The Scrimba Podcast

๐ŸŽ™ About the episode

Meet Vanessa Vun ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ! Vanessa is a long-time listener of the Scrimba podcast. She's also a career changer who has spent a decade working as a lab scientist before realizing she would be happier coding. She started learning front-end in April 2022. By September, she started applying for jobs. In June this year, she landed a job at a startup making lab software!

However, Vanessa's path to success was not without challenges. She started applying for tech jobs during layoffs, facing rejections due to a lack of relevant experience. In this episode, she shares how she tackled that and whether or not unpaid internships and volunteering are a good idea. You'll also learn how Vanessa created her own curriculum by analyzing what people learn at bootcamps, why it's essential to get outside feedback on your coding projects, and how to make the most out of your LinkedIn, mentorships, and the podcasts you listen to. 

๐Ÿ”— Connect with Vanessa

โฐ Timestamps

  • How Vanessa gave up on coding and became a lab scientist (01:25)
  • Vanessa was surprised at how analog lab management tends to be (02:55)
  • Why Vanessa decided to leave her lab career behind (04:17)
  • How Vanessa learned to code - but this time, for real (05:36)
  • Vanessa has been a webmaster of Lady Crvsh Crew since 2019. What did she learn making a website with Squarespace? (08:58)
  • Vanessa started applying for jobs during layoffs! (09:45)
  • Community break with Jan The Producer (10:22)
  • How Vanessa stayed motivated during tech layoffs, and tackled her lack of tech experience  (12:36)
  • Why volunteer experience is different to just working by yourself (15:07)
  • What is SciShield? (17:01)
  • Vanessa's LinkedIn strategy (18:16)
  • How Vanessa discovered a position at SciShield (19:18)
  • The power of domain knowledge: SciShield liked Vanessa being a former scientist! (20:10)
  • How Vanessa went through six rounds of interviews (21:08)
  • Quick-fire questions: Learning resources, Javascript superpowers, and people to follow (22:27)
  • What Vanessa gained from consultations with a mentor (23:56)
  • Should you go for unpaid internships, or should you always insist on being paid for your time? (25:16)
  • Careful where you volunteer at! (26:53)
  • What is Hack for LA? (27:47)
  • How does domain knowledge help Vanessa at her new job? (29:16)
  • Should a front-end engineer know databases? (32:24)
  • The importance of having a good manager (33:37)
  • Was learning to code worth it? (34:39)

๐Ÿงฐ Resources Mentioned

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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.

Vanessa Vun (00:00):
Although the work I was doing before had a lot of value, I helped the healthcare and biotech industry, but I just didn't feel like it was for me. With coding, it felt like it was for me.

Alex Booker (00:13):
Hello and welcome to The Scrimba Podcast. On this weekly show, I interview developers about their advice on learning to code and getting your first developer job. I'm your host, Alex, and today I'm joined by Vanessa, a scientist turned developer from San Francisco, who just got her first job in tech as a front-end engineer. She joins me today to recount her experience learning to code part-time, transitioning careers, hunting for an entry-level job during layoffs.

Her calculated decision to work an unpaid internship in order to build up experience. In the end, an up-and-coming startup hired Vanessa over candidates with more technical experience because of that work experience she built up. And her ability to convey her career experience through conversation and a really pleasant developer portfolio that Vanessa put together. This is a fun episode because Vanessa attributes some of her success to advice she got listening to this very podcast.

While Vanessa has her unique perspectives, it's also going to be interesting to hear the advice that helped her the most. You are listening to The Scrimba Podcast. Let's get into it.

Vanessa Vun (01:25):
I actually got into learning how to code in middle school. That was when I was 10 or 11 years old, and I started with C++.

But I quit around high school because I didn't feel smart enough, so I just moved on from coding and didn't think back about it until recently last year.

Alex Booker (01:47):
What did you pursue in the meantime?

Vanessa Vun (01:49):
I graduated college with a biology degree and I had intentions to go to medical school, but I didn't want to go to medical school. I ended up finding a program about clinical lab science.

