The Scrimba Podcast

Meet  Rachel Lee Nabors 🇺🇸🇬🇧! They are an award-winning cartoonist who transitioned to become a developer with a passion for teaching the world how to code. Rachel has worked at major tech companies such as Microsoft, AWS, and Meta. At Meta, they were a pivotal contributor to, the award-winning version of React documentation.

Rachel is also the author of the Tech Career Survival Guide, a series of Substack essays that may or may not become a book. In these essays, they teach readers about emotional resilience, managing change, and the practical aspects of working in tech. In this episode, Rachel will share their secret for landing high-profile tech jobs, as well as advice for owning your non-linear career path, especially if you're a career changer. You will also discover how to deal with a job market where opportunities may seem scarce and what you can do if nobody seems to be hiring. Plus: why you shouldn't email Dan Abramov, who to reach out to instead, and why collecting feedback from people directly is often better than staring at analytics.

🔗 Connect with Rachel
⏰ Timestamps
  • How Rachel became a developer while being a cartoonist (01:29)
  • How Rachel handled the career shift into professional development (03:08)
  • Code can make things come to life (05:48)
  • Very few people are given jobs just because they're popular (09:22)
  • Break (11:07)
  • How Rachel gets her FAANG roles (12:28)
  • What to do if nobody's hiring (14:48)
  • How can a new developer create value in the community? (16:28)
  • How Alex did the same (18:41)
  • Great Recession was tough, but it brought up some great engineering (21:17)
  • Increase your chance to get lucky later (25:43)
  • What to do if you don't have a linear career path (27:38)
  • When changing career paths, it can feel like starting from scratch (31:26)
  • Developing expertise is not a good thing! (32:14)
  • Are your skills out of date, and how Rachel transferred her old skills into new roles (33:33)
  • Barista engineering (36:52)
  • Don't be ashamed of your previous work experience, however unrelated (38:40)
  • How Rachel adjusts to change and challenges and helps others do the same through The Tech Career Survival Guide (40:56)
⭐️ Leave a Review

If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a 5-star review here and tell us who you want to see on the next podcast.
You can also Tweet Alex from Scrimba at @bookercodes and tell them what lessons you learned from the episode so that he can thank you personally for tuning in 🙏 Or tell Jan he's butchered your name here.

Creators & Guests

Alex Booker
Host of The Scrimba Podcast
Jan Gregory Arsenovic
Producer of the Scrimba Podcast

What is The Scrimba Podcast?

Learn from inspiring developers about how they found meaningful and fulfilling work that that also pays them well. On The Scrimba Podcast, you'll hear motivational advice and job-hunting strategies from developers who've been exactly where you are now. We talk to developers about their challenges, learnings, and switching industries in the hopes of inspiring YOU. This is the podcast that provides the inspiration, tools, and roadmaps to move from where you are to work that matters to you and uniquely fits your strengths and talents.

the episode

[00:00:00] Rachel Lee Nabors: Say you used to be a barista and you're like, oh, I don't want them to know I used to work at Starbucks. No, lean into that. Be like, does your office have a cappuccino machine? Because I got elected for making the best flat whites. Will it make or break you? Not really. But there's a difference between owning and framing your past life as a part of you and a bonus instead of like a hindrance.

[00:00:24] Scrape by.

[00:00:28] Alex Booker: That was Rachel Lee Neighbors, a developer and developer experience leader, previously at Quark, Microsoft, AWS, and Meta. At Meta, they worked on React, and Rachel was a pivotal contributor to React. dev, which is the award winning version of the React documentation. Now, I'm stoked to have Rachel on the show, because they're a successful career changer.

[00:00:50] Rachel used to be a cartoonist, believe it or not. They're also a teaching expert, and the author of the Tech Career Survival Guide, which is a series of short sub stack essays on the tech industry. on emotional resiliency, managing change, and the practical sides of working in tech and with others. That wisdom mixed with Rachel's experience really shines through as we talk about their best advice for new developers in 2024 in this current market.

[00:01:15] I'm your host, Alex Booker, and you're listening to The Scrimbler Podcast, a weekly show where I interview recently hired developers, as well as career experts like Rachel, who are to help you learn to code and land your dream role in tech. Let's get into it.

[00:01:29] Rachel Lee Nabors: To be honest, where I grew up, I knew that somebody out there would get paid to build websites and do animated gifs and things.

[00:01:40] But I didn't know anyone who did. I was raised in the middle of a farming community. And I used the internet and built websites to promote my web comics because I was aspiring to be like an award winning cartoonist, which I did become. I was publishing comics online for teenage girls, and I used Drupal to make the website and the community site.

[00:02:02] I used OS Commerce for the merch, Grey Matter for the blog, that was Pearl and CGI, which no one remembers. Like, we didn't have services. You know, like Substack and Etsy or Shopify for these things. I had to build them all from scratch. And I didn't realize that that was a job until I ended up in a different city.

[00:02:21] And I was like, huh, I need to earn more than this. If I'm going to take care of my medical bills, et cetera. And it turned out that people would hire for that. So I got my first tech job just three months before the financial crisis hit.

[00:02:35] Alex Booker: Interesting.

[00:02:36] Rachel Lee Nabors: And then I got laid off, which was my introduction to tech.

[00:02:40] It was super unglamorous and not flattering at all. That's where I got my start. But I determined that I was going to become the best front end developer in that area.

[00:02:50] Alex Booker: Love that.

[00:02:50] Rachel Lee Nabors: And run the community and come back like a phoenix from the ashes. I'll show them, I'm going to be really cool. And ended up traveling the world, kissing babies, writing web animation API specs, and honestly, had a great time.

[00:03:04] It was a different period of time from where we are now, but it was a joyous time.

[00:03:08] Alex Booker: Doing cartoons and doing coding, They seem so different. How did you reason about the shift from one to the other at the time?

