's awesome. Yeah, I imagine there was, there was no oboe player, you know, before he started.

Jessica:

Yeah, there was actually just one, but then he was like, we really need one other one. And so it was easy to talk at 11 year old, because at that age, you're just like, I just want to do anything and you're not going to like fight it there, so.

Bekah:

Oldest is learning their trombone because someone gave us a free trombone.

Jessica:

see, there you go. Yeah, exactly. That's how, like most kids fall into it. They're like, I don't know. Just give me an instrument. I'll figure it out.

Bekah:

Yeah, that is awesome. And so it's great to hear to your you've had this history of teaching in your family, it sounds like you also taught music, but you're also teaching now through what you're doing. You know, you did the lunch and learn for us and taught us all about writing, but also as you're writing, you're teaching. So, how much of that do you think that, you're able to lean on. What you've learned from your mom and your grandmother, um, or is it something that you thought you really had to work hard to acquire that skill?

Jessica:

Yeah, I you know what I was teaching beginners, there's a lot of patience required when you're teaching beginner students, especially beginner oboist, because it's like a really weird instrument and there's not a little. Unnatural things with it. And so it requires a lot of patience and just saying, okay, let's just take it one step at a time. And so I think that translates a lot into the articles I write. Now I write a lot of beginner articles on HTML and CSS and JavaScript and tutorials and all that fun stuff. And so I know what it's like. First start out in programming. And I think a lot of writers just skip over stuff and they'll skip like 20 steps where they're writing about something and they'll go, oh yeah, first you do this. And then when you log in, just take care of this and then go over here and I'm like, wait, wait, wait a minute. Like, how is a beginner supposed to kind of fill in those gaps? And so I really try to be conscious about explaining things, not assuming anything, being patient there, I think that goes into my writing. Um, cause I just want to help people as best as I can.

Bekah:

That's so important because the, it. It really helps to create a more welcoming and inclusive space in tech to have. Tutorials or guides or articles that don't make assumptions about the people who are reading them. I can't tell you how many times I started reading something and got very frustrated because I was following the steps. But it wasn't working and I didn't know what to do or what to look for. And that can be really hard to navigate through, especially you're self-taught or you don't have a good support system. So I really appreciate hearing you talk about making sure that that's part of your process.

Jessica:

Yeah. Yeah. Cause it's just like the person came to learn. And so when you're just skipping steps or saying, oh, what are the things too? That's a pet peeve is when people say, oh, it's so easy. You just do this. You can't say that. Like a lot of people do this when they're setting up, like get hub for the first time and they'll say, oh yeah, This up and you just run these commands, just open up your, your. terminal. It's totally fine. And, and there you go. And it's like, no, it's not totally fine. This is brand new for a lot of people. So you've got to walk through those steps and throw in some screenshots make sure that people can follow along. Cause it might be easy for somebody that's been doing it for many, many years, but when you're first learning it, you're going, wait, where's my terminal. Where's my command prompt. How do I type, do I type this in first and then do this? Or this is very confusing. So.

Bekah:

Yeah, I'll never forget. It's one of the first times I paired with somebody is somebody that I really like admired in the industry. And I was terrified because I didn't know. And at that point I hadn't really been using. Uh, VS Code or, or anything like that. And so okay, um, can you open up a text editor? And I had no idea what that word meant. And so I opened up Google docs and, they like, of went with it. And then eventually they were like, do you have something like VS Code or Atom. oh, a text editor. like, Things like that, you know, I didn't know.

Jessica:

Right.

Bekah:

I hadn't seen it written before and I was using built-in, things with the lessons that I was learning. I remember just that sense of shame that didn't belong there. Right. I shouldn't be ashamed in that moment, but when you feel like there are assumptions like, oh, I should have known that. And it's not true. So to have people breaking things down to avoid, that makes it much easier for people to keep learning.

Jessica:

Yeah, exactly. Cause I mean, people want to learn and, and I think writing is just such an important skill. I think everybody should write and work on writing. And I think there's just two levels. There's writing technical articles and then there's also writing about your personal story. And so the cool thing about this monthly challenge is I get to do both is I get to focus on some technical stuff and then I get to talk about, some weird stories I have some fun articles coming up there and just kind of sharing my story there.