This program is an internship and they train you on how to do laboratory work in hospitals or biotech companies behind the scenes. My profession then was to grab that blood sample or some human excrement or substance to test. We're basically the people that you never see in hospitals.

Alex Booker (02:29):
But we depend on for all our tasks and everything else. Yeah.

Vanessa Vun (02:32):

Alex Booker (02:33):
Unsung heroes, for sure. I like that a lot. By the way, you felt like programming might be too hard, so you pursued biology and medicine instead, which seemed a lot harder to me.

Vanessa Vun (02:43):
Yeah. I didn't know how I got to that, but I just went with how I felt.

Alex Booker (02:49):
How long did you work as a lab scientist for?

Vanessa Vun (02:51):
10 years total.

Alex Booker (02:53):
Whoa, you were deep in that career then?

Vanessa Vun (02:55):
Yes. I even got a master's degree in healthcare management because I thought that was the next step. I was running into a lot of, I guess, difficulties in some of the processes, like manual processes. They keep track of samples through paperwork or even note cards or some kind of sticky note.

Alex Booker (03:18):
In 2023.

Vanessa Vun (03:20):

Alex Booker (03:20):

Vanessa Vun (03:20):
Even in biotech, the last biotech lab I was in, also used note cards to keep track of their samples. That experience throughout my 10 years working as a lab tech, really put fuel inside of me to make a change to work towards a software that can help laboratories.

Alex Booker (03:40):
Wow, so that was your primary motivation to learn to code, I assume, if you had a product in mind at the end.

Vanessa Vun (03:48):
Yes. The last biotech company I was at was the last straw. I saw them using paper notes, Excel sheets, keeping track of things.

I was like, "No way this is happening in a biotech lab. I want to change that. I want to be part of the solution, a software solution for laboratories."

Alex Booker (04:09):
When did you finally decide to leave it behind and pursue coding? That must have been a hard decision, even if you were really motivated.

Vanessa Vun (04:17):
I left it early last year around March, and I started learning to code full-time in April.

Alex Booker (04:24):
What made you start then? What was the catalyst that made you say now is the moment?

Vanessa Vun (04:30):
It was a culmination of a lot of experiences and factors that had me jump into this really difficult journey of trying to switch careers. The three years of working through the pandemic as an essential worker.

Alex Booker (04:45):
Of course, wow.

Vanessa Vun (04:47):
During that time, I also had health issues such as chronic pain, and I was going through medical therapy that made me tired and hormonal and have low energy. I think what really motivated me to change completely, was when my uncle passed away during the pandemic. It was a reminder of how precious and short life is.

After that, I did some soul-searching and a career workshop too. One of the questions that was asked was what gave you joy when you were a child? I thought, "Okay. I like art, I like creativity, I like coding, so I think front-end development served all three of those joys I had when I was a kid."

Alex Booker (05:36):
How did you go about learning to code?

Vanessa Vun (05:38):
I first went to Code Academy because it was the first thing that pops up in the search on Google.

Alex Booker (05:46):
We know.

Vanessa Vun (05:48):
But when I got to the React section, I was so lost because I'm not used to reading and following instructions. It was very difficult to learn. Someone in the Code Academy Forum suggested to check out Scrimba, so that's how I got to Scrimba.

I did the free React course with Bob, and then I also continued it to the Advanced React. Scrimba was the one that really taught me the entire front-end web development, especially with React because that's the foundation. Learning the foundation through Scrimba really made things more solid for me.

Alex Booker (06:26):
How much coding did you know beforehand? Did you know about variables and NIF statements and those basic things, or was it new to you totally?

Vanessa Vun (06:35):
I had experience with coding way back. I don't remember C++ at all, but I understood NIF and L statements and variables.

What was different was learning HTML, JavaScript from scratch, and then learning a framework that had those foundations behind the scenes.

Alex Booker (06:56):
How did you structure your learning? Were you doing it alongside your work in the lab or did you get to spend full-time doing it?

