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Maeling Murphy - Transitioning to tech, and taking notes along the way

Season 4, Episode 8 | November 22, 2021

In today's episode, Dan and Bekah talk to Maeling Murphy about her journey from Material Science and Engineering to Software Engineering, including her personal documentation of her tech journey, work culture, and the big surprises when starting her job.


Maeling Murphy's profile photo
Maeling Murphy

Dr. Maeling Murphy is a software engineer who recently transitioned into tech, coming from an 8+ year entrepreneurial journey as a digital content creator and as a Ph.D. research scientist in Materials Science & Engineering.

Maeling identifies as a multi-passionate creative soul, finding expression through gardening, programming, brush-lettering and other mediums that cross her path.

She lets her love for exploration, learning and sharing with others lead her in all aspects of life and is enjoying this journey with her husband and son.

This week Bekah and Dan sat down with Dr. Maeling Murphy, a software engineer who recently transitioned into tech. Maeling shared the importance of connecting with potential employers to see if they would fit her values, how contributing to open source projects can help prepare you for your first job, and the value of developing the connection to community and being able to grow alongside others. Oh, and did we mention we talked a lot about Notion? She takes us through her notetaking journey and answers all our questions about finding the right approach.


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Transcript:

Bekah:

Hello, and welcome to season four, episode eight 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 is the penultimate episode of season four and we're ending on a really good one. We sat down with Dr. Maeling Murphy, a software engineer who recently transitioned into tech after an eight plus year journey as a PhD research scientist in material science and engineering, and also creating her own digital content creation business. Maeling shared with us, her approach to finding employers with the right culture for you, some ideas on how contributing to open-source projects can help prepare you for your first job. And the value of developing the connection to community and being able to grow alongside others. We also talked at length about her habit of taking notes as she works. And she was patient enough to answer all of our questions about finding the right approach.

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. Our random question today is if you could have someone follow you around all the time, like a personal assistant, what would you have them do?

Maeling:

oh man.

Bekah:

Thinking about that. My name is Bekah. front end developer from a small town in Ohio. And I, there are like little things that I don't like to do that I would like them to do, or like to remember for me, like, tomorrow your kid has, has silly hat day. Like I never remember that it's silly hat day until the morning. So they'll make sure that the silly hat is put out in that I've turned off the stove that I have all my Christmas presents, that kind of stuff. And calling insurance companies. Yeah, they would definitely make all of the insurance company phone calls because that was the worst.

Dan:

Yeah, that's a good one. Um, hi, I'm Dan. I'm a developer from Cleveland, Ohio. And, um, yeah, I mean, don't know one answer is what would I not have them do? Uh, but then I was thinking about it a little bit in the first thing that really popped to my mind would be, you know, to remind me of what I went into a room to do or remind me of, you know, like I go down to the basement get something from pantry. but just like I'm on autopilot and I go and open the frigerator that's down there. And then I'm just staring at the frigerator wondering. I'm doing when I

Bekah:

I've done that before. I was like looking for my keys and I was like, wait a minute. Our keys are

Dan:

so just like somebody that could be like, Hey, yo, you're supposed to get the cereal for down here.

Maeling:

and whispering just like

Dan:

right. They can do it in a way that wouldn't let anyone else know that I, uh, yeah, I forgot. That would be the, that'd be, yeah, that'd be a high value, a high value, uh, uh, itself. But that's what I'm going to go with.

Maeling:

My name is Maeling. I'm a software engineer based out of Atlanta, Georgia. I would have to say the first thing that came to my mind was meal planning, everything surrounding meal planning. I would just pass off on to them because I feel like so much of my time is dedicated towards answering the question. are we going to eat today for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And so of that pass to them. If they want to order things, actually do the meal prep too. That's fine by.

Bekah:

Oh, I love that this, I had really busy October and so like, I don't don't have the brain power for this. So we started getting Hungryroot. we are not sponsored by Hungryroot, but I am open to a Hungryroot sponsorships. So if anybody knows how to do that, send me food as payment, but it's really nice. Cause it was like healthy food a lot of different varieties for all of the meals. And and it was good. It didn't like taste terrible. It was super easy through most of it in the air fryer and call it a day. And that was, I felt like a game changer.

Maeling:

Yeah, that sounds incredibly useful.

Bekah:

Yeah, so welcome Maeling. We are very, very happy to have you here with us, um, on this fourth season of Virtual Coffee Podcasts, and we always get started with origin story, and I know yours is think it's super interesting. So I'm really excited to hear you tell more about how you got to this point in your.