Dan:

Yeah, I think that's awesome. That balance of, of, you know, not making assumptions about your audience and, um, but also still kind of getting your point across for the thing you're trying to learn is, is a, is a hard balance to strike and I think you do it well. there, is there anything. If somebody was starting a technical article, you know, I mean, w what advice would you give? Like, you know, say the thing that I wanted to learn or that I wanted to, you know, teach, uh, required to GitHub, you know, required you to check out a repository and all of that stuff. you say, like, would you suggest putting all that stuff step-by-step in or linking to. Articles about, you know, about how to do that and that kind of thing. Like what, what kind of approach, you know, generally would you would you suggest?

Jessica:

Yeah. So I think it's fine if they're. Uh, if you want to Link an article, or if you want to have a right at the very top of your articles, just say, prerequisites must be familiar with and GitHub. Um, I mean, I just wrote an article about, uh, how to work with Node and NodeMailer for emails. And so I had a prerequisite say, okay, I'm not going to cover basic JavaScript. So it's important. That you understand some of the basic concepts and the basics behind nodes. So we can dive straight into this. And there was one section there's a different setup with how to do Google with NodeMailer and set up all the, off the authentication there. And so I did link to another freeCodeCamp article and say, okay, here's a detailed step-by-step process. If you're going to use google with NodeMailer, otherwise you could walk through the steps that I'm going to show you here. So I think that's completely fine. There were, if you feel like you could write through. Um, all of those steps in the article, I think either approach works there. Um, but I, I think it's healthy to have like a prerequisites if necessary, just to let everybody know, Hey, if you don't have these prerequisites, that is going to be kind of hard to follow, especially for some of the tutorials, because I see a lot of people have freeCodeCamp, go through a lot of our Python tutorials, which assume you have some basic knowledge, but they're not acknowledging that you have, uh, that basic knowledge. And so they'll come to the forum and they'll go, how do I do this? Or why does it say I have an indentation error? And so we'll tell them, like, you're doing crazy things with your indentation. You can't do that in Python, but they won't know that because they just started coding Python like two days ago. And they're trying to build like a Discord bot. And so just a properly communicating. Like, this is not necessarily a beginner or if it is like, some walkthrough steps that you can go through. Here's a great article that lays it out. so I, I think that's completely fine there.

Dan:

Ah, I love that, that, um, prerequisites, you know, is, I think that's a great, a great way to set expectations for the, you know, for the article. Right. And then you don't get down three paragraphs in and. Um, assuming you read prerequisites, you know?

Jessica:

Yeah. Yeah. I try to make it obviously, you know? a headache, like here you go.

Dan:

Right, right.

Jessica:

So if someone misses it, it's like, okay, well, I did try to warn you.

Dan:

Yeah, exactly. I think that's great advice. Yeah.

Bekah:

Yeah, I think too, it's almost a really good convention to build into something so I could see, um, Like software that hosts tech blogging, like, uh, tech blogging platforms. be really nice if that was built in. what are the prerequisites? And then you can click the thing or you can add the thing then that way it already, everybody knows where they should look Okay. This is what I need to know. I don't know those things. And it also puts it in the writer's mind that it makes it obvious to them to think about. It makes it a deliberate decision to recognize who their audience is what they should already know coming into this. So I think like from both perspectives, it would be really useful in helping us to have these conversations about, what content is usable, usable for different audiences.

Jessica:

Right. And then there's some tutorials where people label it beginner, but it's clearly isn't beginner. I'm like, I don't think beginners or I wasn't doing that. I was first starting out. And so sometimes people really mislabel, which hurts beginners, and then they're going through it. They're like, well, how do I do this? I was like, well, maybe we start off with something a little bit easier if that's okay. So yeah, so sometimes people, I think a lot of it has to do with, they forget what it's like to be a beginner

Dan:

Yes.

Jessica:

or they rewrite history and they're like, oh, I was totally doing this when I was first learning in six months or a year. And it's like, no, you probably weren't. You probably just forgot you weren't doing those types of things. Cause I think the first few months. Going through a freeCodeCamp and going through the certifications, but I didn't understand how HTML CSS and JavaScript work together. I was just like, okay, there's these things like arrays and objects, but how do I make a webpage? So I just didn't understand how everything connected. and so beginners, it's, it's a lot of information and it's just like fire hose. And so you just have to make sure that you're not making assumptions going, oh yeah, you could totally do this with your beginner. And it's like, no. you gotta break that down there. That's definitely not a beginner tutorial. Let's label it intermediate at best there.