[00:03:15] Rachel Lee Nabors: Honestly, I felt super sad because you gotta remember I had like 400, 000 teen girls reading my comics every week.

[00:03:23] And when I stopped making them, I'd get emails being like, Hey, I miss your comics. Your comics helped me. I was in a really hard place in life. And you know, I'd get buckets of fan mail. And here I am being like, no, I got to go make money. I got chase the dollar, you know, and I felt like I was given up on my dreams, my American dreams.

[00:03:43] And I was really mean to myself about that for years. Oh, what a sellout. Can't even take care of myself with my own art. And I felt bad about it for a long time. And it wasn't until I started using my cartooning skills to make those cool demos with the web animation API and traveling and giving cool demos and conferences around the world where I started to feel like maybe I could I could still have my art and I could have my income too.

[00:04:09] That's a whole different story though. I did eventually end up just going straight up full on tech and leaving art behind. Turns out, being good at art doesn't actually increase the amount that people will pay you. It's the things that aren't artistic that pay the best. When I first got that first job, I was actually building PHP servers and things, um, to maintain my site.

[00:04:31] But when I was interviewed, they saw the artwork and they were like, Oh, you're a designer. And I was like, Uh, all right. Because I didn't know the difference in pay between web designer and web developer at the time. And turns out, I'm not a designer. I'm an artist. You know, the client's like, I want the logo to be blue.

[00:04:46] And I'm like, blue is a terrible color for your plant, sir. And, uh, yeah, I didn't quite have the customer service to do that. But what I loved about being with the development team was just that. you know, somebody had beef with how I was doing my CSS. We could have a reasonable, objective conversation and shake hands on it where things with design are more subjective and require a personality that has either fewer opinions or is better at persuasion than, you know, a rebel punk cartoonist can provide.

[00:05:17] So I found that I should have joined and started my career leaning full on into engineering and development, but because employers were seeing the art. They immediately were like, ah, this person presents as a woman. They are artistic designer, pay them less and make them go work with difficult clients.

[00:05:37] And that was not my strong suit. My strong suit was working with difficult engineers and writing cool code and making fun doodles. But that was something I had to learn on my own.

[00:05:48] Alex Booker: What was it that drew you to code and the tech industry specifically? Was it really just the big bucks?

[00:05:54] Rachel Lee Nabors: Basically, I

[00:05:55] think part of it is:

[00:05:57] sometimes I look at specs. Specifically, I remember wanting to go to the CSS conf. I loved how I could use CSS to basically make the ideas in my head come to life.

[00:06:07] Alex Booker: Mmm, I like that. And

[00:06:09] Rachel Lee Nabors: it tapped into the artist in me. I just really started to deeply grok the CSS model. The same way some people have deeply groked, like, how React's hydration works.

[00:06:20] And I saw a specification for HTML5 audio and CSS animations, and I was like, Well, if I hypothesize correctly, I should be able to make a music video with these two specs. And I proposed that, and the conference organizers were like, Yeah, spin that straw into gold, and I, I got to go there and do the music video for them.

[00:06:42] But that's what I mean. It's the puzzle. It's looking at something and going, I think if I do this, it will work. And then seeing it work. It's exciting. It's like solving puzzles for a living. There's a lot of stuff that's not solving puzzles. Writing documentation can be really boring for some people. But because I come from a, you know, creative storytelling background, I actually love doing educational materials as well.

[00:07:05] You know, things that are rote and repetitive, you can write something that will take the repetitiveness out of it. It's fun. The, the job is as fun as you want it to be. And I think if you like to solve puzzles and you think that, you know, algorithms are fun and not like an affront to your sense of dignity, if you actually like crack open one of these more complex fundamentals of computer science books, and you're like, Oh, this is cool.

[00:07:31] That can lead you right down the direction. And for me, that's what it was. It wasn't just like, Oh, code makes money. I was very happy to make the money, but it was also like, actually, there's a lot of stuff I can do with code that I couldn't do when I was just drawing. And I can actually make things come to life.

[00:07:47] I could make comic book characters that speak when spoken to, I can do all these. interesting things that just weren't possible when I was only working with flat two dimensional paper and a one way communication style with my audience.

[00:08:00] Alex Booker: It was a whole equation, and money was just part of that, obviously.

[00:08:03] Rachel Lee Nabors: It's a nice reward. And you know what? Also, there is zero shame in just saying, I need to support myself. I loved doing art. I loved, you know, being so important to so many people and supporting them. But I also realized that in web development, in tech, I could still do things that had great positive impacts on people's lives.

[00:08:23] And I still get emails now about like, Oh, thanks for that talk. It really helped me, you know, solve this problem I was having at work. And that's actually the thing I really loved about my relationship with my audience as a cartoonist was having that positive impact on people's lives. And now I'm passionate about helping people build their own dreams.

[00:08:41] Like Helping people who have an idea bring their idea to life, helping them go further in their career so that they can get their needs met. And that's kind of what it was always about with comics, too. I was just helping teenage girls navigate their lives, which are kind of hard. I don't know if you have ever met a teenage girl before, but it's not pretty.

[00:08:59] That's the part that turns out in the end, that was the thing I was passionate about. And I learned that you can love something, but just because you love it and it, maybe it loves you back. It's okay to find something else to love if it can't sustain you. Like it's all right to find something else to love.

[00:09:16] Alex Booker: Did you go to university at all, by the way? Do you have a degree?

[00:09:19] Rachel Lee Nabors: No, I tried, but I needed to make money.

[00:09:22] Alex Booker: That's really interesting, because I know you've gone on to work at some prestigious companies like Microsoft, Meta, and Amazon. How did you make that happen without a degree? Are you just like super charming in interviews with a next level resume that helps you get your foot in the door?