Vanessa Vun (07:03):
I initially did full-time and I had my own curriculum. I actually studied the curriculum of bootcamps.

Alex Booker (07:11):
That's smart.

Vanessa Vun (07:13):
Made a curriculum. I put it on Notion and followed what subjects and courses I would take, and then what Udemy courses I would take as well. But at some point, I've learned enough React that I wanted to make my own projects.

That was the biggest leap is from learning through courses and building your own project from scratch. That took me a lot of time to really feel comfortable.

Alex Booker (07:43):
100%. It's one of those things that you can't quite believe you can do it until you try, and then one day you can. It's such an empowering feeling to almost take the training wheels off because you're not just following a tutorial step by step.

But you're using those fundamental building blocks to go and build something totally unique. Did you build any projects while you were learning to code?

Vanessa Vun (08:03):
Yeah. The project that was really unique to me and also the project that made me lose hair a little bit, because it was difficult to build something from scratch without any guidance, it was building a laboratory kanban board.

Alex Booker (08:20):
I shouldn't be surprised, should I, if it had to do with a laboratory?

Vanessa Vun (08:24):
Yeah. My experience really motivated me to make something that I feel would improve laboratory workflow. What's different with this kanban board is that each card had a timer.

I just learned that dealing with time in code, it's just really difficult, but I learned a lot from that. It's not perfect, but I learned a lot from that.

Alex Booker (08:47):
Nice. We'll link it in the show notes for sure, and then people can check it out. I think it is often a question people wrestle with as to what projects to build, so I think sharing some inspiration is going to be really cool.

Before you started to learn frontline development specifically like HTML and React and those things, you built a website for a community you're part of using Squarespace. How did that experience using Squarespace lead into your experience learning to code? Was it helpful at all?

Vanessa Vun (09:14):
I think using Squarespace to create the group's website, allowed me to learn how a website should look in general. You have a hero section, you have a nav bar.

There are certain ways that Squarespace provided the template of what modern websites should look. It gave me the eye to figure out what my project should look like or at least what professional websites should look like.

Alex Booker (09:45):
That's cool. Then you've got something to work towards when you start coding them. You started to learn web development in April, I think?

Vanessa Vun (09:54):
Yes, but freelancing for nonprofits like this group you're talking about, Lady Crush Crew. It happened like about three, four years ago.

Alex Booker (10:04):
Wow, and when did you start applying for jobs?

Vanessa Vun (10:07):
I applied for jobs late last year in September.

Alex Booker (10:11):
Which if I'm remembering right, was probably definitely around the time there were a lot of layoffs happening in tech.

I was like, "Well."

Jan Arsenovic (10:22):
Now, this is a cliffhanger if I ever heard one. Coming up, how Vanessa had to go through six interviews for a single company.

Vanessa Vun (10:30):
First one is with the recruiter and then the second one is with the hiring manager. Third one is...

Jan Arsenovic (10:39):
Vanessa is a frequent listener of The Scrimba Podcast, and I've read her posts on this segment at least twice so far. If you are currently learning to code and listening to the show, and tweeting or X-ing or posting about it, maybe you're next. Hi, I'm Jan, the producer. Alex and Vanessa will be right back, but first, I want to see what you've been posting about the podcast on social media.

Anthony Nantheto shared the blog post titled Git Command Cheat Sheet, and tweeted, "In my latest blog post, I share my top seven Git commands and how I use them. This post was inspired by the learn and public philosophy shared by Swyx on the latest episode of The Scrimba Podcast." Awesome. Rocky tweeted, "I really enjoyed The Scrimba Podcast with Jen-Li Lim. I work full-time while learning to code, so listening to a success story of somebody in a similar situation was very encouraging."

Yeah, it's a great episode. Sometimes we tend to think that we should be able to switch careers in three months or whatever, where we should be fine with taking a bit more time for it and doing it at a more sustainable pace. Yeah, glad you found it inspiring. Pravin tweeted, "Just listened to an amazing episode of The Scrimba Podcast featuring insights from 100 days of code participants."

