The Stack Overflow Podcast

The first ten years of our programming lives

Episode Summary

The home team shares their programming origin stories, from year one, when everyone was bitten by a radioactive microchip, all the way to the present, where we are talking about code on a podcast.

Episode Notes

This episode was inspired by Joma Tech's review of his first ten years in coding. 

Ben Popper shared  a fair amount of his coding journey through the series Ben Popper is the Worst Coder in the World

Should you actually write out code on paper as some of us had to do? Maybe.

Modding games gets people into programming. For Ryan, Freedom Force got him into Python. Today, it's Minecraft and Roblox

Want to jump start your career? Find a community on Discord or Twitter and make some contacts. The software industry is made of people. 

Hackathons helped Cassidy find a deeper love for coding, oh and her husband too.

Episode Transcription

Cassidy Williams I remember my physics teacher said, if you can code it into your calculator, yes, you can use it on the test. 

Ben Popper Ohhh, wow.

CW And I got everything into that calculator. [Ceora laughs]

[intro music]

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BP Hello everybody! And welcome to The Stack Overflow Podcast, home team edition. I'm Ben Popper, Director of Content here at Stack Overflow joined as I often am by my cohost and colleagues, Ryan, Cassidy and Ceroa. Hi, everybody. 

CW Hello!

RD Hey Ben.

BP So I was watching Joma Tech video the other day. Are you guys familiar with Joma Tech? 

CW No.

Ceora Ford No.

BP He does like programmer videos. And he was doing the 10 year one where it's like--

CW Oh! Now that you say--I thought you're talking about like a brand of some kind.

BP Joma is his like YouTube handle. Anyway, that's pretty interesting. I'll put it in the show notes. But he was like walking through, going to college knowing nothing about computer programming, joining like a robotics competition. And like being the guy who did the programming all the way through working for big Fang companies, and now being like a, you know, developer content creator, as well as I think he has his own startup or something like that. But I thought it might be fun, since we're all here to do a version of that. I don't have 10 years of programming experience under my belt. But Ryan, Cassidy, Ceora, we can do as many years as we have.

CW We'll just add them all up and we'll be the most experienced ones. 

BP Yeah,  exactly. But year one for me. I'm going to start at the beginning of Stack Overflow. I took a little bit of basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript with my then colleague and co host Sarah chips, which was fun. I use Free Code Camp. I enjoyed it. I played a little Twilio quests, I played a lot of what's the one? 9 billion humans? And sometimes I really enjoyed it. But yeah, well, eventually, I realized, like, I can now like, conduct a one hour podcast about SRE and like, know what I'm talking about and get in pretty, pretty deep in the weeds. But actually writing code that works, I don't think that will ever be my thing. Two and a half years into it. So discussing code intelligently, got it covered. Writing code, still not happening for me. [Ceora laughs]

CW But hey, you're halfway there. Talking about it is a very big part of the job.

BP Very big part of the job.

CF It is.

RD You know, to be fair, I can't write you know, working code either.

CW What even is working code? 

CF Right!

BP Ryan can read code snippets and talk a little bit more about in the syntax of--you can you can speak more in the syntax, whereas I have to speak like at one or two levels of abstraction.

RD But my year one was basic on the Commodore 64. I remember trying to program something and record it to a tape, to a cassette. 

CF Oh my god!

CW Dang.

RD Yeah. And then high school programming, a fancy calculator with a Mad Libs app.

BP Oh, yeah. A TI83. I did do a little that. Some Snakes and some Mafia Wars.

CF I wanted to but I never figured out how to because I saw like, a bunch of videos of people doing like fancy stuff with their calculators, but I never figured it out. So I'm jealous of everyone here.

CW I did it out of desperation. I remember my physics teacher said if you can code it into your calculator, yes, you can use it on the test. And I got everything into that calculator. And I did not have a cable to like plug it into the computer. So I was truly programming and like typing out the textbook, into the calculator, being able to like make up look up things to look up formulas and stuff.