[00:09:36] Rachel Lee Nabors: Super charming in interviews. If that were true, I'd win a lot more interviews. I get rejections. Just like everybody else, I just had an interview session, drag on for like three months. And by the way, Harvard Business Review did multiple studies that show that interviewing potential candidates beyond the first two interviews is actually a waste of time because it doesn't make them more or less likely to succeed.

[00:10:00] But the point is people don't just open the door and let me in. And even if they do, what you do on the other side of that door. You know, we all have our favorite heroes that we look up to, but they don't always necessarily work out. I think I read this book once that said, having a great personality or industry cred can help get your foot in the door where it might be harder, like at these big companies, it might be harder for people who don't have a gigantic Twitter following, or a bunch of other big companies on their resume to be noticed.

[00:10:32] But it's still, when you get inside, it comes down to your performance. Very few people are just allowed to come in because they're popular. There are some, but for the most part, To stay inside, you have to bring something to the table, you still have to do valuable work. And so that can be challenging, I think, for people who are, you know, independent and used to operating in open source and getting on stage, smiling, kissing babies, etc.

[00:10:56] To suddenly go into this big machine where it's like they let you in. Now prove yourself

[00:11:01] and

[00:11:02] you're given a tiny little like butter knife and a dragon comes out of the other side of the stadium

[00:11:07] Jan the Producer: Coming up what to do when nobody's hiring

[00:11:10] Rachel Lee Nabors: Well time to crack out my backlog of fun projects i've wanted to work on

[00:11:15] Jan the Producer: By the way If you're enjoying our show and you want to make sure we get to make more of it The best way to support us is to tell somebody about it Word of mouth is the best way to support a podcast that you like.

[00:11:26] You can also post about it on social media, and as long as your Twitter or LinkedIn posts contain the words scriba and podcast, we will find them. And you might get a shout out right here on the show. And if you're feeling extra supportive, you can leave us a rating or review in your podcast app of choice.

[00:11:44] And yes, we also read those on air. Thank you in advance. But for now, let's go back to the interview with Rachel.

[00:11:52] Alex Booker: Well, I think a lot of us growing up, we kind of learn that to get a job, we create a resume, and then we go to shops and we hand it in and say, Hey, are you hiring? And then we take that approach to tech as well sometimes.

[00:12:04] But what I've learned hosting the podcast is that there are lots of different ways. to get your foot in the door. I was wondering if maybe you could take us through some of your roles and companies and maybe touch on sort of how you got those opportunities from a high level.

[00:12:18] Rachel Lee Nabors: Oh, I can tell you because it's the same pattern every time.

[00:12:21] I'm using a different pattern now. Let's hear it. All of my fancy FAANG roles started with a Twitter DM. Well, I guess Microsoft started because I was speaking at a conference with a person I really liked and respected, and he joined Microsoft. And I realized, once again, I was looking at the bank account, and I'm like, man, I love traveling around and giving talks about open source, but I want to get a house.

[00:12:42] I can't do that with speaker fees. This is very small. Okay. What can I do to make some money? Okay. My friend just joined Microsoft. They're staffing up a open source web community team. Yeah. All right. Hey, friend in the DMs. What's Microsoft up to? And he's like, Oh, you'd like to join. Let me put you in touch.

[00:13:02] And then there was not an open listing or anything. It was just having those conversations.

[00:13:06] Alex Booker: Interesting.

[00:13:07] Rachel Lee Nabors: And after Microsoft, I wanted to go live in Europe. So I joined booking, which started with me sliding into I guess this is my email of somebody I worked with much earlier in my career who'd gone on to work at Booking.

[00:13:19] And I was like, Hey, Booking is in Amsterdam. How's Booking doing? I'd given some talks at Booking in the past too. So I had some relationships at the company and they were like, yeah, interview. We're always hiring for Yorks. And I did that for a little bit. And then I was like, well, I miss working with the engineers.

[00:13:36] Like I did at Microsoft, like, booking's cool, but I kind of like building things that engineers use better. And I, I'd like to learn React. Where's the nearest group of engineers? And, you know, over there in London, Dan Abramoff. So I slid into Dan's DMs. I was like, hi, Dan. Dan was like, Oh, we got some problems to solve with our dev portals and our documentation.

[00:13:57] And that led to a conversation. So you see, each time there's a personal connection, I have, you know, an open channel of communication. I've participated in working groups. I've given talks at people's workplaces. I, you know, did a lot of legwork. They respect me. And then they, they work with the people internally to see if there's a way to let me in.

[00:14:15] And that's largely been what's worked for me, you know, even at Amplify, you know, sliding over to Allie, uh, Spatel and being like, Hi, Allie. I see Amplify at AWS is, you know, doing great things. You want to team up and it's cool. This is how it works. I'm not a cold call. I'm not waiting for people to tell me that they're hiring.

[00:14:33] I am leaning on the people I know, and I'm wondering what their problems are and if I can help them solve them, but now I'm doing something a little different. Because I don't know if you've noticed, nobody's hiring right now. And so this is what I'm trying now. And you can check back with me in a couple of years and ask me how it went.

[00:14:48] You might be saying to yourself, well, this is great, but nobody's hiring, so what am I supposed to do? When in doubt, and this goes for growing up in rural America too, when in doubt, ask what you can do for the community. To do something good for your community is better than to do nothing at all.

[00:15:03] Volunteer at a homeless shelter is better than staying home, watching YouTube and feeling sorry for yourself. We all feel sorry for ourselves. It's okay. When you don't get a job, it does make you feel like your value as a human is diminished. That's not true. You are a valuable human being and Going out and doing valuable things for other people helps reinforce and reassure you that that's true.

[00:15:25] So what I'm doing now is I'm working with a bunch of really amazing people who are also teachers in the developer education space and putting together this sort of developer influencer team. agency, which is turning out to be more of a co op, but we work together. We learn from each other, how to make better videos.