Maeling:

Sure. Um, so I will try to make this as linear as possible. Um, where should I start? So my background is in material science and engineering. It's what I did for undergrad, but I did my PhD in. But during my graduate school experience, that's kind of where I started delving into the world of tech. So while I was in grad school, I kind of started experimenting with websites and blogging. I don't know if you remember the platform blogger, but I started blogging there and then switched over to WordPress and ended up building this like lifestyle brand that turned into a company that I ran for about eight years. And in the course of running that business, I started doing work with other businesses and helping them with their social media presence and also doing a few website development projects on the side. And the deeper I got into that work. I enjoyed the development side, um, more than I did the marketing and the social media aspect necessarily. And so I started having like these great ideas for different clients websites, and I quickly realized that my vision of what I wanted to achieve did not match my level of programming. Because at the time, you know, I'd been tinkering with HTML CSS, I started wanting to build full fledged backend stuff. And it's like, you know what, let me, I've been playing around with this for awhile and you know, I'd done some classes in high school, HTML, CSS. I was like, you know, I really want to explore path of actual programming and just see where it leads me. Like, I, I, when I started. More folk, like my more focused journey into tech started the end of 2019. and I started reaching out to the tech community on Twitter found a lot of resources just to explore the path towards becoming a software engineer. And since 2019, I just went on the self-directed journey. Definitely. I wouldn't say self-taught because there's just been so many people and communities and resources. I have been so integral to my journey. I did not do it alone. Um, that's how I, um, here, and I guess kind of like my short version.

Bekah:

All right. I need to dive into this a little bit more because you have a PhD in Material Science and Engineering. And you you've gone to all of these different, very exciting places. So, how do you go to school for that long and, and of decide to do your own thing? That's a hard decision for a lot of people.

Maeling:

you know, I understand that. I think part of it is just my personality. like to try a lot of different things. Um, I have a lot of different interests and. There's never really a time. I'm just focused in on like one avenue. And so, you know, while I was in grad school, I was doing all of digital marketing, social media stuff. Um, what really helped me crystallize my decision to make a full transition into tech was the fact that I wanted to design my lifestyle in a way that allowed me more flexibility, since, you know, I had just given birth to my son, uh, like I was pregnant with him, like, see right when I was doing my dissertation and like I defendant and gave... Yeah. Once I graduated and, you know, I had my son, I really started exploring more flexible career opportunities. And he said, excuse me. And I, um, just evaluated my interest in said, you know, let me at least give this programming a shot. You know, it's something that I'm interested in. Let's see. If I can make a career out of this, because I really felt, from what I was reading and this was, you know, before, um, the pandemic. So remote jobs weren't as big as they are now, but I still felt like I could potentially have more flexibility, and being able to work from home, down the road. and. Pursue something I was passionate about. I love the problem solving that programming affords me. I mean, of, uh, the skills that I developed as an engineer in the material science world directly translate to programming as well as a software engineer. So Yeah, that's, That's kind of how I transition.

Bekah:

That's awesome. And I think, you know, so many, there's so many moms out there that I hear talk about wanting flexibility, but in wanting to be engaged, um, intellectually and what they're doing. And I, that's the same thing that I really love about coding too, is that I can do that. You know, I can have the time to work part time and, and do the mom thinks that I want to be able to do, also. Even if my house is destroyed at the end of the day, usually I have accomplished something with my code. Now that doesn't happen all the time, but it's nice to feel engaged in that way. And I definitely definitely understand that. So when you pretty early on in Virtual Coffee, I think it was early on for you. I was early on from what I remember you, you built this homeschool app that was gorgeous. And we were doing a demo days, monthly challenge. And you were, you were up for it. You were like, yeah, I'm going to do this. And I was like, this is awesome. And you presented it and. I mean, it is very, very beautiful. I'll have the link to it in the show notes, but can you talk to us about how you went about developing that and like getting the courage to present it to all of these people?

Maeling:

Oh man. Okay. So to start that story, it goes back to. Me starting to take the CS50 Harvard Introduction to Computer Science course. And a part of that course at the end, you have to build, you know, this kind of capstone project, integrating all of the skills that you've learned and for my project, Um, it was, you know, based in like Flask using Python, hadn't really delved into the world of JavaScript too much. And initially, you know, the, the requirements for the project were not. Very the scope was not very large, the idea that I had I quickly realized was way beyond what the course had taught me. And so. You know, I tried to think of a project. First of all, that was something that I knew I was going to be interested in. And for me, being able to keep track of my homeschooling activities for my child was something I knew that was going to motivate me to continue working on the project. I didn't want to start it in abandoned that I really wanted to see it through. And so as I started working on the project and started exhausting, what I had, you know, Been able to apply for my CS 50 course, I turn to Twitter and, long story short, I got involved in the 100 Days of Code Challenge And in the midst of that, I was always finding resources that would help me with different parts of the project. And as I would successfully implement certain things. The ideas just kept pouring. And I was like, Oh, maybe I can add this now, maybe I can add this. And, um, I started talking with people, who I think could potentially use the site and got their feedback as well. And so by the time I came to Virtual Coffee, I'd already been in the state of, you know, being comfortable sharing my work because I quickly realized the more I shared, the more I could learn, from the community and it, it just really helped to, Just cement, my understanding, being able to talk about what I was working on, even I would run into issues, learning how to phrase those questions, to be able to get meaningful assistance, like all of that was so helpful. And so, I was really excited about, uh, that challenge, that Virtual Coffee hosted because it was formal way for me to do what I had been doing on Twitter. and so I'm really grateful, you know, for community like Virtual Coffee and the challenges that, uh, The community offers because they're just so beneficial for your development as a developer.