Dan:

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, to your point. People could forget, um, you know, the, what it feels like to be a beginner at it from experience. It's very easy to forget that, you know, it takes effort to that in practice. I'm sure. You know, it becomes, easier. but, um, yeah, it's, it's hard to, it's hard sometimes to put yourself back in. know, once you're a few years into a career, uh, to put yourself back into spot, you know, the like total utter confusion,

Jessica:

Right. Exactly.

Dan:

like, I, I can remember it, you know, if I, if I make my, like, if I think about it, I can remember it, you know? And I was at the same boat. I'm like, well, I'm writing, you see him out here. I'm like, and I was writing like PHP at the same time. Like I was like learning it all at the same time and understand how they all connected. And, you know, somebody sent me a CSS file. He's like instead of using whatever use this. And I'm like, well, here's a bunch of black magic. I'm just going to drop into my like... into my program. apparently it works, you know, it it's, uh, yeah, it can be a, a hard thing to, to remember, but an important thing for sure.

Bekah:

So I want to back up a little bit because I feel like we miss this very impart important part of the story of. You started learning to code and suddenly you're writing for freeCodeCamp. Like that's not something little right.

Jessica:

totally glossed over that. Yeah.

Bekah:

accomplishment. So I don't want to lose that. so tell us, how did that happen?

Jessica:

Yes, it's a crazy story, but that's kind of my life. But what ends up happening is around October of 2020, or actually September of 2020, I decided to join the freeCodeCamp forum because like a lot of self-taught developers, you kind of bounce around different. Uh, resources, and then you try to find one that works. And so I did a few different things before freeCodeCamp, but then I landed on freeCodeCamp. I was like, I kinda like this. Okay, cool. So I started going through, the first certification, which is on HTML and CSS and responsive design. And so I decided to just sign up for the forum. I was like, maybe I could connect with some beginners that be kind of cool. And some other developers just talk with them. As I originally, I just thought I would just kind of hang in the background and maybe jump in once in a while, but I ended up jumping in a lot more and answering questions or just giving my perspective and sharing my story. And so after about a month of being on the forum, Quincy reached out to me and he was like, Hey, you're super active and what's your story? Let's talk. And so we set up a Google Meet we talked for about like 45 minutes, and we just talked about his background coming from a teacher into tech and then my background with music. And he decided, he said, well, you should join our forum moderator team and start writing for freeCodeCamp is a volunteer. Okay. I don't know what to write about. Cause I've just been doing this for like two seconds and he said, just share your story. And I'm like, oh, I could do that. That sounds fun. So I decided to just write a few posts about my story so I wrote one, my first one was about what I enjoyed about being a beginner. I wrote one article about the parallels between music and. Uh, uh, blending code and programming. And then that was noticed by Gatsby and they were like, Hey, we have this blog and do you want to write it? We'll pay you. I was like, yeah, that sounds fun to me. So that I wrote about imposter syndrome and how I dealt with it as a musician and how. Yeah, it goes in with programming. so now all of a sudden I start writing articles and just sharing my story. And after a few months of doing that, Quincy comes back to me and says, well, I've got another proposition for you. Um, do you want to start writing technical articles and we'll pay you per article? And I was like, ah, I don't think I could do that. So originally I actually said no very politely, because I just didn't think I could do that. Cause at this point this was like six months in and we're at the same time I had started my first developer job, but I was still kind of overwhelmed with that. I was working part-time at this small company. And so I was like, I don't know if I'm qualified to write technical articles, like who is going to believe me. I, I don't know what I'm doing. And. He said, well, I, I think you can, I think you really good at just breaking down concepts and could pick articles you feel comfortable with. And so he had this whole Trello board uh, topics and I could just choose which ones I felt comfortable with. So I picked all the HTML, CSS, wines, I think maybe a couple of JavaScript ones, um, and just started from there. And so a few months of just writing and getting paid per article on my own schedule and, uh, around July. Uh, it was interesting because I was deciding if I actually wanted this to be a full-time career or not. And, um, an opportunity came up with Disney for a music job, but I ended up turning that down to pursue software

Dan:

Wow.

