#167 Jenn Creighton went from paralegal to developing for Netflix
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Jenn Creighton 0:00
It's hard to be a front end engineer and also want to take time to learn other things. Because I have always felt in front end that if you turn your back on it for a second and then come back you're like, What? What? Everything's different
Tim Bourguignon 0:22
Hello, and welcome to developer's journey to podcast, bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers. To help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host, Tim bourguignon. On this episode 167. I receive Jen Creighton. Jen is a software engineer at Netflix and a frequent conference speaker. He lives in New York, where she co organizes us react NYC, a community focused react meetup. Jen, welcome to the afternoon.
Jenn Creighton 0:52
Hi, thanks for having me.
Tim Bourguignon 0:54
But before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show every month, you are keeping the dev journey lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests, then editing audio tracks, please go to our website, Dev journey dot info and click on the Support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable dev journey. journey. Thank you. And now back to today's guest. So Jen, as you know, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story looked like and imagine how to shape their own future. So as always, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the beginning and start of your journey?
Jenn Creighton 1:46
Tim Bourguignon 3:03
Nice. So you were obviously really scratching your own itch, even though you don't remember which age that was.
Jenn Creighton 3:11
Tim Bourguignon 4:01
Jenn Creighton 4:07
Tim Bourguignon 5:36
How do you realize that? Oh, God.
Jenn Creighton 5:39
I mean, the first thing is that when you're a paralegal, when you first start, like I, I went to school for four years, and what I was literally doing was creating binders, I would just, I would like print out things and three hole, punch it and put it in a binder. And like that was my job for like eight hours a day or I was like wiped out stuff. They call it redacting where you wipe out parts of testimony so that people can't see that, like, I was like, Oh, well, my brains dying. Maybe it'll be more interesting. When I'm a lawyer. The more lawyers I met, the more I was like, I don't, I don't want to do this. They are so miserable. They are so unhappy. They work ridiculous on believable hours, they have no life. And what they do mostly is they just write like, basically memos all day. I was like, oh, no, I'm not. I'm not doing this. I'm not studying, again, to take the LSAT to get a better score to go to a better law school so that I can end up doing this absolutely not like now,
Tim Bourguignon 6:37
was it easy to take this just after four years studying in going one direction,
Jenn Creighton 6:42
Tim Bourguignon 8:53
Nice. Did you have an answer to this question before it before immersing yourself in this in these books?
Jenn Creighton 9:01
Did you no question of like, Could I do it on my own? Yeah, totally. I looked at a lot of degree programs, because I thought that I would need a degree. I actually don't remember when I realized that you could just be self taught. I forget, like how I figured it out. Exactly. But somewhere along the line, I was like, Oh, I think I can just do this. I don't have to get a degree because it's like going to be a really long process. It's going to be expensive. I have to make up for like classes. I didn't take an undergrad to go do like more advanced degrees. It just was going to be like a lot. And I also started looking at job listings for like the roles that I was interested in like being a software engineer and started seeing like, what languages they knew what kind of like acronyms were being used and started like looking them up and trying to figure out like, is this something that people learn on their own? And it seemed like it was so it didn't seem like going to school was like the option for me at that time.
Tim Bourguignon 10:01
How long did it take you to learn that and most of all, to feel ready to apply and actually do it? Stay with us. We'll be right back.
Jenn Creighton 10:55
So I was never ready, never ready to apply. I actually like extremely like lucked out with a situation. But I think it took me about two, two and a half years of like doing stuff on my own. Before I got my first role. My role that I got was out, Ralph Lauren, in their marketing department, and I had had a recruiter just reach out to me and say, Oh, you have these things listed on your LinkedIn profile, as well as you worked at the National Academy of Sciences with the same job title, which was Web Content Manager. And that's what I was doing there. But at Ralph Lauren, and actually was a front end role. It just was like, very HTML and CSS and jQuery heavy, it just wasn't very, will single page apps like weren't that big of a thing quite yet. But like, that was mostly what the work was in a content management system. I was still putting together like the HTML, I was still figuring out like, little jQuery plugins we could use and CSS that we could use. And so it said, like Web Content Manager, but that wasn't really what I was doing at all so much
Tim Bourguignon 11:57
for for job titles.