Bekah:

Oh, thanks.

Dan:

Yeah, that, uh, the, I mean, I was, I was just kind of cruising around on the, on the school journal app and it it's really cool. And, you know, when I was kind of looking around, I saw the, um, the learning log and I assume that's part of the a Hundred Days of, of Code, um, you know, thing, which I've, I know a lot of people that have very excited about that. I haven't done it, but I was, you know, I, I found it very interested in seeing the sort of daily progress and, and you logged it and. And we'll, we can put a link to this in the show notes too. Right. But you have this a one document. Right? All of these, all of these, uh, all of your days sort of day's progress. And then days, you know, I know you have where you have to like some thoughts or like, you know, links to stuff. And, um, and it's very cool. It's really cool to see that all kind of put together in one place. So that's the times I think people, I don't, I don't know what the. or whatever of a Hundred Days of Code are, but, uh, I see them on Twitter and stuff like that a lot, you know, and it's, and it's always cool to see people's like work, but, um, it all, uh, in one place, you know, one project. Right. Uh, it's very cool. As I was kind of wondering if you wanted to talk a little bit more about, um, like that specific to this app, you know, or to this project, you know, how. I don't know. I like how that helped you, how you, you know, the things you got value out of it, was it like a chore? Was it, you know I mean? Like I just thought I'd talk a little bit about that experience because it's really cool.

Maeling:

I'm really glad you brought that up because, um, my motivation, so the, the name of the repo is called My Learning Path. And early on in my journey, I was looking at a lot of inspirational blog posts of people who succeeded, excuse me, successfully transitioned tech. And I came across. This one blog posts. I wish I could remember his name, he linked to this template. I, I borrowed that template from him and it was just so fascinating to see his journey from not knowing a line of JavaScript to, you know, a year and a half later, having this. Professional, uh, role in programming. And I knew from that moment that I wanted to record every moment of my path. So I could always look back and see how I progressed one then two serve as just a resource I could share with other people. So they could see what resources that I encountered along my way, could potentially be helpful for them and in being encouraging in their own journeys. And so. For me having that, uh, that repo where I would, you know, update daily for the most part, was very encouraging. It was my motivating, one of my motivating forces, uh, And that kept me excited during this, you know, self-directed path because I can always look back you know, see what I'd accomplished or things that I had questions about. And it would be a great way for me to be able to reach out and just not lose track of what I was learning and what I needed assistance with. And so, for the project itself, it was just a natural progression to include all of the updates for that as well. Definitely helped when it came time to troubleshoot different, uh, aspects. And then also helped me just remember the amount of work I put into certain features. So when it was time to talk about my project with two employers, um, it was very easy for me to remember the work that I'd put into it.

Dan:

Yeah, I think that's great. I love this and it's one of those things that always seems very valuable to me. And I don't, I have trouble with getting myself to do, know, things like this. Uh, you know, you mentioned the template and the template is, is literally. Uh, the date. so it's, today's progress, thoughts, link to work and resources and that's it. Right. So each day is just, it's just that. So, um, uh, simple, very simple format and a very, you know, it turns out to be a very, I think, valuable tool. Um, so do you, like, I know that I'm sure it's not the same every day, obviously, but like it, did you work into like, was this part of your routine of sort of ending the day or, uh, Like, when do you write these summaries? This is the kind of thing. I also like pick people's brains that successfully do these things, because I, you know, I'm always trying to like figure out how to, how to do it. You know what I mean? I feel like I'm out the door every day, so

Maeling:

yeah. for me, what worked best was to do it. Just as I was doing the work. So for instance, um, like if I was troubleshooting, um, a specific feature or if I was learning something new in a language, I would just copy those links and just drop them in the document. And then if I had thoughts about it later, once I'd had time to digest, I would throw those thoughts in there or. Thoughts in the moment, even if I was unclear about something. So for me, it wasn't a really defined structure. It was just as I worked, if something stood out to me that I should throw it in there, I would just pop it in there. And so what really helped was having my, uh, vs code for that repo open at all times on my desktop and just made for easy transfer of resources.

