Episode 3

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Published on:

21st Jun 2022

S1 E3: Taking up Space (Alex / @AutisticManager)

Alex Karp joins the show to talk about his origin story, growing up being fascinated with tech, embracing the iOS development industry before moving into engineering management.

We discuss his passion for helping new engineers break into the industry. We talk about some of the common challenges and fears that can hold people back from applying to and going for the jobs that interest and excite them.

Transcript
Alex:

You'd get to the 45 minute mark and then you'd see your build fail

Alex:

Not because it didn't compile but because it had two lines of white

Alex:

space next to each other and that was just the most sole crushing thing That

Alex:

I've had to deal with as a developer

Alex:

they see this job opening as this hole that they're trying to fill and in

Alex:

order to do that they crunch themselves up and they make themselves small

Alex:

in order to fit in this neat little hole when in reality they have all

Alex:

of this experience that is valuable

Eddie:

Welcome to Episode 3 of the WebJoy podcast.

Eddie:

I'm your host, Eddie.

Eddie:

In this podcast, we interview guests about their origin story and what

Eddie:

makes them excited and joyful to be part of the tech community.

Eddie:

I hope you enjoy today's episode "Taking up Space" with Alex Karp.

Eddie:

Today we have Alex Karp and Alex do you want go ahead and introduce

Eddie:

yourself who you are, what you do, where you work just uh brief intro

Alex:

Yeah my name's Alex He/ him pronouns I am based out of the Boston area just

Alex:

north of Boston I am an engineering manager at Twitter My team is called

Alex:

media foundation client so my team owns the media library at Twitter So anytime

Alex:

that you watch a video or listen in on a space or laugh at funny GIF that's

Alex:

all based off of my team and our library

Eddie:

Nice Well Hey I appreciate the work you all do I use plenty of

Eddie:

GIFs on your service and have joined a couple of spaces So definitely glad

Eddie:

you all are there and doing what you do

Alex:

Yeah we have a lot of fun doing it

Eddie:

Well what's kind of a short version of your story How

Eddie:

did you get involved in tech and what has your trajectory been like

Alex:

Yeah I've been talking about this a lot lately with all of the coffee

Alex:

chats with the # hunter devs folks I tell people I got really lucky in a

Alex:

way I knew from a very young age that I liked computers I liked messing about

Alex:

on them and so I found resources online to teach myself basic web development.

Alex:

This was back in the day when there weren't nearly as many resources as there

Alex:

were now though to be fair there was only one flavor of JavaScript and I kind of

Alex:

liked it that way, Kind of missed that but I looked at programming as a cool way of

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solving problems, usually my own problems cause I'm a little bit selfish like that

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so it was this way of doing that And so I would just start on these projects and

Alex:

learn through that then when the iPhone was released I was like oh wow This means

Alex:

that I could take my things wherever I go.

Alex:

So of course I dived into iOS development and that's been most of my more recent

Alex:

developer history but I've done both front-end and back-end development on

Alex:

web and a bunch of iOS development.

Alex:

Because I knew from such a young age what I wanted to do I was able to

Alex:

put myself through a computer science program get internships and then right

Alex:

outta school I was at Microsoft for a year doing some front-end back-end and

Alex:

Microsoft development so I got to do some interesting server side executable things.

Eddie:

Sorry to hear that That doesn't sound fun

Alex:

Honestly the least fun bit about it was the way That our compile system

Alex:

worked the whole thing would take 25 minutes on an incremental build more

Alex:

like 45 on a clean release build.

Alex:

But the most frustrating thing about it was that we had this linter and the

Alex:

linter was incredibly strict if it found anything it would fail but they

Alex:

didn't run the linter until after they had compiled everything So you'd get to

Alex:

the 45 minute mark and then you'd see your build fail Not because it didn't

Alex:

compile but because it had two lines of white space next to each other and that

Alex:

was just the most sole crushing thing That I've had to deal with as a developer

Eddie:

Yeah that sounds painful And for anyone listening who isn't as

Eddie:

familiar with programming linter would basically be like a grammar checker

Eddie:

for programming code So it's checking to make sure all the grammar of the

Eddie:

programming is the exact correct As it should be And like someone missed a

Eddie:

period at the end of the sentence and that 45 minute whole thing was wasted Now

Alex:

yeah Especially on a team it's just a way of ensuring that all

Alex:

of our code kind of looks the same and that we can read each other's

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code That's that sort of thing.

