Episode 128 – Don’t be Afraid to Test Yourself to Grow Your Skills and Improve Your Career Prospects with Shannon Kendall

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Shannon Kendall is Phil’s guest on today’s I.T. Career Energizer show. She has taken an unusual path into the world of IT. Prior to becoming an Application Developer, 7 years ago, she was an actress. She is currently working at Lifion by ADP.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

(0.45 ) – So Shannon, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Shannon explains that she came from a very technical family, but did not believe that a career in IT was for her. Instead, she followed her passion and became an actress.

Shannon did well and was proud of her work. But, she realised that she did not find it particularly fulfilling. At times, she had to take boring acting jobs to pay her bills.

One day, while looking at Instagram she found out that a friend and fellow actress was learning to code. Very soon after that her friend posted a photo of herself giving a speech at a tech conference in Thailand.

This inspired Shannon to consider a change of career too. She took a few online JavaScript tutorials and enjoyed them. Almost immediately, Shannon realised that she had some natural ability for coding.

She was good at recognising patterns and solving problems in innovative ways. Even as a child, she had a creative streak and was always investigating different ways to get things done.

(4.16) – Have you been able to bring anything from your acting career to your IT work?

Shannon says yes, she has. As an actress, she learned to be good at taking direction and handling rejection. Plus, working collaboratively within a team was something she did every day. She has found all of those skills useful in her new IT career.

(6.10) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Shannon says that it is important to get comfortable with not knowing everything and be willing to get things wrong.

When you work in tech, you are never going to feel totally ready. Things move at a fast pace, so you have to be comfortable with learning as you go. In fact, if you do end up feeling totally ready you can be pretty sure that you are not pushing yourself enough.

It is important not to let your fear of being wrong hold you back. You have to learn to put yourself into challenging situations.

For example, not long after Shannon started her career she was put in charge of a complex project. At the time, she was worried she was not ready, but her manager persuaded her that she could do it. It turned out her manager was right.

All of the team members knew that she was new to IT, so they and her manager were very supportive. As a result, she benefited from their guidance and was allowed to learn as she went. Everyone benefited from the fresh perspective and different leadership style she brought to the team. The project was a big success.

Phil agrees that it is important to stretch yourself, but, pointed out that you also need to be careful not to take things too far. If you do this you will avoid getting in too much above your head and failing.

(8.18) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. This is a tricky question for Shannon because she has only been working in the industry for 7 years. So, she jokes that she has not yet had the chance to fail spectacularly.

However, Shannon admits that she hates those times when she gets stuck for two or three days on a bug. When that happens, she starts feeling that she is letting the team down. This is despite the fact that the more experienced developers repeatedly tell her it isn’t an issue and that it happens to everyone.

(10.19) – Phil asks Shannon what their best career moment was. Shannon said that happened after she had been working in the industry for around about a year.

At that time, she was working with a team that came up with some new architecture. Getting the project ready in time was not easy, partly because it was so innovative. So, the team ended up having to work late into the night to get things ready for the demo.

They were very tired, but incredibly proud of their work, which was really well received by the senior team. During that presentation, Shannon realized that despite being new to the industry she had already been involved in something special. The work she had done on that project was going to make a positive difference and carry on doing so for years to come.

It was the first time in her working life that she had felt that way. The first time she had made a real difference.

(13.13) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? Shannon is excited by the fact that the IT industry is becoming increasingly diverse. For example, everyone on her current team, apart from her project manager is a woman. She believes that this diversity will lead to the development of better products.

In the tech industry, collaboration is essential. The fact that people from different backgrounds and perspectives are now working so closely together it is bound to result in new, different and interesting solutions.

Now is an especially good time for women to get involved in tech. The industry needs good multi-taskers which is one of the reasons female developers are in such high demand.

Shannon also likes the relative job security the IT field has to offer, at the moment. There is huge demand, so securing well-paid work is not hard.

(16.57) – What drew you to a career in IT? Interestingly, it was Shannon’s science teacher who set off a series of events that would lead to her working in IT.

If anyone in Shannon’s science class had finished their work early, they were allowed to complete a logic puzzle to gain extra credits. Shannon really enjoyed doing them. That is when she fell in love with problem-solving and learned to look at things in a logical way. Without realizing it she was learning the skills that would later prove to be invaluable for her work as a developer.

(18.16) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Someone once said to Shannon that she did not realize how skilled she was. At the time, she was working as an actress, and in restaurants.

For years, she did not understand what they meant. But, later she began to realize that she really had developed quite a broad skill set, without really knowing that she was doing so.

Skills that she uses to this day, for example, her waiting experience makes it easy for her to interact with all kinds of people in many different situations. Shanon says that “No matter what, you have skills that you can draw upon”.

(19.45) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Shannon says she would not be so hard on herself. She is a bit of a perfectionist and a people pleaser. As a result, she holds herself to a high standard and rarely gives herself enough credit.

So, if she were to start her IT career again, she would not beat herself up so much. She would not have tried to force herself down the career path of becoming a developer advocate like her friend who was also an actress. Instead, she would recognize straight away that she had to do what made her happy. Shannon believes that if she had done that she would have progressed faster and settled into the IT industry quicker than she has done.

(22.03) – What are you currently focusing on in your career? Since Shannon knows that she wants to be a leader in tech she is looking for opportunities that will take her closer to that goal.

(24.13) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? As an actress Shannon got used to being put into strange or stressful situations and being expected to keep her cool and still perform. This is a skill she has found to be very useful in her IT career.

(26.06) – Phil asks Shannon to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Shannon’s advice is to “stay open to opportunity.” She thinks it is important not to judge what you are doing now based off of something you think you will need for the future. Shannon feels she has made this mistake herself and it has caused her to waste a lot of time and energy.

In a fast moving industry trying to predict where things will go in the future is pointless. It is much better to apply yourself to what you are doing now and go with the flow, when it comes to the future.

She also shared the fact that she likes to keep track of any little tricks she picks up by noting them down on a spreadsheet. Shannon also does the same with her mistakes. For example, if her team points out she has missed a step, she notes it down. So that the next time she is going through the development process she remembers to get it done without any prompting from her team.

BEST MOMENTS:

(5.38) Shannon – “I always like making things with people because I enjoy the give and take.”

(6.30) Shannon – “A lot of what holds me back is my fear of being wrong, or this sense that I’m not ready.”

(16.09) Shannon – “It’s just about your ability to solve problems, and communicate and work with others.”

(17.44) Shannon – “When I decided to try coding, for the first time, it very much felt like I was solving logic puzzles again.”

(19.28) Shannon – “No matter what, you have a skill set that you can draw upon, that will be an asset into any field you go into”

(27.11) Shannon – “You need to make that checklist and improve it and follow it.”

CONTACT SHANNON:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/snkendall_ @snkendall

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shannonkendall-/

Website: https://github.com/snkendall

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