Welcome to Women of DevOps, Episode Six! Today’s guest is Valarie Regas. If you’re looking for blunt honesty and a fiery sense of humor, you’ve come to the right place. This is the most I’ve laughed in an interview so far, while also enjoying a very honest, raw, emotive conversation.
Valarie, just like our prior interviewee Kat, was referred to me by my esteemed colleague Ravi.
Listen – or read on – below!
‘Til next time,
The Women of DevOps, Ep. 6
Can’t listen to the audio? Read on below for a transcript of our conversation.
Rox: Hey everyone, thank you all so much for joining us for another episode of Women of DevOps. Today we are joined by Valarie Regas. So hello. To start, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Valarie: I hate this question. It’s like, where to begin? I was born! I’ll tell you where I am now. We’ll get into the past. I currently live in Atlanta, Georgia. I have this awesome partner, he’s my best friend, my bestie. I’ve decided to keep this one. And three really cool kids. All named after my favorite complicated hero-villains. This is what happens when nerds breed: we name our children after our favorite characters. One of my kids is named Tyrion and I don’t even pretend to be ashamed of that. I feel like it’s a gift to him in 20 years when he goes to Dragon Con and women go gaga.
I’m currently a DevOps Engineer at Salesforce, which, woo! I’m probably gonna gush all over Salesforce. We’re definitely honeymooning hard right now, so forgive me if it feels like a Salesforce pitch. I’ve been going to everyone I love saying, “Hey, look at the job board. I’ll refer you. You want to be here. Come join us. Come join us.” Since this is a podcast geared towards DevOps, I am definitely gonna throw out that we’re hiring a bunch of DevOps Engineers right now – like a bunch, especially in Atlanta.
I’m fairly new with Salesforce. It’s still shiny and has that new job smell. I took a non-traditional path to get where I am. It’s been a bumpy ridiculous ride that I want to make a screenplay about, except I’m not that creative. So yeah, that’s me. I’ve been – like so many of us – forced to work remotely the last year and some change. I don’t like it, you’re gonna hear me complain a lot about that. Just love me through it. I get up, I work from home, I cook meals. It’s like having to be a full-time engineer, a full-time mom, a full-time therapist, a full-time chauffeur, and a full-time cook. There’s a lot of full-time jobs going on since March 2020. But in general, I speak at conferences for fun. I love my job. I love my family. Life could be a lot worse.
Rox: I’m honestly surprised you don’t like working remotely. Almost everybody I’ve talked to so far is like, “Yeah, this has been pretty great.” But they might just be the people that do not have the full-time mom thing going on too.
Valarie: It’s not just the mom thing. I thought it was the mom thing. School’s ending in a few days, and for reference on full-time jobs, solidarity to all the people out there who have to say the sentence that I’m about to say. Last spring, I realized that of my two school-aged children, one could handle zoom school and the other could not. Very different learning styles, very different attention spans. I had to make the really hard choice in fall to pull my fifth-grader out of school and homeschool him. So that looks like: Monday morning when I’m prepping my work week looking at what tickets I have outstanding and trying to plan out what I hope to accomplish over the course of five days, that would be my 11-year-old sitting next to me saying, “Okay, what’s my social studies this week? What are my math assignments this week?” So add full-time teacher. And then my other child does pretty well on zoom school, but I still have to basically yell at her constantly, “Go back to class!”
All that to say, working remotely, I thought that with school ending, I would hate it less, that it would be less distracting because all summer, my big kids are just going to run feral outside. They leave in the morning and I don’t see them until dark. I hope they survive. Now the baby can go back to daycare. So I had in my head that it’s gonna be quiet, I’m going to be so productive. Turns out if I’m in my home – no matter where I am in the house, no matter what’s going on around me – if I’m in my home, I am constantly distracted by thoughts of the dishes I’m not washing, the laundry I’m not folding, the project that’s not getting done. I’ll just glance around the room and think, “You know, that armoire should go elsewhere. I should get up right now in the middle of standup and move a piece of furniture.” In related news, I’ve been touring co-working spaces until Salesforce Tower in Atlanta opens back.
Rox: [laughs] You know, when you put it that way, I get it.
Valarie: I know a lot of people love it. My sister is a Front End Engineer. She got word that she has to go back to the office and it was like a day of mourning. I was just eaten up with jealousy. For reference, I did five years of hard time as a stay-at-home mom before going to a coding bootcamp. That was the hardest five years of my life. I logically knew that stay-at-home parents worked harder than anyone else because there are no off hours. It’s a 24/7 job without pay, without benefits – other than kisses, which, you know, is all well and good, but stop touching me. I’m not terribly maternal as well, so the thought of doing arts and crafts and singing songs, that’s awful.