[00:15:43] We help land contracts. I'm out there being the negotiator. And in this way, I've been helping other people who are like me reach more audiences, learn from the things I've learned. And that has actually turned into some consulting work for me as well. And I don't know where this is going. But I'm trying to be the person who makes opportunities for others and slides into their DMs and is like, Hey, would you like an opportunity instead of, Hey, can you help me?

[00:16:09] And I kind of like this change. So ask me in a couple of years how the, that has gone, but right now I think it's a really useful use of my time. I'm not in a hurry to go back into big tech and I kind of want to help people. people with all the things that I've learned about how this greater developer community works, both on the community side and in the business side.

[00:16:28] Alex Booker: I like this idea a lot of creating value in the community. How can a new developer practice that in the real world?

[00:16:35] Rachel Lee Nabors: All the people who write all of the open source tools that you love, they have contact forms, they have email addresses, they have DMs, and you can slide in and be like, Hey, Do you need some help?

[00:16:48] Now, please don't do this poor Dan Abermoff. Dan's DMs and the React core team's DMs are absolutely overflowing with people asking if there's some way they can contribute to React. But React is a very small project with a huge audience. At this point, the project's at a point where there's not a whole lot in it.

[00:17:05] extra work that can be done, but think about projects that are growing. Look at, for instance, how the Astro community contributes to Astro's documentation and work. Look for these popular new projects that are staffing up on community members. They need help with docs. Docs is a great place to help. You can talk with core contributors that way, but also just look at your tool chain.

[00:17:27] Look at the tools that you're using, check your, your lock file and see which libraries you're pulling from. Go find them on GitHub and see like. Is this just one person trying really hard to keep this going? Can you help ask them, what can I do? And they might be like, ah, you can't do anything. I'm overwhelmed and you don't have the background to help me and just be like, okay, well, do you need someone to respond to emails?

[00:17:49] Do you need somebody to do some triaging on these GitHub issues? Like, what can I do? Little things, little things. And this can be a great way to start establishing those ties with people. And it's, in the end, it's that goodwill, it's that network, and the experiences you get from working and helping people out that make a difference.

[00:18:09] No, it's not all paid work. And especially in a season of layoffs, it's going to be hard to get paid. But that doesn't mean you can't still have meaningful experiences. I like to say when there's not a lot of pay, That means experience is finally at a discount because when there's money everywhere, you end up optimizing for the experiences that get you paid.

[00:18:29] Which aren't always as enlightening, as connecting, or as healthy as the experiences you gain when you do what you're interested in with people you like.

[00:18:41] Alex Booker: I got my first opportunity not through submitting a resume, but by giving to get. I put a lot of stuff out there. I think that expanded my surface area to get discovered and so that people could trust me a little bit more based on just an impression from my profiles.

[00:18:55] And I've spoken about this briefly on the podcast before. I was a fan of Kent C. Dodd's podcast. This is like seven or eight years ago now. It was hosted on YouTube and on his website. And the website was like going through a redesign and a rebuild. And I just wrote to Kent. I slid into his DMs. He had no idea who I was.

[00:19:13] I said, Hey, I'm learning to code. I love your podcast. Can I help at all? And he was so kind to jump on a zoom call for me for like an hour and ran me through some of the code kind of explained where he thought I could make a contribution as a beginner. And I really ran with it and we ended up redesigning the whole website.

[00:19:28] But I guess one thing to draw from that is like, I was quite surprised. I thought, Oh gosh, I'm writing to Ken. He was already quite prolific. I felt like, I don't think he's going to have time for me. I don't think I can, I was blown away by like the support. So. I think there's something there about kind of reaching out for those opportunities.

[00:19:43] Yeah. One more quick example I want to give is that I think I was contributing to like an authentication API. It was like an open source module and there was basically providers for all the different OAuth providers. Like there was one for Discord, one for GitHub. And I couldn't really understand the trunk of the code to do with all the fiddly bits that bring everything together.

[00:20:03] But I could understand how to implement a no off provider. And it's just one code file, it has an API you have to fill in, it gives you the white spots. And I did that for several different providers and I was watching my green squares go up and I was really hyped about it. And then, this is where it kind of gets interesting, I think.

[00:20:17] After doing that for several months with no expectation in return, other than to learn, someone on the project reached out to me and said, hey, where are you working, by the way? And And I was like, Oh, I'm not working. I'm just like learning. He's like, well, you don't have a job. Maybe you should come and interview at my company.

[00:20:30] We're hiring for role X, Y, Z. And like, it didn't pan out exactly. It wasn't actually the right opportunity for me. I felt like, but I wanted to give that as an example of like how these activities where you give might result and you're getting, I've been going to a lot of meetups in London lately and meeting bootcamp students and new developers.

[00:20:48] And I share stories like this. And they give me a little bit of pushback, but I don't have a good answer for it. And I think my responsibility as a host here is to kind of like figure that out with my guests. They say, well, Alex, that's cool and all, but I have been contributing to open source. I have been active in communities.

[00:21:04] In this economy, the stuff that used to work doesn't work like it used to. And we need new strategies. And as I say, I don't really have the answer for that. But I wanted to kind of explore it with you a little bit and see what you would say in response to something like that.

[00:21:17] Rachel Lee Nabors: So I hear you. I went through this back during the Great Recession, which most people still in the industry that you might meet as peers don't remember.

[00:21:26] I don't know why, but I think all the Great Recession developers ended up moving off into like management and leadership roles. So you just don't encounter them in the day to day. Uh, you might meet people my age, but they probably career changed into their roles. I also consider this a signal of why I'm not successful with capital S and quotes around it.

[00:21:45] Successful is that I'm still here and everybody else left. Didn't say something wrong with me. Did I not take the right elevator or like missed a turn somewhere? But anyway, the point is I remember this from back during the great recession. But that time nobody said, Oh, a great way to get a job is to contribute to open source because nobody had money to pay open sourcers.

