202: With Monika Piotrowicz and Lara Hogan

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This week we talk with Monika Piotrowicz and Lara Hogan about career paths - where we started from doesn't always equal where we've landed. Freelancer? Go to university or college? Find a mentor? It's a common ShopTalk Show question and we do our best to answer from our experiences.



Monika Piotrowicz

Web · Social

Monika is the UX director at Shopify.

Lara Hogan

Web · Social

Lara is the engineering director at Etsy and author of Demystifying Public Speaking, and Designing for Performance.

Time Jump Links

  • 51:47 Where I live there aren’t many local jobs for me. The local jobs are mostly unrelated to my skill set and aren’t things I’m interested in, and the remote jobs tend to be geared towards those with many years of experience and better developed soft-skills. Am I, or anyone else in a similar situation to mine, outa luck? Or is there a plausible escape plan?


CHRIS:  Hello, everybody.  It is time for ShopTalk Show, Episode #202.  This season, we're doing topic shows, themed shows where there's a specific topic, and we're going to talk about that topic for most of the show.  Still do some of your questions, still have guests on and, in fact, we have some awesome guests today.  Ooh, are they good, and we're going to talk about that topic.  I'm going to tell you what that topic is in just a moment.  But first, there are two sponsors that I need to tell you about at the top of the show because they are wonderful.  

One of them is Braintree. is where you want to go.  Developers around the world have embraced the Braintree v.0 SDK as the easiest way to add secure mobile payments to their apps and websites.  Boy is that true.  We are implementing Braintree as we speak at CodePen and the developers that are working on that project are loving how nice the APIs are.  It's a set of APIs for taking money, for taking Apply Pay, Android Pay, PayPal, Venmo, credit cards, even bitcoin.  Pretty fancy stuff.  

We'll tell you more about Braintree,, later in the show because I need to tell you about Fluent, the O'Reilly Web conference.  Web, Web, Web, Web is everything at this conference.  It's a big, you know, stellar lineup.  It's coming up March 7th through 10th.  They're doing two days of intensive training on things like Node, React, CSS layouts, some of our favorite things to talk about here on ShopTalk Show--you'll definitely come out of that smarter than you were before--and some days of sessions covering lots of different stuff, topical based things as well.  

Will React hold of Angular2?  Go find out.  Those are the kind of conversations that will be happening at Fluent.  And, this is the important part.  Register and save 30% off the entire conference: SHOPTALKS.  That's the discount code at Fluent.  Check that out very much.

But, for now, we're getting on with this thing.  Dave, please kick us off.  

[Banjo music]


DAVE:   Hello, there, Shop-o-maniacs.  You're listening to another episode of the ShopTalk Show.  I am Dave Rupert, and with me is Chris Coyier.  

CHRIS:  Hello.  As I promised, this is going to be a topic-based show.  We're going to be doing a number of these this season where we have guests, like we always do.  We're going to answer some of your questions, like we always do.  But, we're going to keep it more themed around a particular topic.  The topic this time was suggested by one of our guests, Monika.  You'll have to help me out with your last name, I'm afraid.  Hi, Monika.

MONIKA: Monika Piotrowicz.  Hi, everyone.  Super excited to be here.

CHRIS:  I met Monika virtually at a CodePen meet-up.  Monika, you're at Shopify, yeah?

MONIKA: Yes, I'm a senior leader front-end developer here.

CHRIS:  So a perfect person to talk to on any ShopTalk Show, but when we were talking about things to do, we thought maybe it would be kind of interesting to talk about career paths.  We can learn about Monika's career path, and we'll talk about that kind of thing.  Somebody else with an interesting career path, we have as a return guest, Lara Hogan.  Hey, Lara.

LARA:   Hey.  How's it going?  I'm so happy to be back.

CHRIS:  Yay!  Lara is at Etsy, right?

LARA:   That's right.  You got it.  I'm a senior engineering manager there.

CHRIS:  You're a senior engineering manager.  

LARA:   Mm-hmm.

CHRIS:  Senior engineering manager and senior front-end development lead--

LARA:   You got it.

CHRIS:  --at Shopify.


CHRIS:  So, pretty cool.  All four of us, of course, have a career path of some sort.  I thought maybe--

DAVE:   Mmm -- okay, well, let's pretend.  

CHRIS:  Okay.  Let's start with you then, Dave, just quickly.  I thought what we could do is -- I'm sorry if there was light preparation time on this, but could you just give us a 60 seconds or less version of your career path starting as early as is relevant to tech, Dave?  

DAVE:   I started making websites when I was 14, like in 1995, and I've made them as a hobby.  Then I started making them professionally in about 2007 or '06, 2006/7.

CHRIS:  Okay.  Meaning, people paid you to do it.

DAVE:   People paid me to do it, yes.  Otherwise, it was just kind of a hobby, for the love building forums, blogs, and things when that was really difficult. 

CHRIS:  Okay.  Is that it?  You went on to--?

DAVE:   Now I work for a small, three-person company called Paravel, and we make websites and help large companies make websites.  That's sort of what we do.

CHRIS:  Yours is pretty linear in that you haven't bounced around very much.  

DAVE:   No.

CHRIS:  It was kind of like you found a good job and you just stuck with it.

DAVE:   Yep, made it work.

CHRIS:  Yeah, and you're kind of a cofounder, as it were, for this thing.

DAVE:   Yes, sir.

CHRIS:  Yes.  Okay, okay, that was 60 seconds or less.  Lara?

LARA:   Hi.  Yeah, so I really struggle with this.  When I was in high school, NeoPets, remember NeoPets at all?

DAVE:   Hmm.

CHRIS:  Is that the kind that you had to feed?

LARA:   You had to feed the pets.  Right, it was online.  They have an HTML and not even CSS, just HTML tutorial.  That's just in the days before CSS.  I learned how to build a guild for my pets using their HTML tutorial.  I ended up using that knowledge to build little websites for friends and, as an intern in college, random stuff.  Then, I'm one of those weirdoes that has a very nonlinear trajectory, so 60 seconds is too few, but I can say I job hopped from project management roles to front-end developer roles to eventually manager roles, all while having tons of side businesses that helped me build up the skill sets I needed to end up being an okay manager and a coach to help other people with their career paths.  

CHRIS:  What's an example of one of those side--?