So I did these five years, and when I did the bootcamp and got my first role in tech, I had an internship at Airbus. A few weeks in and people were saying, ”Ah, this is so hard going back to work. You no longer get to be a woman of leisure.” I’m like, “Are you very high right now?” This is like a vacation. I have set working hours. I go to a place with free coffee. I have adult conversations. I eat hot meals with two hands. I get to solve problems that don’t involve Blue’s Clues. This is a vacation from that grueling hard work that was being a stay-at-home parent. I love working.
Rox: I feel that. What bootcamp did you do? Tell me a little bit about that.
Valarie: Oh, shoutout to the Georgia Tech Coding Boot Camp. So actually, there’s an educational company – if you see coding bootcamps run through major universities, chances are it’s actually administered via a company called 2U now (it used to be Trilogy Education) and it’s a really interesting model that they have. I love it. At first, I was kind of skeptical. I’m like, “Oh, I thought I was going to Georgia Tech.” But it’s cool because this educational company – I believe 2U bought out Trilogy – they design the curriculum, but the curriculum is a living, breathing curriculum on GitHub (or GitLab, depending on the university). If you’re an instructor or a TA, you can constantly correct errors or say, “Hey, this is not getting the anticipated outcome, you need to update,” or “The wording is really weird on this, so my students are turning in something different.” So the curriculum constantly evolves. They’re constantly monitoring what is the most popular framework for x, and then updating the curriculum to learn different things.
I did six months part-time at Georgia Tech because I still had to be a stay-at-home mom. I will say my sister went through the full-time, so she went like 8 to 5 Monday to Friday for 12 weeks and went from pretty much zero. I mean, she did some web development – like a couple of courses during her undergrad. But she’s been in a symphony for forever. She plays French horn. I call her the family horn star. But she pretty much went from zero to a kickbutt front-end engineer in 12 weeks. I couldn’t do it all day. Part of why I was a stay-at-home is that the cost of daycare is so prohibitive. It was cheaper for my family. It was a sacrifice I made to save us money because it would have cost more for me to work with the cost of daycare, the cost of gas, the cost of lunches. Women’s dress clothes are designed to wear out quickly and they’re more expensive. And just on and on. When I would make these anal-retentive spreadsheets – that should have told someone that I was bored – it always came out to: it saves us money if I don’t work. As long as I’m cooking and cleaning and not outsourcing those tasks. As long as I’m doing those things. So I did the part-time – that was nights and weekends.
I can’t say enough good about the Georgia Tech program. The way these bootcamps work through 2U is they design the curriculum, but then they hand it over to the university and they hire instructors and TAs who are part of this living, breathing, growing curriculum. But they’re on the ground, they work in the city in which they’re teaching, and you go to that university and whatever university it is, is constantly looking at the program saying, “Do we want to continue this relationship? Are you up to our standards?” And consistently, Trilogy always was and 2U is now. So I can’t say enough good if you’re considering a coding bootcamp out there, the Georgia Tech program and any other program administered by that company, they’re great.
It’s the hardest thing I think I’ve ever done educationally. A week before I started that bootcamp, I referred to my laptop as the magic box that holds email. It was shocking from night one, because week one is largely Git. Let’s just start there. If you know nothing about software, nothing about development at all: Git. It’s Hell Week.
Valarie: A word has to be a certain shape, or I know it’s spelled incorrectly. It’s kind of a weird little quirk about me. [laughs]
Rox: That’s actually super interesting.
Valarie: Having disabilities and working in tech has been fascinating.
Rox: I bet.
Valarie: Especially when you have invisible disabilities. I think that when people can see you and readily identify that you’re going to struggle with some things, it’s in some ways kinder, because if they don’t accommodate it, if they aren’t considerate, you know that they’re a garbage human being and you should probably write them off.
Valarie: But if they do, it’s great that they had the heads up and they had the ability to know they needed to. Whereas one of my disabilities – I live with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which is basically just a lifetime of traumatic events in various things, like you don’t want to be in a car with me. I sometimes want to send ‘I’m sorry’ notes to my Lyft drivers because I’ve been hit 14 times in my life.
Rox: Oh my god.
Valarie: I’ve never caused a wreck. I’m not always the driver. Sometimes I’m the passenger. But I’ve been in so many car wrecks that at this point, it’s not unlikely that on a quick trip to the mall to grab something, between my home and five miles down the road, I might scream, I might shake, I might cry. And if you’ve ever driven in Atlanta, even people without PTSD experience that in Atlanta traffic.