Jenn Creighton 11:59
Yeah. The interview for it was just like, you seem nice. And you're wearing Ralph Lauren clothes, come come work here. And I was like, okay. All right. Cool. And then my next role, I had to actually like, study and go through like a technical interview. But like, for that role, I got so lucky. I mean, really? I mean, who gets that like? So people are like, how do I get my first role? I'm like, I can't help you. I am so sorry. Advice.
Tim Bourguignon 12:33
Let's keep the getting the first the first job. But let's go forward in what you learned in this first job is this first experience of writing code for money? All the disco? What did you learn? What do you take over to the next interview in the next job,
Jenn Creighton 12:50
Tim Bourguignon 15:54
sounds like fun.
Jenn Creighton 15:57
It's in retrospect, kind of dangerous. But those are like the links you will go to when you get like, your first real engineering job and like you need it to like, you know, get experience and get more jobs and like, learn things I was I was so desperate to learn. And I had really reached a point where I couldn't do it anymore. Just on my own. I had to be building real things for production. But yeah, it was not a safe it wasn't a safe job. Also, we had like individual little heaters in the winter because we didn't actually have like heat in the office and they would constantly like trip and the all the all the lights would go off.
Tim Bourguignon 16:38
Because nightmare. I mean, I've heard horror stories from that that tops most of them.
Jenn Creighton 16:50
What didn't experience I never worked anywhere without a ceiling ever again.
Tim Bourguignon 16:56
That's a story you can really tell summer camp campfire story how long do you stay there?
Jenn Creighton 17:10
I was there. A little over a year, the startup started crashing and burning, which I think shouldn't be surprising to you based off of my description of the office. It just either they weren't gonna make it. Okay. So I yeah, I had to, I had to interview again and get next role. But I actually look back, I always look back at that experience, like kind of fun, like, because it was like also just a wild time in my life to be like really accomplishing like this thing that you would I had always wanted to do. And I was actually doing it. And so there's just nothing but like actually like, like, it was so fun to me that like every every day I was learning something new. I was working with a mentor who was really great to me at that job in terms of like, teaching me how to do things and sitting with me in pair programming or helping me think about problems. I don't know, I always think of it really fondly. But yeah, when I when I moved on, I won like moved on to a company with a ceiling very important. And then to actually got like a big, big pay bump, because of my previous experience as I didn't know how much I should be paid. And my senior engineer at that startup without the ceiling actually knew how much I made. And he was like, you should be asking for X number more. And I was like, I don't know that that's a real thing I can do. And then I did it. And I actually got the number and it was really surprising to me, because I didn't I didn't know.
Tim Bourguignon 18:36
And you had the number without any negotiations. Okay. And then yeah, you say and then back
Jenn Creighton 18:41
and I'm like, I yeah, I could have gotten more. You I just I don't Oh my god, it's so hard to figure out like what you should be paid and what you're worth and it was if you are someone who is a senior you should be sharing I think your salary with people who are younger in the industry than you are so that they know what they should be paid. So they're not making the same mistake that I did early on if like accepting a really low number, or not negotiating later because it is terrifying. And you just you just never know like what's acceptable
Tim Bourguignon 19:18
if I may even better if you're in a senior position and you're able to exert some pressure on the company try to ask for leveraging on the salaries and not have too much of a discrepancy there.
Jenn Creighton 19:30
Yes, that's absent some really in like wild discrepancies in pay range.
Tim Bourguignon 19:37
That's no good. Yeah. So how was this the second round of interviews one year later after having worked for one year with a mentor and and having had this this experience with a team with real life projects that you want to
Jenn Creighton 19:52
Tim Bourguignon 22:12
like a healthy place. Yeah, healthy,
Jenn Creighton 22:17
super healthy, healthy place. Yeah.