LARA:   I ran a wedding photography business.  I ran a wedding website that helped LGBT couples be connected to wedding vendors that were eager to work with them.  I was certified as an EMT.  It's just a bunch of weird--

CHRIS:  Wow!

LARA:   Yeah, weird stuff.  Yeah.

CHRIS:  Okay.  Interesting.  Monika?

MONIKA: Sure.  I have a degree in biology and psychology, so naturally that led me to become a front-end Web developer because, of course--

CHRIS:  Biology and psychology. 

MONIKA: Yeah, very related.  Very related to my day-to-day.  No, when I started school I thought maybe I'd end up in academia, or I don't know what I was really thinking.  But, suffice to say by the time I graduated I knew I didn't really want to go into either of those fields.  But, throughout my undergrad, I kind of started dabbling a little bit in HTML and CSS during some summer jobs.

    And so, after I graduated, I actually went back to school to do a program at a local college that was like a yearlong all about the Web, and that took me into an internship, which I then, I guess, parlayed into a couple jobs at various agencies.  While there, I always, I guess, found myself pretty interested in how teams worked and the role of process on a project.

    I got to be a project lead pretty early on, which I liked, but it was a few years and a few companies later before I got to do that again, but that's mostly because I kind of took a couple different kind of roles and wasn't necessarily going down that trajectory the whole time.  But, eventually, at Shopify, front-end was a new discipline when I had started, and I had been building a lot of foundations for it, so when it came down to leadership, it kind of made sense for me because I was already kind of doing a little bit of it anyways.  I definitely think that kind of helped me transition into the role I'm in today.

CHRIS:  Interesting.  How long at Shopify, then?  A number of years, probably.

MONIKA: Probably about two and a half years, and I started working as a Web developer, I think, in 2008.  Yeah. 

CHRIS:  Yeah.

MONIKA: 2008, yeah.

CHRIS:  Yeah, similar.  Similar for me, it was 2007 or '08 for me as well.  You know, it's kind of like I started.  I can think of it because I started CSS-Tricks, like, right away.  I had no business doing that, but I just did it anyway, kind of thing, so it's kind of like the start of that was really the start of my career too.  

    The biology angle is fun.  I feel like you should make your own CSS framework where everything is named after cells.  What is a div if not a cell.

MONIKA: Yeah.  It takes a whole, like the atomic design takes the chemistry aspect to it.  Maybe there's some sort of a biology, living organism thing.

CHRIS:  Yes, yes.  Steal that stuff.  Make it more about cells than atoms.

MONIKA: Yeah, yeah.

DAVE:   Kingdom file--

MONIKA: Oh, my goodness.  Yeah.

LARA:   …totally, yeah.

DAVE:   Yeah.

CHRIS:  Good.  That's good.

MONIKA: Noted.

CHRIS:  Yeah, so mine, timing wise, was pretty similar.  Definitely had the, like, "I need a website for my band," thing, and then do that.  I think the divs get you sometimes.  There's this moment where we're kind of feeling powerful where you've registered a domain name, you've made a thing, you've put it online, and you're like, "Yeah!  That was awesome!  Anybody in the world can see this."  I remember being excited about that.  

I did a little bit of programming in middle school and high school, and then went to college for that and was disenchanted only because computer science classes were hard, I thought, and I was busy bowling and stuff.  I was not a super good student, so I was like, "I need to leave this hard stuff," and I went to art because I had a friend who was getting an art degree and his life looked a heck of a lot more fun than mine did, so I kind of just ended up copying him thinking I'm a smart person.  My life will be fine no matter what I do, which I stand by because it's been fun.

It was a little hard, a little slow start after college trying to get jobs.  Did a lot of pre-press, was my history, which is like getting digital files ready for printing presses and, on the side, was learning more and more stuff about Web.  We did very little Web in college.  Eventually a little company took a chance on me in Madison, Wisconsin to do Web stuff, and I learned really fast and hot there.  Then Wufoo, after that, was the startup thing, and then went to SurveyMonkey for a while after that, and then kind of broke off on my own.  Not like a ton of different companies under my belt, but plenty of different experience and writing about it.  

That was all four of our career paths really quickly, possibly somewhat longer than 60 seconds, but pretty close.  I had a miniature trick here that I wanted to play on us and that is that I think all of us focus on, or did, and this is probably maybe rightfully so, and I didn't warn anybody for this.  But, isn't it easy to focus on the things, the big things, mostly the things that went well, like I started at this place and I was happy about that.  So, in my mind, I put a mark right there.  That's a big, important thing that happened in my career, and not so much the things that didn't go so well, right?  I don't think any of us, in 60 seconds, would have been like, well, then I went to this job and it absolutely sucked, so I left immediately.  

LARA:   You're so sneaky.

CHRIS:  Would anybody put a failure moment into their 60-second version of theirs?  Does anybody want to share one?  It's okay if you don't.

MONIKA: I was laid off, off of my first internship, actually, which was a really, really tough thing to go through.  I was two months in.  Everything was going really well, but the company ended up losing a couple clients, and so I was the newest person in, and so I was the first person out.

DAVE:   Mmm.

CHRIS:  Huh.

MONIKA: I thought to myself, like, well, this is an ominous way to start down my career path.

CHRIS:  Yeah, hard knock.

MONIKA: I lasted two months.  

DAVE:   I was making websites for a real estate company in Phoenix, Arizona in 2007.  


DAVE:   It did not go well, and Valentine's Day 2007, we were locked out of our office, and I was owed, like, a month and a half back pay, which if anything has taught me, it's always get money, like, make sure the money is in your pocket.  Some people aren't as trustworthy as you'd hope, so yow.

LARA:   Bummer.  I was also laid off.  I feel like it's hard to talk about these failures because I'm such a silver linings person because then I find another good job, you know.  One company I worked at where I survived five rounds of layoffs, I ended up being able to make up what I did every time.  Like, you know, I'll get a new manager every time, and so I was like, "Oh, yeah, definitely.  This is my job now and also all these responsibilities."

MONIKA: That's awesome.  

LARA:   Yeah.  Yeah, but layoffs are hard.  You're right.

MONIKA: Yeah, yeah.  But again, it was kind of like a great -- there was totally a silver lining to it because I ended up getting a fantastic job shortly after.  So, yeah, I guess you never know what'll happen.