Dan:

And that's a great, uh, that's such a great habit. I feel like that to do, you know, I could see how that could be so useful, you know, is like, this makes me think back to our random question. I could also, you know, it's the same thing of, um, You know, walking down to the basement and forgetting about a thing, you know, thinking about something else. And I do that same thing to myself, even when I'm writing code. Right. Or I have a question I'm like, oh, that'd be cool. Or I wonder how this works. And I'm like, well, let's fix this other thing, you know, and then forget about it. Uh, so, you know, um, if you can get yourself to take those notes as you work, I think that's, I think that's very cool.

Maeling:

Yeah, it's really helpful for me now, even in my role, don't do a repo for it, but I have, you know, a notion doc that has different notebooks. So as I run into issues and I resolve them, I quickly update that as I'm working, because. Inevitably, sometimes you run into the same issue and you're like, wait, how did I figure this out again? And so it's, there's like a great resource, uh, you know, troubleshooting and just, you know, learning the different parts of the code base and things like that. So that's just me. I have to take notes. Um, just how my brain operates.

Bekah:

I really love that. So I am trying to like Notion and I continually don't. So is there a template that you've used that works for you? I think it's just overwhelming. There's so much.

Maeling:

oh, I totally get it. I will have to share the link with you because I did find this template basically set up, um, notebooks on one page. And so I'll have a notebook. For, you know, different repos and the code base or for different technologies. And so it's very, very easy to stay organized for me that way. And so, yeah, I'll have to share that link with you cause it's, it's been great. Cause Yeah, when I first started using notion and just saw that blank page, like, well, where do I start here? How do I, you know, make this effective? So

Bekah:

and there's so much you can do with it. And if you're sharing it with other people, then it's just a whole can of worms that you have to, like, all using it in their own ways. And like.

Maeling:

I got it. I will say though, like. um, when I did start using Notion, um, during the job search as well, and there's a great template that someone from VC shared for the job

Bekah:

Karen I think.

Maeling:

yeah its so great. but in addition to that, um, using tables and notion, I don't know if you've ever tried it, but when, because I was on Twitter all the time and you know, you'll see all these tweets with like, all of the amazing resources that you should check out all the time. And I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of bookmarks that I had on Twitter. And so tables and notion, you can tag them, you can create your own database in Notion I would like sh uh, save my different links and then tag them with like, oh, this is for JavaScript, or this is for AWS. Or, you know, this is for doing databases. And so when I'd go back and wanting to, study a certain topic, I could just search my tags and quickly see all of the links for that resource. Instead of trying to come through Twitter bookmarks.

Bekah:

That's useful. I keep thinking about what, how to do something like that for Virtual Coffee, because we have so many people contributing to coffee chats. Every week we get so many great resources. I want to have a repository where we can just send people. These, these are things that our members have recommended, but I really do like the idea of having tags there. I think that makes it, um, easier and more organized to use and other things I've explored.

Dan:

Yeah, for sure. I, I use, uh, he's an app called Pinboard that's very old school, uh, bookmarking app that has somewhere else survived. Uh, it's, and it just bookmarks and Antech. I think I can add notes to things, but, um, I don't usually, but I have found that when I can remember to get them in there, you know, it's like the habit for me is the, is the hard part. And

Bekah:

Pinboard is on your site, right?

Dan:

Uh, is it,

Bekah:

I think it is because I believe that I have gone there a couple of times. Cause I'm like, I know Dan talked about this resource. Somebody go check his Pinboard.

Dan:

Um,

Bekah:

using Dan's pinboard.

Dan:

that's cool. Yeah, no, every once in a while I share it links to it, but like, I, I forget about it sometimes. And other than that, you know, but it's, I, I'm always so thankful for when I have remembered and then go back, you know what I mean? And, and, you know, grab a grip link from whatever random, you know, CSS or note or whatever um, feel like that. Um, yeah, the Twitter bookmarks is, is hard to, I, it works better for me as, as an inbox of things to process, you know, and then stick somewhere else. I think if it's going to, if you're going to try to, um, use it for resources. No. I love the idea of creating your own like database to like that. That's

Bekah:

There is I,

Dan:

that's cool.

Bekah:

yeah, sorry. I

Dan:

like a notion. Sorry.

Bekah:

There's one thing in notion that I do like, and I'll include a link in the show notes, but it's the front end developer learning guide. And it's, it's one page and it has a checklist. And I really like checklists and it has resources with tags. Now that you say that it reminded me like different sections. And so it's different than the roadmap, but I like it because. just really breaks down different things to learn and provides resources for that. So I have not vetted this and I'm not sure how old it is, but I really do appreciate how it's organized and how there's, there's a journey through that, thing that I can understand. Um, so the, the other thing too, I think re we frequently get the question or people wanting to talk in Virtual Coffee about note taking and how people keep up with this stuff. So just love this part of the conversation, but have you been able to take into your job that you're doing now? Are you still taking notes or do you still find that useful.

