Alexandra Spalato: 0:00
I wanted to be an actress and now I work on screens, I'm on stage, I give interviews, I do videos and, yes, the last story is I have a pseudonym Spalato. It's not my true name. I totally invent it like actors. My true name is very French, it's Perrier, which is in English Perrier, in Spanish Perrier it's. It don't sound good. So it was when I entered Codaball. I have this public profile and I was living in Croatia. My partner is from Croatia and we think, okay, I have to find another name. That's yes, and so we think. In French, spalato is the ancient name, the Roman name, italian name of Split. If you type Spalato on internet, you will see the city of Split in Croatia, which is beautiful, and I was living there at this time. So this is where my name come from.
Tim Bourguignon: 0:52
Hello and welcome to Developers Journey, the podcast bringing you the making of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host, tim Borghigno. On this episode, I receive Alexandra Spalato. Alexandra dipped her toes in many, many industries, from pharmacy and business to acting PR, investment and web development. Finally, I would say, as a dev, she wore many hats as well, from freelance to entrepreneur, and it's given her a fabulous mix of experiences to bring to the table. She currently rocks as a DevRel engineer at StoryBlock, diving deep into the Jamstack and headless architectures. Alexandra, a warm welcome to DevTourney.
Alexandra Spalato: 1:36
Hello, thank you, I'm happy to be here.
Tim Bourguignon: 1:39
Oh, it's a pleasure to receive you here today, but before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show. Every month, you are keeping the DevTourney lights up. If you would like to join this fine crew and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests than editing audio tracks, please go to our website, devjourneyinfo and click on the support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable DevTourney journey. Thank you, and now back to today's guest. So, as you know, alex, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story looked like and imagine how to shape their own future. So, as is usual on the show, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your DevTourney?
Alexandra Spalato: 2:30
I don't know exactly what the DevJourney working earning my life as developer, I would say 10 years ago. But my first contact with the web not even development was in 2002 by sharing an apartment. But I have to go long before to tell you all my path.
Tim Bourguignon: 2:51
We're all about stories, so let's go there.
Alexandra Spalato: 2:55
Okay, so long, long ago, I wanted to be an actress. That's what I really wanted and perhaps this choice was because I was very shy when I was a child but I was extrovert and that was really hard to live because I wanted contact with people and I'm energized by people etc. But I was not confident. So I think that was. I was appealing to be on stage, not to struggle with that. But before that, before going to that, my family wanted to make studies etc. Andi studied pharmacy and, to be honest, I was not really interested. So I was going to the university and partying a lot, I was going out a lot, etc. And learning before exams. But now, if I go back to that, I realize that I didn't learn about pharmacy. I think many people know much more than me about, about medicaments etc. Because they get sick etc. I never get sick. I think I ate so much pharmacy that I don't be sick, so I don't have to go. So I'm never, never sick. And but I was learning. I was studying just one month before my exam, generally in summer, because I just waiting the last, the last chance, and I think that teach me to, to learn to be a fast learner. Oh, I was perhaps a fast learner before, but it made it really in my, my idea into how to learn something quickly and to enter that and crunch it. You know, and I didn't was not really passionate about pharmacy, but I I realized that something I love is the process of learning and I was good at that. So, yes, I love learning things. I realize that there. So after that I did a business school, because family pharmacy was business school, etc. And then I was not learning one month before, but one week before, because many things like marketing etc. Are finally quite in Twitter. So and then I went, I failed the exams because it was a question I didn't know, and I realized my life Suddenly. I realized that I was at my exam table. I remember that and realize, oh, but that's now, it's not just shooting and okay, enjoying my life and learning one month before you know it's really working at a company or something and it's it's not what, what I like, and so and and I was not excited anymore by pricing exams, by the challenge, because I was I think I was liking the challenge too, and so I was not motivated and so I'm failing and because of that I had six months of a sort of hole and I went to Paris and I went, I applied to a drama school because that's what I wanted to do and I didn't come back to finish the business school. So my family was crazy and and, yes, I loved it, but I didn't succeed. I think it was not my path and I was a very bohemian life, trying things, meeting people. But so also, I think, being in this kind of life, you are solving problems. You are solving life problems because it's quite bohemian and complicated and it's creative and at the end, the code is creation too. So I was there in Paris, I did many things. I wanted to be a casting director then and of course, I have to work my life so to do other things and so I was mostly in sales jobs because I'm more, I'm more contact person, communication person, that I'm not practical at all. So even even you know, jobs like working at restaurants and things were not for me, so only only sales and communication. Pharmacy I tried because I had the diploma. I don't, I didn't finish the thesis but I could work in a pharmacy, but it was really, really not for me. It was. I was literally counting, counting the seconds. Yes, I remember that I have an internship and I was counting the