It's incredible to hear how this challenge has transformed so many lives and accelerated their coding journey. By the way, we're working on an entire episode about 100 days of code. Who would you like to hear on it? If you have any suggestions as to who should we talk to, just tweet at... Sorry. I've been calling them tweets, but I still don't know what they're called now, so please forgive me. Like tweet or X at us.

It sounds really weird. If you're doing 100 days of code and listening to the podcast, join the conversation. If you give us a shout-out on social media, I will give you a shout-out on the show. Now, we're back to the interview with Vanessa.

Alex Booker (12:36):
Did you know these layoffs were happening when you started?

Vanessa Vun (12:39):
I read LinkedIn. I also read Reddit posts. Everyone was freaking out.

Alex Booker (12:45):
Me too.

Vanessa Vun (12:46):
But it was unproductive to freak out, so I constantly try to pivot my strategy. I think the biggest strategy that worked really well for me, was what I learned through screen web podcasts. There are two specific podcasts episodes that really helped me. One is with Madison Kanna and also Alexander Lee.

Alex Booker (13:11):

Vanessa Vun (13:12):
Yeah. Through Madison's episode, what really gave me an idea is when she talked about getting technical experience through an unpaid apprenticeship, that really motivated me to get roles, paid or unpaid, mostly unpaid, to get that technical experience.

I was tired of hearing recruiters saying, or hiring managers saying, "You don't have enough experience." The episode with Alexander Lee, he talked a lot about how important your portfolio should look like and what the tech market is for juniors. After that episode, I met up with him for a coaching session.

Alex Booker (13:50):
You're kidding.

Vanessa Vun (13:51):
I'm not kidding. The Scrimba Podcast really gave me ideas on how to motivate me through the tech layoffs.

Alex Booker (14:01):
Oh my gosh, that's just awesome to hear. Thank you for sharing that. When you realized that you needed more hands-on experience to get a job in that market, how did you go about doing that specifically?

Vanessa Vun (14:11):
First, after working with Alexander Lee, leading up to a session, I changed my portfolio completely. I also completed a course so I could add more meaningful projects in my portfolio. I use his session as a deadline to change my resume and portfolio. After I get feedback from him on what to improve, I start looking for roles where I can gain technical experience.

That's where I found out about Hack for LA, which is through the Code for America Community Brigade. I found an internship also through LinkedIn and through those two experience, I was able to work with a team and work with a big code base, which I've never had the experience to work with when I was doing a solo or a self-taught route.

Alex Booker (15:07):
Was that a valuable experience compared to just working by yourself?

Vanessa Vun (15:11):
Yeah, definitely. I feel like I learned more about Git, learning how to share branches, learning how to revert your changes.

Learning how to switch between branches and learning how to branch off another branch, so that was all very useful, especially to the job I have now.

Alex Booker (15:30):
Yeah. When you're learning and building your own project, it feels so contrived to do another branch or do a merge and all these things, because you might as well just commit to the main branch. There's really not a big reason not to do that.

But as soon as you start working in a team, not only is it essential, but you really see why it's important in the ways in which you structure your project and your branches now, I think that's so valuable. Plus, you just don't get that big code base experience when you're working by yourself.

As we all know, as a developer, you spend a lot more time reading and understanding code than you do actually writing it.

Vanessa Vun (16:07):
Yeah, it was a different beast. It was way harder than my experience at the volunteer or internship because the code base was much bigger.

I'm grateful that I had that experience in the internship and volunteer roles, because it was the next step to the actual paid development.

Alex Booker (16:27):
A stepping stone.

Vanessa Vun (16:28):
Yeah. Last week I got a new task to change two little things on the UI, but when I got to the file it was like 1,600 lines in one file. It took me a couple days to read and understand what the file was about.

So having to insert my code just to change two, three things was very difficult, but at least I knew how to take the time to read because of my experience at the internship and volunteer roles.

