Take chances and stand out

5 minute read

This is my first time writing a post about career advice. This kind of advice is definitely not a one size fits all. Everyone has their own experiences, circumstances etc., but hopefully some of what I discuss will resonate with you.

In May of 2016, I decided to embark with a startup and live in Barcelona for the summer in a front-end focused developer role using React, TypeScript, Node and other goodies. My bosses and I (future Montreal office) were in Barcelona to learn the business, help get the office in Spain staffed and then the plan was to return to Montreal to open the Montreal office.

The risk for me was that although I had just over a year of professional TypeScript experience and plenty of JavaScript under the belt, I had no professional experience with React or Node (aside from some build tools) and had only ever had mainly full-stackish roles all in the .NET ecosystem. In the past, when opportunities like this would come around, I would have said to myself, you’re not what they’re looking for. But I had already been interviewing for JS full-stack and front-end roles, so I knew this was what I wanted. And so I took the plunge. It was probably the best decision in my career as it put me on the path that I really wanted to be on.

Although I had no professional React experience, I had started to contribute to a pretty popular React/Redux boilerplate called React Slingshot (eventually I was asked to become a maintainer and accepted 😉) to help me learn React along with Dan Abramov’s awesome free egghead.io Redux Course. With that under my belt, I took off for Barcelona.

Do it Ben Stiller Meme
Do it Ben Stiller Meme

I met/worked with a lot of great people, got to head to London a couple of times to visit/work with my UK co-workers and finished off the summer by spending a bit of downtime on the coast of Spain as well as seeing a free (thank you Tourism Andorra) outdoor show of Cirque du Soleil's Scalada : Vision in Andorra in the mountains.

During interviews for my next role, one of the places that stood out was Intel (now McAfee... long story, just Google it). The role was for a front-end developer to work on their password manager browser extension offering. I had never worked in the browser extension space, so that’s what got my attention. The interviews went really well and then it was time to complete the take home test. I was to make a rudimentary password manager browser extension.

One of the developers had expressed interest in TypeScript, which as mentioned, I already had experience with, so I used my React, Redux and TypeScript skills to build a browser extension.

It was a lot of fun building the extension. I got it working, including hot reloading. You could log in to the big sites, Twitter, Facebook etc. and the extension would save your login/password. If you were logged out and revisited one of those sites, you’d be automatically logged on. As well, there was a bonus part of the homework to make a basic admin page to modify your credentials per domain, which I built as well. I even added Storybook to showcase some of the components the extension used. I was pretty happy with what I had built. When I spoke to my future co-workers, they had said that aside from being competent, it was my take home test that had stood out. Everyone else had done the bare minimum. Success... hired! 💯

While I was interviewing for a new job at several places last summer/fall, Khan Academy seemed like an interesting place to potentially work at. Once again though, I looked at the requirements, and I was like, I don't think they'd be interested in me. I actually put off applying for about 5 weeks. Eventually I applied with what I thought was a unique cover letter, along with the usual stuff, like my GitHub profile.

I wasn't expecting to hear back from them, but eventually I did. I initially corresponded with one of their talent recruiters via e-mail who set me up with an interview with my potential Engineering manager. That interview seem to go well, and I mentioned that I had put up a PR for their t0ta11y project.

The https://github.com/Khan/tota11y repository on GitHubOpenGraph image for https://github.com/Khan/tota11y

Here's a screen capture of my PR in action

tota11y browser extension screen capture

I was lucky enough to get a second interview, with none other than John Resig, the creator of jQuery. I did not know that he was working at Khan, so I was a little nervous but excited at the same time. I got to speak with John for a solid hour about front-end. It was amazing.

awesome giphy meme
awesome giphy meme

Things moved on to a third interview with a potential future co-worker and then from there, it'd be wrapping things up. Unfortunately things did not work out in the end, but even though I was disappointed, it was still amazing because I got to PR what I thought was a cool browser extension of their a11y tool and I got to speak to John Resig for a solid hour, just the two of us.

So remember:

  • Take chances… really.
  • Standout.
    • Everyone does the take home test at some point. Make yours standout.
    • Contribute to open-source. Some will disagree because of work/life balance, but in my experience, it helps set you apart.
    • standout in another way that you think would set you apart from other candidates.
  • Apply to places, even when you think you're not good enough, because you never know. And even when interviewing somewhere doesn't work out, you still learn something about yourself or work. And who knows, maybe you'll have some interesting conversations along the way.

follow your dreams giphy meme
follow your dreams giphy meme

Photo by Nick Ewings on Unsplash