second, so I really hated that. So it was terrible. And and so in 2002, I was sharing an apartment and my roommate was a photographer, but he was earning his life by doing websites. Okay, yes, and so what? I didn't know what to do with my life. At this moment, I see the actress thing, where it was quite complicated to stick to that and I knew I wanted to be independent. I didn't want to work for a company at this moment, and and and that I love learning, and so I I asked him oh, how much money you make? It was not much and so much money, but for me it was enough at this time. And, okay, you were working, working from home, and you have learned by yourself. Yes, oh, so I can do it, and I have a computer. I have a shitty computer that I buy from nothing. So I was not, I was. I have nothing around about tech, about computers, et cetera. In my life I had no people in tech. No, it was really something totally out of my, my universe at this moment. But I enter into that with dream weather in visual, because I was not thinking about coding. You know it's. I'm not a math person. Yes, I'm not a math person. I didn't do puzzles, I even don't drink coffee, so so, and I'm a right brain, I think is more than the left one. And and so it was fun because I'm a creative yes, I'm a right brain, I'm a creative. So I said, wow, I can create things. And I remember passing the whole night creating a fake websites about my partner, you know crazy things, et cetera, and and and, because I was hooked by that, by creating something, and it was a time we dreamed weather. We will have these buttons. We know if, with this star that was turning into. So I was trying all this crazy animation, because when you begin, you love them. You don't realize that this is totally true. You'll taste, develop later, and but at this time I don't. I use it for me, I, I, I learn HTML templates too, but I didn't get into code, perhaps I. I built some websites, some for business ideas I had and things like that, but it was just the seed, and so this was in 2002. And then I did many things I want to even bring the investors in IPOs and things and working at public relations as assistant, and so that this was in 2011. And in this position, that was really not fun. I asked my boss oh, you don't have a website. I can do it for you. For 500 euros I can do a website. And I did it with weeks. It was weeks in flash at this time. Okay, but it's a seed. I had reborn and and I I create something. That was really nice and and I was really hooked by that. And then I discovered WordPress, and WordPress, as you know, you don't know come with many pre-built themes, et cetera. And in the beginning, when I discovered that was like, wow, this is how it works. It was like, like you know, taking out the wheel of something, oh, that's how you do it. And I was hooked with that. At all my free time, I was passing it, taking a theme from WordPress and and trying to build something and, yeah, it works. And learning a bit of HTML and and beginning to do websites for actors, singers and people like that. And and then, yes, the change, the chance was she was working with a, with a jeweler, and the communication agency from the jeweler would become friends and one day I had this guy on the phone and say, hey, I'm doing. You know, I'm selling some websites with WordPress, et cetera. I say, oh, how have you done it? But I have learned. And oh, but I will need you, and so quickly. After I was working with this agency, but as freelancer because I wanted to be freelancers I was working from home and my work was just to implement the WordPress theme. It tell me, okay, take the theme, implement it with this, this feature, and make a tutorial for the interns. So I was doing that. So it was six months after I began. I was earning my life with that equity of PR agency and I was already earning my life, but then I get bored of working with films and so, welcome to hello to CSS, a little bit CSS. And I remember it was in 2012 and the first time I took a logo and I put it from the semi was on the right and they need it in the middle, and I put it in the middle of an 2 CSS. I was wow, that's amazing. I was amazed just by that. And again, it was discovering something new and that thing, it's in development. For me is all like that. You think something oh, how to do that? And you discover how to do it is wow. And then, okay, it becomes something common and you need more. It's like a drug at the end, you know, because you need more and more and more and to not get bored, because I'm quickly bored and so, yes, so that that was with CSS. And then I get bored of working with WordPress themes, of course, so I learned how to build WordPress theme with PHP. I don't like PHP, but well, it was only front and PHP, so I was really front end and and after that I quit this agency and I entered in Codébol, which is a platform for WordPress experts. It was just beginning at this time now entering is really complicated, but it was in 2014. It was easier, it was a beginning and that was great because I was really beginning. But, yes, I was good at design. That's the summer before beginning really with the web. I pass it looking tutorials at Photoshop, so I have the eye for design. Naturally, I'm not a designer because I don't master the tools. I prefer development because it's like giving life to things. But it gives me an advantage as freelancer because you, you know how to make things nice, and that's a big advantage. And to enter in Codébol, I made a website with a builder, you know, because I was not into PHP but it was. It was really nice in colors and things and it was creative. So I entered in Codébol and then I have clients from all over the world because I was paying well, etc. And and that was, yes, a beginning of beginning really more professional and building custom things. And I ended up building custom WordPress theme, really advanced, with a custom back office and everything. I was not using pre-made themes at all. I didn't like it and and of course, I get bored just before we go to the after boredom so I mean you mean you.