Alex Booker (17:01):
Yeah. Maybe since you're talking about the project you're now working on, we can segue into how you got the job. First of all, how long did it take you from beginning to apply to getting the job roughly?

Vanessa Vun (17:15):
I'd say I started last year in September, and I got the offer at the end of May or June, so about nine, 10 months.

Alex Booker (17:25):
That's very respectable. I like that a lot.

Vanessa Vun (17:28):
Thank you.

Alex Booker (17:28):
What is the company you're working at?

Vanessa Vun (17:31):
I work at SciShield and I feel pretty lucky because it makes a full circle of my whole story, because I wanted to work for a company that makes software for laboratories, and they are. I'm going to quote their website.

"Sci Shield is the scientific organization's choice for safe and compliant labs, so they provide solutions for environmental health and safety managers, lab managers and research scientists to keep track of inspections, audits, equipment, stuff like that."

Alex Booker (18:08):
Right up your alley.

Vanessa Vun (18:10):
Yeah. It's used by academia, governments and startups, so it was a perfect fit for me.

Alex Booker (18:16):
How did you actually find that opportunity?

Vanessa Vun (18:18):
Through LinkedIn.

Alex Booker (18:19):
Tell us a bit more about your job hunting strategy on LinkedIn.

Vanessa Vun (18:22):
I try to optimize my LinkedIn profile, so I have a banner and I have a summary and keywords in my tagline below my name.

Alex Booker (18:35):
You have a very standout profile picture as well, I noticed. It's been edited a little bit, but it's still clearly you, so it stands out and someone can recognize you.

Vanessa Vun (18:42):
Yeah. I put a lot of time in my LinkedIn because I also use it to reach out to people on LinkedIn to build a network. I reached out to a lot of alumni through my college, especially ones that switched to the tech industry.

Say they have a background in science or something unrelated to computer science, I reached out to them to see if I can talk to them and see how they switched industries. I got a lot of stories and advice through those people.

Alex Booker (19:18):
How did you find the experience applying for jobs? I know at first it can be tempting to Easy Apply to everything, but from what I've heard on the podcast anyway, that isn't always the most productive thing to do.

Vanessa Vun (19:29):
Yeah. I also tried Easy Apply, but the job that I have now is through an extra step where it goes to an external website and you fill out the application on the website, so I did a lot of those too.

Alex Booker (19:45):
That's another tip I've heard that we can relay, I think, which is that if you see it advertised on LinkedIn, sometimes LinkedIn will take you to their website as it sounds like happened this time.

But you can go off LinkedIn by your own accord, find the job on their website and apply there, because probably that goes to a different inbox with less applicants basically. Maybe it's a way to stand out a little bit. What do you think they wanted to see from you during the interview process?

Vanessa Vun (20:10):
I think the fact that I was a former scientist really stood out to them. One of the interviewers said that because I was a scientist, it gives me an edge over developers with experience.

I am just really surprised that they gave me a chance, especially over other experienced developers. Having the background as a scientist also matches their value as a company, because one of their values is that the product is made by scientists for scientists.

Alex Booker (20:45):
They would probably almost always have to compromise on that when they hire developers. But in your case, you genuinely are a scientist who's also a developer.

Were there other parts to the interview process? What kind of things did they want to see from you as a junior candidate in terms of your technical ability?

Vanessa Vun (21:02):
I went through six rounds of interviews.

Alex Booker (21:05):
Six rounds, what?

Vanessa Vun (21:08):
Yes. First one is with the recruiter, and then the second one is with the hiring manager. Third one is with a senior manager in the team.

Fourth one is a director from another department. Fifth one is the CTO of engineering, and then last one is the CEO.

Alex Booker (21:34):
Okay. It's quite a big company, I can imagine.

Vanessa Vun (21:37):
Actually, no, it's around 35 people, so a startup.

Alex Booker (21:42):
Yeah. Well, in that case, if they have that many interview rounds, it says one of two things, either number one, they're a really big company and that's just the way it goes.

Or number two, they're just very vigorous about getting people on board who they think are going to be a great fit.