Rox: Atlanta traffic is the worst. THE worst.
Valarie: Yes. So, having these invisible disabilities has definitely made it an interesting career change.
Rox: Yeah, I have OCD. And I can confirm it’s helpful for me at this point because a lot of what I do is project managing, so the organization aspect of it is very helpful. But the driving-myself-crazy-for-perfection is not.
Rox: So tell me a little bit about the career progression – you did bootcamp, now you’re at Salesforce. What was the in-between part?
Valarie: I’m gonna preface this by saying I don’t actually have imposter syndrome. I am very vocal about things I do well, and very vocal about my shortcomings. I actively try to work on them.
My career is at an awesome place. I’m very proud of where I am. But I also recognize 100% that every step of this path has been marked by a little bit of luck, but mostly other people taking chances on me. Being willing to go out on a limb. Being willing to help other members of the community. I would not have gotten anywhere without the other people. For example, I would never have done a bootcamp without my awesome partner, Michael. Michael has been an architect for forever, he took a very traditional computer science degree at Georgia Tech, went into working as a traveling consultant for years. I grew up in a very strict conservative religious tradition. I got better. But I grew up in the kind of atmosphere where if I had any career aspirations, it was a pat on the head and “that’s cute,” because your job is to marry well and make lots of little uber-Christian babies – a quiver full of them, if you will – which you do. Okay.
It was one of my earliest interactions with a computer – because you know, I’m old, they haven’t always been around – I was about eight years old. I was in a radio shack, if that dates it.
Rox: Oh my gosh.
Valarie: Yeah. I was with my dad. Now for my dad, the colonel, my father was 56 when I was born. So going from analog to digital, the creation of cell phones – these things were hard for him because he was 56 when I was born. So we’re at this radio shack, and they’ve got like a first gen Apple. I mean, like, this thing is something out of a science fiction film. He said, “Just entertain yourself while I go find what it is I need.” I started clicking around, I’d never seen a computer, I’d never really heard of them. It was just this weird box that did stuff. By the time he came back and found me, I created a game. He went home and he said to my mom, “Honey, our girl took this box and made it do things. I don’t understand what I saw but it responded to her. She could make it do things.” And of course, very religious mom was like, “Well that’s nice, dear. How will that help her make babies?”
All of that to say, without my partner with obviously an intimate knowledge of tech, seeing in me the drive to constantly overanalyze and be highly logical about problems – I had spreadsheets for how to maintain the house and my meal planning. I actually have had people see my spreadsheets and be like, “Sweetheart, sweetheart, put the laminator away. Might be OCD as well.” And I’m like, “No, I’m just thorough, I just pay attention to detail!” He recognized how bored I was as a stay-at-home, so he went out on a limb, and as the sole financial supporter of the household, was willing to pay ten grand for me to go to this bootcamp. Because he saw potential in me.
With me doing that six month bootcamp, when I graduated, the list of thank you notes I had to send out – I had to thank my oldest son! Thank you for largely raising your sister for six months because I was neglectful because I had homework.
It did not come easily to me. I was not top of my class of the 50 person cohort. I was somewhere in dead center – maybe? Several times I cried at my instructor. I cry when I’m angry, it’s part of the PTSD. When I’m frustrated, it looks like I’m sad. I’m not sad. I have had to apologize to instructors for accusatorily crying at them. But I graduated. I got through it thanks to these two women. Shout out to Melanie Heins and Kathy Satterlee. They held my hand and explained concepts to me through the entire bootcamp and got me through it. But again, I knew my own strengths, so while I couldn’t do as much of the actual development work as they – if you looked at percentage, it would be like they each did 40% of the project and I did maybe 20%. But they hated public speaking and I was born to present information. So that extra time that they were coding, I would be, “Okay, I’ve done my chunk that I can do. Now I’m gonna make a really good presentation for us all and I’ll do the talking and I’ll tell them exactly what they have to say so they don’t have to stress about it.” I think there’s room in tech for people who are good, but have other skillsets to bring to the table.
I knew I was unemployable. I looked at my resume – I still use that first resume I made as the example of the worst resume I’ve ever seen. And I thought, “How do I get hired? Okay, let’s think outside the box, Regas.” I was unemployable because my employment history looks like – I was a judo instructor for a couple decades. I was a bouncer in college. I did medical office management for a time because it paid the bills. I did close personal protection for a time. And funnily enough, the fact that I can go from a holstered handgun to two shots in center of mass in .81 seconds doesn’t really get you a job in tech. It’s funny how that’s not a selling point! Or at least, it shouldn’t be. So I thought, “Well, I’m just gonna get in front of people, because if I can make people like me, maybe they’ll take a chance.”