BP What a lifehack. I could have programmed my formulas that I was trying to memorize wrote into my math and physics, dang, I wish my teacher had said that.

CW Oh, honestly, she was probably just tricking us being like, they're gonna study so much harder by just programming it, instead of just reading it and stuff. But yeah, honestly, it was true. But still, I definitely used my calculator a ton for that.

BP So Ceora, what was year one like for you?

CF Year one, I guess year one for me probably was my senior year of high school. I was like, this is so funny. I had basically almost like failed out of my junior year of high school. So I kind of like I didn't like take my SATs or anything. I was like college is probably not an option for me. Like I can't afford to pay out of pocket. I didn't have a good counselor either who like talked to me about like, how you can kind of get around all that kind of stuff like scholarships and everything. So I was just like, okay, yeah, like college is not an option for me. I'm gonna have to figure out something that's like I can do where I can make money without going to college. So in my senior year of high school, I did some like googling. And I was like, you know, the top thing in all these Google searches that sounds the most interesting to me, is software development. So I had like, I enrolled in some classes that year, one of them was like HTML and CSS. One of them was C++. 

CW Oh, the stark contrast.

CF I don't know what was happening, like the first semester was HTML, CSS, and then the second one was C++. I don't even know what like the student--I mean, like teachers were doing when they decided on that like, workflow, I don't know. 

CW Maybe they just looked up 'programming languages to teach'.

CF Yeah and the C++ thing was, like, really tough. Like, I don't know what was going on. But I don't think my teacher really knew what was going on either. And the HTML CSS was like, the stuff we were doing was like, like 90s asks kind of stuff where it was like, no special fonts, that basic red and blue kind of stuff like it was. And I was like, this part of it seems kind of easy. Like, I'm sure I could do this. I mean, it's really ugly. But I think I could do this. Then that summer, I like went to a program where for two weeks, we were like, coding in HTML, CSS and Ruby. And like, at the end of the the program you like, make a website.

CW Cool.

CF Yeah. So that was like how I guess that that's considered like my first, first year in software development kind of stuff.

BP I had a friend who now works at Kickstarter. He's not a coder, but he's pretty tech savvy. And he was telling me, he had a computer class in high school in Washington, DC, he went to public school there, but they didn't have any computers. So they would print out papers, and they would bring them in, it'd be like, if you were using a computer, this is how you would create a Microsoft Word document. And if you had made a document, this is how you could save it. And then they would take a test that was like, you've got to create a Microsoft Word document, what do you do? And you'd like write out the answer. 

CF That's something.

CW When I lived in Spain, that was basically what our coding classes were like, where we yeah, we we had paper. And there, they explained, like what a stack and a queue was, and then they had us implement it writing on paper. And there are points where I remember I was arguing with someone in the class, being just like, No, I, I think that this is how you do it. I think you have an infinite loop here. And so we couldn't debug it until we until we left the classroom because we didn't have computers.

RD Yeah, I had to do that in some of my CS courses in, in college, like, figuring out the theta of certain algorithms on paper. Yeah, with the big O notation. 

CF Oh no.

RD Oh yeah.

BP That's how you really learn it, then it really sticks.

CW You know, it really does stick though. Like I did not enjoy it at the time. But I was like, man, I know stacks really well now. [Ceora & Ryan laugh] I guess it worked.

BP I guess it worked. So that was year one, year two, I've been messing around looking at a bunch of different drag and drop build an app tools. And I feel like my comprehension of like, what  the business logic is. And what it would take is a little bit deeper now. So I talked for a long time, I want to build this like really simple web app for the dog park, you can sign up your name, the dog's name, when you're coming, other people can see that they can sign up for the time. And then after 24 hours, it just forgets everything. And you start again, and I don't want any PII. I just want to do that. And so I started to learn a little bit about like, well, what if this was like serverless? Like, do I need a database? Like, if I like wanted to, you know, send mobile notifications, or I wanted to have single sign on, you know, like, what would it look like? So like, that was year two, if I was starting from scratch, I could draw how you would build the website and get pretty close. I still couldn't can't write any of the code. But I think like my comprehension of what it takes in the software development lifecycle, and sort of the tooling and then the different pieces has come together though.