Maeling:

Oh, absolutely. So I've gotten a lot of great advice from those VC chats about note taking I take notes, um, in notion primarily, and then also just in a regular notebook, because I feel like in meetings it's quicker for me to just jot down things and then be able to flesh it out in notion later. But like on the spot, definitely my paper note taking, um, And then for, you know, like I mentioned, like taking notes when I'm working on a ticket, I have like notebooks for different tickets. Just so I can keep track of, you know, the issues that. I'm working through and techniques that I'm learning and you know, uh, parts of the code base and the foundational knowledge that I'm ramping up on. Cause there's just, you know, always so much to, to pick up on. So Yeah. I'm, I'm definitely still note-taking for.

Bekah:

Yeah. And so as part of that process, is that something that you take in to maybe one-on-ones with you or, you know, what, if somebody was asking, should I, is it important that I invest in starting to do note taking as part of my developer journey? I you would say yes. But you talk, like, what would you tell them?

Maeling:

I would say to give it a try and try not to overcomplicate it, it's just starting small, you know, jotting down ideas or questions. But, I will say that the benefits are worth the time invested. Um, I know for me personally, like in my one-on-one meetings with my manager, like I have a template for those meetings as well. So those are another place where we're kind of taking notes for like, I have for him or next steps. then he actually initiated something for the team where we have our weekly highlights and lowlights. And so that's another form of kind of like note taking. So during the week, as I, you know, come across things that I feel like worthy of that document, I'll just include that as well. And so, I, for me, it just really helps. There's just so much information to process all the time. And for me, it helps if I can dump that out of my head, to somewhere else that is easily searchable reference and easily sharable as well.

Bekah:

I love that. I think really breaking down those, what you're working on too helps to solidify those ideas in your head. Or I know like sometimes I'll be writing something that doesn't click, because I want to ask you a question about it and then suddenly like, oh wait a minute.

Maeling:

Yup.

Bekah:

I know what I should be doing here. Or I know what I missed. And so having that as I, I don't do a good job of note taking while I am working, but it's something that I am working towards. so maybe if you share that notion doc, I will do a better job of it.

Dan:

Do you end up, um, you know, an Oracle or, or another places, you know, you talked about sharing stuff that I was just curious about. Do you, do you share, like, through notion, you know, directly, know, do you use like tools, like sharing views through notion or are you of use notion as your own, um, like collection and then, you know, some other document to share? Um, That makes sense.

Maeling:

In notion that's great. You know, you can have, I feel like this is turning into a notion,

Bekah:

was just thinking I'm like, this is going to be our Notion episode.

Maeling:

But I, I love, I love note taking, um, you know, and it probably makes sense because, you know, in my, uh, graduate school, Working in the lab, we had to keep a research lab notebook. So I had to document everything every day for all of the experiments, because when it was time to write our papers, you had to be able to reference those details. So now I'm of making that connection. That's probably why I'm a little bit obsessive notes. Um, but Yeah. back to notion you can have, you know, private notes and public notes all in the same, uh, profile. So it's easy to, you know, make a public note and just pull certain things that you'd want to share from your private notes and put it there. So you don't have to share your entire private, you know, notebook. For instance, that answers your question.

Dan:

totally. Yeah. I was just like, you know, so for example, you, you had, um, a section for your one-on-ones with your manager or whatever, and I was just like, oh, what does demand, you know, is that like you guys can, you know, collaborating in notion or is it more just, you know, you're collecting your own stuff and then basically reading from it to, you know, when you, when you, when you talk

Maeling:

right. Yeah. I definitely have a mix, a mix of private and public.

Dan:

Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's awesome. Another, another nice thing about notion. I, I keep wanting, when I do notes, I keep them just in notebook, on my, on my, on my Mac. And it's very, you know, very simple and it works, you know, but it's, it's not, it doesn't have like all that nice, you know, those nice tools like that. So that's cool.

Bekah:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, and no taking is so personal too, so everybody will find something and it's, it's like one of those almost controversial topics. I feel like because people like love their note taking software so much that there will be like arguments over, you know, whether or not that is the right one to use. There's not the right one. There's whatever works for you. And it's great that you found process through that you've done. And you're still able to carry that with you and see that work as a software developer software engineer. Um, and so, okay. So you've done all of this stuff and you seem very organized to me you also have a kid at home. And so what was that transition like going from learning as a mom to working as a mom? It sounds like you've kind of been that your whole career, but can be a big change when you're diving into a new profession.