The Women Who Code of Atlanta – Women Who Code is an international organization – the leadership in Atlanta are three of the most incredible humans I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Beth, Erica, and Angel are just superb humans. They gave me the opportunity to do a five minute lightning talk on International Women’s Day 2018. I just graduated and I had no job prospects at all – it was bad. They let me talk for five minutes and I chose to do a talk on why the skills one learns as a stay-at-home parent make you a better fit for tech. It’s not a deficit, it’s a value add, and here are some unique skills that you only learn by managing unreasonable tiny humans.
Well, I got lucky. The women who worked at Airbus Aerial at the time – a little subsidiary of global Airbus, a little 30-person startup within the big org – the women of that office just happened to be at the event. And I just happened to make them laugh. So I struck up a conversation with this group of amazing women (who ended up being my coworkers) and straight-up told them, “I did this web development bootcamp, but you know what I really liked? I liked debugging my classmates’ Heroku deployments.” On our final project, I had it deploy in a Docker container just to see if I could. That really interested me. I was really interested in how security worked, on how to monitor your ingress and egress, and how to keep things as secure as possible. I was fascinated by the concept of a PR template. I know this sounds really goofy, but this is just who I am. The idea of a uniform template that populates every time and people adhere to it. That makes me so happy. It gives me order in an unordered world. For me, that’s what DevOps is. It’s the Farmville of software development. You remember the stupid game Farmville, right?
Rox: Sadly, yes.
Valarie: Yeah! I freely admit, I played it because I can’t control my husband, I can’t control my kids, I can’t control national politics, I can’t control what’s going on in Israel and with Palestine right now, I can’t control any of that crap. But you know what I can control? How many sheep I own, what color their wool is, and in what order they’re standing on freaking Farmville. And for me, that’s what DevOps is. It’s order in this uncontrollable world.
So I was telling the women of Airbus how I felt about these things and what I like to do, and bless their hearts, they went to the architect and engineering manager for their company and said, “Just talk to the girl. Just give her a chance. She knows nothing, Jon Snow, but just give her a chance. Just talk to her.” And we had a conversation. They brought me in for an interview, which was just so intimidating.
At one point, I asked them to please not hire me. They were discussing what they needed in the role and I said, “Look, it sounds like you need someone who can hit the ground running and take over the following list of tasks. If that’s the case, please don’t hire me because I can’t. But if you’ll teach me, if you’ll show me, if someone will actually show me what they do, I can take those tasks and a year from now, I can be the person you just described. But right now I can’t.” They took me on, they hired me as an intern, they took a chance. I will forever love those people – the women who advocated for giving me a chance and then the people in positions of authority who signed off on it. Airbus will forever have a place in my heart because my first three years in this industry, I had support and love, even. I still speak to some of those coworkers because they were just great humans.
I didn’t really want to leave Airbus, but we’d gotten to a point where I’d grown really stagnant. The team was so small, there just weren’t enough people – and certainly not people with extra time – to teach me. I started passively looking. I didn’t know a lot about Salesforce – for those of you out there who do job interviews, if the sound of my voice droning is not at all enticing to listen to, listen to the next few minutes, please.
I had my first interview with Salesforce on a whim. A friend of mine works there and said, “I’ll refer you.” The man who is now my manager, I had the most pleasant, warm, informative, low-stress interview with him. His general manner of being – he was clearly uber intelligent and knowledgeable but had no interest in trying to make me feel inferior to himself. He had no interest in proving how much he knew, because he has self-esteem. He didn’t have to do anything except tell me about the company, ask me questions, and tell me about himself and the role – and the conversation was so pleasant and warm. It made me literally chomp at the bit to work with this person. If everyone’s like you, that’s where I want to be. I know I am, but it’s the same deal. I went through the interview cycle at Salesforce and was just very honest. I worked with the same frameworks, the same processes, I did the same things on the same product on a very small team at Airbus. So when it comes to a Jenkins pipeline, I know a great deal. But mostly, I know exactly what Airbus needed. I can infer a lot from documentation, but I still have so many miles to go to keep learning. I was brutally honest about what I know and don’t know. And Salesforce, much like Airbus, said, “You know what, she’s a great culture fit. She doesn’t just pay lip service to diversity and inclusion and trying to be a good human. She seems like a good human. She makes us laugh. We’ve got time to teach her. Okay. Let’s do it.” Now I have 30 people on my team. It’s just been incredible. But I look back at every step of that story and there is no moment in my career progression where I climbed a mountain on my own.
