Lessons From 2022: Speaking, Community, and Hope in a Post-COVID World

Well, it’s January of 2023, which means it’s time to finally release my retrospective for 2022.

TL;DR Summary

2022 marks a time of coming out of the 2-year+ COVID pandemic, with mask mandates in many counties in my state of Colorado ending earlier this year.

2022 was a year of highs: connecting with our communities in-person again through speaking at conferences, and some lows: loss of a new job and loss of a beloved family member. But there’s also reason for hope in the new year. So, let’s do it ….. time for me to go over the lessons I’ve learned from 2022: Speaking, Community, and Hope in a Post-COVID World

Working on side projects lets you solve those deep problems outside of work.

The career of a software engineer is all about solving problems, as you’re often creating solutions to new problems every day (as explained by mobile engineering manager Kelly Shuster in her talk on technical speaking).

Some problems require a deep level of research to find a more “efficient” long term solution. But when you’ve got tight deadlines at work, sometimes you don’t have the luxury to be able to do that deep research. So, you continue with the tried and true, perhaps less efficient but more well known solution, until you have time to do that deep research.

screenshots from the talk I gave at the Women Who Code ConnectRecharge conference

My WWCode ConnectRecharge talk

This is where working on a side project comes in. Now, I understand not everyone has the privilege or time to work on side projects. But if you do, perhaps a small one or only occasionally, I would encourage it, for the opportunities that open up when you learn to solve those deep problems outside of work makes it worth it. I explain the benefits of working on side projects in my talk “Steer Your Career on Your Terms with the Right Side Project” at the Women Who Code CONNECT Recharge conference.

In my talk, I explain how, when Swift came out, Objective-C was the primary programming language to build iOS apps. Now, many companies that had legacy Objective-C apps had a dilemma: continue maintaining those apps in Objective-C, take a risk and rebuild the apps entirely into Swift, or figure out a way to integrate Swift into legacy Objective-C apps.

Wanting to solve this problem, I built a side project, a pet name generating app called “Name That Pet”, that was a hybrid Objective-C / Swift app. I published my app to the market and the source code to Github.

In my Women Who Code conference talk, I explained how, through building “Name That Pet”, I learned how to incrementally add Swift into legacy Objective-C apps using Swift class extensions. Discovering this technique for Swift integration came in handy when I worked as an iOS tech lead on several feature projects during my time at Jack Henry and Associates.

And that’s because …

Sharing your side projects through speaking gives you greater influence, and can open up to lead opportunities.

Since I learned about the Swift class extensions technique outside of work, I was able to bring that into my work at Jack Henry, where team members on the feature projects that I led (and even those on other projects that I was not involved in!) adopted this technique to incrementally add Swift to the legacy code base and start to modernize it.

There was another time when I shared a side project that solved a deep problem, and that was when I gave a talk on building hybrid UI apps at the 360iDev conference called “When You Can’t Go All In On SwiftUI, Build a Hybrid UI App Instead!”

pictures of my talk at 360iDev 2022

My 360iDev 2022 Talk

When Apple released SwiftUI — a declarative UI framework — in 2019, that quickly made all iOS apps built in UIKit (the original UI framework) legacy code.

Since I learned how to bridge Objective-C and Swift, which are used for programming the business logic in iOS apps, I thought there must be a way to bridge the frameworks to build the UI, SwiftUI and UIKit, in the same app. It turns out there was!

My 360idev talk 2022 was highly technical and my most complex conference talk, and it was based on 2 different projects I built: a tip calculator built in SwiftUI and the same tip calculator built in UIKit. I created 3 different versions of each project, demonstrating different levels of integration with the other framework: original code, component integration, and screen integration.

As a result of my talk, which I gave not only at the conference, but at other meetups and at work, and shared the projects I built for my talk, the following happened:

While working on a client project for Atomic Robot, which was a UIKit-based iOS app for an IoT product, my team and I successfully integrated SwiftUI into that project, modernizing the formerly all-UIKit app in the process. In addition, some team members at Atomic Robot working on other client projects used the techniques I demonstrated in my talk as well, to integrate SwiftUI components into their client projects’ formerly all-UIKit apps.

When you learn to solve these deep problems by working on side projects, and then you share your solutions through speaking, you not only solve those problems for yourself but also help others in solving similar problems for their projects as well, thereby increasing your influence. And helping others solve problems can open up lead opportunities, like was the case for me at Jack Henry, when I was the lead on multiple projects.