Jessica:

Yeah. Which is a whole other story in of itself, which we could cover. But, uh, but yeah, so then I was like, okay, I guess we're going into software now I turned down that job and then Quincy reached out again, said, Hey, I've got a job for you. I want you to join my team officially you know, be, uh, writing all the time. I was like, okay, cool. So it's funny how life works out, where one door closes and then another one opens around. Uh, I started officially in August of 2021. Writing articles and being part of the author team. And so there's a total of four of us. And we all come from very diverse backgrounds and we're located all around the world. but he'll now assign us articles. And so he'll send us like 10 or 12 different headlines a time. And then. we just write. basically we research and write. Uh, so right now I have a whole bunch of SQL articles and I've been learning about that and just writing about SQL basically as Well, as a few more JavaScript articles that I have leftover that you get to write about. But Yeah. that's, that's kinda my story. How I, weird story, how I wound up at freeCodeCamp.

Dan:

Oh, Thats great. Yeah. And you actually answered it at the end of a question I was going to ask was, um, you know, how to balance, like, if you're, if writing is, you know, your main job, um, how to balance actually learning, you know, whilst writing, but it sounds like kind of built into the job, right?

Jessica:

Exactly.

Dan:

very cool.

Jessica:

Cause there's times where I'll get assigned articles

Dan:

Yeah.

Jessica:

and I'm like, okay, I feel comfortable about this. And then there's times where I'm like, I've never really worked with this. So I guess I'll have to learn it because I have to write about it and convince people that I know what I'm talking about there, but it's really great because I get to, we all have that, where we are. One of the authors was asked to learn some PHP and writes a PHP articles. Another one was asked to write C, uh, C++, and learn that. we're all down for just learning, whatever we need to learn and get the job done there.

Bekah:

I love that much.

Dan:

That's

Bekah:

Sorry, go ahead.

Dan:

That was my whole thing. That was awesome. That sounds awesome.

Bekah:

I just kind of want to sum up your whole timeline here of everything that's happened before. I think that for a lot of people that we talked to, especially people who are trying to transition into a tech career, it's where to get start. And first of all, like get comfortable with being uncomfortable, but also. You finding that spot, you had this opportunity because you participated on freeCodeCamp because they reached out to you because they saw like, look, Jessica is awesome and she's here and she's contributing. that just progressively led to more and bigger and better things. And so, you know, start with telling your story and, writing those words and this. You know, that's largely been my blogging experience. I rarely write very technical things because just want to get the words out on paper, or it's not on paper, but put, put it out there into the world and that's a good place to start.

Jessica:

Yeah. I mean, there's, everybody has a story and everybody has something to talk about and share. And so just, just share with people and you'd be surprised who reaches out. I mean, that's how I got my first developer job is I wasn't looking for a job. I didn't think I was anywhere close to being ready, but this guy found me on the forum. He's like, Hey, I'm looking for a junior. Yeah. Uh, junior and what,

Dan:

Um,

Jessica:

you want me to write code for you? And so he's like, yeah. And, I still work with him to this day and it's been an incredible learning experience, but that came out of just being active on the forum and just, know, writing and talking about my story there.

Bekah:

Sorry. I was like, my brain is split in two different directions of where to go here. Um, I'm a, Dan is you want to add something before I take us off on a tangent?

Dan:

Nope. I would say pick the left one.

Bekah:

The left one. Okay. My left one was, um, thinking about your, and literally in my mind, it was, it was on the left. your career goals. I don't know if you have career goals, but does, is writing something that you want to continue to do? Do you want to pursue, the writing aspect of coding or, or find yourself somewhere in the middle or just see this as of a tangent of your journey?

Jessica:

Yeah. Yeah. I would like to have at one point a, a traditional, like full-time developer job, but I definitely still want to keep writing. And so if there's any way I can still be involved, especially with freeCodeCamp, it's still write articles for them in some sort of capacity. Cause I just, I, I love to write it. I love. Teach people and help out wherever I can. but they think the bigger career goal too, is I have all these ideas for music related, uh, tech that I want to build. And some of them are crazy ideas. And I mean, I guess all my ideas are crazy, but

Bekah:

are my favorite.