I am not self-made. In the last four years that I’ve been doing this, it has been constant – other people in the community and in my own family stepping outside of comfort to say, “Yeah. We’re going to take a risk. Yes, we’re going to do this. We like you and we’re going to show you just a little bit of leeway, and not expect you to be what you’re supposed to be.” Air quotes included, for those of you at home. I hope everyone, when they look back at their journey, is fast to recognize the opportunities that they got because a human took a chance on them. And then express gratitude to those people so they do it again for other people. [laughs]
Rox: Yeah. That’s a huge part of it. So what’s your experience been like as a woman in tech?
Valarie: You’re not going to like my answer. So I come from a background where I did competitive judo. I was the only woman in the dojo other than maybe white belt students. But as far as higher-ranking, always around, you can count on these people showing up. I was raised in this locker room. Sometimes, as an adult woman, I think about the conversations adult men had in front of me when I was a teenage girl, and I’m like, “What is wrong with you, sirs?”
And then I was a bar bouncer. You want to talk about misogyny for miles, being the only female bouncer in a small southern town. Let’s talk about that. And then I did close personal protection. I had one job I did one night where literally the owner of the company that hired me stood behind me by about four feet and all night while I tried to work, talked about how he only hired me because the client demanded a woman, I was the most masculine woman he could find, and how women are only good for one thing – and it’s not security. And that’s what I had to endure all night to get my paycheck. So it’s a biased answer. But when I tell you that the relatively low-level of misogyny in tech is a breath of fresh air to me… [laughs] It’s still there. But it’s not as scary or threatening.
I will say, there’s been little things – especially being drawn to the DevOps sphere, especially given my niche. The first Docker meetup I went to, I came from work and I wanted to look nice – I was meeting new people. I walk into this meetup. It’s in an office building, but it’s the only event happening that night – there’s nothing else going on. I walk in, and literally three different people looked me up and down and said, “Oh, are you lost?” Not in a mean way. Not in a mean way! It just never occurred to them that a woman would even be showing up, but certainly not in a dress with boots with her hair done and makeup on.
I went to DevOps world in San Francisco one year. I was doing a Kubernetes workshop. Same model of macbook as the gentleman next to me, same kinds of stickers on our machines, wearing very similar t-shirt, jeans, beanie hat – very similar except for our perceived biological sex. That’s really the big difference. And he seriously looked me over and said, “Oh, you’re here. You’re taking this workshop. That’s interesting. Are you in marketing? Are you a business analyst? What are you?” And I’m thinking, “Dude, we look alike, we got the same machines, we’re in the same workshop. Did you really just ask me that?”
I tend to be a spiteful little creature, especially when you tell me I can’t do something, so I made a point the rest of the week – I did not leave my hotel room without a full face of makeup. I curled my Mohawk into what I call the Prom Hawk – like, prom-y updo with the curls. Push up bra, I freely admit, I wore a push up bra, and blouses, and nice clothes. I just wanted them to question their idea of who belongs in that space. Because as it turns out, you can’t look at a person and guess their proclivities, guess their passions, guess their hobbies.
I feel so bad when I go to Dragon Con and I speak to my friends of color, who all year when they say, “Oh, I love anime!” someone’s like, “Really? Look at you.” It’s the same in a lot of tech spaces, where we just make these snap judgments based on what someone looks like. Oh, you’re wearing a fedora and you got asymmetrical earrings and funky clothes? You must be a designer! Maybe not. That might be the person who tends your servers and you might not want to piss them off.
I have not been as upset about some of the sexism that goes on in technology because I know how much worse it can be. But that’s a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome speaking, if we’re being honest. I still try to call it out. I still recognize it.
There was one meeting I did where I started out the meeting and I said something – I don’t even remember what I said, but some man on the call made a joke about me calling someone a lady. I said, “Oh, I’m using the word lady as a gender-neutral term that encompasses both men and women.” And in a room where there were like three women and fifty men on this call, I insisted on calling the whole room ladies for the rest of the call. You’re gonna give me crap about it? Well, it’s now a gender-neutral term that encompasses us all, so ladies… You know, I try not to be pissy like that, because people don’t respond well to it. But about three to five days out of the month, you get what you get. [laughs]
Rox: It’s kind of funny you mention Dragon Con, because I used to go to Megacon. I was fairly involved with tabletop gaming, Pathfinder, all that kind of stuff. And the amount of people – men specifically – that would basically accuse me of not knowing how to play my character, that I was only here because I was with a guy or something. No, I like playing. I can play my sorcerer. You don’t need to tell me when to throw a fireball. I know when to throw my fireballs. It was just so ugh… So much misogyny in gaming.