CHRIS:  That's good.  Sometimes these negative things -- there's certainly -- like it or not, they're a part of your career paths.  Perhaps there are silver lining moments.  They're probably not always for some people, right?  I imagine that occasionally a layoff could be a little more devastating than it has been for us, but that's interesting.

    What made me think about it is that there was a post.  One of our new employees at CodePen, Tim Holman, wrote a post on his CodePen blog about his career, and it was pretty interesting.  I just dropped a link in the chat room. It was like all this stuff, and his is just fascinating dotted with things that he kind of considers failures or the company failed if it wasn't his own failure, some kind of little like fork in the road.  Like most of our career paths, if you really dig into it, are a little more complicated than just like this good thing happened, and then this good thing happened.  You know.  

MONIKA: Yeah.  I mean those are like the polished versions of what actually happened, right?  

CHRIS:  Maybe, I think, Monika, you're in Canada, right?

MONIKA: Yes.  Yeah, I'm calling in from Toronto, but our headquarters are in Ottawa, but I'm based in our Toronto office.

CHRIS:  Yeah, there are two big Shopify offices, right?  It confuses me because I don't consult or anything, but occasionally there's a CodePen meet-up at Shopify.


CHRIS:  Then it's totally random which one it's at because sometimes it's at the Toronto one, sometimes at the Ottawa one.

MONIKA: And we also have a Montreal office as well.

DAVE:   Oh, so Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa are all different?  

MONIKA: Yes, Canada has more than one city.

DAVE:   Good.

MONIKA: I'm surprised by it all the time.

DAVE:   I'm going to update my--

CHRIS:  But still, like kind of the greater North American continuum is where we live.  And, as much as they're different, they probably share a lot of things in common.  At least let me speak for the United States that I would think a very traditional career path, at least when I was going through it, would look something like you go to high school, you get out of high school, and you're like, "Maybe computers?"  

Then you go to a four-year university for that.  You come out.  Hopefully you get an internship.  Maybe that's kind of mixed with the end of college.  Then hopefully the internship leans into a job, and then you climb the ladder of that job.  That seems like the most kind of cookie cutter, I guess, career path.  Does that sound about right?  

MONIKA: Probably.  I don't think there's anything really surprising in there.  

LARA:   Yeah.  It's the degree one that always trips me up.  I, like Monika, and actually like Chris, I studied philosophy as an undergrad.  I was actually dissuaded from taking any computer science courses in high school even.  I took one because I was trying to be a rebel and disagree with my guidance counselor, but probably the third of the people with whom I work at Etsy either don't have degrees in computer science or don't have any degrees at all.

CHRIS:  What's the percentage?

LARA:   I have no idea.  I'm just going to assert 30%, as if I know.  But, it feels like a lot.  For a while, the CTO at the time, he didn't graduate from college.  I work with a ton of people, probably at least of the five people who work on the performance team, two don't have degrees at all.  One has like an English Lit degree, and the other two have computer science degrees.  

CHRIS:  Interesting.  I would bet, globally or whatever, or tech world wise, you might be low, I would suspect for not a degree at all, maybe 30%.  I would say if you don't have specifically a tech-ish degree is probably higher than that.  

LARA:   Yeah.

CHRIS:  I have no data, but it seems like everybody I know.  Of us four, zero percent, right?

LARA:   Right, right.

CHRIS:  Mine's in art.  Dave, you're Japanese, right?  

DAVE:   Japanese, yeah.  It factors in a little bit.  No?


LARA:   Well, but we can draw -- I mean I can draw pretty clear lines into the things that my philosophy degree gave me that made me successful like I wouldn't have been able to write a book without being able to write well in school.  I wouldn't be able to problem solve or develop a problem statement or thesis statement without that degree.  So, it definitely helped.  Definitely, I can see where it connects, but it's not a computer science degree.

CHRIS:  Don't they?  They say you go to school to learn to learn, right?

LARA:   Right, right.  

DAVE:   Yeah.  I wonder if it's just learning how to make an argument or tie together thoughts, which I'm not doing very well right now, or just finish a book, you know, things like that.  I wonder if that's maybe what -- not that you can't learn those skills outside of college, but that maybe you have an advantage.

LARA:   Yeah.

DAVE:   I don't know.  

CHRIS:  Over the years on ShopTalk, probably the number one question, if not very close, is the: Should I go to university or not?  I'm sure we've all seen blog posts on this subject and stuff.  It's on a lot of people's mind, particularly as they're approaching the end of high school or perhaps maybe chose not to go to college right away and are looking at this career and trying to go into it.  

    Maybe we don't need to talk about the, like, "Should I go to college or not?" but what are other possibilities if you don't follow that cookie cutter one that I just described?  Would you recommend that somebody goes for philosophy to college?  Would that be fine?  Is it fine if you're not sure what you want to do, maybe you go to a community college and pick something really specific or a vocational kind of thing?

LARA:   Absolutely.  I think about all the career changers, right, like the people who even got a degree and then decided to go to a boot camp or in New York City there's this group called The Recurse Center, and we hire a ton of people who have graduated from that, which is people who are pretty brand new to engineering.

CHRIS:  What's the name of that one?

LARA:   The Recurse Center, formerly known as The Hacker School.

CHRIS:  Oh, okay.  Interesting.  Yeah.

LARA:   Yeah.  

CHRIS:  I'm sure we all know that there are many of these.  Without being weird, sponsory, there is the Iron Yard.  There's General Assembly.  There's the Flatiron School, right?

LARA:   Exactly, yeah.  

CHRIS:  There are a whole bunch of these named things.  Then there are the online versions.  Most of us have heard of Code School, Treehouse, and Khan Academy.  Right?  There are plenty of the ones where you don't necessarily need to go anywhere.  There's no brick and mortar involved at all.  

    It's starting to feel, at least to me, like that straight up could be a part of your career path.

LARA:   Totally legitimate.  Totally legitimate.

MONIKA: Absolutely.  Yeah.  I mean I think one of the great things about those types of boot camps is that I think they allow people to make a transition into tech way later on in their career.  Let's say if you did go to college or take a particular path earlier on, I've seen a lot of people kind of use those kind of boot camps as that reset to kind of enter into this whole new world, which I think is like a pretty great way to do that fairly quickly and just kind of ramp up on just the possibilities to learn them really quickly and maybe just dive in, into tech, where you were doing something completely different before.  