Maeling:

Absolutely. So, you know, when I was learning. I just had to schedule around my child. And, and so there were many, you know, days where I would be programming mostly at night or early in the morning before he was up. But you know, now that I'm working in my professional role, like I just have to like give a huge shout out to my husband because I could not do this without him. You know, especially because it's a little bit more of a formal. Um, structure. It's not like, you know, be at your desk nine to five, there's flexible, flexible working hours, but you know, to be really in the zone, you need, at least I need long stretches of time, like uninterrupted time to really like get in there and resolve issues. so me, it's, it's great that I, you know, I'm able to work from home and still be able to spend time with my child. But like my husband is also there. You know, being active with him as well. And so I don't feel guilty for working because I know he's taken care of as well, because me and I, we talked about this, like in a VC, um, meeting in the past, but I when I was looking in, like, when I actually started looking into software engineering as a career, I was very hesitant to start searching for jobs. because I just wasn't sure if it was going to fit my lifestyle, you know, after working for eight years, running my own business and setting my own schedule, it was hard for me to wrap my mind around making that transition because I just enjoyed the freedom that I had. And it wasn't until I spoke with a friend who was also a software engineer and also a mom told me was like, no, you know, they're remote work opportunities that have flexible working hours and accommodate parents. like, what I did not know that this was possible, you know, and the opportunities increased in the remote you know, following the pandemic. I just was not aware of. All of the different company cultures. I, I just had in my mind, a stereotypical, you know, you work at a startup or whatever. Like you're going to be working early mornings, late nights every day, all day, all week. And when I finally actually started the job search process, I quickly realized that companies have different cultures and possible to find one that fits your lifestyle. And so, yeah, it's, it's been a great transition. I felt, I feel like I've had a lot of. From the family side and also on, um, my job site, like I have a really supportive team, really supportive manager, and it's just made this transition or really exciting one.

Dan:

That's very cool. you were, when you were searching for. May not.. Maybe not when you began the job search, but when you you know, learning about these different cultures things like that, what were there, how did you find, like, how did you find the jobs that like had the, sort of the flexibility or the cultures that you were looking for? I mean, what they show up in searches or was it more once you were in, you know, once he began dialogue, then it became clear, you know,

Maeling:

Yeah, that's a, that's a great question. So I have to shut out this site that I found during my job search called keyvalues.io. Um, but they have a section on their site called culture queries. And you can basically go through this like tag cloud and select the qualities that are most important to you. So if you value pair programming, if you value flexible work hours, and so on. And so I kind of used that as springboard to start seeing what companies were out there that shared the same values that. And so that's how I found, some of these companies and then just being active on Twitter. I'd always see, you know, tweets about different companies and their culture. And so I just kept a running list of companies, uh, again, in a notion doc, come running list of current. That I wanted to investigate. And, um, I had no problem reaching out to employees on LinkedIn of those companies to like, get a more accurate you know, quotes, uh, pulse of like what the culture is actually like. uh, that's kind of how I, I try to gauge, uh, you know, the outside, looking in what, uh, a company was actually about.

Dan:

Well, that's very cool. I hadn't, that sounds like a great tool. but now, now I want to know, I want to know more about your experience of, of reaching out to people, you know, current employees, uh, as a prospective employee, you know, um, find people in generally receptive to that sort of thing? Uh, it's kind of like a cold call situation, right? I

Maeling:

it was, yes, it was exactly a cold call situation. And, um, surprisingly, I wasn't nervous about it. Just my whole attitude in approaching software engineering as a potential career, I was just kind of. You know, I'm just going to see where this goes. If it doesn't end up there, like I'm just going to enjoy the process. I enjoy the coding. And so that's how I approached like every step of process and like securing a role. And so when I was reaching out to people, was friendly, it was like, you know, um, Hey, I'm interested more about your company. If you have 15 minutes to spare, would you mind hopping on a quick chat chat call with me to just discuss. What you enjoy about working at such and such. there were so many people who responded back and gave like really great advice and feedback for my job search and even referrals and like not even asking for them. And so I, I was pleasantly surprised to see. How generous the people, um, were when I reached out to them. And like it extended to what I'd seen within the tech, uh, community on Twitter as well. I I've found people to be very generous and supportive. so to see that, you know, off off of Twitter and in other spaces like LinkedIn and, you know, all of the developer communities as well, it was just very encouraging to see amount of support, who's just trying to transition into space.

Dan:

That's very cool. It's cool that it was a pretty positive experience here, you know? Um, yeah, I suppose you never know when you. You know, when you reach out to somebody that you don't know. Um, um, and that's, that's great. They had a generally positive experience. It makes me wonder if you ever had anybody that was just like run away. You don't

Bekah:

I have had those

Dan:

but that's just.

