S1 E44: I like to say I’m not gonna do something, and then I do it anyway (Kelly / @kvlly)

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# episode 44 Kelly and Eddie

**Eddie:** Welcome to another episode of Web Joy. I'm excited today to have Kelly Vaughn with us. Kelly, say hi to the Listen.

**Kelly:** Hello. Hello. Thanks for having me.

**Eddie:** Absolutely. So I know like, you know, when you're, when you're the host somewhere and you get someone that you've known of, like outside of your context of a host, like typically you're supposed to be cool and suave, but I'll, I'll be fanboy for a minute and say like, I'm so excited to have you on, like, I've listened to, you know, the Ladybug podcast when you all did it and everything.

So, um, definitely a highlight of this season to, to have you join us. So,

**Kelly:** Aw. Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

**Eddie:** Absolutely. So, yeah, I mean, you know, kind of, for those of you, for those who are listening that you know, don't know who you are, um, kind of give a, a brief intro about yourself.

**Kelly:** Yeah, so I'm Kelly Va. I am a soft taught engineer, taught me myself, how covid I was 11. So I've been doing it a minute. Uh, I am now the director of engineering at a video intelligence startup called SPOT ai. And prior to this, I, uh, founded an agency, ran that for four and a half years, and co-founded a SaaS startup as well.

**Eddie:** Awesome. Well, you've been, you've been busy

**Kelly:** Yes,

**Eddie:** Awesome. Well, what did that journey look like, right? I mean, obviously, you know, you've been doing stuff a while if you start learning to code at 11, right? And then you've gone and done kind of entrepreneurial and starting up agencies, and now you're, you know, working as, um, a director. Like, what does that journey look like for you from a, I guess, a high.

**Kelly:** It's been, it's been a little all over the place. I think the, it could be summarized as I like to say, I'm not going to do something and then I do it anyway. Um, that's the, the super short version. The longer version is, uh, I taught myself how to code because, uh, are you familiar with neo pets?

**Eddie:** Yes, absolutely.

**Kelly:** so for those who aren't familiar with Neo Pet's website, uh, as as kids, you can have your own virtual pet and you can play games and buy things and have, like, there's a community aspect to it.

And the communities were called guilds. And in order to customize your guild, you had to know basic HTML and c s s. And so my dad bought me a book called H T M L Goodies, and that is how I learned how to code, uh, from a book, uh, back when I was, uh, a very young. Little, little, little girl. Um, not doing anything more than bowling and coding.

That was my life and gymnastics. Um, I started freelancing when I was 14. Uh, I had my first client, uh, who needed, actually, it was like an online catalog basically. So I kind of got my first dip at a to e-commerce very early, um, for a hunting supplies store up in Michigan. Um, I was paid a t. It was my dad's size.

It was like not at all useful. Um, but my dad did find it like years later, he had been using it as a dust drag apparently, and like it was missing a sleeve and it was so dirty. And he's like, look what? iPhone? Um, so it was super meaningful. I have since lost it again. I, it's somewhere and I'm sure I will find it eventually because I need to frame that thing cuz like my first dollar.

Um, so yeah, I, I, I freelance, uh, through high school, undergrad and grad school. I never wanted to. For living, um, because I figured if I was. Forced to code for a living, I'd grow to hate it. Um, I actually took AP computer science in high school and I needed a tutor to get through the class. Cause I was so bad at Java, it just did not work with my brain.

Um, I haven't tried it since. I'm sure it's probably a little bit better, like my brain that is, I'm sure, like the language is never bad in the first place. But, you know, um, , uh, so I went to school for something totally different. First of all, I have three degrees from the University of Georgia. I go dogs back to back, national champions.

Um, how to throw that in there because it's perfect timing since we won last night. Terrible game.

**Eddie:** Awesome. Oh, no,

**Kelly:** It was, it was murder, it was pure murder. Um, but yeah, so, uh, my bachelor's in psychology and I have two master's degrees in public health and clinical social work. So I'm actually a trained therapist, uh, which is totally different again from software engineering and.