CHRIS:  Melanie, in chat, says she knows two people in her immediate circle of friends who have done this, which is great.  I started keeping a list, and I think I stopped at 15 or something.  I happen to meet a lot of people at meet-ups, conferences, and stuff and hear their stories.  It's not circumstantial to me anymore.  These things seem to be working for me.  

    Do you do some hiring involved with that process at Shopify, Monika?

MONIKA: We definitely work with -- there are kind of local boot camps in Toronto, in particular something called Hacker-U.  I think you've had a couple of instructors from Hacker-U actually on the show before.  

CHRIS:  Is Wes involved with that one?

MONIKA: Wes and Brenna O'Brien, actually.

CHRIS:  Oh, right on.

MONIKA: I think you had her on a couple weeks ago.  Yeah, it's really just great to see people coming out of those boot camps and just being really ready to learn more stuff.  

    I think one thing with boot camps is that you want to make sure your expectations are kind of in line, so it's going to be really hard to do something for nine weeks and leave as an expert, but I think they're such an amazing way to kind of learn about this whole new world and kind of be your springboard to find what you really love doing in tech and kind of take it from there.  It's kind of like your step one to learning what you need to learn.  I think that's a good way of thinking about them.  

CHRIS:  Yeah.  This is minor anecdotal, but yeah.  Setting their expectations right, which just right means not too low and not too high.

MONIKA: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

CHRIS:  It seems like too low would be easy, would be like, "I don't know anything. Wah-wah."  You know, but you just took the class so you do know stuff.  I think some places try to train that out of them, but try to be careful not to go too strong, too, because if you come out of it cocky as heck, that might not work super great too, like, "I'm in tech.  Where's my $100,000?" or whatever.  Interesting.  That's a different way to do it. 

    Certainly you could go write poetry on mountains for a year or something and still come into tech.  I think the tech is particularly, not forgiving -- isn't the right word -- but just like, "Wow.  You've had an interesting life.  I'm almost more interested in hiring you because of that." 

MONIKA: Well, and I would assert that being good at your job isn't really about how much technical knowledge you have.  It's so much more about how you go about problem solving, communicating, and working with others.  It's all that stuff that really makes you good at a job.

LARA:   The other kind of path that I really like thinking about are people who might already be in a certain part of tech, like making lateral moves within tech.  Let's say you're experienced as a designer, and then you want to start doing a little bit more coding, or coming in from any other path.  I think that's kind of an interesting perspective as well.  Depending on what company you're in and what kind of opportunities there are, I think that could be like another gateway, right?  If you have chances to collaborate with other disciplines, then that can be kind of inching your way forward into getting into something like front-end from various different directions just even within a company.

CHRIS:  We had Dee Gill on ShopTalk once who told us about her transition from the world of finance over to dev through one of those kind of rapid fire boot camp things and is successful at it.  I know Dee personally and is successful at it to this day, so it was kind of a lateral move, as you put it.

[Banjo music]

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CHRIS:  Let's say you go to college, and you learn how to do a little stuff with HTML and CSS stuff.  You've made your band website.  You're feeling pretty good about that.  Is an acceptable career path--?  I mean, I guess it feels weird to say there's an unacceptable career path, but let's say you're just like, "That's it.  I'm starting my own freelance business.  I'm calling it," and I'm in business now.  Is that cool, or would you recommend against that kind of thing?

MONIKA: I've never freelanced, so it's really hard for me to say, but I know that I've always loved working on a team and having the chance to collaborate really easily and learn from people around me.  I know there are definitely ways that freelancers can collaborate and learn from each other, but I would say being in that kind of environment, I think when you're starting out, in particular, is super important.  Having that network, being able to push each other and learn from each other's mistakes, if you're not working on a team, then you'll just kind of have to create your own network to do that.  But, I could imagine that goes a really long way having that kind of a network.

CHRIS:  A team.  You'll grow up a little faster, maybe.  

MONIKA: I think so, just because you'll share each other's lessons mistakes, and just have that camaraderie and chance to collaborate, so you're not having to own and solve everything completely on your own. 

LARA:   Yeah.  So well said.

DAVE:   You kind of have a network.  You're building a network.  As jokey as I would like to invite you to be my friend on LinkedIn thing is, your coworkers, over time, will go somewhere else and maybe there's more exciting opportunities at the place they went.  Now you have at least a conversation starter.  That's something, from a freelance perspective, you kind of really have to grind to get because you could call up your old clients and say, "Hey, do you have a job?  I want a job now," but I don't know.  Maybe you're not in that situation.  It's easier from friend-to-friend, it seems.

CHRIS:  Dave, you've talked about mentorship a little bit.  Isn't that something you've kind of thought about doing or wanting?

DAVE:   Yeah.  Mentorship, I think, in a construct of a team in a corporate office or something, you kind of get that, especially if there's a senior title and a junior title.  Hopefully you're getting that.  But, on your own, it's kind of hard to work in; I've felt.  In situations in the past, I've tried mentorship with a few people, and it's just hard because there's no really a formal process for it.  We're not scheduling an hour a week to sit down and do one-on-ones or something.  I'd be curious how mentorship and growing--

CHRIS:  It's not like you can climb the side of the mountain, meet your mentor, and spend six months training with bow staves.  

DAVE:   No.  You'd just fire up Hangouts and say, "Hey.  How's it going?"

CHRIS:  Yeah.  Even that is pretty good.  

DAVE:   Yeah.

CHRIS:  Lara, what does mentorship mean to you for you in your career?  Do you try to foster that type of situation as a manager?

LARA:   Yeah, absolutely.  I've spent a lot of time thinking about mentorships for a number of reasons.  The main one is that there has been a lot of research out there about mentorships for women in particular in their careers.  It's obviously super valuable to have someone who you can lean on to ask questions, to get advice, to raise your name when there's an opportunity, things like that.

    What studies have shown is that, for women especially, women are over-mentored and under-sponsored.  What that means is a lot of times when we get taken out to coffee and we're like, "I can be a mentor for you," or, "I want this mentorship," and you get a lot of advice that may not be all that helpful.  