Vanessa Vun (21:56):
Yeah. I can see why they do that because the average tenure of their company is six and a half or seven years.

There's a lot of people there that stay for a long time, and actually one of the directors just celebrated their 10-year anniversary today.

Alex Booker (22:15):
That's so cool, Vanessa. Thank you for telling us a bit more about the process. I have a few follow-up questions, some things I want to dig into a little bit more, but what do you say we break the interview up a little bit with some quick-fire questions?

Vanessa Vun (22:27):
Sounds good.

Alex Booker (22:30):
What is one learning resource that has been the most impactful on your journey learning to code?

Vanessa Vun (22:35):
I have to say Scrimba.

Alex Booker (22:38):
That's so nice.

Vanessa Vun (22:41):
Is the biggest one that impacted how I learned front-end development.

Alex Booker (22:45):
That's awesome. What is your favorite technology to use at the moment?

Vanessa Vun (22:49):
I would say JavaScript. JavaScript is the backbone of the internet and website, so I feel like learning it is fundamental to me.

Alex Booker (22:59):
As per likes to say in the intro to the career path, knowing JavaScript is a superpower basically, so I'm not surprised. What about a technology you're interested in learning next?

Vanessa Vun (23:09):
Well, I'm currently learning View because I did learn React first, and now I have to switch my brain into the View mindset.

Alex Booker (23:18):
When you are coding, what kind of music do you listen to?

Vanessa Vun (23:21):
I listen to lo-fi and K-pop.

Alex Booker (23:25):
Do you look up to or follow anyone in the tech community we should know about?

Vanessa Vun (23:29):
The first person that came to my mind is Brian Jenny. He's a coding coach and developer on LinkedIn. He's actually a mentor I looked up to, and also chat with for any of my questions during my job hunting process.

Alex Booker (23:48):
If Alex, AKA TechRally is listening, I don't think he'll be jealous or anything because you plugged his coaching earlier in the interview.

Vanessa Vun (23:55):

Alex Booker (23:56):
I wanted to ask you about that actually. Well, hopefully we're not cannibalizing his business, as I know his advice will be tailored to the individual.

But I was wondering were there any tips or advice that Alex gave you, in terms of your portfolio or LinkedIn that really stood out and made a difference?

Vanessa Vun (24:14):
Bringing up the first project I wrote from scratch, the laboratory kanban board, he was able to give feedback on what he sees as a user. He had questions about it like, "What does this button mean? What does this website mean in general?"

Alex Booker (24:32):
He could put himself in the shoes of someone who knew nothing about the project or your portfolio, and ask the questions that you couldn't assume because you were so close to the project.

Vanessa Vun (24:43):
Yeah. He asked questions that I didn't think about before because I realized that my audience are not scientists, it's just regular users.

Then I have this random project that recruiters all over would be looking at, so to them it would not make sense. I ended up adding a little paragraph of what the kanban board is about, and that's what I added to the website.

Alex Booker (25:09):
Which is funny in a way because the company you ended up working for, they probably would understand it.

Vanessa Vun (25:15):

Alex Booker (25:16):
Another thing we spoke about, which I really wanted to come back to, is Madison Kanna's advice about unpaid internships. Both her interview and Alex's interview, I remember them really well. They're fantastic guests with lots of great advice, so if anyone listening wants to check those out, they can. One of the really interesting points that Madison made, was that rather than learning to code by herself, she decided that she would be better off writing code in a team, any team.

Because that would accelerate her learning even if she wasn't being paid, and that motivated her to do an unpaid internship. Vanessa, I actually posted about this on LinkedIn and a few people commented saying, "No, never do that. Always recognize your worth. Don't do an unpaid internship. That's terrible advice." I have to ask, what do you think?

Vanessa Vun (26:01):
I also get those same comments when I created a LinkedIn post about unpaid internships. I agree that you should get paid to learn and to have experience, especially if you're creating work for someone else.

But with my circumstance, I was able to do unpaid work because I was working part-time while I was doing unpaid work for Hack for LA or any other roles, so I felt comfortable picking up these work.