[00:22:07] Nobody was hiring from open source creators or contributors. People who worked on open source during the great recession were people who had somehow made enough money while the time was good that they could rest on their laurels or people who had nothing better to do while they were going to college.

[00:22:22] And a lot of the things that came out, like WordPress came out from this time, the great flagships, one of the huge open database specs came out of this. It was just a couple of really smart people hacking away. You won't believe this, but most of the React Core team and the React Native team, like most of them go all the way back to MooTools, something called MooTools, which is a competitor to jQuery, and you can say that jQuery won.

[00:22:47] But the engineers who were, you know, in college and hacking around on MooTools with the MooTools core team, then later on went to hack around on another project called React. That's the thing, like hacking around, don't think of it as this is how I got to get a job. Everyone says, this is how I get employed.

[00:23:04] Cause right now nobody is going to contact you and say, Oh yeah, my company's hiring and I've worked with you. So we should hire you. Companies themselves are looking at their open source projects. Like why do we put money into this again? I think this is the commercialization of open source and this idea that if I put time in, I get job out and that attitude is not going to work this time around, you know, like, as I said, it's an experience that you can have right now, and it is discounted because.

[00:23:33] Previously, to, like, work on the next Mutools or the next React, you would have to take time away from your day job, or you'd have to make it a part of your day job. And you'd have to be like, well, I could get paid nothing to work in open source, or I can get paid to work on big corporate tech giants, internal systems that no one outside the company will use, I'm going to prioritize the thing that pays me.

[00:23:55] And that's great. Right now, though, you have an opportunity to not get paid. Ha ha. Just imagine the next two years, you won't get paid. What do you want to learn? Who do you want to collaborate with? This period of time will end, and there will be a different set of jobs coming up, and they'll be asking for different people.

[00:24:14] Who are the people you want to remember working with you and say, Oh, yeah, we need you. You're the person for this. So don't think of it as an immediate payoff. Think of it as an investment you're making in your connections, in your friendships. And I understand you might be like, but I need money now. Okay, go drive an Uber.

[00:24:33] Rent out part of your house to Airbnb. Work as a cafe person. I mean, I had to do these things during the recession. It was an ugly time. I did. artwork on commission for people because I had those skills. And I partly got into speaking and traveling just because I could get a little bit of money for the speaking and it would allow me to go meet people around the world.

[00:24:53] And now I live in London, which, you know, other people who were sitting tight during the recession, working a job that they weren't laid off on, they didn't have those experiences and they're in a different place in their career. So you don't know where the investments you make today are going to take you tomorrow.

[00:25:07] Please do not mistake contributing to open source and helping other people and generating value in your community as a one way ticket to getting a job. This is an investment you're making in your future. How do I get a job when people are laying off? I can't answer that because there are fewer jobs.

[00:25:24] You can't open a door when the door is slammed shut. Even people like myself who know these companies and have contacts still inside them, the door is shut because there is no budget to hire sometimes. You cannot change that fact of life. You can only set yourself up to be in a better place to seize opportunity when it does arise in the future.

[00:25:43] Alex Booker: Increase your chance to get lucky, I suppose, at some point in the future.

[00:25:47] Rachel Lee Nabors: You're going to get a lot more return on your investment. for doing code with other brilliant people who have nothing better to do with their time because they've been laid off than you will for filling out hundreds of LinkedIn posts that don't take you to a job that you want.

[00:26:02] I should also point out that in this current environment, there are no jobs there. That have great stories to tell. These are jobs where people are working and they're downsizing and more people are getting saddled with more work because there's fewer people to do it. As I put it, there's no glory coming from a role today.

[00:26:19] It would just be money. The glorious work that is being done is happening from all the brilliant people who are being laid off. and are now thinking of doing the things that they couldn't do. You've been working at a large company and you know how to do something very valuable, and now that company says we don't need you anymore, so you go, huh, well, I'm going to build a small business or small library that solves this need that I had.

[00:26:43] And you don't know which one of those is going to be the thing of the future. Some of them will look like the future, like Mood Tools, but not be the future, but the people who built it. We'll move on and make something else that's the future. So focus more on like, who are the people you can learn from?

[00:26:58] What can you do for them? What kind of knowledge do you want to start piling up into your life? You might not have the chance to work with somebody that you could under these circumstances, working a regular old day job. There are all kinds of brilliant people out there who are just starting to put their hands to keyboards, solving their own problems.

[00:27:16] If it's anything like the first recession we went through as to go by, there's an opportunity to collaborate with brilliance and it might take you one day in a direction you want to go. That is literally what I used to tell myself when I'd be like looking at the computer screen going, Oh no, I think layoffs are coming.

[00:27:33] Well, time to crack out my backlog of fun projects I've wanted to work on.

[00:27:38] Alex Booker: The common wisdom we hear or sentiment is that success in your career mostly comes from following a straightforward career path. This kind of climate means that people are more likely to take some twists, some breaks, maybe even a few turns.

[00:27:53] And I actually noticed looking at your LinkedIn profile that your career is a little bit windy in that way. Is your career path something that you meticulously planned and strategize about up front? Or did you kind of figure it out at each juncture?

[00:28:07] Rachel Lee Nabors: Does it look like I planned my career path? I have what they call a squiggly career path.

[00:28:12] Recruiters do look at me askance and say like, Okay, what's the thread here that I'm not following? And I have to tell them the thread is I love to teach the world to code, and I keep taking jobs that allow me to do that. You know, if it's not working on the Microsoft Edge browser community team, where I was helping build out new specifications for people to build the web forward, it was, you know, working on React documentation at react.

[00:28:37] dev, teaching like millions of developers all over the world how to build their dreams and get six figure jobs. These roles have different names, technical program manager, senior UX designer, but they all result in the same outcomes. Now for most folks who are listening to this, I'm going to anticipate you will have a straightforward career path.