Tim Bourguignon 22:20
Jenn Creighton 22:39
Tim Bourguignon 25:39
And that's why it was such a pain going from Angular one to Angular two, because it was a completely different framework.
Jenn Creighton 25:47
It was so terrible. Yeah, I would have rather gone oh my god. Yeah. Ralph Lauren, I was working with Microsoft SharePoint. And I would rather go back to SharePoint. Then worked with Angular one again. That's heavy. I am scarred. I am like, dramatically like I am so scarred from Angular one. I never want to see it again. If I ever see like a hint of it. I'm like, get away.
Tim Bourguignon 26:09
Am I allowed to quote you about the SharePoint Angular comparison? Yes, because this is golden.
Jenn Creighton 26:22
When working with SharePoint, I didn't want to like like fall over and just like lay on the ground. But it was Angular one i Absolutely. Like every day was like, just put me out of my misery. I'm gonna throw this laptop out the window. I don't know what this means. What the hell is the difference between $1 sign or whatever they had, like different notations for different things for scope. And I was just like, I'm gonna I'm reliving it right now. Can you see that? I'm just like, You're glowing? Yeah. I think at some point, everyone will work with something in their in their expertise that they're like, Absolutely, never again. Absolutely not. And that that is Angular. For me. I know that it's better now. And I still refuse. Like, I just can't even like in the current implementation of it. I'm just like, I cannot. Because I've been scarred.
Tim Bourguignon 27:08
But I guess it's a major milestone into understanding what you don't like. So that's also important in itself.
Jenn Creighton 27:15
It was and you know, what, if I hadn't had Angular one, I'm not sure I would have, I would have worked with React at some point. I'm not sure I would have worked with react as early as I did. Because it was literally the reason that I learned react. And it was the reason that I asked that job to please build something in React. And they actually did it. They actually let me like, build something in React. And I was thrilled, I was so excited. And it was the thing that like clicked for my brain. It totally made sense. It made my life so much bigger. It is the reason that I then like later would give conference talks on React and was like so in love with React and still am like, that experience of going from Angular one to react like solidified like, I will never leave react. It is my favorite thing in the world.
Tim Bourguignon 28:06
You want Have you tried to use valve and go? No.
Jenn Creighton 28:12
I've seen I've seen a little bit of you. And it's a little too angularity for me. So I kind of I kind of get anxiety when I look at it. But I understand that people like it, I get it. Yeah, totally. Great. You do you do me it's cool. I have like no harsh feelings towards like view or any of ourselves. Like any of the other frameworks. It's, it's really just like React is my chosen one. And it's what I've always, always used always pick jobs that use React and which is easy, because like, a lot of jobs use React. So it's like not I'm not like pricing myself out of like, the market or something with that. So
Tim Bourguignon 28:49
yeah. And if you if you can solve problems with that, I guess that's that's the Holy Grail. You don't need more than that. You know, solving problems.
Jenn Creighton 28:58
It works for my brain. So I'm gonna stick with it. I love him.
Tim Bourguignon 29:01
So how was it to you mentioned giving talks and working with community? What triggered you into going and going toward communities and getting out of your time and your experience there,
Jenn Creighton 29:11
I went to a conference. I think it was during that like, second job ish, where I first started learning rack, I went to a conference that is for women, non binary and other marginalized genders and tech called Rights speak code. And in its original form, rights, big code, literally spent one day teaching you how to write technical blog posts, one day teaching you how to develop and speak at a conference. And the third day was developed, like contributing to open source. I went to that in one of its early days in New York. I wanted to advance as an engineer and just didn't really know some of how I could do that. And they wanted to More people who were not men like contributing to the field. And they felt like there wasn't a lot of mentorship on how you do these things. So they develop this program, I actually they're still running right speak code still has a conference except for of course, last year during COVID times, but, and I've gone back several times, because it's one of the most impactful things I've ever done for my career. That was where I actually learned how to figure out what I would want to speak about at a conference, figure out how to write an abstract and how to submit it. And like what it would be like to be on stage. I am secretly in my heart of hearts. I am a theater kid, I did theater, through high school. I genuinely like love being in front of a crowd. Even though I am also super shy and super introverted. I am one of those people that can be like when COVID hit, I was like, I am good for months. I'm fine. I'm all good here. No need no need for any people.
