Episode 149 – Use Networking to Broaden Your Horizons and Ask Plenty of Questions with Rhia Dixon
Phil’s guest on today’s show is Rhia Dixon. She is a young software engineer, who is just starting her IT career. Yet, she has already done a lot within the industry. Rhia has already worked with C#, .NET, Python, AWS and several other languages and tech platforms.
Recently, she delivered her first tech conference speech. She is also an active member of the Kansas City Women in Technology group. Rhia is passionate about encouraging underexposed communities to become more involved in the IT sector, so is actively looking for more ways to do that.
(1.06) – So Rhia, can I ask you to expand on that brief intro and tell us a little bit more about yourself? Rhia explained that she put herself through a boot camp to get started in the tech industry. She completed a full stack coding program to be able to start her career as a software engineer. Rhia did well and found her current position, while she was still studying. That job has her working mainly at the backend using C#, which has been a great way for her to cement and hone her skills. Importantly, this role has also enabled her to quickly branch out and work with other languages and platforms.
(2.03) – Is there anything in particular that you enjoy about this role? The fact that she gets to touch all kinds of tech is something Rhia loves about her work. She really enjoys the fact that the team she works with has the autonomy to try out all kinds of new things.
(2.51) – Can you please share a unique career tip with the I.T. career audience? Rhia’s main tip is to learn to communicate well. Networking was how she landed her current role. It is also how she became more involved with Kansas City (KC) Women in Technology. Her advice is to put yourself out there and ask plenty of questions. It is the best way to get to understand what people do and how things fit together.
(3.30) In terms of networking, how did you go about doing that? Attending meetups was encouraged in the boot camp, something Rhia took note of and did, right from the start. That is how she came across KC Women in Tech.
Through these meetups, she met business analysts, product owners, and people in dev adjacent roles. These experiences and connections sparked her interest in all kinds of other things. Rhia also started talking more to people she already knew and began to network with them and learn as much as she could from them too.
(5.10) – Can you tell us about your worst career moment? And what you learned from that experience. Rhia has only been working in IT for about a year. As a result, her worst career moment is connected to missing out on a fantastic opportunity rather than a mistake she has made.
But, she still had 3 months to go at boot camp. So, despite the fact career services encouraged her to apply, she didn’t. Mostly because she just did not have the confidence to do so.
Now, she realizes she should have just applied. After all, the worst thing that could have happened was that she did not get the job.
(7.40) – So, I assume you would do things differently now. Rhia says that if she came across something she was only 20% qualified for, she would still apply. Often a lack of a certain skill is not a deal breaker. It is an approach that has already worked well for Rhia, although she is aware of the fact that she has a big personality helps too. She tends to stand out and be memorable, which seems to lead to people being very willing to give her a chance.
(8.29) Phil asks Rhia if she is making the point that it is not always about technical skills. Often, it is also about what else you bring. Rhia says yes that’s it exactly.
(8.47) – Please share a couple of your career highlights with the I.T. Career Energizer audience. About two months into her current role, a third party site did something and broke their system. It was a high-stress situation, but, it gave Rhia the chance to dig deep and see how stuff actually worked. For the first time, she had a high-level view.
Unfortunately, everything had to be built up from scratch. Not ideal, but, for Rhia, this was actually a good thing. It enabled her to really connect the dots and understand what was going on behind the scenes.
Being able to obtain mentorship from people for different things has also been a highlight. For example, she wanted to become a tech speaker. When she asked Jennifer Wadella, the founder of KC Women in Tech, for advice, she offered to mentor her.
In February, Rhia was able to give her first tech talk, which was very well received. That event was another career highlight for Rhia.
Phil comments that he likes to get an understanding of what is going on in the IT industry from all perspectives. So, it is really interesting to hear how someone like Rhia, who is new to the industry, is establishing herself in the sector.
(12.10) – Can you tell us what excites you about the future of the IT industry and careers? The fact that the industry is ever evolving is something Rhia enjoys. There is no need to get stuck doing the same thing. She is particularly excited about the way, and pace at which, the envelope is being continuously pushed.
(13.28) – What drew you to a career in IT? Rhia realized a career in IT was a possibility when she saw a Facebook add for a boot camp. It looked exciting and like something she would enjoy doing, so she gave it a go.
When she realized that building applications is a logical process, like solving a huge puzzle, she was hooked. The fact that it is also so creative, like composing music, is another plus.
(14.14) – What is the best career advice you have ever received? By far the best advice Rhia ever got was to drop words like aspiring and junior from everything about me. She did as advised and removed them from her resume, LinkedIn, Twitter and business cards.
Rather than call herself an aspiring or junior software engineer she took ownership of who she is instead of who she wants to be. Surprisingly, this simple change has made a huge difference.
(14.55) – If you were to begin your IT career again, right now, what would you do? Rhia says she would learn Python first instead of starting with the frontend.
(15.17) – Do you think you would have still gone through the boot camp? Would you recommend it as a way into the IT industry? Rhia says she would recommend boot camps. But, you have to remember that you get out of it what you put in. It is not possible to learn everything in such a short period of time, but, it is a good way to get started.
(16.11) – What career objectives are you currently focusing on? Right now, Rhia is focusing on learning to write good tests. She wants to improve coding infrastructure standards.
Her main aim is to make things more reliable. To achieve this goal, Rhia is working out how to log things and how to monitor application health. She believes taking this proactive approach will enable her to spot and deal with issues, at an earlier stage.
(16.46) – What is the number one non-technical skill that has helped you the most in your IT career? Having good networking and organizational skills has proved to be very helpful to Rhia.
Being well organized is helping her to write cleaner code. She is learning to write in a way that ensures she will be able to easily go back over it and enhance her code, in the future. After all, you cannot have a version 2.0 if you do not know what version 1.0 did.
Rhia knows that she would not have made it so far, so fast, without her networking skills. So, that is also a non-technical skill that she is working on improving even more.
(17.40) – Phil asks Rhia to share a final piece of career advice with the audience. Rhia says – get out there and try everything that is available.
That could be different languages or something that is not strictly IT related like finding out about different industries. For example, right now, Rhia is particularly interested in the parcel intelligence sector. It does not really matter what it is, expanding your reach will help you to figure out where to go next.
(3.15) RHIA – “Go and talk to people and ask more questions, and just try to figure out how people fit into things and what they can do.”
(8.27) PHIL – “It’s not just about your technical skills. It’s about who you are and what else you bring”
(12.49) RHIA – “I’m excited about the different horizons and the different envelopes that continue to be pushed”
(17.50) RHIA – “Get out there and try all of the things that are available to you to try”
(18.34) RHIA – “Expanding your reach is how you’ll figure out where to go and what you even like to do.”