Jessica:

I guess That's the entrepreneurship maybe where it's like, oh, my ideas are insane, but I just don't want to let them go.

Dan:

Those are

Jessica:

the best ones And so. Exactly. So, yeah, so that's like the long-term goal is to start slowly tackling some of these ideas and just kind of go from there and work a regular developer job, but then also keep writing and have fun with it.

Bekah:

Yeah, that gives me an idea for a monthly challenge, I think we have a big energy channel in slack. And a lot of it is just GIF's, um, to bring us big energy. But I really think that so many of us have these big ideas that we think are unattainable, or this is too big, or this is too out there. Right. Or there's just too many of them like on one. if there was a big idea month, right? Like we all write down all of our big ideas that we want to share. And work together to kind of give feedback on those big ideas and figure out like where to focus or how to break things down. And then, you know, that way, like together, we have that support, but we're, we're making progress on the things that we really enjoy doing it.

Jessica:

Exactly. I mean, I think ideas are fun and playing around with them and then trying to implement them. And sometimes people will call you crazy. I mean, people thought I was nuts to try to do a publishing company. I remember I went to an alumni event. And I was just started with the business and I, you know, you go around and does events and you talk to small groups of people, and it was some sort of administrator with the university of Rochester. And she was asking me what my next plans were. I said, well, you know, I just moved here to LA and looking for freelance work, but I also have this sheet music business that he just got started and she was. Y I'm like, oh, okay. Well, let me tell you why that was a little taken aback. I was like, okay, great. Well, this conversation won't last long, uh, so I had a few people. They're just like, why would you, why would you do that? But I just had a very specific. Vision of what I wanted with my sheet music business. And then people were surprised that it actually turned into a business. I'm like, well, yeah, I told her I was going to do that. You didn't believe me. And so, yeah, I think sometimes people will just reject it and then once they see it come true and they're like, oh, okay. I see it there. I mean, the same thing happened with, with Disney where people thought he was nuts to build a park in Anaheim where all these orange trees were and then. Obviously that worked out for him, but initially people thought he was just completely nuts. Like who's going to go to this park and where is Anaheim and Well, people were wrong then.

Bekah:

Well, I love that confidence that you talk It with too. You're like, yeah, I'm going to do this thing because I want to do it. And it's a good idea. And at some point, people start to buy into that idea because of how you present it and the confidence that you use. And, oh, you're just like, love how chill you are when you talk about things. I'm like, oh yeah, yeah. I would definitely work with Jessica on that, you know?

Jessica:

I just like going for things cause it's like, Yeah, it either works out or it does it. And if it doesn't work out, I learned something. I had plenty of things that didn't work out, I'm glad I tried it. So I could at least learn along the way, but sometimes you just gotta go for it. You can't really play safe and, and um, you know what to do too risky. You don't want to go like bankrupt or anything crazy, but like, you know, you just want to. If you have an idea and you feel really confident about it, just, just go for it and take it one step at a time. There.

Dan:

Yeah, it's a theme. That's come up a few times on the podcast that, you know, it makes me think of a Structured YOLO. Uh, Nick Taylor, um, which is a phrase he, he coined, you know, but it's the same sort of idea, right? It's is. You know, I mean, don't want to do YOLO, right. But the

Jessica:

Exactly.

Dan:

structured YOLO. Yeah,

Jessica:

the way out there. I

Dan:

yeah,

Jessica:

my

Bekah:

little bit of YOLO.

Dan:

yeah,

Jessica:

my business, I wasn't like, okay, cool. Let's just raise all this money. No, that would have been crazy. Cause I was like young, 20 something year old had didn't know what they were doing. Excited to take small little steps to get there. I couldn't go that big and do some crazy fundraising goal or whatever when I had no clue what I was doing. So.

Dan:

Absolutely. But the, know, the willingness to have an idea that is not what a normal, I guess, whenever, you know, idea that you might run into that conversation with somebody like, well, why, why are you doing that? You know, but the willingness to, um, jump into it, you know, and, and push through, I think is, uh, a, know, a valuable, valuable trait to have, you know, and obviously it's served use or do.