Tim Bourguignon: 15:26
You gradually added more and more and more to your theme building. At first it was very much theme tweaking, taking a thing that already exists and just changing stuff and adding a little bit and then in the end it was not just the theme but WordPress as a whole ecosystem of plugins and really making the theme work with a plugin, and actually the whole spectrum of customizing WordPress.
Alexandra Spalato: 15:49
Yes, it's giving me a design, like like I do if I do in React now, but clients was giving me a design and I was building everything from scratch, but in WordPress, with a WordPress back office.
Tim Bourguignon: 16:03
Taylor made for the client, taylor made builder and and everything like that so did you realize at that point, looking back and saying, wow, all the things I learned in in in little time and saying, well, I, I saw WordPress as a black box at the beginning and just plugging stuff into it. And now I see the. I see the, the box completely open. I see how it's working. I see the in the, now that I can find my way easily in all this technology. Did you realize that at that point?
Alexandra Spalato: 16:33
yes, I think it's our story as developers and and with the importer syndrome imposter syndrome, if you love, if you, if we look at all what we don't know and that other people do, then we have the imposter syndrome and of course I have it. But, yes, the way is to. If you look back you say, wow, I, I learned all that. And you realize even more when you tell the story of because I've done that, that, that and that, because I think the, the knowledge is comprising in your mind. You don't realize that you know all that because it's being part of you. And then if you have to tell I know that, that, and then say, oh, I know all that and it's, and then you realize that it's, that it's a lot, but yes, it comes gradually and, and it's better for me, it comes by working, so always stretching, and I think also, what is different it's as you, you have an engineer formation, so you know, learn everything and you, you come.
Tim Bourguignon: 17:31
But we're good for nothing. That that's what we say about engineers they're ready for everything, but they're good for nothing, so yeah, I don't know that.
Alexandra Spalato: 17:42
Yeah, so we do. In my case, we do a lot of things. And then anybody was more going from the periphery to the center. You know, I want, okay, I have something that is pre-made and and, yes, a black box. You're in the black box and you are taking, like an onion. You take, you're peeling the onion and you want to go to the center and to be free, also to have the freedom to create whatever you want and that's, uh, yes, better than boredom, is that? But I want more. I want to do that. I want and I don't want to have limits. Yes, I hate limitations in in anything, so I like freedom. So, if I want freedom, I have to learn to do it myself and not to be limited by this of this from a WordPress team or whatever this is awesome, this is really cool.
Tim Bourguignon: 18:29
So so you, you learned all of this. You really peeled out the onion, as you said, and then it stood the ins and outs of WordPress, and at some point you probably reached a plateau saying, okay, you know, you know a lot of things, if you want to know twice more, it will take exponentially more time to really go deeper, and that's probably where boredom started to to emerge again. That's where I cut you before.
Alexandra Spalato: 18:53
Tim Bourguignon: 25:01
How did that talk go as the shy extrovert that you described yourself being?
Alexandra Spalato: 25:08
But I already cure the shy thing with the drama school.
Tim Bourguignon: 25:13
Alexandra Spalato: 25:16
Yes, it's always there, you know. It's always a wound somewhere and if you find people, for example, that are talking a lot, talking too much I'm part of them it's because we want to hide this shyness, so we do too much and we can seem very extrovert, but it's a struggle to because we are not somebody that is very confident and secure. We'd be calmer, etc. So you can find this type of symptoms. So, but yes, it goes much better.
Tim Bourguignon: 25:52
So that all went well.
