Episode 140 – Be Brave Enough to Seek Clarification and Communicate Effectively with Jasmine Greenaway
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Jasmine Greenaway. She has evolved her career as a web developer into an exciting life, full of opportunities and interest. Jasmine rarely says no to a chance to take her IT career in a new direction.
As a result, today, she is a well-known public speaker, mentor and teacher. All of this is in addition to working as a Cloud Developer Advocate at Microsoft. She also co-organises BrooklynJS.
(00.57) – So Jasmine, can you expand on that brief introduction and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Jasmine explains that after leaving university, she decided to move to New York. This was a good move for her, because it helped grow her confidence and get past being shy.
She started public speaking, while in New York. First, she gave really short, lightning talks. In time, she graduated to making 30-minute presentations. Today, she regularly speaks at IT conferences.
After joining the GitHub team she was asked to speak at a conference about the GitHub Visual Studio project she was working on. That led to someone from Microsoft reaching out to her and offering her the Advocate position. Despite not being very familiar with Azure, at the time, she took the plunge, which turned out to be a great decision for everyone involved.
When someone asked her to teach web development in a local Queens’ community college she said yes to that too. She has been doing it for 2 years now and really enjoys seeing her students grow. Her work there combined with her speaking and meetups have helped her to build up a great network of friends, colleagues and collaborators.
(4.00) – What have you learned working in what must be quite an interesting environment? Jasmine said that often she is dealing with students who have never opened a text editor or seen an ID. In those situations, she has learned to go slow and recap regularly. Going from nothing to doing a full project in just four months is a big task, which can be overwhelming. So, students need to be led along the path to success carefully.
Phil asks if her students feel a sense of accomplishment once they have completed the course. Jasmine, says yes that is definitely the case. At the end, a lot of her students thank her for taking the time to go back over things they were struggling with.
She often sits down with students for one to ones, even as they start their IT careers. Often, they are really close to achieving their goals. All they need is a little advice or encouragement to get there.
(6.28) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Jasmine says that it is important to be comfortable with what you know. Don’t let what you do not know, overwhelm you. Use what you have and recognize that you can easily learn the rest of what you need. It is all too easy to become overwhelmed and be too hard on yourself.
Phil agrees that is very good advice and adds that breaking an objective down into smaller chunks makes things easier to understand. When you do that the task becomes far easier to achieve. Jasmine says that is the exact approach she uses when programming, especially if she has to learn something new to be able to complete the project.
(8.07) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? Jasmine explained that at one point in her career she let imposter syndrome overwhelm her. At the time, she was working on a team where everyone, except her, was a senior developer. Fairly quickly, she began to feel she was not contributing and could not get anything right.
Fortunately, someone took her aside and told her she was doing a good job. They also told her not to be afraid to ask for help. Once she started doing that everything was OK. To this day, she is thankful for that team for picking up on the fact that she was struggling and reaching out to her to let her know they were there to help.
(9.25) – What did you learn from that experience? It taught Jasmine to believe in herself and her capabilities. In that situation, the only person that thought she was not capable was her. Once she was convinced otherwise by the team Jasmine was able to make rapid progress.
(10.14) – What was your best career moment? Jasmine said that was the talk she gave in August 2018 with a co-worker. For fun, they decided to see if they could uncover the identity of the famous, but anonymous, horse.js using machine learning.
The person who runs that Twitter account takes web development tweets and copies a sentence from them and tweets that back out again. Weirdly, this simple process produces some very amusing results. Because it is funny and quirky horse.js has a huge Twitter following.
Jasmine and her co-worker used a combination of machine learning, data statistics and other methods to work out who horse.js is. At the latest JSConf they gave a presentation that explained how they did it. At the end, there was a pre-planned piece of pantomime, where the organizers would shoo them off of the stage before they could reveal who it was. Clearly, some in the audience thought they were going to uncover horse.js, which they definitely were not. They actually got booed off and ended up leaving the conference venue through the back entrance.
Basically, it was a fun project, that stretched Jasmine, helped her to gel with her team and become better known in the community. So, it has been a career highlight on many different levels.
(14.00) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that if she wanted to try something else in the industry there are so many different paths she could take excites Jasmine. Her background is mostly software engineering, but she also now has her developer advocate and relations work to add into the mix.
Jasmine especially enjoys being a part of a “choose your own adventure” style of team. If you are good at speaking, that can be your focus, while someone else might write a lot of code or seek out feedback from product teams.
Jasmine is also excited by the fact that working for Microsoft automatically opens up all kinds of possibilities. She can easily move internally to try something different or take up an opportunity outside the business.
She also enjoys the fact that the information you need to learn something new is now freely available. You just need to find a tutorial or blog post and get started.
(15.54) – What drew you to a career in IT? For Jasmine, her journey into IT started when she wanted to customize her GeoCities, Neopets and MySpace accounts. Making little sites for herself was the spark.
The fact that she wanted to be a meteorologist also pusher her into the IT world. It was part of the reason she decided to minor in computer science. She liked it so much that she ended up switching her major.
(16.52) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you don’t you are not doing your job properly. Asking questions is tricky because you have to admit you don’t know something. But, it is essential. You end up feeling so much worse if you get things wrong because you did not seek clarification.
(17.21) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Jasmine says she would probably get involved in the IT security field. Probably as a white hat hacker, right now, it is a really interesting sector to work in.
(17.55) – What clear objective are you currently focusing on? Jasmine is now part of a fresh team that is focused on reaching out to the education community. Currently, she is looking for ways in which she can shine in this role. She is looking for ways to self-advocate and progress the team’s objectives at the same time.
(19.12) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career, so far? Being an effective communicator has been essential for Jasmine. She mostly works remotely, so has to be particularly careful to communicate well.
It is essential to tailor what you are saying to take account of the audience you are speaking to. You have to adapt your approach to make sure that what you are saying is easy to digest and understand.
Jasmine has found that getting involved in things like hobby channels has helped her with this. Sharing tips, suggestions, jokes and things in a casual setting has helped her to hone her communication skills.
(20.58) – Phil asks Jasmine to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. She says it is the same as the advice she received – Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It is the only way to get the clarification you need to be able to move forward. If you do not get into this habit you will very likely stall. At first you may feel embarrassed doing it. But, it is like a muscle. The more you do it the easier it gets.
Phil says that he has also found this to be true. He has noticed that the more questions you ask the more confident you become, which is the opposite of what you might expect.
(6.22) JASMINE – “Sometimes it’s just, you know, one little thing that they just need to clear the air on to get them to where they need to be.”
(7.23) PHIL – “break down that objective into smaller chunks, so that it becomes easier to understand.”
(14.23) JASMINE – “If I wanted to try something else in the industry, there are so many paths I can take.”
(16.54) JASMINE – “If you’re not asking questions, you’re not doing your job.”
(21.55) PHIL – “The more you ask questions, the more confident you get.”