Speaking at in-person conferences helps build community. And in-person connections are still relevant, even in a Post-COVID world.

Speaking at 360iDev in 2022 gave me a chance to finally meet in person many people that I’ve worked with remotely for the past few years. That included my previous coworkers from Jack Henry & Associates, my current coworkers at the time from Atomic Robot, and my friends from the Women Who Code Mobile track community.

picture of painting night with friends before 360iDev

Painting Night with WWCode Friends

I organized a painting night for several of my Women Who Code friends, which really helped us bond, before the conference started. Although we’ve interacted for years over Slack and thorough Women Who Code online events, this was the first time we all met in person! And while I’ve attended 360iDev every year since 2016 and 2022 was my third time speaking at this conference, this was the first time attending for all of them. Susannah was a volunteer that year, and Navati and Mikaela were first time speakers at this conference.

I’ve worked remotely for years, even before the pandemic made it “cool”, but even so, I’ve discovered there are tangible benefits to meeting in person at least occasionally.

For one, you pick up things about people that you might have missed from video calls. For example, I discovered that my coworkers Brett and Abhi have easy laughs, which was another side of them that I didn’t see before as easily in video chats. They weren’t speaking at the conference, but they came to support me and our other coworker Steve at our talks, and for that I was so grateful. I also learned that Brett makes the BEST cookies, which he was kind enough to bring some from home to share, and I was so excited that I ate half of the cookie before I remembered to take a picture of it!

Brett's homemade cookie, half eaten

Brett’s Cookie, Half Eaten

Since COVID, virtual events have become more commonplace, and some have even replaced some former in-person events.

Don’t get me wrong. I think virtual events are great. Some conferences have even gone hybrid, to meet the needs of those who don’t have the time or financial means to travel, and I applaud those efforts!

But if you are fortunate enough to occasionally attend an in-person event, I would encourage it. It really can make a difference in solidifying those relationships, even ones that you’ve been cultivating online for years.

Look for opportunities by listening to your community, especially your mentors and those that are familiar with your strengths.

From reading books such as “Now, Discover Your Strengths”, I’ve learned that it is better to discover what your strengths are, how to leverage them, and how to find opportunities and people that can complement your strengths and help you grow. Don’t waste time trying to “fix” your weaknesses.

During a career chat, my mentor, Steve Kohls, advised that I should look for jobs that value my mentoring and speaking skills, since those are qualities that not all software engineers have.

It’s actually good advice, since not only do I perform public speaking regularly, I also mentor folks in my communities such as Women Who Code, and I have trained and onboarded junior engineers at my previous jobs.

I have been told by multiple people that I’ve worked with in the past that I had good “team building” skills. Claudia, who’s worked with me before while I was her tech lead, told me that I made it easy to work on a team.

At 360iDev, Susannah told me that I was a community builder and Navati said I was a supporter and advocate of others, especially women engineers. Others (like Paul, my manager at a previous job) have told me that I’m great at making connections wherever I go.

In fact, at 360iDev, when I wasn’t busy preparing for and giving my own talk, I was busy taking pictures of and tweeting other speakers’ talks, like Mikaela’s and Navati’s talks here.

So, pulling all this feedback together, I’m learning that I need to look for a collaborative, team-based work environment, where I can teach and mentor, and lead team members. This is where I shine.

Therefore, it would be beneficial for me to look for opportunities where I could leverage these skills and strengths.

Speaking of mentorship, some mentor-mentee relationships can grow and transform, and the roles can sometimes switch.

In some mentee-mentor relationships, the mentor and mentee become friends, and the mentee gives back to the relationship. The line between the two roles can sometimes blur. This is a good thing!

My mentor, Steve Kohls, is a Principal iOS Engineer at Atomic Robot. Steve and I had worked together before at Jack Henry and Associates. Steve also referred me to my job at Atomic Robot.

When the call for papers period opened up for 360iDev, I used my talent in technical speaking to give back to Steve. Steve was already a skilled speaker and engineer, as I’ve learned so much from his technical presentations at work, both at Jack Henry and Atomic Robot. But Steve had never given a conference talk before, whereas I had done so multiple times both in-person and virtually.

pictures of Steve Kohls speaking at 360iDev

Steve’s 360iDev talk

So, I encouraged Steve to apply, reviewed his talk proposals, and gave him feedback on his slides and practice run on his talk. Steve did the same for me. I was thrilled when I learned that the conference had accepted both of our talks!