Alex:

After that I ended up at Wayfair for about five years going from doing development

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into management which was interesting but I did have a lot of fun there in

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the almost five years that I was there we grew from seven mobile engineers to

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I think we were about 155 When I left, so some pretty rapid growth and it was

Alex:

a wild ride and then back in February of 2020 I was part of the layoffs at Wayfair,

Alex:

so that's how I ended up at Twitter

Eddie:

Yeah that's definitely been a journey that you've been on this

Eddie:

fun ride and you've ended up where you are now what keeps you excited

Eddie:

and what interests you about tech now that you've been here for a while

Alex:

Yeah I think it's the fact that tech and software engineering it just

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intersects with everything if you think of anything else that's outside of tech

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that you're interested in there is some intersection with software so that's a

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really cool thing where if you get bored of working on one sort of thing you can

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go work on a different sort of thing I think that really helps keep things

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exciting and there's always something new to learn Like you're basically forced to.

Alex:

As long as you like learning new things and trying out different

Alex:

areas then you know it's a lot of fun

Eddie:

I love that I really feel that in my core I worked for a design agency

Eddie:

where we built stuff for random companies I did something that helped doctors in

Eddie:

the ER see how to use certain surgical tools on an iPad And then I was working

Eddie:

on a cyber security application and now I'm at Glassdoor And I'm helping

Eddie:

build software for businesses to understand the needs of their Employees

Eddie:

in an anonymous fashion and stuff.

Eddie:

Like you those are all very different things And yet we get to be involved

Eddie:

in all of it because we are technology professionals So that's super exciting

Alex:

Yeah, absolutely.

Eddie:

Well the goal of this podcast is to kind of talk about things that Bring us

Eddie:

joy around the tech industry so I have a question for you which is what brings you

Eddie:

joy and what would you like to talk about

Alex:

I'd say recently it's just been not only the number of people but I guess the

Alex:

breadths of people that taking part in things like #100Devs or other boot camps

Alex:

or teaching themselves and just kind of deciding Hey I want to try this let's

Alex:

give it a shot and just how open everybody has seemed to be about their journey

Alex:

as they learn which I think is awesome

Eddie:

That's definitely cool what do you think gets you excited about getting into

Eddie:

tech and helping people get into tech?

Alex:

Yeah I would again say that I've been kind of lucky in my career in that

Alex:

with both Wayfair and Twitter they had programs that were designed to bring

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more people in so at Wayfair we called that Wayfair Labs And at Twitter we have

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Twitter apprenticeships And the idea with both of these is to take people who are

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either coming off of a bootcamp or have taught themselves how to how to write

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code or are just starting out in their career or switching from another career.

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Any of these circumstances where it might be difficult for them to just go out and

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get a job as a junior engineer These are programs where you have a three month

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period or a one year period in which they're looking to bridge the gap between

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being able to write code and being able to write code as part of a team at a software

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company and I've gotten to do a lot of both interviewing for these roles And I've

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gotten to work with a lot of the people who have come through these programs And

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I am constantly amazed by the people that come through these programs they are some

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of the most driven people I've seen They have really interesting ideas that I don't

Alex:

think we would have thought of had we had we not had them on our team and also

Alex:

they're just really happy to be there and that happiness is kind of infectious

Eddie:

I totally get that I helped mentor at the collab lab which is a nonprofit

Eddie:

focused on helping people in the exact same stages that you talked about the

Eddie:

Twitter apprenticeship and at Wayfair and like you said I've seen the same stuff.

Eddie:

I helped a cohort earlier this year and I was just amazed at how they came

Eddie:

together and worked together in a team.