To me, I feel like I get a lot out of the experience without getting paid so that was my reason to do unpaid work.

Alex Booker (26:42):
It's a really good point because compensation doesn't have to be monetary, if that makes sense. You can get value in return in the form of mentorship or experience and those things.

Did you feel like you had to be careful about where you volunteered your efforts, as not to be taken advantage of?

Vanessa Vun (26:58):
Yes. That's why I felt comfortable developing for Hack for LA, because they're part of the Code for America Brigade, which is a national community that create and maintain civic projects for the group's respective cities.

I know the work I'm putting into it is benefiting a lot of people, especially for certain cities. But when it comes to internships, I also look into how much work they expect from me and if I can do the expectation. I try to make sure I'm not taken advantage of.

Alex Booker (27:38):
Of course. If you were working part-time as well, that meant that you had to be quite careful about managing expectations, because you could only work so many hours before you burn out and that kind of thing.

Hack for LA, I'm curious, what do they do? Is it possible for people learning to get involved as well somehow?

Vanessa Vun (27:53):
Yeah. The national community is called Code for America, and the specific brigade is called Hack for LA. It's a group in Los Angeles that create projects to help serve the city of Los Angeles.

Alex Booker (28:11):
Is this to do with public transport and environmental government voting, those kinds of civic type of projects?

Vanessa Vun (28:18):
Exactly. Yeah, they have projects. Just to list a few, there's one called Expunge Assist, another is Ballot Nav and then Food Oasis. These are tools that helps the city help their own citizens.

But through Code for America, people can go through the brigades to see if they have one near them, and provide their service as a developer to help these brigades.

Alex Booker (28:47):
You're not just getting experience, but you're actually making a difference as well. That's probably pretty perfect, to be honest. Now, of course, you're working as a full-time developer, which is a great conclusion as well. You mentioned how your domain knowledge came in really valuable during the interview process.

How it possibly gave you an edge over other candidates that maybe had a bit more technical experience but lacked that context, that domain knowledge, the terminology and empathy for the problem and an understanding.

Maybe for someone listening who maybe they're not a lab scientist, for example, maybe they're working in another field. I'm just wondering what are some examples of where domain knowledge have helped you in this role?

Vanessa Vun (29:27):
When I was going through product training, I understood the terminology and the functions of the modules and what they're trying to solve.

I understood it quickly and it helps me figure out what I can do behind the scenes as a developer to change certain UI that would further help more scientists or lab managers.

Alex Booker (29:51):
Are there sometimes conversations about what to build and the right way to build it, and even though the technical stuff might be a bit advanced, you understand what they're trying to get at, at least?

Vanessa Vun (30:02):
Exactly. It really depends on the client too. Each client has different needs for their laboratory and then they would ask for certain functions or certain ways of doing things.

The support team would hear that request and then they would talk with the developer team to see if that is possible to do. It's very interesting to see how it all comes together.

Alex Booker (30:25):
That's awesome because you maybe don't need that middle step because you're both a developer and you understand what's happening. We all know that writing code is expensive, engineers are expensive, but it's also very expensive to build the wrong thing because of a misunderstanding or because it failed to understand what the user really wants. Some incredibly technical people, they judge their quality based on the quality of the code, and their productivity by the number of lines of code they've written.

It's a very easy trap to fall into, and at the same time, you might spend a lot of time aligning by what technologies you want to use. But I think because you have this intrinsic motivation and a deep appreciation and understanding for the space, you align by what is going to be most valuable to the users and therefore the customer. I think it puts you in this great position to embed yourself in conversations and give really valuable input probably around what direction to take things in, how to approach it.

Obviously, while you're new, your voice might be a bit quieter, but it's no doubt that over time, you start to make a really big impact this way. I can totally see why they wanted to invest in you. I think it sounds like a bit of a match made in heaven, to be honest. I'm sure they were super thrilled to get you on board.

Vanessa Vun (31:34):
Yeah, I'm glad.