I, my first job out of grad school was a fellowship for the centers, uh, center, center of Disease Controlled Prevention Centers for Disease Control Prevention, C d, C, we'll just keep it at c d C, um, and they needed somebody who had their master's in public health who also knew how to code. I was the only applicant.

It turns out two weeks in when they hired me, they're like, Hey, yeah, you are our only applicant. I'm like, cool. Thanks for the confidence boost. Appreciate that. Uh, but it was a good experience except I was making more money freelancing part-time than I was through the stipend at. C d c. And once my husband and I got married and I can get on his health insurance, I left the fellowship program and went full-time on my own.

So this was September, October of 2013 or 2015. Uh, in 20. In 2016, there was a, I had a, a feature in MailChimp called a Freelance Success Story. And it was beautiful. Uh, in this, in this article, I talk about how I never wanna start an agency because if I, if I do, , it's gonna be too structured. Like I wanna keep this like hybrid work with other freelancers thing.

And then the next year I started an agency, like I said, uh, this is a pattern here, . And so I started the tap room, um, focus around e-commerce, Shopify in particular, uh, grew that to about 20, 25 people globally. Um, and then in 2021, you know, 2020 was a rough year, but a really ra like big year for us cuz e-commerce.

Um, in 21 I kind of like hit a wall and I was like, what am I doing with my. I, I'm losing meaning in my work, and so I took a one month sabbatical from my own company, which is really cool that I was able to do that. And during that time I co-founded a SaaS startup called Galvao and built the, this is my first kind of foray into like the product world and uh, venture capital, cuz we did raise a pre-seed round for that company.

And, uh, we launched our, our prototype in our, our M V P in October of 2021. Um, I hit another wall. February more of like a financial thing. Um, turns out you can't run two Tom, two companies full-time. It's kind of difficult, uh, . And so I had to make the difficult decision to shut down my agency in Mar at the end of March and also leave my startup to. Get back on track for a, for like a financial reason, but also I was very burned out, uh, mentally I was not in a good place, like I needed this time off. So, um, I ended up, uh, c signing on, uh, to spot as engineering manager at the time, um, and like four months later. I became director of engineering, so that is where I am now.

Um, I'm currently managing a team of 15 engineers. Um, fingers crossed to be making some more offers this week. Uh, but it's, you know, I absolutely, I love it. You know, it is so different from what I was doing running my own company and in the nine months that I've been there, I have learned so much that I never would've learned running my own.

I'm seeing scale. I did zero to one many like twice over. Now I now I'm in that like 10 to 100 space and it's really cool to actually work at a company that's like scaling at this stage.

**Eddie:** That's cool. Like you said, because you just kind of kept, kept doing that intro stage of like repeating kind of the pain and suffering of those early years and now like, you know, you kind, yeah. You kind of jump to, you know, and of course there's good things about that as well, but, um, now you get

**Kelly:** It's exciting. Yeah. It's, it's a, like, that zero to one stage is really fun because like you're dreaming, like, what could this be in the one to 10, 10 to a hundred phase? Like you have product market fit, like, you know what your customer, who your customers are, and you can start serving your customers so much better because you've identified their pain points, you've identified their needs, and you can really deliver it and pivot and, you know, as, as the market changes, as the world changes, as our customers change over time, like you can pivot with them, but you've kind of moved past that phase of.

Will this work?

**Eddie:** Uh, yeah, absolutely. No, that's good. And I would imagine, right, I mean, one much less two companies, your mind's going all over the place. I mean, you're worrying about. Hiring, you're worrying about where the company's going, you're worrying about Right. Revenue. I imagine working as an engineering manager now director, like you're able to kind of focus and zero in on like a much smaller scope of responsibilities.

Um, and that, has that helped kind of mental health aspect, like kind of helped you recover from kind of the burnout you mentioned and.

**Kelly:** Yeah. Yeah. You know, when I was running the agency, especially early on, I'm, you know, I'm good at closing deals, like I'm good at selling, but I don't enjoy it. And to have an entire sales team that's really good at what they do and just let them sell and I will build the things that they need to sell, or my engineers will build the things that they need to, that they wanna sell.