Tim Bourguignon 31:04
Just cats, just cats
Jenn Creighton 31:06
and my dog. Okay. Yeah. And I'm like, I'm totally fine. But I do I love I love performance. And while a lot of people think of conference talks as a way to be seen as very technical or a way to present technical information. For me, they're almost always a performance. We talked about it a little bit like before we started recording, but the best thing that you can tell people is stories. And for me, it's like the best thing you can do is tell them a story, or give them a narrative that they can they can hold on to. And also, they're very, very unlikely to remember the tedious details of a technical talk, but they will absolutely remember if you make them feel a certain way. So do that, like make them feel a certain way. So a lot of my my talks were based off of that. And I get a real joy out of that. Because for me, again, it's about performance. It's about making you feel something, it's about me doing this, like creative endeavor that is also giving you some technical information. But in a way that years down, you're always like, Oh, who was that talk and made me feel x and you will go look it up on YouTube. So that that was really important. And I would not have done any of that if I had not gone to write speak code, I don't think I would have had any sort of idea how to do it at all. It's like, kind of difficult to figure out how you do your first conference talk. I don't think I would have had the confidence to do it, honestly. But having people in that room like have my back who were also like speakers, telling people that they could do it. I didn't go immediately from that conference and then go start speaking at like other conferences. It was like maybe three years later that I like, took that information that I had gotten out of that conference and actually decided now I have something to say I didn't before but now I have something to say. So I'm gonna go do it. And I did. It was I traveled for two years straight doing conference talks. You did? Yeah, I did. 24 conference talks in two years. Nice. All over the world. No, it was a while to and then COVID hit and my life changed dramatically. But
Tim Bourguignon 33:23
do you miss it?
Jenn Creighton 33:25
Tim Bourguignon 35:10
understand fully. Yeah, I've been giving talks for 10 years, it's, I've been miserable. Two years, it's terrible about those caveats.
Jenn Creighton 35:20
When people think about getting into speaking, sometimes they think that it's gonna get them things that it's not. Number one, they think it's gonna get them money. No, absolutely not, you're most often speaking for free. And if you're in or you're speaking for free plus, like they pay for your travel and your hotel, which is like a great way to see the world. If you want to do that, by all means, but you're not going to be making money, you will be spending money, you will be using a lot of your time for this. So you can say goodbye to some other things you have to you have to actually genuinely enjoy what you're about to do to do it really well. So you're not gonna get that money, you might ask for a stipend. But the truth is, there are very few speakers in tech, they get paid big bucks for speaking. So right off the bat, you're not gonna get that, too. You think it might get you? Maybe promotion. Now, some places I know of actually have made it part of their career ladder. There's one place that I know of that I met a guy at a conference, he was giving a talk, I asked him, Why are you giving a talk and he was like, it literally have to do it to get promoted. Because it's in the career ladder. And I was like, oh, that's unusual. But most of the time, it is not going to get you promoted. Absolutely not. Now, the third thing sometimes does happen, but you have to be at a certain status level for this to happen, which is that it can get you jobs. Yes, it actually can get you jobs. But for it to get you jobs. You have to be doing you really often and really well. That's that's just really often and really well. So when I'm traveling and doing 24 conferences, in two years, that's That's on average, a conference a month, I am traveling all over, I traveled to Australia to do a conference, I didn't have a vacation, a proper vacation for two years. Because literally every vacation was also coincided with me having to give a talk. Because that's how I hopped around the world. Yeah, I like I've gotten jobs from like recognition of my talks. But I also like, it was like a second job for me. And try it. Imagine then doing that, having a real job. And then also maybe interviewing. Oh, God is so hard. So like, it will, it will technically get you like, I guess interviews, but it does not mean you will pass the interviews, it doesn't mean you will get the offers, it just means that you'll have like more people on average, reach out to you personally to try and see if you are interested in interviewing. And that's it. So those are the caveats of it. Like you're gonna get like a whole bunch of things out of giving talks when you're going to meet so many people. It was how I met most of the women that I know in the field, because there aren't as many women as men, obviously. So I was having trouble meeting them, because it was often only one of three hit any job that I was at. Right. So that was like a way of meeting new people. And I am an introvert but I am very interested in people and their stories and who they are. And so it's genuinely interesting to me. So you'll make you'll make lots of friends, which I like I have friends all over the world and I love them dearly. It is so fun, and I miss them so much. Oh my god. That's why I want to go back to call friends.