[00:28:58] You're going to be going from junior engineer to senior engineer and hopefully staff engineer, maybe. Team lead, manager, principal, director, sky's the limit. And there's usually a fork in the road where you have to decide whether you love code more, or you love helping people be awesome more. And hopefully you're getting to make that chance deliberately, and you're not just being told, we need somebody to file these PTO requests, so you're a manager now.

[00:29:23] That is not the right way to make a manager. That's like making people raise kids because you had too many orphans. Um, but, uh, not everybody wants to be a parent and being a manager is kind of like being a, a work parent and it should definitely be handled by people who like that. There is a book literally called Managing Up.

[00:29:41] I highly recommend reading it if you find yourself in a position with a manager and you're like, Oh man, I don't think they understand what they're doing here. It's okay. It's okay. Nobody knows what they're doing. We work together. We figure it out. When it comes to navigating the career path, I definitely think there's something to be said for just going deep.

[00:29:59] If you can stay on a career path, it will pay off in spades. You're going to be able to tell all the stories in interviews of how your previous experience directly applies to the experience that they're looking for. I have to get creative. I have to be like, well, back in the day, or, well, there was this one time where I had a project that was similar to that.

[00:30:20] So that's the downside of a squiggly career path. On the other hand, I recognize greatness from most people's roles because I've done a lot of these roles before. So when I meet a really amazing designer who can, you know, roll their own CSS and operates amazingly in Figma, I can be like, Oh my god, this person has the skill set.

[00:30:37] We need them. I understand what they're doing. I can see their greatness. They're better than I am or could ever be. We got to get them in there and understand and empathize with different people's challenges. And it really puts me in a better place to coordinate multiple teams on single projects. Now that I think of it,

[00:30:53] Alex Booker: I think we have that in common actually, and that we're both like multi hyphenates.

[00:30:57] I remember at some point being between jobs. And I went on like the jobs, websites, and I'm like, my life would be so much easier if I just knew what title I was like searching for, but instead I had this kind of umbrella of capabilities and yeah, I'm very motivated by impact and I'll pick the right tools for that job.

[00:31:13] Circling back to the original question, I think the reason I ask is because you're right, like many developers, they will go on this career trajectory from junior to staff or whatever. But many people listening are kind of like, they're already veering from that ideal path because they were working a different industry or they got a degree in a different subject and now they're looking at coding.

[00:31:32] And something I hear a lot is that when you're changing path, it can feel a lot like you're starting from scratch. And I thought you would be a good person to ask about this because as you kind of switch roles, you know, working as a UX designer at Booking. com to working at Docs at a new company in developer education, you know, it might feel a little bit like you're starting from scratch.

[00:31:51] Rachel Lee Nabors: Absolutely. For a long time in my career, people were like, be an expert, develop expertise. You know, this is an economy of expertise, and I became an expert at web animations. It turns out web animations are not something people hire you to do, nor do many companies need experts in them. Even companies like Adobe, who hired fellow experts like Val Head, eventually Val Head got a different role.

[00:32:14] I think expertise is not a good thing to develop, because Artificial intelligence is really good at doing expertise. And most things that we develop expertise in become codified because you need to have an expert. SEO is something that is got like lots of tools and you can be an expert in SEO, but now we're looking at like, maybe SEO is not the right way to approach marketing content.

[00:32:38] Now that people will be interacting with algorithms differently. You're, for instance, an expert at accessibility. Accessibility is largely handed off to design system teams. And once they've solved accessibility for all of a company's components, the company has less of a need for accessibility experts.

[00:32:55] So the demand for accessibility experts decreases over time, as that expertise is codified and continues to be baked into the resources available. So today's experts are, you know, tomorrow's dusty book authors on the shelf. So that's why I always warn against expertise. I've also like in the 20 plus years I've been in this industry, I've watched how experts have to either constantly reinvent themselves around what is the new thing to be an expert at.

[00:33:22] We don't need CGI experts anymore. We don't need COBOL experts anymore. And the people who are great at COBOL, you know, either they retool into something new and become an expert or they end up being, and I've heard this from many, perfectly competent computer scientists and software engineers. Oh, my skills are out of date.

[00:33:41] I guess I just can't get a job. It's like, your skills are not out of date. You understand the principles. Go learn Python. Jeezums. The thing that computers are going to struggle to do for a long time is making jumps between, I call it jumps, disparate areas of deep knowledge. So I know a lot about comics.

[00:33:59] The reason I got into UX was because My background in visual storytelling translated beautifully into creating interfaces that people's eyes could follow. And then my wildlife watching skills played beautifully into sitting on people's shoulders and just saying like, Oh, that's interesting. Why did you click that button?

[00:34:19] So I could really understand from watching people how they were succeeding or failing. I also got really good at asking people what they needed. These skills came back and helped me when I started watching how people were learning react. I was hired to work with the react team, not as a tech writer, but to like take react's mental model.

[00:34:37] And shove it or scale it into the minds of all the react community. Because the react team was struggling to teach these principles. I got a little practice on react natives documentation, and I drew from my background in comics to add illustrations. I watched people. I interviewed people with my UX skills from back in the day when I did UX development and design, and I learned, Hey.

[00:34:58] They're actually learning things on buses. They're learning things on tubes. They're learning things on touch things. What? We don't have the evidence that they're doing that. I'm like, we don't need evidence. We got people. People are better than metrics. People are real. This comes back to my community mindset from growing my own communities.

[00:35:13] I'm like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Google analytics. Ha, great. You want to sit here and kind of like, ooh, and crystal ball of analytics when you could just go out and be like, hello, person on the street. How do you feel about this thing? And they'll tell you, isn't it amazing? And so through this, it was like, we need.

[00:35:27] Interactive examples. We need an interface that can function on different screens. It needs to work with touch inputs. Offline mode would be good here. Adjust to how people are learning. This is where people are getting stuck. I've wrote a book before. Here's what a book outline looks like. Let's use this as a learning path.