Especially if the person who is mentoring you is not a woman, the advice could sound really appropriate for someone who has a lot of privilege, but less so for someone who is marginalized.  And so, sponsorship means not just mentoring someone, but being on the hook for them in their career, so naming them for a promotion, suggesting them for a project, keeping them in mind when opportunities may arise, and really being on the hook to help advance their careers.  Sponsorship is really what I'm encouraging people to start thinking about as they want to advance their careers.  You know, finding someone in their network that can help them not just learn how to do things better, answer questions, and feel that support, but also help put their name in the hat when the time comes.

CHRIS:  That's fascinating.  Maybe a real life example--maybe I'm butchering this, but I'll learn while I do it--is over-mentoring might be a woman asks you, "Hey.  I want to get an internship.  I want to look impressive to somebody."  I go, "Let me tell you about getting internships."

LARA:   Yes.

CHRIS:  "Get yourself a Square Space portfolio.  Put all your best work on there.  Good luck.  See you later.  Bye."

LARA:   Yeah.  Speak up a lot.  Definitely, yeah, just really put yourself out there, which is obviously not going to work for everybody, especially for whom women aren't supposed to celebrate their achievements publicly.  Women aren't supposed to brag.  Women aren't supposed to speak up too much.  There's a lot that's mixed up in there with gender stuff, and so I would definitely recommend, if you're a marginalized person--not just a woman, but a person of color, even--find people who are tuned into this stuff.  They might be men, but people who are tuned into these dynamics and the death by a thousand cuts, and use them as a mentor.  Lean on them because not all advice is created equal, and you certainly want someone who is actually going to help you with your career. 

CHRIS:  Or a sponsorship would be if somebody asked me that same question, I could be like, "You know what?  I'm looking at your work.  I can tell that you're good.  I might have some advice for you, but let me also connect you with this person, and I'm going to literally suggest that they hire you for this internship kind of thing."  

LARA:   Precisely.

CHRIS:  A little bit more actionable.

LARA:   Yeah, exactly.  

CHRIS:  Speaking of that type of thing, and the idea of a career path--and we've already talked about hiccups on the career path--can you foresee a hiccup?  Are there people out there that are, as we all are, in the middle of their career path and they're looking at maybe you're thinking about your two years, three years, five years where you want to be kind of thing?  Is it on you to swerve away from bad moments in your career path?  Do we have any advice for that kind of situation?

MONIKA: That's an interesting question.  I'm trying to think back through my career and what should I have swerved around.  But really, hitting the roadblocks is just as valuable, if not more valuable, you know?

LARA:   Yeah, I'd agree.  I guess you want to be prepared, but you want to be open as well because sometimes those roadblocks might actually turn into something really great.  Even a bad experience can at least teach you about what you want and what you value and kind of where you excel.  

    It's also really hard to predict the future, right?  You just kind of have to, I guess, be prepared and be flexible with what….

CHRIS:  One thing that occurs to me is having some self-awareness of being in a situation that isn't as nurturing or you're not learning as much as you could, or there's some kind of bad human being stuff going on that you don't like.  

LARA:   Yeah.

CHRIS:  It kind of seems to me that this is a tricky one because it's like I'm in this situation or somebody is, this theoretical situation.  First of all, is identifying that it's happened to you at all.  Second is like, is there anything I can do about it?  It's easy to tell somebody, "Just leave!  Just get out of there!"  That's tough too, right?  I'm sure you can imagine what I mean.  

    Let's say you have some awful manager.  Do we have advice for that type of situation?

LARA:   Yeah.  The first thing that comes to mind, there is a great article that went around recently about starting a fund for yourself, a savings fund for yourself in case of things like this, in case you do have a really awful situation, or you're living with someone.  That person ends up to not be a healthy living situation - all those things that can happen.  

    I think that money is one of our biggest constraints, obviously, in making changes in our lives.  And so, starting that fund early, even before you might have a problem, will be huge in helping you feel a little bit more freedom in making change in your life if something horrible ends up happening and you do need to escape it.  

MONIKA: Yeah, I think that kind of goes to trying to be prepared, I guess, so that you kind of have that escape parachute, almost, if you want to think about it that way.  I do think that, in certain situations as well, it can be super, super difficult, and so I think it's always going to be a on a case-by-case.  But, if you do have a terrible manager, then it's worth, as much as you can, trying to be open with that manager or even maybe speaking to someone else at the company because if there's a really toxic environment happening, chances are other people are going to want to know or maybe other people are also being affected by it.  As much as you can, it might be worth having certain conversations.  But, at the end of the day, your career is something that matters to you, and you want to make sure that you're getting something out of it as well.  You have to kind of do whatever is going to fit in the long-term for yourself.

CHRIS:  Right.  You don't have to be totally selfless.  You take a job, and part of the job is making the thing that you work for better, but it's also making sure that you're taken care of.  It really should almost be thought of in the other way.  The job exists for you. 

LARA:   Yeah.  Well, and that's true.  This is to Monika's point.  Part of the preparation can also be building your network, so you do have safe places to talk to.  HR might not be the safest space in some situations, so having that network of people, both inside your company and outside your company, to lean on if you do end up needing a new opportunity or if you just need someone to bounce the idea off of, like, "Hey.  I'm feeling like this may be unhealthy.  How do I process this?  What could I do?"  Starting that network early of safe people that you can talk to will be invaluable, and not just for these situations, but for like everything that comes up.  

MONIKA: Yeah.  I think there are probably a lot of reasons why people switch roles in companies.  It won't necessarily be out of some really, really dire situation.  Some people might find that maybe they're no longer aligned with what the company is doing or the types of problems that they're solving aren't really that challenging anymore.  I think there are a lot of reasons why people might be thinking of going elsewhere, and so, especially in those cases where maybe you're not challenged enough, in those cases in particular, I think it would be good to speak with your manager and say, you know, "Maybe I want to start working on something else."  There are probably things in certain cases that we can do to kind of improve our day-to-day that don't necessarily mean just finding another company as well because that can be really traumatic too, like having to go on a job hunt and all that.

LARA:   There's just as much risk, right?  It's hard to know if where you're going to be going is any more healthy than the place you're leaving.

CHRIS:  That's a tough thing.  Monika, I've seen slides.  It looks like you spoke at Giant Conf last year about problem solving for front-end developer.  