Bekah:

So sometimes, um, it can be really challenging to write. Blog posts to get started and to receive feedback on blog posts. You know, whether that's from an editor or somebody who has commented on your posts in a way that is not, um, kind So how do you navigate those challenging situations while you're writing?

Jessica:

Yeah, It's feedback is always interesting, especially in the world of the internet because people can just hide behind their computers and save virtually anything to you that they probably wouldn't say if you guys, if you were face-to-face with them, but I try to just separate them between actual, constructive feedback versus. this is not helpful. I'm just going to move on. And so I've had, uh, some constructive feedback, like, oh, this is really good. could you like, uh, you know, expand on this part or could you talk more about this? And I'm like, okay. Yeah, that makes sense. And then there's been times where it's like, well, I think it would be better if you went into this. I mean, that's what real developers do or whatever. So I've got like those comments I'm like, okay, well you're an obviously not helpful. And so I just learned that, uh, when I was running my business, There's just those comments that, that people just have to, you know, just write things and you're just like, okay, I'm just not going to waste my energy on that. It's a, luckily I haven't had too many just absolutely horrific things. Uh, at least with my programming writing, there was only one incident, um, that I had when I was running my sheet music company, where there was this guy that went out of his way. To make accounts and post race, racist memes and stuff on my page and on my YouTube channel. And I, of course I had to block all that, but he would keep creating new accounts of like, you're that threatened what I'm doing, that you have to spend time. And so there are people out there that just are that hateful that you just exist because of your race or your gender. And it's just like, okay, you know, it's a it's, it's okay to be human. Yeah. Uh, you know, feel that and go, well, come on. Yeah. But at the end of the day, you just have to remember like that's their issue, right. They they're just a hateful person. Is he just trying to block them and move on? Um, and, and just focus on the helpful, constructive feedback as well as the positive feedback to, to know that you're on the right track, you're doing the right thing.

Bekah:

Yeah, I really liked that. And that's for a long time, I stayed away from blogging on any platform except my own blog, because I didn't have comments enabled. I couldn't see how many people liked it, And I still frequently think about going back to that rather than cross posting other places that, that have those built-in things, because sometimes it can just, it can be hard or you put a lot of time and effort into something maybe two people like it versus the thing that I, I YOLO'd on a Saturday night. And then there's all of these hits and like, what, what is this.

Jessica:

Yeah. I I've been there so many times both with like writing technical articles then with sheet music where I'll release a new product I'll be like, oh, this is good. Totally sell through. This is gonna be a hit. And then. The sales are like nothing. I'm like, okay, wildly misjudge that. And then I'll release another product then like, okay, this will do okay. And then it ends up being a breakout. I'm like, what happened? What did I misjudged? That it's the same thing with writing where there'll be some articles. Actually, this just happened with the CodePen and Replit articles, because I decided to write those because free cookie up uses both of those tools, um, in their certifications. There really should be a guide to help them since it's based on the course. And I just thought, okay, well, few people write these. Hopefully they'll just refer to them. But then both of them were retweeted by the co-founders and the CEO. And I'm like, okay, that was unexpected, but that's kind of cool.

Dan:

Do you ever um, like doing tech support comments, you know, sections when you're writing technical articles,

Jessica:

I do. Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes someone's like, oh, I tried this example from your article. It's not working. And I'm like, oh, could you write the code? It's sometimes it's hard. Cause like Twitter and stuff, it's not really good for writing code, but I'm like, I don't know, just try your best or take a picture or something. then I'll say, oh, you have this syntax error right here. If you clean that up, that you should be good to go. It's a. Sometimes just kind of, uh, or actually this just happened to, with, uh, the NodeMailer article where they're like, oh, could you put this up on, GitHub repos so we could study it? And I was like, oh yeah, I should totally do that. Cause I had just posted the final code in the article. and without thinking, like people would want to study it and uh, you know, fork it and all this fun stuff. I was like, oh yeah, we should probably do that. So I created a GitHub repository and then, uh, just shared it with that. But sometimes I'll kind of troubleshoot with them as best as possible. My questions are vague. I'm like, I'm not really sure what you're working with unless we like together on some sort of zoom meet, but I don't know how feasible that is, but

Bekah:

yeah. that doesn't scale. Well, I think.