Bekah:

Somebody, uh, on Twitter saw I was going, that wasn't applying for a company, but somebody else I knew was. And so I had posted about it and a DM and they said, this is the most toxic place I have ever worked. And I'm afraid to say anything out loud, because I think that the retaliation would be so bad that I might never have a career in tech again, like, that is horrifying. And it's hard cause you just don't know it. What to do with that information. At least I didn't know what to do with that information other than to pass it along. Um, you know, also one person's experience might not be everybody else's. So it's really trying to figure out, I think, how to ask the right questions too.

Maeling:

Absolutely. Um, that's such a great point because, uh, like you said, it could experience could even differ from team to team within an organization. So someone just saying they had a negative experience working at XYZ, it may have been because of the specific team and may have been because of a specific manager, like you never know. So ask all the questions is my, my advice and connect with as many people, you know, working at the companies that you're interested in just to help you get more. A better sense of what it would be like work there. And of course you never really know the full story until you're actually working there. But if you can clear as information as possible to, to help you make your decision, go for it.

Bekah:

Absolutely. I always take down names of people and then I check them out on social media. I see what they're tweeting about. I talked to somebody once and I was talking about, well, you know, I'll think about the, the opportunity and then I'll get back to you. I want to do some more research and they're like, okay, well I just posted a tweet. I just tweeted. And I tagged everyone in my team. So if you're interested in knowing more about the team, then everybody is right there. Like, well, that makes it easy. But, but I think that can say like, even looking at their interactions, I know this might sound weird. It might sound creepy, but I like to see how people interact with each other. And sometimes that's the only glimpse that you get of it is through social media, to be able to see that. So I don't know. It, it peels back the curtain a little bit. I think that's not, if you don't peel back, the curtain pulls back like.

Dan:

Mixing metaphors

Bekah:

I am. I think I did it earlier in Virtual Coffee too. I was talking about peeling things. I'm on appealing today. That should have been our intro question. Would you eat your apple peeled or not peeled?

Dan:

who its...

Bekah:

a good one.

Maeling:

I liked our question. I liked our initial question.

Bekah:

Peeled potatoes or not peeled potatoes. Now I'm on a kick. I should stop going with this. Okay. Need to redirect my brain. sorry. Um, this is what happens to me at three o'clock every day. My brain just starts to lose it a little bit.

Dan:

I feel like we made it 40 minutes before a full-on sidetrack, you know, so

Maeling:

That's pretty good.

Dan:

it's pretty good for us.

Bekah:

Um, okay, so now you, you are at this job now and what been the biggest, I guess maybe what's been most surprising about this job or the things that you've been happily surprised by since starting.

Maeling:

Oh man. Great question. So I would have to save the biggest thing that stood out to me when starting my job is just making that transition from working on personal projects to production level projects, with massive code bases. Um, I remember when I, when I first looked at the. Hundreds of repos I was a little overwhelmed and wondered, like, how do you approach this? Like during my journey, I never saw a blog post on to learn a massive code base and start contributing to it within a month. So I would say that was definitely, something that surprised me because I just not, I had not seen that, level of. Breadth in a code base before at the production level. Um, and on the other hand, what I was pleasantly surprised with, uh, was just the amount of, uh, support across the organization, not just within my team. Um, I am really grateful at my job. They have a very great onboarding process. So when you come in, you're matched with a new hire buddy and that's someone who is there for all of your initial questions for like the first several months that you're on the job. And so when I had feelings like, whoa, this is massive code base, where do I even begin? I already had someone I could just reach out to without feeling any shame or anything. And, you know, just connect on that level and then have them be able to connect me with other people within the organization to help. So was really surprising to me to just have that kind of, uh, that level of support just early on, um, just a very welcoming, um, environment. And I'm grateful for that. That's, that's really helped with me making this transition.

Dan:

So other than having somebody that you can talk to you to help, do you have any tips? You know, now that you've got your feet under you about diving into a large code bases, you know, for the first time.

Maeling:

oh man. Yes. So I would say one thing I, I would have would recommend is. Contributing to open source projects and finding some that have large code bases and digging into those issues because uh, if you can find one issue to work on within a massive code base that will give you an entry point into learning how the different pieces connect, especially if they're using, you know, other services, cloud services that like, for me, I was not familiar with, um, a lot of the cloud services and how that integrates um, into the architecture. And so if you can find pro open source projects like that, you know, if you're learning right now start diving to those issues, to just learn how all of the pieces connect, I feel like that will prepare you immensely for, you know, moving into a role where you have to do that on the production level.