[00:35:43] And so all these weird background things just mean I could come together and work with a team to solve this real problem. And I think that's where humans excel. You're not just a person who's making components. If you're thinking. I'm going to join a company and then I'm going to sit down and I'm just going to make components all day or make things look like a figma file.

[00:36:00] That's probably a dying industry. What you want to do is say, there's a problem. I have spawned into this video game. I have a new objective. How do I use the tools that I've gained? Not just from my bootcamp, but also from my past life that I can apply to solve these problems. If you were a real estate agent, How does your charm at selling things to people and your ability to connect buyer and seller and walk that fine line of People's interests translate into the tech world you might find yourself working at a VC firm working with the different Investors and treading that fine line with the founders You don't know but really think about the skills that you brought from your past life and how They help you solve problems in your future life.

[00:36:48] I think that these are all gifts, and we bring them forward with us. They still have relevance. Look for opportunities where your previous experience is a gift and puts you head and shoulders above anyone else.

[00:36:59] Alex Booker: Everybody has a previous experience. I think so many people, they hear this and they're like, but my experience is so unrelated, or it's so not relevant, or it always is.

[00:37:07] Rachel Lee Nabors: It is! I know engineers working on robots that make coffee for people because they used to be baristas and they understand how people interact with baristas in a coffee setting. And they're going to do a way better job creating robots that could serve people in a kind and friendly and humorous manner than people who have no idea how that space works.

[00:37:27] Alex Booker: Absolutely. 100%. It's interesting because when you get your first job as an intern or a junior or a graduate or something like that, It's probably the only time in your career, at least historically, that you might get told, like, okay, go and do this. I will check it's okay. Now do that. And like, that's kind of your training wheels, right?

[00:37:45] But I think what happens as you progress is now your job is to, you know, the company will directionally be going in some way. Um, but it's really a case of moving things forward and that has very little to do with code. A lot of the time, it's more about, can you be evidence driven? Can you be persuasive?

[00:38:00] Can you manage expectations? Can you deal with like a degree of conflicting opinions? And this can make a huge difference in determining the right code to write, uh, not just aimlessly bashing out components. I say historically, and I emphasize that word because the climate is changing. I think what you're saying is really good to keep in mind right now, if you're trying to stand out as a new candidate, maybe that's the mentality you should aim to have and bring during your interviews or to frame in some way during your resume, because if there are less junior roles, you might be able to you.

[00:38:31] amplify or multiply what you've already got, which is your raw coding skill by presenting it in a way that's combined with your experiences and your practical skills. Does that, does that make sense?

[00:38:40] Rachel Lee Nabors: It totally does. And even for juniors, I think there's something to be said for not hiding or being ashamed of your previous experience.

[00:38:48] But humorously bring it in as your plus. Say you used to be a barista and you're like, Oh, I don't want them to know I used to work at Starbucks. No, lean into that. Be like, does your office have a cappuccino machine? Because I got elected for making the best flat whites. at Starbucks at Penn Station. Lean into the thing that brings you in.

[00:39:08] I used to lean into my artistic skills. I used to, you know, draw pictures of the team, etc. I really highlighted, like, I know how people think and I'm a good storyteller. Will it make or break you? Not really, but there's a difference between owning and framing your past life as a part of you and a bonus instead of, like, a hindrance.

[00:39:28] Rather than presenting as, like, I'm this person with a big pile of ex Experience and totally cardboard and humorless, or, you know, senpai, please don't notice that in the previous years I was, uh, in the service industry, bring it into your narrative, talk about if you were a mechanic, you are able to visualize things in 3d that most people that you're going to work with can't, honestly, you should probably start looking into 3d rendering engines and wasm.

[00:39:55] That's like a real thing. Think about how your previous skills carry over and differentiate you and make you a better, a better employee. Even as a junior rolling forward, it can help you pick different companies and really narrow your choices.

[00:40:08] Alex Booker: I just want to let that sing for a second. I can't tell you what a perfect note you just resonated because only last week I got a coffee with a person breaking into tech and we looked at their resume, shout out to NKG.

[00:40:21] And, uh, in her resume, she kind of cut out all of her previous experience. She worked in investment banking for Bank of America and she cut it out because she was like, well, it's not really relevant to tech and I'm like, but it's your story like your resume should tell your story from beginning. It's okay.

[00:40:36] If it's not about tech, this signals so many things about you. And so we wrote a little bit and that's like a really prestigious example. In my opinion, you probably shouldn't be reserved about that at all.

[00:40:46] Rachel Lee Nabors: That would probably put her at the top of the candidate pool for a lot of the fintech companies who wish that their engineers understood the use cases better.

[00:40:53] Alex Booker: Exactly. Yeah. Like you bring that domain knowledge, Rachel, I know you've had a wondering career path. How did you adjust to the new challenges and what are you doing to pay it forward?

[00:41:03] Rachel Lee Nabors: That's a great question. At first it was a really tough adjustment because I came from making comics on the farm, weird, probably somewhere on a spectrum somewhere, farm kid from rural America, to suddenly having co workers and being in an office with fluorescent lights.

[00:41:22] And then I had the same transition later. Only I went from being a cool, speaking on the road, open source, kind of, uh, developer advocate to working in a bigger office with more fluorescent lights and now with like VPs and directors and stocks and, you know, um, shareholders and each time it was an adjustment and I learned a lot.

[00:41:47] I learned so much and what helped me was often having a personal advisory board, which I highly recommend you set up. We won't have time to get into that in this one, but maybe in a future edition, but setting up personal advisory board. Locating a mentor, or if you can't locate a mentor, paying for a coach was really helpful.

[00:42:06] The first time I made one of these transitions, like when I first came, I learned everything the exceedingly hard way, which was the School of Hard Knocks. So when I moved in house for the big tech companies, this was when I was like, I'm not doing this alone, set up a personal advisory board, get the mentors, got to have my crew backing me up.