I had the opportunity to provide the same support to Navati Jain, who is an iOS Engineer at Loblaw Digital. I joined the Women Who Code Mobile community in 2019 and quickly became a volunteer Lead. In 2020, I taught an open source workshop for the Mobile track, inspiring Navati to join the community and become a volunteer.

Navati and I had only known each other virtually through Women Who Code up to this point, when the CFP period opened up for 360iDev. The conference was going to be hybrid (online with the in-person component in Denver, CO, US, where I live, while Navati was based in Toronto, Canada.) I thought this conference would be a great opportunity for us both to not only speak, but also so we can finally meet in person! So, I encouraged Navati to apply to speak as well.

Just like with Steve, Navati and I reviewed each other’s proposals, and gave each other feedback on our talks. When I heard that Navati’s talk was also accepted, I was so excited!

For both Steve and Navati, speaking at 360iDev was the first in-person conferences talks that they ever gave, and I feel honored to have encouraged them and been a part of that experience for them.

But there’s more to Navati’s story that I need to share.

slack message to WWCode Mobile volunteer team announcing Navati as new Fellow

Outgoing Fellow Sierra Announcing Incoming Fellow Navati

tweet of me being a Women Techmakers Ambassador

Me: Techmakers Ambassador

In August of 2022, Navati applied for, and was accepted, for the Leadership Fellow position for the Women Who Code Mobile track community. Also, late in 2022, the application period for the Women Techmakers Ambassador program opened up. Navati, already an Ambassador, encouraged me to apply and referred me to the program. In November, I was accepted into the program and officially became a Women Techmakers Ambassador, giving me the opportunity to make an impact for an even larger community of women in tech!

Looking back, I inspired Navati to join the Women Who Code Mobile community when I taught my open source workshop, and I encouraged her to apply to speak at 360iDev. Now, my mentorship of Navati has come full circle, where she not only referred me for the Women Techmakers Ambassador program, but has mentored me and given me feedback on my talks as well. And she is now the current Fellow of the Women Who Code Mobile community.

Navati and I have become friends, supporters, and mentors of one another.

Navati and Vui at painting night

Painting with Navati

Support and invest in your community, and your community will be there for you.

I’ve been a volunteer lead for Women Who Code for the past few years: giving talks, teaching workshops, and running events. I’d like to think that I’ve been there for many people in my community through my leadership, mentoring, and activism. It turns out that this community that I helped build would in turn be there for me when times got tough in my life late in 2022.

screenshot of slack posting about my dog passing and getting lots of support

Receiving Support on My Post

By the end of 2022, like many people who lost their jobs in tech, I also lost mine. To add to the difficulty, my sweet dog, Barry, a miniature schnoodle (schnauzer-poodle mix) and beloved family member, passed away.

When I posted to LinkedIn about my job loss, many of my Women Who Code Mobile friends (who were also connected to me on LinkedIn) DM’d me on the Women Who Code Mobile Slack, with support and offers to chat. Some asked how they can help.

When I posted on the Slack that I had lost my beloved Barry, many jumped in the thread and offered condolences and words of support. A few even reminisced on how they enjoyed seeing Barry in the background of our Zoom calls and Women Who Code events. I was touched by all the kind words.

Even in the midst of loss, there is Hope.

There is a story of how Barry got his name. Former US President, Barack Obama, ran on a campaign of hope during the 2008 election. And Obama’s nickname growing up was Barry (according to his autobiography). But when my husband and I adopted our dog, in January 2017, another presidency was about to start and it was a scary time. We needed Hope to get through that time, so we named our new dog Barry.

Obama Hope Poster

Obama Hope Poster

So, in the midst of loss since the end of last year, what am I doing now? Well, I am using this time to level up my skills by taking the iOS Essential Developer class and working on side projects.

I’m taking advice from Ellen Shapiro from her talk, “You Need a Break”,  and giving myself a break from actively job searching at the moment. I’ve been burnt out from work, years of COVID lockdown, and grieving the loss of my dog. So I’m doing career chats and taking my time with my job search.

I understand that I have privilege in taking my time on my job search. Coming from a household of two software engineers and no human children to raise, we are not hurting financially right now. But I would like to work again someday, as that would be good for me, and I have talents and skills that I can still use, and people I can still help, if the communities that I’m active in are any indication!

Although Barry is not here physically, his spirit and love will always be with me. His support, and that of my husband, and my communities, will give me the strength I need to gradually get back into my job search.

Because Barry did, and still does for me, represent Hope. So here’s to Hope in 2023, as we continue navigating life in a post-COVID world.



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