CHRIS:  Lara, I know you've spoken at lots of stuff and a have a couple of books under your name.  I can imagine Shopify and Etsy are both places that are very cool about that kind of thing, but that's a part of your career path, certainly like major pins in the road or whatever of cool, successful things that you've done, which were necessitated or whatever.  You needed to have a job that was okay with you doing that at all.  I'm sure there are jobs out there that are like, "You want to go where for what?"  

LARA:   Yeah.  Yeah.

MONIKA: Yeah, I mean that's something that, like, I value so, so much.  Overall, at Shopify in particular, we love having our team kind of get out there, and we want people to be speaking and writing blog posts, and just kind of putting their names out there because I think it's great for an individual's own growth.  I think, through any of those activities, you're actually going to learn a ton.  You're going to be building your own network, and so whatever we can do to kind of support that, we'll do it because I think the net effects are just so, so positive for everybody.

LARA:   Yeah.  It's funny, right?  It's hard to remember the privilege that I have.  It's like seeing the water that I'm swimming in because I work at Etsy, and Etsy has supported me through publishing 2 books, writing a third, through, I mean, 2 years ago I spoke at like 15 conferences.  It was an absurd amount of time doing things outside of my general job description, but it's so clear to me that leadership especially supports that because they know it's good for them and it's building our network.  I'm definitely recruiting by existing out there on stage.

    Really, it's hard for me to talk about it just because it's hard to see how to make that happen in a place where that's not happening.  I feel like I have terrible advice for people on this because I got really lucky.  There was no magic formula that was like, "Oh.  Lara, you figured it out.  You went to Etsy and then, therefore, this happened."  It's just -- I got so lucky.

CHRIS:  I feel that way too, but certainly there's some elbow grease that behooves a little luck, you know, working hard, being positive.

LARA:   Yeah.  It's a mix.  Right, it's a mix of luck and hard work, certainly.  

CHRIS:  Pretty cool.  If people are looking to improve their career paths, certainly that would be something I would suggest because it's done nothing but open doors for me, things like being out there, writing, and attending and hopefully speaking at conferences.  Anything that I've done above and beyond my kind of day-to-day has not only been good for just what it is.  You get a few bucks for speaking, and you get a little notoriety from speaking.  But, it helps your career path as well because, the more you do of that, certainly the more desirable you become at other places.  Are there other things that improve your career path trajectory?

LARA:   I think, to your point about how much it does for you, like your network.  Coming back to what I was saying earlier, your network is everything, whether it's finding your job or finding a sponsor or a mentor, whatever.  Like Chris, I think that we have met through various conferences, but also doing this show and Twitter.  Like Monika, I feel like you and I connected first via Twitter.  I think it's all of this stuff that, by building that network, there are so many knock on effects for your career just by being out there.  

CHRIS:  Twitter, if you can stand it, great for your career.

LARA:   Yeah.  Yeah, for real.

MONIKA: Yeah.  I think, just to go back to the conference thing, I really got into speaking not by waking up one day and saying, "Oh, I'm going to start speaking at conferences."  I was lucky enough to get to go to a couple conferences, and I started meeting really, really supportive people at those conferences.  

    Someone actually suggested, like, "Hey, you should consider speaking one day."  That was kind of like an ah-ha moment for me because I had never really considered that myself.  And so, I always kind of look back on that conversation like, you know, I'm really happy that someone kind of saw that potential in me because it really kind of sparked something in me.  But, it was really just kind of the act of even just being there and being around all those people who are super, super passionate kind of help me become really passionate too.  You don't have to start, wake up one say, and say I'm going to necessarily do all of this at once.  You can kind of start in a variety of different ways, I think. 

DAVE:   I think that's a really good point, or not a point, but just a story, just somebody asked you or they kind of saw something in here and said, "Hey, you should try doing this.  I think you would be successful."  I think that's actually very helpful.  I think that's how a lot of people get the courage kind of to stand up in front of a bunch of people, present an idea, and just hope it doesn't go down in flames.  


DAVE:   I think that's a very helpful thing.  I've experienced that myself.

LARA:   This is something I'm writing about a lot and thinking about a lot.  How can we help to change this industry a little bit by bringing in more diverse voices to speak and share their knowledge and share their words?  I think a lot of it has to do with addressing those fears.  

    I did an anonymous survey a little while ago on Twitter.  I collected more than 300 responses just about people's fears about public speaking, and they range from sweating through my clothes to being judged or being harassed or being doxed.  There's so much, I think, that we can do to address these things.  That way we can get more diverse voices sharing all this stuff with us and helping us change the industry again.  

CHRIS:  I have this written down.  Are there any unfair career path limitations?  Certainly that would be something.

LARA:   Yeah.  You mentioned Twitter, right?  It's becoming more and more toxic for me to check my Twitter feed every day, and that's ridiculous.  Yeah.

CHRIS:  I'm certainly one of them.  If we're, at the same time, saying, "Twitter, your network helps.  This is a major thing that can help your career path, and also you're going to be subject to some toxicity there."  Uhh, how sucky is that?  That's why this comes up so often.  That's why it's being talked about is because it's both so good and so bad right together.

DAVE:   I know this happens.  It very rarely happens to me -- I'm going to cuss, so our audio guy will have to bleep this out -- but it's essentially [explicit] lords dedoxing your social network, right?  They're stopping your ability to kind of communicate with people, to interact, to promote yourself.  That's kind of a heinous activity, really kind of stiffening your career options if you can't even participate in the one collective medium we all kind of engage on.

LARA:   So many collective mediums.  If you open source something, if you write a blog post and have comments open, if you get on stage and open the audience questions up.  Literally, every avenue we could possibly suggest for getting out there and showing people your work is rife with this potential for negativity.

    But, okay, on a little bit of a lighter note though--

DAVE:   Yes, okay.

LARA:   I'm actually curious.  I'm curious because, like with Monika, you're in Canada.  One of the interesting limitations I think I've seen is I've got some privilege being in New York City.  There are a bunch of people who live in, like, Silicon Valley, and they've got privilege finding jobs.  Do you find that people in your area or people who are just not in these major tech hubs also feel career limitations?