Dan:

Uh, what about, so you mentioned like code stuff like that. kind of, um, I dunno process, or I guess I'm looking for advice generally. if, you if if your, uh,article Involves a lot of code and stuff like that. Do you try to, um, like things up into little bits or make a link to Like, you know, like you mentioned, uh, what, what kind of, of approaches do you take with, uh, w with technical articles and with

Jessica:

Yeah. So for some of the examples they're really small, like I just wrote one about, um, JavaScript contains or includes method. Um, and so those were like really, really small, um, uh, code examples in there. But then one of my other articles was on the MVC pattern. And so I kind of had to struggle with how much code am I going to include in this? Cause I built an app specifically to talk about that pattern. But I thought, okay, is this going to be a full walkthrough tutorial, or am I just going to give out chunks of it? So it ended up working where I said, okay, it's fine. If they do. Work with that particular stack that I was working with and I was working with the burn stack, but if I could just talk about the concepts and just have a few snippets of code and say, this is what this code does. Even if you're not a JavaScript developer, at least they can, there's some context. And I had the final, project there that they could look at and say, oh, okay, that's what she's doing here. And so sometimes you'll you just want to have like these small little code examples sometimes it's totally fine to just link to a repository if it's super super long. cause then there's that battle between length and it's like, how much are people really gonna read? If it's super, super long, there's not too many, really long articles on freeCodeCamp. There's a few that are like at 7,000 plus words. I personally haven't written any of those. but I think my longest is 20 I think my longest was 3000, but that ended up just listing off all the types of like free courses you could take. but, uh, yeah, I try to hit that magic mark of like 1500, a thousand words or less. I mean, if there's only so much, you could write about some of these methods where it's like, I can't write 1500 words on the includes method for JavaScript. There's only so much you could do there that.

Dan:

Oh, a good note. I mean, and that's also an interesting thing to like of, you know, um, writing, you. If you could feel yourself getting like too long, you know, it, do you try to cut down or do you about splitting it up, but, you I suppose it depends on what platform you're on or Code Camp or not, or, you know, but generally

Jessica:

right. Cause

Dan:

you know,

Jessica:

I just joined dev.to, week ago and, or I think I joined a while for Nick's VS Code tips, and then just hadn't used it for awhile then, like rejoined, I guess. uh, for the NodeMailer article, I was like, oh, Well, I have these ideas about how to style the emails and how to, uh, actually, uh, you know, deploy it to Heroku. But maybe we could just break that up. That could be a separate article. And I like how in-depth too, you can link to like, create your own little series and it will link all the articles together. so sometimes when you're writing something, you're like, huh, I have these other ideas. Maybe it could be like, this is part one. And then this is part two and stick around for part three or something. think that's totally fine. Just so it doesn't become this monster article. It's like, ah, Everybody. It's the same thing with videos. I think some of the videos are super long and some of these channels

Dan:

Yeah.

Jessica:

where like, if somebody's going to sit through 17 hours or is that one of those things where you just got to break it up into smaller bite size videos. but I guess everybody has their own learning methods. So maybe there are people that will go through a 17 hour video or, you know, 7,000.

Bekah:

My husband used to livestream for freeCodeCamp. And sometimes he would do it for hours and people would stay the whole time.

Jessica:

Oh, yeah. Yeah. There's some like, yeah. I'm just like, wow, how

Bekah:

I just live stream for an hour for the first time ever, probably by myself. I was tired of hearing myself talk, like, I can't imagine how everybody else was feeling. You

Jessica:

right.

Bekah:

my attention span to die. And then I, then I start YOLOing things and it's, it's not, not the place I want to be

Jessica:

Right. Right. You know, actually that reminds me, Danny Thompson is one where he has these really long Twitter spaces, but they're really good. So that's why he kind of is able to get away with it because for most people. They would kind of die off after like at 45 minutes or an hour, sometimes he'll go for like three hours or longer. And then there's still like hundreds of people and I'm just like, wow, that's kudos to him then.

Bekah:

I feel like you need voice training for some or something, you know, like even talking, even when I used to teach night classes, like three hours of having conversation and by the end, My throat hurts, you know, and like I am done, I, I did know a teacher who was taking classes for that reason, because they were saying, it's, it's how you're using your voice and you have to do it in this different way. And then you'll be fine. And exercise your muscle. Like, ah, I know that's a lot. I mean, I think it's the same thing for writing too. It's it's a muscle that you have to exercise. So I imagine, I mean, you're writing on a lot of new topics all the time and learning things, but has the writing process gotten easier?