CW For an idea like that you could probably get pretty dangerous with a no code tool. I've seen some startups that are built with like Bubble or Webflow and stuff where it's it's truly a no code tool, but it handles the authentication it handles like saving and tossing information it uses like a spreadsheet as the database.

BP Yeah, that's what I basically--alright, well, if you saw good one, send it to me maybe I'll just copy and change the header to dog park. Yeah, great. But tell me a little about your year two, or you know, we can get a little rough. It doesn't have to be exactly your two. 

CW Yeah. Because my years, my years, like one through four were all like a mix of programming my calculator and HTML and CSS. Just because I was a student who didn't have access to other things.

BP Okay, so, we'll do our exercises like beginning middle and now. So I just described my intermediate phase, which is I'd say there's no advanced phase. What does your intermediate phase look like?

RD I would probably say you know, after the the kind of four classes I took in college in very early Java. I mucked around a little bit, I had did some some JavaScript stuff. And then I did some Python scripting for a game called Freedom Force. Way back in the day, there's a big modding community around it. 

CW I think you've talked about it before. 

RD It's the only reason I know Python. I think that modding community has actually got me jobs before. Because it's like, I know Python. [Ryan laughs]

CW That's like how people have learned how to mod Minecraft. And that's how they learned Java. So I believe it.

RD Yeah, that's how you get into programming.

BP I would say 75% of the time when we have a guest on the second of a podcast, we say, just take us back in time, like, How'd you get into software? Had you learned to code this? Well, I was a kid and I loved gaming. I was doing this game or I was leading this gaming community. And then that because I wanted to get more and more involved eventually, like, kind of dip my toe in the water and oh, look, now I'm coding.

CF It's that or MySpace. So many people I've heard--

CW Or Neopets.

CF Yes! They were like customizing their MySpace page. And they were like, I really want to make it look really nice. So they stumbled into HTML, CSS, and now they're like, leading a software engineering team, like it's a big company. [Ryan laughs]

BP That'd be a cool alumni group. Like I started my career in MySpace would be like a age cohort, I would hang out with those people.

CW There was definitely a very popular Twitter thread where it was people who were all just like, yep, I started with Neopets. And it was just like, it was people who were just young enough for MySpace but just old enough for all the modern stuff. So that's where all the HTML and CSS knowledge came from.

CF I wonder like what that is for like the like now generation of them--I don't know, like Gen Z? Like because Gen Z was probably too young for MySpace right so probably Minecraft for a lot of people?

CW Or Roblox. Can you code Roblox things?

BP Yeah, there's an amazing editor, we should probably check it out sometime but yeah, my kids got super into Roblox when it was like they were schools remote and then we moved to a new school and that was like the way to hang out offline was to be in Roblox. And there's a huge game editor I don't know if it works in Unity or what but basically, you do need to like learn a few things. They have like some drag and drop, but you can easily get into the hood. You can make good money if you build like a Roblox game that takes off and has in app payments or people pay for it. Like there's just a huge library. That's what makes Roblox so dangerous is a parent his kids like let's play Roblox and you're like great, and then you go in and somebody has like, recreated some horrible massacre or some really violent game, but the Roblox version and it just start playing and you're like, wait, what, what is this? This is not the Lego Minecraft world I imagined. It's like people. One was like, jump off a hill and like you roll down in his physics and then when you get the bottom, like, how many bones if you broken? Hurray, you broke 100! Like, hurray, you broke 200 bucks. My wife and I were just like, what is this?

RD Classic game. 

BP God, such a bad for their mind. So bad for their little brains.

RD We were talking about user generated content.

BP Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Cassidy, Ceora, talk me through your intermediate phase as you would describe it.