Valarie: I think it’s misogyny in the world. I think that the more we’re vocal about it – I find my favorite way to deal with it when I encounter it in the wild is to ask why and play dumb. Because if you make someone with internalized misogyny justify what they’ve just said, justify the opinion they just expressed, more often than not they realize. If you tell them what they’re doing – so I have a psych degree. I have a very useless psych degree, but at least I got to pay off $80,000 in student loan debt for it. But I will say, one of the first things you learn doing counseling and psychotherapy courses, you can’t tell a client what’s wrong with them. You can’t tell them their motivation. You have to ask the right questions so they realize it on their own.
I try to approach sexism, racism, ableism, whatever ism I encounter out in the world, I try not to bite anyone’s head off and instead say, “What an interesting comment! What do you mean by that? Oh, well, why would you think I’m lost? What is it about me?” In general, if you are pleasant and ask why – help me understand! I’m very pretty. [laughs]
It’s kind of a joke in our house that when I do such boneheaded things that people are like, “Whaaat? How could you even think that’s an acceptable action?”, my husband just sort of pats me on the shoulder and says, “You’re very pretty.” [laughs]
But yeah, it’s interesting. I will say, bar none – and I even hesitate to share it, because I’m so defensive… I love the companies that I’ve worked for, but probably the worst experience I’ve had in tech as a woman that is because of my sex and gender: I had my third child while I was in my first job. Now, pregnancy wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but I have a really rough time being pregnant. I have a blood disorder that makes it so I have to inject myself with blood thinners every day, which makes me a little anemic. So I couldn’t wait until the middle of the pregnancy to tell my boss. I had to go to him pretty early and say, “Hey, just so you know, if I collapse at work, I’m fine. Please don’t call 911. It’s just that I’m injecting myself with huge amounts of heparin, and sometimes my blood pressure drops, and I collapse. Bye!”
So I did the pregnancy. I ended up having to take a little bit of short-term disability towards the end of the pregnancy because I got in a car wreck – #14! But there was no real maternity leave offered for American employees. Now, when you have an international company and all the other countries provide it at a federal level, I totally understand how America got looked over. But it was probably one of the worst couple months of my life, going through what is physically transformative in ways that you don’t understand until you’ve been there. But also, you don’t sleep when you have a newborn. I don’t care how you gave birth, if you’ve adopted – if there is a baby in your house, you don’t sleep. And there’s a reason. When you take a prisoner, the first thing you do is take away their sleep. It makes you crazy. It makes you stupid. It makes you completely incapable of higher-level cognitive function. And that’s not who you want working on your code base.
I always try to tell people – maternity leave and paternity leave, it’s not just about, “Oh, I had this precious human. Let me snuggle it.” It’s running on six weeks of literally zero sleep with hormones all over the place. Let’s just throw that out. For the menfolk that might be listening, hormones don’t make you feel things. They magnify what you’re already feeling. So something that might make you sad to a three, suddenly you’re in tears, at a nine. You know that it’s not that big a deal, but the raging progesterone dumping into your system says, “No, no, this is a big deal. This is huge, man. You need to stop right now. Right now.”
I’m hobbling back into work at six weeks postpartum. Most gyms won’t even take your baby at the child center until six to twelve weeks, so it’s not like you can go work out. So hobbling back into my office at six weeks postpartum with no sleep. In the throes of postpartum depression, just – ugh, so rough – and the PTSD magnifies that. When I was a stay-at-home, feeding my child wasn’t a big deal. I was home, I just nursed the baby whenever. Oh it’s hungry, I feed it, it sleeps. Yay! But suddenly, I had to figure out what pumping looked like, which is painful. The equipment for it is expensive. Everyone in my office tried to be very polite and respectful, but there were a couple of gentlemen, especially younger gentlemen, that I grabbed the bag and they knew what I was going to do and they’d avert their eyes out of respect. I’m like, “Dude, seriously? I mean, I know that I go play dairy cow a couple times a day, but you don’t have to make it weird, ok, sir?!”
I was so sleep deprived that there was this one day, I went to the pumping room, did the thing, which is not – just so we’re clear, it’s a 45 minute ordeal, it’s a production – and I was so tired. I’d gotten famous for leaving my drinks all over the office. I’d leave my laptop somewhere and run to the restroom and have no idea where I’d left it because you’re not sleeping, you’re not thinking. And so this day, I was patting myself on the back as I left the lactation room because I not only did I remember to take apart all the little tiny plastic pieces on that stupid pump and clean them, but I remembered to dry everything and put it back and I re-Tetrised the bag in that thorough way that I do to make everything fit just right. I remembered my laptop, I didn’t leave that in the room. I even remembered my can of La Croix! I am just celebrating myself as I walk into the office. And realize I forgot one thing.