Tim Bourguignon 38:41
How do you balance the hallway track and going to the talks?
Jenn Creighton 38:44
Oh, you don't go to the talks? Yeah, okay. Yeah, you don't go do you?
Tim Bourguignon 38:50
Know, I have a few a few speakers. I know. It's gonna be entertaining. I know. As you say, I know. I'm gonna feel some emotions out of that. And just whatever they're speaking about, I go there. Yeah. And then the rest is how we talk.
Jenn Creighton 39:05
Yeah, it's a secret little trick of anyone who's like a frequent conference speaker is like you do not go to the rest of the conference. You've just talked to your friends or meet new people. And that's kind of it. But like, he's I will go to like, my favorite people. If I know that they're giving a talk, of course. But like
Tim Bourguignon 39:21
you, you listen around and say who has worked who they were really listening to who has really something to say it was interesting, has a nice way of putting it and you come back to the things you say I didn't want to interrupt you before. But whenever I come back from from conference, I have a to do list that is to outline and my goal as I suppose everyone has a to do list like that. And my goal as a speaker, is to make a such an impression that my topic goes up into two lists. Now that people come out understanding all that I said and all the things I wanted to do tell them I want to make an impression so that I'm on top and when they come back home, the first thing they're gonna do Will is what I talked about. And if I, if I succeed in this fine, the talk was success, not if I tell them a whole new framework and how to use it and describe all the problems that they might have, etc. And that's not the subject of the talk talk is really putting this on their radar and making a decision,
Jenn Creighton 40:18
some people messaged me sometimes to tell me that they've taken my talk, and they've given it to their co workers, or they've presented it at work. Sometimes they'll have like lunch and learns, and they'll show my talk. And like, for me, that's my metric of like, if this was a particularly good one, because if people are recommending it as a way for people to learn that subject matter, you've done a really good job. The other thing that you'll get out of conference speaking, if you if you want to try it is that you will, maybe not your first few talks, but you will eventually learn a way of distilling technical information in a way that makes people excited to learn it and like not like a dry white paper. And that is actually a highly valuable skill in our field. And that is why a lot of people look for conference speakers and like offer them like interview rounds, because they know that they have this like special skill that a lot of people don't. So if you want to do it for that reason, like by all means you will have to just put like a lot of time and energy into it. Yeah, absolutely. But speaking Absolutely. Like completely changed my career. I was just a regular engineer. And then I started speaking and then I was like something else. I don't know what to call it, like Dev Rel, but not Dev Rel, but also an engineer. I don't know what it is,
Tim Bourguignon 41:35
would you be interested in going to defer?
Jenn Creighton 41:37
I have been interested in going into dev rel but the thing is Dev Rel is really hard. Dev Rel is so hard. I'm not I am scared of it. I am actually scared of it. Because it's it's way more difficult to know what you're measuring and how to do it. It's not just giving talks, it's a whole bunch of other things that like, I'm not sure that like I would have the skills for I've considered it in terms of like, I really like community, I really love making sure that community members feel good about their interactions with something like React. But yeah, definitely, definitely is really hard.