Alexandra Spalato: 25:54
Yes, but to have been in drama school of course make me much more confident on stage and the way of speaking, etc. There is things that you don't forget. I'm planning actually to perhaps retake a drama school here in Madrid to have fun and to improve my speaker skills, because I'm doing a lot of talks now and so, yes, but I was amazed when Gensby called me for that. I said wow, and I had great time, it went well. And one thing that I remember speaking at conference. I think it's great to take out to cure the imposter syndrome too, because you see the reaction of people. You feel that people are learning something from you and they are happy and they come to see you and ask questions. And the most crazy was somebody that created things, really, really a great engineer and come to me oh, your talk was great, etc. And he learned things. And then you realize that what you know is not what they know and it's complementary in my path in life. Yes, it's doing creative things and it's not the same that deep engineers that will have perhaps will be better in code, but perhaps I will have all the creative ideas because who I am and because of my life too. So it's two different things, but the imposter syndrome never goes totally away.
Tim Bourguignon: 27:30
You just learned to live with it.
Alexandra Spalato: 27:33
Yes, so that was my first conference. That was great, and yes, and after that I decided to create professional Gatsby WordPress themes. So not?
Tim Bourguignon: 27:50
the three ones you did with.
Alexandra Spalato: 27:52
DAQ, but your own company to do that? Yes, I always wanted to create a product, to create something against the creative thing. So, that's something I always have in mind, and so I did it with Paulina, a colleague. She's really good, she's a doctor in math and super creative, and DAQ was supposed to be the marketing, but DAQ retired and you realize that I have a lot of fun creating it. They are beautiful, but without marketing.
Tim Bourguignon: 28:25
You don't say so you had to do marketing on your own.
Alexandra Spalato: 28:31
No, because I don't like marketing.
Tim Bourguignon: 28:32
So it's not my thing.
Alexandra Spalato: 28:36
I don't have the money to invest, to hire I had no. I had a woman who joined me, Bridgette. She was doing Twitter, but she has to earn her life too. She cannot put full time on that. So at the end I mentioned it a time. But then when I entered Storyblocks, I stopped it because I was making one sale a month, and so it was exciting. Somebody said, oh, buy it in Japan. And so it was exciting to know it that you have created something and somebody on the other side of the world buy it. And I learned a lot by building that. So I never regret to have done it, but I learned that if one day I create something, I will not do it alone. I need a business partner. I can learn it, but it's not my thing, it's not something I enjoy. So you cannot be everything, and building a business has several parts. So I'm building a block template now in Storyblocks for the community. So I'm retaking that, you know, but inside the company.
Tim Bourguignon: 29:47
So how did you decide on the next step when you realized, okay, this Gatsby theme business is not working as well as you expected. You need to do a next step. How did you went at solving this?
Alexandra Spalato: 30:00
Tim Bourguignon: 36:28
Alexandra Spalato: 36:31
So it's a. It's a fun story too. So, yes, I have been asked for that. Then it was on WPngine's hosting of WordPress. They contact me saying me oh, we are searching for a manager for developer relation and Jason Langstorf has recommended you. To what? Why me? Jason is super nice and and recommend me, so he really appreciated, but I didn't understand why he was recommending me for that it's. I said no, I didn't think about it. But then 2022 was really hard. I even I began to learn web-free, but in front end, and I had a project for a NFT marketplace, so it was going to save my my finance. And then the crypto crash came and the project died. So it was really a bad situation and Gatsby was searching ahead of Debra. So I apply and I pass for interview, but you don't go from freelance to head, I imagine. So it didn't work. And then I met Debbie O'Brien. Perhaps you know her. She's at Microsoft and she lives in Mallorca. I was living in Mallorca and somebody told me oh, you have to meet Debbie, and we had lunch, not for work, but just because we have two women in tech in tech living in Mallorca. And that was 10 days after the rejection from Gatsby in June 2022, and she told me, oh, you have to apply at Storyblock and at Prismic and I know them. You can write from me, etc. And this day I was working on my team again, etc. And say, okay, I'm going to do something else. I would Storyblock and I apply the same day and three weeks after I had an offer. So, yes, I never applied to a lot of companies, so, but I only go from yes, that's a things too because I see people applying to many, many, many things and I was not really searching for a job. I was searching for some things that bring me somewhere somewhere else, but something I like. So, gatsby, first, because it was, it was organic for me, because I was building product with them. I even did a video for them as a contractor, so it was quite obvious. And Storyblock, oh, okay, it's a headless CMS, so this is where I come from. So it was really, you know, speaking to me and and so it happens very, very quickly, instead of applying to hundreds of things like I was very lucky, but but well, three weeks after I had an offer and and I begin as a, as developer relation just one year ago, it was why it would be one year on the 25th.