CF Well, this is going to be a fun time for me because my intermediate phase--so between my senior high school and like my intermediate phase, if I can even call it that was some time like, I spent a long time just like I forgot about tech, I forgot about like, wanting to be a software engineer, I like did digital marketing for a little while. And like, did that freelance for a little while. And then, for me, I consider this like beginner phase part two, technically, but I didn't start like coding again until March of 2020. Cassidy, you might know this, because I think I've talked about this on Twitter quite a bit. But so March 2020, right, like the pandemic hit, Everyone's panicking, like companies are having hiring freezes, whatever, all my freelance clients, like, drop me, they're like, oh, we don't know what things are gonna look like. I was like doing digital marketing for a couple like conferences and like, event kind of things. So obviously, they were not doing it anymore.

CW Events did not happen then.

BP Cassidy may have some personal experience in that.

CF Right? I was at a point where like, social life gone, like, professional life pretty much gone. And then I had gotten a scholarship from Udacity for their Xloud DevOps engineering program in like January of 2020. And I just like, kind of left it on the back burner, like I wasn't really taking it seriously. And then I was like, You know what, I literally have nothing else to do. So I might as well try to do this. And then I was like, for some reason I got really serious that time around. Like I started being serious with a course, I started learning Python as well in tandem with the course because I was supposed to know Python before I signed up for the course. But I lied. [Cassidy & Ceora laugh] So I started to learn Python. And then I started to get active on Twitter. So I would like talk about what I was learning and all that kind of stuff. And then like, I didn't really understand the DevOps side of things, but I got really into AWS. Like that was like the thing I talked about the most. I was like a part of some AWS communities. I wrote some articles about AWS. So yeah, that was like my intermediate phase. I guess you could say like, I was really into like the cloud serverless thing and then I kind of got into JAMstack a bit like later on that year. So like kind of stuffed, like, probably like a bunch of years of experience into like six months. But I don't recommend it because by December I was like, extremely burnt out like, like it was it was like ridiculous. But now that I talk about it, sometimes I'll talk about it with people. And they're like, oh my gosh, I thought you've been here for like yours. And it's like, no, it's like, barely--like, I've professionally been in tech for just over a year. Like I got my first job in Septembe of 2020. So yeah, I've only been around for like, a year. 

BP The pandemic let you compress a lot of time because you weren't doing anything else. So you could just focus on it. And I love that you came into with from what's kind of like the modern world where you're doing it, but you're also writing content about it and being in communities and it's like, kind of like this, this process of it is exposed and community driven and content driven.

CF Yeah, Cassidy tweeted this like, a little while ago. I think you say something like, having a community can really help you jumpstart your career, like in a really like, almost fascinating kind of way. And that's basically what happened with me, because aside from like, learning the technical stuff, I also like, invested a lot of time in like online communities and Discord and like Slack and stuff like that. So when it came time, when I felt like I was kind of ready for a job, people were like, here's this contract role, or here's this role. I know they're hiring for I know, people there, I can connect you with them. So people when people look at me, and they're like, oh, my gosh, how did you do all that in under a year, or just about a year? It's because of people, it's not me, like at all, I promise you.

CW I mean, it's partially you. Don't self yourself short. 

BP I also had plenty of free time in the pandemic, and I didn't turn it into a full time career. [Ceora laughs] Your personality and how, you know, I had plenty of opportunities.

CW Yeah, cuz I knew it was recent. I don't think I realized it was right at the start of the pandemic. I thought it was a little before. But I think you're also a very good case of my personal theory that a lot of marketers would be really, really good at coding. First of all, there's a different style of logic that you learn when you code, but also, you're really good at meeting people and networking and stuff, because that's what you had to do in marketing. And that kind of community is so huge.

CF Yeah. And then for me, like, I knew I was coming in the door with like, I hate to say this, but like a slight disadvantage, like, let's be totally transparent here. When you come from like a non traditional background, it is harder to like, get your foot in the door. So I was like, I have to market myself, like I used to market other people's companies or other people's products. And now it's my turn. So like, when I was writing articles, I use all my like SEO knowledge and all my like marketing tactics, and like my Twitter strategy, like knowledge, everything to like, get my articles out there and get people talking about them. Like I've gotten quite a few--

BP You were hacking the system.