Eddie:

No one had to teach them how to work together in a team that just blows

Eddie:

my mind because I feel in the people who are normally in the developer tech

Eddie:

industry I feel one of the big things we have to do in engineering management

Eddie:

type things is figure out how to get our people to work together rather

Eddie:

than just be engineers in their corners programming and this influx of new people

Eddie:

who want to work together and solve problems it's a really fresh perspective.

Alex:

Yeah absolutely and that's one of the things that I tell a lot of people

Alex:

when they're asking about how to get into tech is to think about some of these

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other skills that they have especially if they've had other jobs or even the

Alex:

experiences you wouldn't think about where they develop things like teamwork

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communication leadership resilience all of these experiences that just get completely

Alex:

overlooked when people are applying to jobs that end up actually being really

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important And I would say at equally important and potentially even more

Alex:

important than the tech side of things

Eddie:

Yeah that makes a lot of sense at the end of one of our eight week cohorts

Eddie:

we have one person become like the pseudo tech lead for the cohort whereas the

Eddie:

mentors have been leading it up to that point and the cohort I was just a part of

Eddie:

... I was amazed because one person was like yeah I'll do it And they were so organized

Eddie:

and I'm like they've never really worked in a team programming setting in this

Eddie:

way And yet here they are knocking things off the list like a tech lead of

Eddie:

years And I'm like how is this possible?

Eddie:

To your point then I found out after the fact jobs that they've been at in

Eddie:

the past they've been team leads in non-technical capacities They've been

Eddie:

in these leadership type things And then you bringing those skills into the

Eddie:

tech realm it's just goes flawlessly And if they don't realize that they can

Eddie:

put that out there as a strength and as a resource then they're definitely

Eddie:

missing something that can help it

Alex:

Yeah I talk about it a lot in terms of taking up space . for junior

Alex:

engineers or people going for their first role they see this job opening as this

Alex:

hole that they're trying to fill right and so in order to do that they crunch

Alex:

themselves up and they make themselves small in order to fit in this neat little

Alex:

hole when in reality they have all of this experience that is valuable and by

Alex:

really thinking about what it is that they bring to the table what value they bring

Alex:

to the team to the company they're taking up space and that's just a much stronger

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place to sell yourself from It's like Hey this is who I am This is the value

Alex:

that I bring These are the experiences that I've had that I think will help the

Alex:

company or will help me think differently that makes a much stronger case than

Alex:

by trying to fit into what you perceive as the hole that they're trying to fill

Eddie:

If you could choose one thing that's the most important for people

Eddie:

to know when they're trying to get into tech What do you think that is?

Alex:

Honestly I would say that's probably one of the biggest things

Alex:

that I would mention to people.

Alex:

A couple of other things that I think are right up there.

Alex:

One is don't focus so much on the technical interviews and if you do focus

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on them focus on learning how to problem solve it's a much more generic way of

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looking at these problems cause you will never ever memorize enough algorithms

Alex:

and data structures to attack each one perfectly nor should you have to.

Alex:

The other one is don't be afraid to apply if you don't meet all of the requirements

Alex:

for a role people forget that these job descriptions are written by people

Alex:

who overwhelmingly suck at writing job descriptions and conveying specifically

Alex:

what it is that they're looking for, and I include myself in this category.

Alex:

So don't get discouraged if you don't meet things perfectly you're

Alex:

likely that candidate anyway

Eddie:

I agree with that As someone who's also written job descriptions it's like

Eddie:

we are trying to create a person out of nothing we know that what we are writing

Eddie:

this person doesn't exist as a single entity but we have to craft a person And

Eddie:

if you feel like any part of that person resonates with you then you're probably

Eddie:

a good candidate because we know not everyone's going to match everything And

Eddie:

so yeah Throw your hat in the ring if you feel like it touches on your experience

Eddie:

in some way And that's what interviews are for, For us to tease out and figure out

Eddie:

if you are the right fit And so it doesn't hurt to to throw your hat in the ring.