MONIKA: Well, I think, if you compare with cities like New York and the Valley, yeah, I think there's going to be a ton of opportunities there.  I think a lot of companies do remote, which I think is always a really great option for anyone who is kind of outside of a major tech community.  Being in Toronto, that's kind of one of the hearts of tech in Canada, so I probably have less of a perspective on that in particular just because even though it's relatively smaller than some cities in the States, it's still a very large hub and there are a ton of product companies and agencies and just a ton of opportunities in most major Canadian cities.  I wouldn't say I'd necessarily see that as a limitation, but certainly I think, just by sheer volume, there are probably more opportunities in the States, but then also probably a lot more people, right?  Canada has a tiny population compared to you guys, so it's hard to say.  

[Banjo music]

CHRIS:  This episode of ShopTalk Show is sponsored by Fluent, the O'Reilly Web conference - Web, Web Web.  Programming people, design people, all kinds of Web everything, the Web platform, our kind of conference.  Two days of intense training at the beginning for people who want a tight focus on things: React, Node, CSS, layout, site planning, that kind of thing.  March 7th through 10th is those, and then 8th through 10th is the conference part.  Again, out in beautiful San Francisco.  Sessions then explore everything from foundation design decisions to the details of JavaScript workflows, the latest JavaScript frameworks, that React versus Angular conversation will be big there, I'm sure, hardware, chat, testing, performance, all of the cultures that make these projects succeed or fail.  

    I should mention 30% off if you use SHOPTALKS when you register for Fluent, which is a heaping chunk of savings if you use that discount code.  You'll come back from Fluent, again this early March in San Francisco, with a big picture of where Web development is headed and the details you need to make it work for you.  This is a huge, huge Web conference, O'Reilly's Fluent Conf.  Click the link in the show notes and go register and attend.  

CHRIS:  On yet another note, there's this concept that, you know, "Lara.  She works at Etsy," like that's a major point.  Did that influence you taking the job because it was such a major company?  I think it's impossible to not have sometimes a big name in the career path trajectory kind of mean something and kind of open up the rest of the doors kind of forever.

LARA:   Absolutely.  Yeah, having Etsy on my résumé has definitely gotten me to speaking at different conferences or maybe got me on this podcast for the first time.  You never know.  It's hard to know exactly.  But, I would say that definitely having a big named company like that on your résumé will have really positive knock on effects.

    I will say that, conversely, there are circumstances in which having a company like Google or Facebook on your résumé could be perceived as a negative just because of the styles of work there might not fit culturally if the place didn't work.

CHRIS:  They're too big.  Yeah.

LARA:   Right, right, right.  There are always going to be downsides, right?  But, certainly, I would say, for the most part that helps.  I didn't go to Etsy because of the name.  I really did it because they really support women and it was important for me to move out of the more misogynistic tech company space, but definitely it's been really positive for me to have Etsy on my business cards.

MONIKA: From the other perspective, though, and sure there was those massive names like Etsy, Google, Facebook, et cetera, but I wouldn't necessarily encourage anyone to map their career trajectory based on kind of like résumé checks because a résumé or a business card is going to be a great opening to a conversation, but then you have to do the rest of it.  You can have great names behind you, but if you weren't making an impact there or you weren't successful there, then that might come out.  I wouldn't say that having that great trajectory or that great set of names is necessarily going to translate into success all the time, but it certainly helps open initial doors and open conversations.  But, you still have to -- you know, the name, I guess, just isn't enough.  

LARA:   Yeah.  To support that point, if you get declined an interview at Google, you're still okay.  Really don't worry about it.  


DAVE:   I've noticed a trend of people kind of just want your Twitter bio from you in conversations like, "Oh, what's your name?  Where do you work?" Or, "What have you shipped?"  And so they kind of want that, like, "Oh, I've," whatever, "engineered at Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest."

CHRIS:  Yeah.  I'm totally guilty of it though.

DAVE:   "And I just did the Valley circuit."

CHRIS:  I don't know big of a problem it is.  Maybe it is a little bit of a problem, but I'm even going to this event this weekend in Chicago.  It's like a boutique prototyping event called SNDMakes, and I'm pretty excited about it, but they published.  

We're on little, mini teams with people, and they published all the people that are going, what their Twitter handle is, and where they work and stuff.  I'm just glued to it.  I'm like, and there, oh, and they're from Pitchfork.  What?  Oh, they're from Second City.  What?  Oh, somebody is here from the Washington Post.  I can't wait to meet them.  I'm looking at not their name, but where they work because I find it fascinating.  

DAVE:   I'm interested in how much we're defined by the companies we work for or have worked with.  I don't know the answer.  It's a mouth blog in process here.

LARA:   Monika, I'm actually curious about your perspective on this as well with hiring.  But, when I'm looking at interview candidates who are coming in, I'm looking at their GitHub activity and what they've been contributing to, not just what they did last.  I'm looking at are they blogging, are they tweeting.  What exactly are they building, not who are they building it for.

MONIKA: Yeah.  I think, going back to big names, sure that'll catch my eye, and I'll notice that for sure.  But, it definitely doesn't tell the whole story, and I just think even when I look back at my own trajectory, I definitely made some career moves that kind of raised a couple eyebrows for my friends because they were like, "You're going from this company to -- where are you going?  What is this place?"  

    But, I kind of wanted to optimize for the learning opportunity and knowing that I was really aligned to a company's values.  I think that's something really important, too, where if you believe in what the company is doing and you're interested in the actual problems that they're solving, I think that's super, super important because if you're just going by name or you're just going by reputation, there might be a mismatch.  You might get there and realize, "Wait a second.  I actually don't believe in what this company is trying to do."  Then that's going to be a really, really tough place to be in because I think, ideally, you're building something that you believe in and that you really like.

LARA:   Totally.

CHRIS:  I wonder if we should do one question just so it feels like a classic ShopTalk Show episode.  We'll end with one just for fun.  

Daryl Dixon writes in, "I have a serious question regarding finding jobs.  It has been said many times that looking on job boards, filling out job app after job app after job app is the least efficient way of finding a job right now for me, and that networking is the best method.  

"Well, this puts me in a tough spot.  I'm self-taught, front and back-end Web development, but I've only been doing it for just under a year.  I have some self-initiated projects in my portfolio, a couple pro-bono jobs, one paid job on my résumé. 

"It seems like I would be able to get a job somewhere building websites, but I'm finding it very difficult to find anything local or remote.  Where I live, there aren't many local jobs for me.  The local jobs are mostly unrelated to my skill set and things I'm not interested in.  Remote jobs tend to be geared towards those with many years of experience and better-developed software skills.  