Jessica:

Yeah. Yeah. I now have more of like a game plan on how I'm going to enter into an article. And so I usually like to start off with just a little introductory paragraph, knowing I'm probably going to edit it later on, but I just throw something up and then I get into the meat of the article and kind of flesh it out. Um, and then once I clean up the actual main part, then I can go through and come up with a really good introductory paragraph and a conclusion there I try to focus all my intention, uh, you know, just writing the main parts. And sometimes I just do like a free write. Throw words on the page and of them make it some of them, I cut out sections. I'm like, I don't know what this was. I mean, that just happened with the article a few weeks ago on how to create tables and SQL. And some of those sections of like, why this doesn't make any sense. I don't know why this, I thought this was relevant, but I was just throwing words on the page. I'm like, oh, I should talk about this. And then I read it back. No, I shouldn't have talked about that, but that's an easier? for us to kind of cut things out there and then just reshape it into something acceptable that I could send to the editor. she doesn't have to look at it and go, what is this?

Dan:

There's one of the benefits of the medium, right? Is do you have the, it easier to go back and things out that don't make sense,

Jessica:

Exactly. Yeah.

Dan:

as opposed to maybe a live streamer, something things to get out there?

Bekah:

the expectation of live streaming, so

Dan:

for sure.

Bekah:

acceptable thing. Um, I can't remember what to say. Oh, I know what I was gonna say. Um, Rough drafts are so important. I, and I think that it's worth it to point out that there's a process that you get better at that process. And you have a rough draft. No, nobody puts out a perfect rough draft, a perfect draft. The first time it is a process and it does take time. You know, just listening to you talk about tech, Jessica, you communicate it so well. it's really, I feel like I learned a lot just hearing you talk about these things. And so you can really appreciate that process of learning and then, and how it impacts the way that you talk about things. And I imagine it, that goes into interviewing and stuff like that. Because you talk with credibility, then people are more likely to. Um, see you as a credible person.

Jessica:

Yeah, Yeah. And that's the thing is that want to come across as, how can I add value to the company or organization if you come across as I just really need a job? Well, the company's not really hiring you because you need a job. Like they're hiring you because they need people to join their team and add value. if you come in and say, here's how I can add value to you, then they'll listen. And I think that's just coming in with a little bit of confidence. Will go a long way there.

Bekah:

Yeah, absolutely. So we're at about time here, but are there any last tips that you have for our listeners about getting, started with writing?

Jessica:

Um, I think just the best tip is just, get started. I think a lot of people procrastinate because they're like, I don't know what to write about. I don't know what to do. I don't know how to get started. get started and just start working from there. And you can always ask for feedback within your community and say, Hey, I'm writing this article. I dunno how it really works it yet, or it needs some help, but, uh, don't wait for the perfect. To get started writing? to just start writing, to start throwing some words on the page, start creating an outline, then you can shape it and edit it down from there.

Bekah:

Awesome. you so much for being here with us today. This is

Dan:

Yeah.

Bekah:

to hear you talk about this and your journey. You have so many fascinating things, and I'm really glad that we got to hear them today.

Jessica:

Yeah. Well, Thank you, so much for having me.

Dan:

Yeah. Thank you, Jessica. I appreciate it.

Bekah:

Okay, bye.

Jessica:

Bye.

Dan:

Thank you for listening to this episode of the Virtual Coffee Podcast. This episode was produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel, and was edited by Andy Bonjour at GoodDay Communications. If you have questions or comments, you can hit us up on Twitter at VirtualCoffeeIO or email us at podcast@virtualcoffee.io. You can find the show notes, sign up for our newsletter, check out any of our other resources on our website at virtualcoffee.io. And of course join us for our Virtual Coffee Chats every Tuesday at 9:00 am Eastern and Thursday at 12:00 pm Eastern Please subscribe to our podcast and be sure to leave us a review. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next week!


The Virtual Coffee Podcast is produced by Dan Ott and Bekah Hawrot Weigel and edited by Andy Bonjour at GoodDay Communications.