Tim Bourguignon 42:12
It is indeed. It's structured itself. In the last, I would say I'd say, five, six years. So it was it was a very wild, wild west before. And now it's very structured, very organized. And and it's become more of a science. Yeah, as you said, metrics, measuring impact, really going into different mediums. And it's, it's a science in itself. Yeah, it really is to where do you see yourself going in the future? Besides Netflix?
Jenn Creighton 42:47
Yeah, so I'm going to Netflix, but you know, I, a lot of my career has actually been based off of doing the thing I find, like really difficult and challenging. And I just said, DevRel is hard, Oh, God. But like, I've been working in front end for nine years, all of my career. And so I'm actually starting to branch out into other things. So I tried open source at Apollo. And now I'm going to Netflix, I'm going to work on their node platform team. So I'm going to be learning like a lot of new things for me, which I'm really excited about. It's, it's hard to be a front end engineer and also want to take time to learn other things. Because I have always felt in front end that if you turn your back on it for a second and then come back, you're like, what? Everything's different. We're using CSS grids know what happened to flex. But, you know, like, I literally stopped learning CSS when I was working on open source, because there was just no room for it. And then I come back to it. I'm like, what happened?
Tim Bourguignon 43:54
What happened was,
Jenn Creighton 43:56
yeah, it's a whole new world. But now I actually feel like I'm at like, sort of a comfortable place where I don't think I'm going to be doing straight UI development. For the rest of my career. I feel like that time is for me, I'm putting it on the shelf. Again, I can always take it back off. And there'll be lots of new things to learn. But I'm actually really confident that now is a good time for me to put it on the shelf and start to work on more infrastructure things.
Tim Bourguignon 44:16
Looking forward to to see.
Jenn Creighton 44:19
I'm very, very excited and nervous, but I want to become like a more well rounded engineer, I guess.
Tim Bourguignon 44:26
Good for you. Good. What would be the one piece of advice you would have needed when you transitioned in your career going from this from this lawyer studies and questioning yourself? Should I can i could i What would be the one piece of advice that would have helped you in this transition?
Jenn Creighton 44:46
When I was earlier in my career. One of the things I talked about during this was that my confidence would get shattered a lot and I wish that I had known how to build it back up again. I really want wasn't always aware that like, I knew it was being shattered, and then I just was like looking at the pieces on the ground as being, oh, I don't I don't know what to do with this. I wish I had had some strategies to work through that some, like support networks to help me feel better about what I was going through, maybe not downplay my knowledge, so much try to negotiate money more like, I now have that in my career. And I've had that for several years now. And it has been one of the most impactful things for me.
Tim Bourguignon 45:34
Awesome. Thank you very much. Where would be the best place to find you online and build network? ask silly questions about puppies, or Angular one. Maybe No, darling.
Jenn Creighton 45:54
I'm very active on Twitter. And my handle is girl code girl with a you. I also have my own little mini podcast called single threaded, which you can find on Spotify or other podcasts listening things I am working later this year on a second. It's seasonal. So I only do one season at a time because again, my life is very busy. And so I'll do Season Two soon. But those are the places to find me. And also, if you are listening to this before October 22. I hopefully will be speaking in London at RAC advanced, but if not, I will be speaking online for React advanced and I am talking about the history of React components.
Tim Bourguignon 46:33
Awesome. Thank you very much. It's been delightful. Thanks. And this has been another episode of Devil's journey. We'll see each other next week. Bye. Thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you liked the show, please share rate and review. It helps more listeners discover those stories. You can find the links to all the platforms the show appears on on our website, Dev journey dot info slash subscribe. Creating the show every week takes a lot of time, energy, and of course money. Would you please help me continue bringing out those inspiring stories every week by pledging a small monthly donation, you'll find our patreon link at Dev journey dot info slash donate. And finally don't hesitate to reach out and tell me how this week story is shaping your future. You can find me on Twitter at @timothep ti m o t h e p or per email info at Dev journey dot info. Talk to you soon.