Alex Booker (31:36):
You learned React, but they're using VueJS at the company it sounds like.

Vanessa Vun (31:39):
Yeah. Well, actually how Vue does things is similar to some of how React does things. My brain is able to rewire like, "Okay, this is similar to this concept," but I think a lot of my work these days is just JavaScript.

Not particularly like, "This is a React component or this is a Vue component." It's more like, "How do you make this thing change or how do you make that change and how to connect it together?" Then you just figure out the View part of it.

Alex Booker (32:11):
Maybe exemplifying why it's so important to focus on the foundations of JavaScript, even though FERNs and frameworks can be really exciting sometimes.

Is there anything you're looking forward to at work, any projects you are currently tackling, things you're learning?

Vanessa Vun (32:24):
Right now, I'm just getting to know the database. I'm actually being challenged on how much interaction I have with the database. I realized I should have learned more about the network settings when it comes to solo projects or maybe volunteer projects, but I'm learning a lot about requests and responses from the database.

I'm using a lot more of Postman to see what it looks like and other visualization of the SQL database. I'm looking forward to learning more about that and becoming an expert in that, because I didn't realize how important that is for front-end development because you rely on those results.

Alex Booker (33:11):
That's a great point. I think once upon a time, front-end developers would send abstract requests to a back-end and get the results, and maybe a back-end developer implements that.

But with the advent of things like GraphQL and other technologies, you're sometimes querying and accessing more back-end type technologies from the front-end.

Do you feel like you're getting more supports and guidance and stuff about those things while you're working at the company?

Vanessa Vun (33:37):
I'm actually really glad that I have this manager I have, because he's very supportive. He doesn't mind taking his time throughout the day to do pair programming or to view my screen, and see what I'm doing and telling me what to do, what to write. He basically handheld me like the first month. Well, he's still handholding me too, but I hope I can be more independent in the next couple months.

But I realized how important it is to have a manager that really makes sure that I am getting all the help I need. He often would drop whatever he's doing and help me out for an hour or two. I am really grateful that he's patient with me and that he helps me out whenever I don't understand something, because it's such a big code base with all kinds of new technologies that I never worked with before.

Alex Booker (34:39):
You mentioned early on in the interview that the catalyst for learning to code was around some health issues and the bereavements and you became a bit disenfranchised with the job, so just a very difficult time it sounds like. It's also not easy to learn to code. It's definitely not easy to learn to code while you're doing another job part-time.

But now you are here and you're getting the support and you have these growth opportunities, and it sounds like you're working on something that really matters to you as well. It's going to make the change you want to see in the world. That's pretty awesome. Was it worth it learning to code in the end?

Vanessa Vun (35:11):
Heck, yes. It was totally worth it, no doubt about it. During this career break, I was able to become more healthy as well. The pain I had suffered with for the last three years disappeared completely.

Alex Booker (35:27):
Whoa, is that like a stress thing?

Vanessa Vun (35:30):
Probably, I think it's stress and maybe unhappiness with maybe the work I was doing before. Although the work I was doing before had a lot of value, I helped the healthcare and biotech industry, but I just didn't feel like it was for me. With coding, it felt like it was for me.

Alex Booker (35:50):
That is awesome and a really wonderful happy note to end the interview on. Vanessa, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Vanessa Vun (35:57):
Thank you. I'm so happy to be here and to be able to be on a podcast I listened to a lot last year especially. It's just an honor to be here.

Alex Booker (36:09):
We're happy to have you, Vanessa.

Jan Arsenovic (36:13):
That was The Scrimba Podcast. Thanks for listening. Check out the show notes for all the resources mentioned in this episode, as well as the podcast episodes both Vanessa and Alex referred to. If you made it this far, please subscribe.

You can find the podcast wherever you get your podcasts. If you're feeling super supportive, consider leaving us a rating or a review in your podcast app of choice. The show is hosted by Alex Booker @Bookercodes on X. We are a weekly show and we'll be back next Tuesday.