I forgot to put my shirt back on because it was a black t-shirt on a black chair and I had not slept in seven weeks.
Rox: Oh my God.
Valarie: So I was like, “Whoopsie Daisy,” go back in, put the shirt on, I go back in and one of my coworkers is like, “Was that embarrassing for you?” And I was like, “Hell no, I’m not embarrassed at all. That’s very normal behavior for a sleep-deprived person. What’s embarrassing is that I’m here when I shouldn’t be. What’s embarrassing is the bugs that are still in our code base that I wrote recently postpartum.”
Bittersweet to change jobs. I think even if I had been miserable in my old role, it still would have been kind of bittersweet, because I’m so thankful to them. But moving to a company that does six months of parental leave and genuinely supports employees to build their families, means a lot to me. I try to remind people, if you’re having a baby, maybe you’re having a baby so you have a cute human to snuggle and that’s nice, but honestly, if we don’t make babies, if people make it so awful to procreate with a lack of financial, emotional, temporal support, a lack of parental leave, a lack of supportive policies in the office, we’re not going to have as many babies. Well guess what, who’s paying social security taxes in 25 years if we stop having babies? Who’s going to take care of us as a society when we’re older? If it’s so miserable to make babies that – I mean, I have a pro-con list on having a fourth and most of the cons are things like work, money – societal things. Going through three months of sleep deprivation, ehh – I survived college, I’ll survive that. You know, most of the cons are things like the cost of summer camps, the cost of daycare. I mean, it’s ridiculous. I’m very thankful to work at Salesforce, where they don’t just say they support the family. They support the family regardless of what that configuration looks like.
There are so many perks and benefits around caring for your elderly relatives – that’s your family. That’s still a priority, as it turns out. I’m just really thankful to be in a company within tech that truly embodies some progressive views on how to support people to get the most productivity out of them. As distracted as I am, as poor as my productivity has been being at home with multiple children through the pandemic, there are days where I’m done with my work day according to the hours, but there’s a problem and I genuinely want to go back to work and do that extra hour to help out the team and to help out where I can. I genuinely want to research tomorrow’s problem tonight, because I’m so thankful for how kind my team is when I am distracted, and how supportive Salesforce is as a company. It does impact how I want to be as an employee.
Rox: That’s actually a really great place to be.
Valarie: Yeah, come play with us. It’s great.
Rox: Do you have any advice for other women looking to start a career in technology?
I highly recommend for women out there in particular, really familiarize yourself with what roles might be an option, and ask yourself, “Okay, who do I know, who can I lightly cyberstalk on LinkedIn that has this kind of role and talk to them about their day to day?” I didn’t know that Developer Relations was a thing until I’d already been speaking at conferences for two years. [laughs]
I will also say, if you find yourself feeling down and demoralized because you’ve done an A or a bootcamp, or you’ve self taught, you’ve done freeCodeCamp and then a whole bunch of tutorials, you’ve reached the end of Pluralsight as it were, and you’re not finding a job. Be like the Kool Aid man: just bust through that wall and say, “Oh yeah!” Do things – get creative. One of the things I did in my original job hunt was, I would look at mid-level DevOps roles that were listed and see who posted that listing. Reach out to that recruiter directly as, “Hey, I’m a noob. I’m looking for an internship. This is a large team – I’m seeing 17 people on LinkedIn at this company with this job title. Big team. You can probably afford to teach someone. So would you mind going to the client and asking if they might be interested in saving a lot of money by hiring an intern, and then in a year, they would have a really good member of the team?”
I tweeted out – one of the most pleasant, one of my favorite job interviews ever – I freely admit I drunk tweeted. One night I’d gotten five rejection emails in a row, which is very, again, demoralizing. So I went ahead and just had a glass of wine every time an email came in. At the end of the night, I was like, “I’m just gonna have to ask. The answer is always no if you don’t ask.” So I got on Twitter and just said, “There aren’t enough DevOps internships. Please create one for me. I’m worth it, I promise.” Well, several people, including Women Who Code (again, people helping people), several friends of mine within tech retweeted for exposure and the CTO of an Atlanta company just happened to be looking at Twitter. Just happened to see it. They called me in to discuss an internship. The way it worked out, accounting wouldn’t sign off on it because they were doing billable hours and people don’t understand that if I automate a task that saves an engineer two hours a week, guess what, that’s two billable hours as far as I’m concerned. That’s time that that engineer can now work. That has value. But it’s hard to explain that to an accountant.