Like it, it's totally it. It's so much, it's so nice to be able to focus, as you said, like on like, this is my lane and this is where I'm going to be, you know? as a, like, I think like an entrepreneur, I'm always thinking about like what's next? And not in terms like what's next in my career, but what's next for spot?

You know, where are we headed next? What are, what should we be thinking about? How are we adjusting? Like how are we adapting to the, the environment? Like especially like the macroeconomic climate we have right now. So like these things are always going through my head and I don't think I'll ever be able to like shut that off, but I also don't have to worry.

about like Hr, I don't have to worry about benefits. I don't have to worry about selling and you know, I, you know, I'm focused on let's have the, like the most successful, most e efficient engineering team that we can have so we can continue to grow this company. It's very, very nice

**Eddie:** Yeah, absolutely. When I think there's, there's something for everyone there like. That when you are in a spot that is more broad. Right. I did a lot of stuff in startups and you have to wear multiple hats, even though like, I mean I was nowhere near the founder, like you're still wearing multiple hats all the time.

It's a very adaptive environment. And now working at Glassdoor, like it's funny, one of the previous episodes I was talking with someone who, um, was at. I don't remember where they're at now, but anyway, so I'll cut that up. Um, so yeah, I was talking to someone else who, you know, was at a big company as well and the scope changing to saying, Hey, I can focus on these smaller things, really allows you to narrow that focus and, um,

And it's interesting that the same thing hap happened for you. And so if people find themselves working in startups, working in places where you're having to wear multiple hats and you feel like that's starting to weigh you down, um, think about going to a larger company in some form, right? Just one step up from where you are.


**Kelly:** and that's, that's the important distinction there. You know, you don't have to go from working at a series A or pre-seed or seeds, a seed startup to Google. That is a massive jump. You can, if you want, like absolutely. But there's a lot in between. There's a lot of growth in between that you can experience, you know, different faces of a company.

You know, a c a pre-seed company is very different from a C, from a series A, from a series B, from a series C and so on. Like, you see, you know, especially like a publicly traded company, like a much larger like FAANG type corp. You know, we see these like huge, huge, huge environments where like your focus is very narrow and it has to be because they're, you know, you're, What, like 10,000 other employees, it's great.

Um, but at a startup, you know, you're really gonna be wearing a lot more hats. The larger the startup gets, the fewer hats. You, you know, you'll start handing those hats to other people. Like, okay, you get to wear this hat now. I'm, I'm not, I'm putting it away for good. And it's, you know, it's a, it's a nice thing to be able to like really start to, to.

Narrow in on, you know, what do you wanna be good at and what is gonna bring you joy and what is really going to help you grow as you know, in your own career, whether you're going down the IC route, while you're going down like the, uh, the management route, like whatever, wherever it takes you, a different company is gonna give you a different experience depending on the size they're at.

**Eddie:** Nice. No, that's awesome. Well, cool. Um, well, it's funny, like, you know, you kind of mentioned right, people should be looking for things that, that bring them joy and stuff. And that's actually a, a fun little segue because right, every episode like we like to step back and say, Hey, what's something that's been bringing you joy recently?

Um, so Kelly, what's something that's been bringing you?

**Kelly:** Well, uh, last , where should I begin? Um, let me go with this one. Last year I read 154.


**Eddie:** Dang. That's amazing.

**Kelly:** So what brings me joy reading does, and it's kind of funny, you look at the history of like, you know, I use good reads, um, and I'm not giving you my Good Reads profile, you as in like the general public because you'll realize just how much like fantasy, romance novels I read. Um, and we are going to keep those kind of quiet unless I really know you, um,

But you know, you can see the trajectory of like, when I'm At my worst mentally when I was at my lowest, I was reading a lot more because that was my escape. That was my, like I just want to focus on something else. Like let me take my brain to this vastly different world that doesn't exist and just think about that.

And like my reading changed over the course of the year to where like, I joined Spot in April and starting in April you start to see more business books start to pop back into. My history as I'm like Okay, now I wanna read more management books again, I wanna read more leadership books, you know, some, you know, self kind of improvement type books.