Dan:

Great advice. I love that advice very much. Um, that. That not specifically open source. That is usually my advice. When the next question comes up is, is find something small, you know, in the code base, whatever, you know, if it's the new code base you're working in or, um, whatever, find something small and try to fit, just, you know, start there and fix it. And you'll start just to make the, they make the connections. But, um, I had never really connected that. I mean, The practice of contributing open source and finding big projects, especially to get used to this. Right. Cause it's, it is like almost everything. Um, a thing that we're we're practice makes, uh, well, just helps you improve. Right. And so, you know, having been a developer for a while, you know, I don't have like a lot of anxiety jumping into a new code base and that's not to say I jumped into it. Know anything it. Right. but I have the con, like, I just have the experience of having done it. A lot of times, I just kind of, can I just trust that I will be able to do it because I've just done it, you know? And yet you using an open source for that and to prepare yourself before you jump, like before you get to your first job where you know, you're going to be, you know, dumped into a huge code base because anybody that's hiring, probably most people that are hiring already have something, you know what I mean? And it's probably already a giant... Well, I say giant mess or... That'll depend, you know, about how long, how long the thing's been going on, but, you know, there's a lot of giant messes out there and that doesn't mean they're bad. Uh, but they can be very overwhelming, you know? Um, I love that. I love that advice about using open source to like practice just that specifically, you know,

Bekah:

And I would add to that. It can be challenging to get into open source and finding issues when you're starting out, but people in your communities, like in Virtual Coffee, Is there anybody here that's running an open source project. And if I take an issue, will you help me or Hey, I really want to, I want to contribute to open source, but I'm afraid to, would anybody be there to pair up with me if I get stuck and that can, or even just to find the issues that can. Reduce those barriers to entry because you have that support and you can talk to people who maybe have been in the code base or who are used to diving into large code bases and, and, and allow them to, you know, kind of mentor you through that, but to also have the chance to communicate with someone else, because the... circling back to what you talked about in the beginning. Like being able to talk about what you're doing is so hugely important. And so if you think you, well, I don't need help diving into this code base. You need practice talking about it if you haven't, because that's, that's a skill that a lot of us don't get to develop when we're learning mostly own.

Dan:

I just, yeah, I just to add to that, there's a lot of awesome people in the developer community that. Either for work or for their own projects, you know, maintain opensource projects like this. Nick Taylor comes to mind with Forem, which is a commercial product, but it's open source. And, um, he has, I mean, I've watched him do it a million times. He is always happy to like help people and, and jump into issues, you know, with the forum code base. And I think any, any. And that, and that's another good example of a large scale, you know, codebase, right. It's not a simple app at all. Um, and he's, you know, he's always very generous with his time. And, um, there's a lot of people like with projects like that, that are worth contributing to, you know, there's almost always people that maintainers or, or, or, or advocates or whoever, you know, um, that I think, uh, reaching out to you and would be excited, you know, to, to help somebody learn, you know, help somebody to contribute to that, to that. I think. Um, what I was kind of pushing open source here, Virtual Coffee so if it fits in with the theme.

Bekah:

Yeah, absolutely. Nick just came to my live stream that I did before this and as doing TensorFlow JS stuff and I couldn't even get it running and he's, he's there debugging it. He does. He's not done TensorFlow JS before, but you know, he, he is there to be supportive and to help work through things that, uh, I don't even know where to start right now because I, that error. Is, means nothing, nothing to me. So, you know, it's just nice to have people there and to build that community because you can be part of the community building aspect of things. Um, so as you kind of look forward into your future, do you think that you'll continue to value? Or are there lessons that you've learned over the last you know, year or so you're hoping to take with you or to grow with.

Maeling:

Awesome question. At the top of my mind, I feel like one of the things I want to continue developing is just that connection to community. Um, it's just so integral to development, no matter what industry you're in it just makes life more meaningful as well. I, I value, you know, genuine personal connections and being able to grow alongside others who have similar goals and visions is priceless to me. So that's, that's something I highly value and will always striving to do develop more. And as far as like looking into the future, I, I want to, at some point be more active in sharing more of the knowledge that I'm learning, um, to just help others, because that was so priceless to me on the other side, when I was learning from others. And so I want to be able to give back in that way, I feel like I still need to get this work-life balance situation together before I start pouring energy into that. But that's definitely the horizon and something that I would be passionate about contributing towards.

Bekah:

well, you got the notes, so always

Maeling:

the notes are there.

Bekah:

They're there. Well, thank you Maeling so much for being here with us today. This was very awesome. And I have learned a lot. And so, yeah, thanks so much.

Maeling:

Um, my pleasure really enjoyed chatting with you all.

Dan:

Yeah, thanks. Maeling all right. We will, uh, yeah, I guess we'll talk to you. I don't know where the sentence is going. I'm sorry. I totally lost the whole thing, man. I made it almost the whole way without totally imploding. Bekah you say by, this is the part, this is the part where

Bekah:

We're not good at saying goodbye. So you

Dan:

Every, every time.

Bekah:

we usually stare at eachother awkwardly or something. So thanks Maeling, bye.

Dan:

Oh man. 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.