"I hate this city now that I've found my desired career path, and I really want to get out.  Do you have any advice for escaping this hole?  Am I or anyone else in a similar situation of mine out of luck, or is there a plausible escape plan?"

LARA:   First of all, Daryl Dixon.  Did The Walking Dead Daryl write this in? 

CHRIS:  Let's assume yes.

LARA:   Okay.  Yeah, I really feel for you, Daryl.  I wish I could ask Daryl about his network because Slack communities, Twitter, all these things will help someone like Daryl find people in other cities that maybe hire remote workers that have opportunities that might match up better with skill sets, but also building that network and helping people get to know him means they can help him find better opportunities.  It's more than just writing things down on a piece of paper on what he's qualified for.  It's much more like: Is this person a good problem solver?  Can he collaborate on projects with this person?  You know, stuff like that.

CHRIS:  The network.  Every day you can be growing that. 

MONIKA: I totally agree with everything, Lara, that you just mentioned.  It does sound like a really tough situation.  One thing that always kind of stands out to me is when people really do their homework about the companies that they're applying for.  As much as you can, really tailor, like here's what kind of impact I might be able to bring to your specific team.  If you can reach out to someone directly that works at a particular company or try and learn a little bit more about what they're doing beyond what's on their homepage or what's on their public Twitter feed.  Just something to kind of show that, hey, you're really passionate about joining this team and hears how you think that you can make a very specific impact.  Once you've figured out any specific companies that you're interested in, that might be one way to show that you are really passionate, and you are dedicated to kind of getting started.  

CHRIS:  Indeed.  Good luck, Daryl.  I think all that is wonder advice for you to level up.  I wish you the best.  It seems like if you keep on keeping on with this, good things are going to happen to you.  It's kind of--I don't know--a buyer's market or whatever for people with good tech skills.  It sounds like you are.  You have one year of experience, you were saying, building sites, so it's like I'm sure you're well aware that you're not super senior yet.  

I can understand that it might be a little hard convincing or getting a remote job.  I would think remote jobs tend to have a slightly higher experience kind of thing because I think, at the moment, fair or unfair, it feels a little riskier hiring someone remotely with a low experience level.  I don't know.  I don't know if that's fair or not.

    Let me do one thing quick.  We'll help find somebody a job out there.  There is a job opening in Brooklyn at a place called Radish Lab.  They're looking for a senior WordPress developer, kind of a full stack WordPress developer, a self-starter, a problem solver, all those good things, team player, juggling multiple projects.  

They're looking for a WordPress person, you know, that can do CSS, that can do some JavaScript too.  That's what they mean by full stack, so MobileFirst stuff, Grunt and Gulp stuff, a little light design stuff.  They work in Git.  They work in GitHub.  They're using the WP API for stuff, so if you're interested in that kind of headless CMS or using JavaScript based APIs, awesome, awesome stuff.  

    It's the typical senior WordPress developer role.  You better know your way around WordPress.  They are looking for somebody in Brooklyn to take that role, so check out the link to that Radish Lab job in our show notes.

    What else, Dave?  Do you have some final notes?

DAVE:   I think that's all the time we have.  I guess I kind of want to do one quick roundtable question.  Is that okay?  What's your one tip for achieving career success?  We'll start with Chris.  If you had to tweet--

CHRIS:  This is not an original thought, but it's very true for me, and I've heard other people articulate it better, but it's the writing.  You need to be able to write words well - at least blog occasionally.  Have a personal site.  Have some examples of thoughts that you've articulated in writing.  There's no bigger turn on for me as somebody who has hired some people before, and nothing has opened more doors for me than things that I've written.

DAVE:   Make words good.  Great!  Monika?

MONIKA: I feel like this one sounds super cliché, but always keep learning.  I think the moment that you stop learning, that's when your career is going to be in trouble because that means you're going to be less able to take advantage of new opportunities or even create those opportunities for yourself.  So, if you're the smartest person in the room, and you're not learning new things on a day-to-day, then I think definitely start.  Keep yourself up to date and just find something that you're passionate about and just keep, keep learning.  Become a sponge.

DAVE:   All right.  Lara?

LARA:   Yeah.  This has come up, I think 14 times now, but your network is everything, whether it's someone to teach you that new thing or to vent to when you've had a bad day or to help you find that next opportunity.  Whatever it is, your network, start building it and start focusing on the people you can trust to help you keep growing.  

DAVE:   All right.  Thank you very much.  Well, I think that's all the time we have for today.  Thank you so much for being on the show, Lara and Monika.  We really appreciate it.  If people aren't following you and giving you money, how can they do that?  We'll start with Lara, and then what's one thing you'd like to plug before you leave?

LARA:   Yeah.  Let me plug Building a Device Lab.  Building a Device Lab, the book, just came out.  If you are trying to test your stuff across multiple different kinds of devices and you want to build a lab, we wrote a book.  My coworker, Destiny, and I wrote a book on this.  You can Google it or look on my Twitter for that. 

    Also,, I actually just made my book free online.  You can still buy it and all charities still go to charities that help women and marginalized people learn how to code.  So, definitely go check out those two books.

DAVE:   All right.  Monika?

MONIKA: Definitely, thanks so much for having me.  I'll plug and our career site.  We're definitely hiring if anyone is interested in learning more about Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, or any of our other lovely, lovely Canadian offices.  Or, if you're interested in kind of learning more about our platform and looking into some of our themeing opportunities, we also have a great partners program at - definitely good to check out as well.  You can find me on Twitter @monsika.

DAVE:   All right, and we'll put all relevant links in the show notes.  Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to come be on the show.  

Thank you, dear listener, for downloading this in your podcatcher of choice.  If you could, vote it up, star, heart, favorite, five stars.  It's just that easy in our podcatcher of choice.  That's how people find out about the show.  Follow us on Twitter @ShopTalkShow for tons of tweets a month.  And, if you hate your job, head over to and get a brand new job because I think there's tons of jobs on there right now.

CHRIS:  We've heard lots of good stories.  The cool part about it is how focused it is on the front-end stack, so it's a niche job board, really, for the types of things we talk about right here on ShopTalk Show.  Speaking of which,