Eddie:

I know that I started getting a lot more job interviews because I used to

Eddie:

have that same perspective I'd look down and I'm like oh I'm two years

Eddie:

shy of this requirement And I wouldn't apply And definitely in the last four

Eddie:

years five years or so I've started to just say you know what if this thing is

Eddie:

remotely where I'm headed remotely what I'm interested in If I can find some

Eddie:

way to spin it as being relevant to my experience like I'm going to apply And

Eddie:

if I get to the interview and It bombs then that saved me because I wasn't ready

Eddie:

but if it doesn't then I am ready and just let the interview be the thing that

Eddie:

cancels you out rather than not applying

Alex:

Right Cause you'll always wonder what if I had applied Like

Alex:

what have I gotten that job you'll never regret applying for something and

Alex:

getting told that you're not ready yet

Eddie:

As we wrap up this episode as a community like we love to support

Eddie:

each other We love to hear what each other is doing and what's going on So

Eddie:

is there anything that you're involved with or anything you've worked on

Eddie:

recently that you'd like to share and let the community know about

Alex:

Absolutely So I just I wrote a book and it's available now So it's called

Alex:

running start and the whole premise of the book is that it is intended to help

Alex:

More people get into tech my goal when writing it was to take my experiences

Alex:

and my observations as both an engineer and a manager and Use that to create I

Alex:

sometimes call it a cheat sheet for your career but it's basically everything that

Alex:

I wish that I would have known at the beginning of my career that I think if I

Alex:

had known would've made a big difference and the goal in writing it was to try

Alex:

to make it as accessible as possible so the primary audience for the book are

Alex:

people who are coming out of boot camps people who are trying to break into tech

Alex:

but the way that it's written I think really anybody can get value out of it.

Eddie:

Awesome let's pause for a second and realize you just said I just published

Eddie:

a book I mean that's a huge thing you know what I mean so many people myself

Eddie:

included have thought about writing a book but most of us haven't so congrats!

Eddie:

What a huge milestone to be able to say yes I not only started writing a book

Eddie:

which thousands of people have done but you finished writing a book and

Eddie:

It's published and it's out there for people to check out So congrats on that

Alex:

Thank you It's really surreal but I'm so happy that it's out there

Eddie:

Awesome as Alex has said like it is useful to everyone, people

Eddie:

particularly in bootcamps and things like that but really if it sounded

Eddie:

interesting to you you're probably in the target audience So is there

Eddie:

a website that they can go to check

Alex:

Yeah absolutely You can go to RunningStart.dev where you can purchase a

Alex:

digital copy Or if you go search Running Start on Amazon you can buy a copy for

Alex:

your Kindle a hard cover or a paperback.

Eddie:

Awesome So everyone go check it out And that's about it for this

Eddie:

episode Thank you for joining us Alex!

Alex:

Thank you for having me

Eddie:

Thanks for joining us for episode 3, "Taking up Space" with Alex Karp.

Eddie:

You can find out more about Alex on his Twitter @AutisticManager.

Eddie:

You can find links to everything we talked about in this episode, as well as a link

Eddie:

to Alex's Twitter in the show notes.

Eddie:

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider rating and reviewing it

Eddie:

in your favorite podcast directory.

Eddie:

And following us on Twitter @WebJoyFM

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About the Podcast

WebJoy
Find your happy place
The WebJoy podcast is an inclusive community centered on celebrating the diverse origins, skills, and experiences that make up the tech industry.

Talking with guests about their origin stories, what they love about working in their roles, and what they find joy in keeps this an upbeat and rather lighthearted podcast.

We approach the world with optimism and hope, while recognizing the flaws and challenges within our own industry and the world at large. We believe that if we work together, we can all find our happy place.

About your host

Profile picture for Eddie Hinkle

Eddie Hinkle

Eddie's mission is to bring joy and empathy to the tech industry. He does this through engineering leadership, mentoring and podcasting. Eddie currently works as an Engineering Manager at Glassdoor, Mentors on ADPList and hosts the WebJoy podcast.