Um, so there's like this funny kind of trajectory. And of course, of course I didn't stop reading the romance and the fantasy and the mystery and the thrillers all through that. But, but. The, the mix of books had changed over time. Um, but it's, you know, it's my, it's one of my absolute favorite things to do.

People often ask me like, how in the world did you read over 150 books in a year? And the answer is, I just make, I make time for it. Like, I start my day reading, I end my day reading. It's, you know, it brings me joy. It's an easy thing for me to do, to set note aside, like, I'm gonna put my phone down, put it and do not disturb, just.

read Um, that way the only, like my husband can still message me when he's, you know, outta the house or whatever. Otherwise he can come talk to me in person, like a normal human. Um, or like my best friends, like they're a part of my, like, I know I'm on on do not disturb, but you can still message me and I'll still receive it and you know, we will have a conversation.

Everyone else is like, no social media, everything shuts down and I just. And my husband loves the fact that like, sometimes I will, uh, like he'll go to sleep and I'll be reading, he'll wake up and I'll be reading. He's like, did you sleep? I'm like, yeah. I think occasionally. He'll, he'll like, roll over and wake up at like 2:00 AM There's just like me with my Kindle, like nothing

**Eddie:** Nice. Well, it's funny that that kind of answered the question I was about to say. Do you, are you a physical book reader? Are you an e-book reader? Do you listen to audio books? Do you do combinations? What does that, what does that look

**Kelly:** I am in all of the above. Um, I actually, I love physical books for like business and leadership type books, so you can't, you can only see like a little bit of my bookshelf back here. Um, but I buy a lot of physical business books, but I also buy the Kindle version. So I can kind of flip back and forth cuz sometimes it's just like, I wanna hold a book, but sometimes, like, I'm not going to turn on a light in the bedroom when I'm trying to sleep.

So I'll read on my Kindle. Um, almost all my romance and fantasy books are on Kindle because, you know, the, the, the, the dude without the shirt on. Like, I don't need to have like a bunch of those in my, on my bookshelf. Um, and then audio books I love to mix in. Like, I love to listen to audio books like while I'm cooking, uh, while working on a puzzle like doing you.

And other things that don't require so much of my attention. Um, like every single year I listen to, I start my year with, uh, atomic Habits. I always listen to that first thing, first and foremost. And it's always a really great reminder of like, okay, like little habit changes you can make, like the, you know, atomic Habits, hence the name.

Um, it, it's always a good reminder when I'm starting a, you know, starting a new year and I'm, I'm not like big on resolutions, but I get super like, like, what's the word I'm looking? We can, we can cut this piece out. Um, ah, I get super introspective at the end of the year in the beginning of a new year, and so I'm just like, what, what is going to make me happy for the next year?

Like, what is going to bring me joy? What is gonna put me in a state where like I reflected in the last year, like I spent most of my year stressed. How can I make it so I'm not spending a lot of this year's stress? How can I be happy with what. And during that time is always a good time for me to like, all right, now it's time to read Atom Habits again.

Get that reminder and then start my, you know, start off on a good, on on. Have a good start to my year basically.

**Eddie:** Nice. That's awesome. Well, I think there's, there's a couple interesting nuggets there. First of all, anyone who, uh, wants to hide, you know, the reading habits you're ashamed of, get eBooks. That was a good little tip there, right? Like, keep it hidden so that you know, visitors to your house aren't, uh oh.

That's, that's what you're

**Kelly:** Oh,

Kelly, what, what, what, are you reading over here? Um, yeah, I'll show you. Here's my, my Kindle, which is, it's, it's so funny, like there's th I'm reading Measure What Matters right Now, uh, which is a phenomenal book. I cannot say enough good things about it, but I'm gonna hold up my phone so you can see like these three books that are currently showing.