Tim Bourguignon: 39:29
So so yes and congratulations for them that's how it happened are you still working on the on the themes part or no? I keep it as yes, I leave it.
Alexandra Spalato: 39:43
In the beginning I was thinking even I put on Twitter yes, don't worry, I will maintain it, but no, it's, it was not selling so and I was so occupied with my, with my job, I quickly realized I was not. He cannot be profitable if I don't have somebody dedicated to marketing. You know, and take it, really taking that. So I let it die and but I have to. The website is still alive and it's because the website is really nice and I believe myself, and once or two I had somebody who buy it and so I refunded immediately. I have to take it down. I have to take the time and take everything down because it's it's not there anymore, but I don't know at what time I decide okay, no, I cannot, that's not possible. Perhaps one day, you know, and I'm learning a lot, you being a developer in a company, and also I'm learning being a freelancer and alone you learn what you can, but you have nobody that teach you anything. So it's you stretch, and but you, yes, and and so, being at the company, you, you see bigger projects and bigger things and you learn things. And also, yes, for the imposter syndrome. You realize that you're thinking sometimes. You think why I think like that and people don't think like that, and you think that you're right because other people approve you so and you can find help also with colleagues. So it's really refreshing after working alone for so long time.
Tim Bourguignon: 41:21
Do you think there's something that that alexandre who was learning, always studying pharmacy I don't want to say how many years ago that this person should have, should have, or that you would have something to tell that person and say don't worry about the future because, don't worry, this is not what you are going to do.
Alexandra Spalato: 41:47
Yes, yes, you will be. No, a fan story. I always tell it's. I wanted to be an actress and now I work on screens, I'm on stage, I give interviews, I do videos and I yes last story it's I have a pseudonym Spalato. It's not my true name. I totally invented like actors. My true name is very French, is Perrier, which is in English Perrier, in Spanish Perrier it's. I don't sound good, so it was when I entered Coddable. I have this public profile and I was living in Croatia. My partner is from Croatia and we think, okay, I have to find another name. That's yes, and so we think. In France, spalato is the ancient name, the Roman name, italian name of split. If you type Spalato on Internet, you will see the city of split in Croatia, which is beautiful and I was living there at this time. So this is where my name come from.
Tim Bourguignon: 42:47
It's fun to see how how things connect in. You know how you can look at your story and say, hey, I picked that from here and that from there and that from there, and that's where am I now. I couldn't piece that out before, but now I see. Yes, absolutely.
Alexandra Spalato: 42:59
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I, when I, when I begin with WordPress and all that I was thinking to do small website to actors, you know already is a theme thing I was building digital themes but it didn't work and but I never, ever imagined to be where I am now and speaking at conferences in the US and and I made a joke about that of my last co-op at Renix. So so I don't know what did happen next, because ten years ago I didn't even imagine doing what I do now. So in ten years I don't know where I will be, to be honest.
Tim Bourguignon: 43:34
So we'll be keeping an eye on you.
Alexandra Spalato: 43:37
Being open, keep open to life, that's. That's don't put barriers. Keep open and play and see what happened.
Tim Bourguignon: 43:46
I'm into that, alexander. Thank you so much. It's been a blast listening to a story. Thanks.
Alexandra Spalato: 43:52
So where would be the best place?
Tim Bourguignon: 43:55
where would be the best place to continue this discussion with you?
Alexandra Spalato: 43:59
Twitter. Twitter Alexa Dark on Twitter, not because I'm dark, because my partner name is Darko, okay, so well. Well, I'll link to your.
Tim Bourguignon: 44:13
Twitter account in the show notes directly. Yes, just scroll down and click on it. Anything else you want to plug in before we call it today?
Alexandra Spalato: 44:21
I think, yes, I think I'm okay, can continue for hours like that, because I like as an extra what I like communicating, talking with people.
Tim Bourguignon: 44:31
so it was really nice speaking with you and thank you and thank you for that, and this has been another episode of the Opposite Journey and we see each other next week. Bye, bye.
Alexandra Spalato: 44:43
Tim Bourguignon: 44:44
Thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you like 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 devjourneyinfo slash subscribe. Creating the show every week takes a lot of time, energy and, of course, money. Will 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 devjourneyinfo slash donate. And finally, don't hesitate to reach out and tell me how this week's story is shaping your future. You can find me on Twitter and at teamathabtimothep, or per email info at devjourneyinfo. Talk to you soon.