CF I was, it was just like a perfect storm kind of like okay, this kind of started off on the wrong start, like losing all my clients. I'm kind of broke. But all that like, in my previous experience, all kind of combined together to create like a really special situation. So I tried to make the most of it. But yeah, it seems like it turned out pretty okay, cuz I'm here now.

CW Look at you now, killing it. 

CF Thank you!

CW And then I think, yeah, Dev advocacy is such a hard job to be able to do, which once again, I think people who do marketing and tech together can do it really well. And so the fact that you did it, I think is amazing.

BP And working at a company that's right on the cutting edge of really cool stuff, really cool tools that you're using. I want to be respectful of people's time. I don't know how over we can go. So maybe Cassidy, you give us your advanced phase. And then we'll wrap it up. 

CW Sure. My intermediate phases, basically college, I did the very traditional background of computer science. And so there you go, I did that. But it did start to do non traditional stuff, because I started going to hackathons a ton. And there was like a heyday of hackathons like between 2012 and 2016, I'd say in particular, maybe 2017. And I was at almost all of those hackathons. I've been to over 100 hackathons, I met my husband at a hackathon really, really into hackathons. And that got me into the dev advocacy thing as well. And I think between all of the different startups I've worked at an end and big companies, too, I think getting into the advanced phase. It's been a lot of job hopping, I admit, it's never because of just like I'm flaky, let's try something new. It's it's more like different situations that have led me to switch jobs. But most recently, the switch was because of the pandemic. Again, like Ceora said, all events were shut down. And I was teaching full time event workshops. But I will say, I think my last job was probably my favorite job just because I loved the teaching aspect so much. And I do get aspects of that in my current job now, but I'm very, very deep in React and the web dev world and pandemic has been weird, but it's been really fun making all of these online communities and friends on the internet.

BP Alright, well, that's our that's our 10 year journey, not exactly 10 years but compressed time from beginning middle. And so yeah, we would love to hear anybody who's listening, if you want to send us your 10 year journey, I'll read the listener email back, and we'll talk about it next time. But yeah, I mean, I think in general, it's super interesting how we all ended up here from such different places, but just how, you know, how central software is now to the way we live our lives into so much business that you can be in the world of software even if you don't write any code or you write some and you're a marketer, you really write it and then you end up in a, you know, you realize, I'm great at coding now. But actually, I really like developer advocacy better, like, I want to go out and meet people and teach classes and like, that's where, you know, like software works for me.


BP Okay, everybody, it is that time of the show, I'm gonna shout out the winner of a lifeboat badge. Somebody came out on Stack Overflow, they found a question with a score of negative three or less, they gave it an answer that got a score of 20 or more. And the question now has a score of three or more, so they saved a bit of knowledge from the dustbin of history. And now it's on the network, helping people learn. Thanks to Guillermo Nascimento awarded two days ago: 'Prevent some elements from being rendered canvas.' Does that mean in Canvas or are we missing a word there?

CW Maybe. 

BP Posted six years ago, viewed 11,000 times. There's a good answer in there. I'll put it in the show notes. Thanks for listening, everybody. I am Ben Popper, the director of content here at Stack Overflow. You can always find me on Twitter @BenPopper. Email us with your coding journey And if you like the show, leave us a rating and review, really helps.

RD I'm Ryan Donovan, I edit the blog here at Stack Overflow. You can find me on Twitter at @RThorDonovan. And if you have a great idea for the blog, email me at

BP No tutorials. Just great idea.

RD No tutorials.

CF I'm Ceora, I am a developer advocate at Apollo GraphQL. And you can find me on Twitter. That's where I spend the most time out of all the social media networks out there. And my username there is @ceeoreo_.

CW My name is Cassidy Williams. I'm director of developer experience at Netlify. You can find me @cassidoo on most things.

BP All right, very cool. Thanks for listening, everybody. We'll talk to you soon.

[outro music]