**Eddie:** Uh, yep.

**Kelly:** So it's a nice little mix,

**Eddie:** Hey, that is a healthy mix. You know what I mean?

**Kelly:** That's right. I have no idea what actually that book. So we're gonna find out, I don't read about books before I actually download them or, because I have Kindle Unlimited, so I just download a lot of books from Kindle Unlimited and, uh, one of my, one of my best friends, she actually reads the descriptions of the book and then will send me like, oh, this one's free today.

And I'll just buy it. And I don't know what it says, but like, if she's approving of it, I'm just adding it and I'll read it and I'll not know what I'm getting myself into. It has, cause it has been a journey sometimes when I'm like, oh, this is what we're reading about today. Got it.

**Eddie:** Oh wow. That is so funny. That's fun. Um, I definitely think though, yeah, for people who don't read as much as you want to, um, I've gotten nowhere near a hundred and such. My crowning achievement was, uh, before I had kids, like a year or two before I had kids. That's gone now. Um, I read 52 books in a year. So one book a week

**Kelly:** Nice.

**Eddie:** Yeah. And I felt, I felt really happy with that. Um, but I had.

**Kelly:** good.

**Eddie:** Yeah, absolutely. But yeah, I had to kind of balance, like you said, like you listen to an audio book when you're doing one thing, you read, you know, a kindle in the bed when you're winding down. And yeah, if you like, I kind of like you with the physical business books.

Like I ask myself, is this a book I'm gonna want to read again in the future? Like, am I really excited or proud? It does have some sentimental connection, then I'll get the physical. But if not, then yeah, it's going on in Kindle. It's, it's an ebook.

**Kelly:** Exactly. I also like to use my stack of unread business books as like a, do you really need to buy more books? Um, and the answer is yes. I will always buy more books. So , it makes no difference, but I like to think it makes a difference.

**Eddie:** Yeah, . Nice. Well, you know, as we wrap up, one thing that we always like to do is just say, Hey, is there anything you've been up to or anything you wanna give a shout out to? Um, so just wanted to give you an opportunity to share anything that you think would be interesting to the listen.

**Kelly:** Yeah, so I, uh, took like a one month hiatus from writing, but I started back up, uh, actually this morning, my, uh, newsletter at Lessons and Engineering Leadership. It's biweekly newsletter every Tuesday morning might switch to Wednesday. Cause I hate Tuesdays. Um, but, you know, small, small things. But there, the, the idea of it is, it's, it's a newsletter that you can read in under five minutes.

Like we're all busy and. I want, I, I wanna get like, my thoughts down. It's like usually my typical tweet form and then like multiply it by like, it's like a thread, it's like a tweet thread, like a Twitter thread and that's it. And then you, like, it's, you know, today's was on managing your workload because all I've been thinking about today is like, I have so much stuff to do, or am I going to actually get this done?

I'm like, oh wait, I have a process for this. Let me write it down. And so that turned into, My newsletter for the week, but like I'm very much on my, on my journey as an engineering leader. You know, I have a lot I still need to learn. And so I'm using this as like, here's what I've learned, but here's also what I'm working on right now.

So like, I'm very, very much on my journey and I wanna share that journey with you. So you can, uh, you can find that@engineeringleadership.xyz.

**Eddie:** Perfect. And we'll include a link to that in the show notes. So anyone who is, you know, thinking about going into engineering leadership, or if you're in engineering leadership, uh, go ahead and go. Subscribe and take a look at that. Yeah. Well, awesome. Well, Kelly, you know, it's been a pleasure having you on and just getting to chat and just, you know, talking about your story and your love of books and, um, you know, all the books of shirtless men that you try to hide

**Kelly:** I'm glad that was the key takeaway here,

**Eddie:** That's right, absolutely

**Kelly:** but thank you so much for having me on. This was great.

**Eddie:** Awesome. And everyone else, thank you for listening and have a great day. Bye.

Creators and Guests

💻 Eng Manager, Design System @Glassdoor 💬 Helping software engineers grow their career with empathy. 🎙Host of @WebJoyFM. Tweets in 🇺🇸/🇲🇽
S1 E44: I like to say I’m not gonna do something, and then I do it anyway (Kelly / @kvlly)
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