So that one didn’t work out, but I still met some incredible people. Got to hone my job interview skills, their business model has inspired me and how I look at the world and how I think that businesses should work. Even jobs you don’t get, there’s benefit to meeting people in the community. So I would say, just get in front of people, if there is any way to get yourself on stage speaking at a community event. And what does that look like? Maybe it’s a local React meetup and you take one of your homeworks from a bootcamp, really polish it, and maybe you have that meetup help you make it more DRY and as a collaborative team effort. So you’re leading the meetup, but you don’t have to be a subject matter expert.
But now you’re in front of people. They know your face. You can make eye contact, shake a hand. I have social anxiety that I mask really well. It’s just what you have to do. I’m a big fan of ‘fake it til you make it.’ I did that early on when I was job hunting. After being asked if I was lost at a Docker meetup, I made it my personal raison d’etre to lead a Docker meetup just to prove I could. I didn’t know anything. I literally knew nothing. I thought I understood how Docker worked – I was so very wrong.
I had three different people who knew nothing about Docker learn about it. They had one month to study, but they each had one specific learning method. One person was only allowed to use Docker documentation and Docker-authored tutorials. One person was only allowed to use Linda learning through LinkedIn. So I went through that – three different learning methods – they all put in approximately the same amount of time. And then I did a game show! I asked a question, the contestants – ding! – answered, and then I let the crowd debate whether they were right or wrong, so it was more interactive. And you know, you get two engineers in the room and ask them a question, they’re gonna argue all night. It’s great. I found a way, not even not being a subject matter expert but knowing literally nothing, to still host an enjoyable, interactive, engaging meetup.
So I would say if you’re a woman trying to get into tech, get some idea of what you might like to do. Figure out the best learning path for those niches. Get creative with how you get through whatever educational path – that’s fine. But once you’ve done that, get really creative about getting yourself in front of people. I told my sister it’s awful that she went through a bootcamp during a pandemic. Because I know with every fiber of my being that if my incredibly talented stand-up comedian sister had been able to walk into a single React meetup wanting a job as a front end engineer, she would have had a job offer within two weeks of that meetup because everyone would have wanted to work with them. So as we get more back to normal, as more people are vaccinated as things open up, just don’t take no for an answer. Nothing’s final until you’re dead. And even then, I’m sure you can negotiate. The answer is always no if you don’t ask. There’s a lot of power in asking. There’s a lot of power in accepting that maybe I’ll ask for this interview. Maybe I’ll ask someone to make an internship for me. And maybe they’ll say no, but if I don’t ask, it’s already a no.
Rox: I feel like this is really good advice to get a mentorship going on, too.
Valarie: Yeah. I look at myself and I was completely non-technical before my bootcamp, middle of the road student, middle of the road understanding. In fact, I took a job as a TA after I graduated, for three months, specifically to take the bootcamp a second time to reinforce some knowledge that I felt was lacking. I needed extra help. I had a tutor I saw every week, she’s still on my Christmas card list. And then I had to get really creative. I look at where my career is now – I work at an incredible company that I’m proud to say I’m employed by. I’m very proud that they sent an airplane full of medical supplies to India a few weeks ago, for example. I’m proud of the fact that I’m encouraged to do volunteer time during the work week, every week. I’m proud of our ethics and morals that we really actually care about at Salesforce. I’m proud of the team I’m on. I’m proud of the work I can do. I’m proud of what I’ve learned in the last few years.
And so I would say to you, as a woman trying to get into tech, if you aren’t valedictorian from minute one, if you aren’t the best, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you work hard, get creative about looking for those opportunities, ask people to help you, and accept the help if they offer. I think that’s the biggest determinant in who’s successful and who’s not. It’s not how bright you are.
I love computers because they don’t care who your parents are, they don’t care how much money you have, they don’t care about your disability, they don’t care about anything. They care that you figure out a way to communicate with them. I think they’re the great equalizers. If you get into learning, get into job hunting and you’re discouraged, just get creative, because you know what? I have never been that impressive on paper and I have a great career and I’m so happy. I want every single person listening to this thinking about a career change to feel the happiness I feel about work every day. It’s all I want.
Rox: Awesome. On that note, I’m going to thank you so much for your time. This was really amazing.
Valarie: Sorry, I’m a talker. My aunts and uncles used to say that my mouth was born and I grew around it! Thank you so much. This has been delightful.
Catch us next month, where we’ll be talking to Stefania Chaplin, DevSecOps professional! Excited!