[00:42:24] So when something was weird, I could be like, Okay, am I crazy or did my director just say we should do one thing and then turn around and did another thing? Or I thought my manager was supposed to understand what I'm doing and I get the impression that they're not all there. Do they need help? Should I intervene?

[00:42:44] You know, like I would have these questions or why is this person crossed with me? My idea is very good and theirs is not very good. Don't they understand? So these were the challenges that I had and these were the things I had to learn how to do because working inside a company very different from like running your own artistic business or community management, etc.

[00:43:05] Alex Booker: There's a lot more people to deal with, ultimately.

[00:43:07] Rachel Lee Nabors: It's all people. Like, the difference between success and failure inside these companies doesn't just come down to your skill or understanding, like, business value decisions. Like, you know, we put 1 in here so we can get 2 out here. Yes, you can be good at both those things.

[00:43:20] But if you aren't also good at people, it won't be enough. There'll be somebody else who can do those two things, or even isn't very good at those things, but they're good at it. better at people and they will excel where you struggle. And in a highly competitive market, those people are going to end up keeping their jobs because they are better at iterating their value to the company.

[00:43:41] They are better at understanding the needs of their co workers and they are better at navigating the emotional turbulence of difficult relationships, which, you know, when going gets tough, those relationships get tough. Couples therapy actually goes a long way when it comes to resolving conflict on a team, by the way.

[00:43:57] So if you have experience with that, it is applicable. Speaking of squiggly career paths. So I learned all these things. I'm still learning. I want to express that I'm, like, not an expert. But I started to share little by little things about this, starting with, like, going through a grief event at work. I made a talk about how to go through grief at work and how to navigate that with time off, etc.

[00:44:20] Nobody taught me these things. I just had to learn them from talking to my mentors and sometimes by learning some things the hard way, doing something and looking back and being like, oh, that was not good. You know, I've given talks. I usually only give them once, but I've given talks on how to survive layoffs.

[00:44:36] how to handle grief events, how to handle co workers going through grief, how to be an adult in professional relationships, emotional regulation in yourself and others. And these have done really well. So I've started to write them down. You can read them on my substack

[00:44:55] Alex Booker: We'll link it in the show notes for sure. I

[00:44:57] Rachel Lee Nabors: might turn it into a book. I might not. But if these things are helpful to you, and I get feedback that they're helpful, same way I used to write comics, and I get feedback that they help people, if they're helpful to you, please let me know. And if they're not helpful to you, like, engage in the conversation.

[00:45:11] I'm always learning myself. And, you know, the other day I wrote something about rupture and repair and how important it is to navigating at work. Like, it's something that applies to our personal relationships. When you have a fight. How do you come together and make things better after you've had that fight?

[00:45:30] If you just let things hang, the relationship deteriorates. A lot of managers aren't very good at resolving fights between their reports. They just sort of like stand back. And it eventually ends up in a, you know, a standoff where the reports are going to butt heads until one of them moves on. But if you learn repair, you can go and you can mend those fences.

[00:45:49] And my partner spoke up and was like, Hey, You should also mention in this that you shouldn't be afraid of rupture because it's more important to be better at repair so that you can have many ruptures. Rather than tiptoeing around rupture so that people can be heard and that will make the relationships go smoother.

[00:46:08] And I was like, you're right. That's great feedback. I'm going to put that into the final version. So talk about what's working for you and what's not working. And I'd love to hear feedback as I share these things that have and haven't worked for me. I want to know what has and hasn't worked for you.

[00:46:23] Alex Booker: I love what you're doing so much because I strongly feel like nobody comes out of the womb.

[00:46:28] Well versed in emotional intelligence or how to navigate big tech companies, for example. For some, it might be more intuitive than others, but I think for so many of us, including myself, it really helps to put a language to those problems and kind of understand what's going on there. It's very easy to be like almost a conflict averse at work, but that can lead to like a ruinous empathy where you're not saying what needs to be said.

[00:46:50] And oftentimes if you can embrace in those hard conversations, you come out the other end knowing that everything was okay. This comparison with marriage counseling is so funny because it's It's ultimately about trust and seeing that even though things got really bad, you're both safe, you're both okay, now you can engage in a new way and move things forward.

[00:47:07] It is a relationship and I talk about these things like non violent communication or like trust but verify, trust by default, all these things. But I very much had to learn them through trial and error and I've never really found like a great resource that articulates them as well as your substack and your writing is beginning to do.

[00:47:23] I think you're on a quest here it seems like that you're still working on. Um, but I just really like what you're doing. And I hope you keep doing it, and I hope everybody goes to the show notes and checks it out and follows your ask to give some feedback.

[00:47:35] Rachel Lee Nabors: Well, Alex, I hope I'll see you in the comments.

[00:47:37] It sounds like you have a lot of thoughts, and I'd be delighted to hear anything you have to add to the conversation. This has been a real pleasure.

[00:47:44] Alex Booker: Rachel, thank you so much for your time. I'll catch you next time, okay?

[00:47:47] Rachel Lee Nabors: Cheers. Bye, everyone. Good luck out there.

[00:47:52] Jan the Producer: Next week on The Screamer Podcast, the creator of 100

[00:47:56] Alex Kallaway: Days of Code, Alex Galloway.

[00:47:58] I was ranting to my wife how I was so upset with myself, so disappointed in my lack of consistency that I wanted to do it for three months originally, like 90 days. And she was like, that doesn't sound good. Do 100 days. I was like, wow, that's, why didn't I think of that? If you made it this far,

[00:48:15] Jan the Producer: subscribe to the show so you don't miss it.

[00:48:18] That was The Scrimmub Podcast, episode 158. Thanks for listening, and make sure to check out the show notes for the ways to connect with Rachel, and the resources mentioned in this episode. The Scrimmub Podcast is hosted by Alex Booker, I've been Jan, the producer, keep coding, and we'll see you next time.