Debbie O’Brien, a highly esteemed GitHub Star and an overwhelmingly popular member of our engineering community, has been invited to be a guest speaker at our monthly Ask Engineers Anything event in February. During her presentation, Ms. O’Brien will provide insight into her experience as a successful woman in the tech industry, as well as the profound impact she has made on the sector.
Deborah O’Brien is an experienced front-end developer, having worked in the field for more than a decade. She has served as a Technical Lead and Consultant, and has also been recognised by Google, Cloudinary, and Microsoft as a Web Developer Expert, Media Developer Expert, and Most Valuable Professional in Developer Technologies respectively. Most recently, Ms O’Brien has departed her position as Head of Learning and Developer Advocate with Nuxt.JS to pursue a new role with another organisation.
In order to gain a better understanding of what was conveyed, Debbie will be providing invaluable insight on how to successfully overcome impostor syndrome, launching a prosperous software career without a college degree, and obtaining the attention of giant tech companies such as Google and Microsoft.
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How does Nuxt.js encourage its development community?
O’Brien, Debbie: The objective of this initiative is to promote awareness and understanding of Nuxt.js (a free and open source web application framework, inspired by Next.js). In the past, we mainly relied on attending conferences for advocacy efforts, however, due to the pandemic, we have shifted our focus to a remote platform, allowing us to extend our reach to a wider range of countries. To increase our outreach, I have even established a channel on YouTube. Online activities such as webinars and virtual sessions have proven to be more effective than in-person gatherings such as conferences and meetings.
Weirdly enough, you managed to become a software engineer without ever having attended university. I’d want to know how, if possible.
Debbie: To recharge, I took nine months off work. I understood I needed to know all that was included in a job description in order to succeed.
I took advantage of the online technology degree program offered by OpenClassrooms, a French-based platform, which includes weekly one-on-one tutoring sessions. In addition, I have also obtained a full-stack tech degree from Treehouse. Subsequently, I have recently become a mentor for both of these initiatives.
What advice would you provide to young engineers who are just starting out in the workforce and want to stand out from the crowd?
Debbie: Establishing an online presence for oneself is easier and more cost-effective than ever before. There are a variety of ways to do this, such as creating a website, launching a YouTube channel, or writing a blog article. Doing so allows individuals to put themselves out there in the world and provide evidence that they truly exist.
Building a positive reputation in the professional world can be done in a variety of ways, such as participating in Open Source projects. It is important to ensure that your online presence is up to date and reflects the positive attributes you have to offer. Potential employers will likely check your social media accounts, such as Github, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in addition to reviewing your resume, so make sure that you show off the amazing things you are doing. Highlight your accomplishments and demonstrate why you are a valuable asset in the professional world.
The question then becomes: “How can one improve their time estimate skills?”
Debbie: If you persist in executing the same actions, you will observe a gradual improvement in your results. However, my schedule is frequently subject to change, making it difficult to provide an accurate estimate of how long a task will take. To address this challenge, my team and I worked together to decide which team member should be responsible for creating which features. A crucial step in forecasting the duration of a particular task is to subdivide it into smaller, more achievable portions. As your confidence increases, you will also become more comfortable disclosing the true time investment necessary for a given job.
As an individual contributor, what steps should be taken to prepare for a leadership role in a technical team?
Debbie: As the IT leader, it can be a challenge to provide counsel to businesses regarding the most suitable technology solutions for their needs. To be prepared for this task, one must possess a comprehensive knowledge not only of programming, but also of the various frameworks and platforms available and when and why they should be employed.
Furthermore, it is essential to have the ability to provide guidance to others in a manner that encourages them. When individuals are inexperienced and uncertain, what they need most is clear instruction and the assurance of a dependable support system.
When asked about the most difficult engineering project they’ve ever worked on, what was their answer?
Debbie: In order to meet the needs of our sizable customer base, we were tasked with the challenge of constructing a new, one-of-a-kind infrastructure. This was due to the fact that the customer was facing a prominent issue, and did not have the resources to retrain their developers. Therefore, we had to develop something that was easy to understand and use right away. Although this was a daunting task, it provided me with invaluable experience.
If you’ve been named an ambassador for Microsoft, GitHub, or Google, what inspired you to pursue such a role?
Debbie: I find myself struggling with impostor syndrome, which has been exacerbated by the numerous setbacks I have experienced. Due to this, I have been struggling to believe that I am capable of being successful in the role of software development. As a result of this, I have been asking myself the daunting question “Can I reach the goal of becoming a Microsoft MVP by the end of the year?” despite my tendency to become discouraged.
It appears that the most effective course of action to reach my goals is to create a blog and become involved in the online community. However, I must ask myself: what am I really achieving by doing this? The truth is that growth and progress cannot occur without a degree of discomfort, and in this case, it means stepping outside of my comfort zone. Despite being frightened, I am determined to push forward and pursue my ambitions.
When you finally convince yourself that you are worthy of love and acceptance, you may put your hands on her heart.
Making a career change can be a daunting prospect, but obtaining recognition from a prestigious organisation such as Google can be incredibly empowering. It can be reassuring to think, ‘If Google believes I have the skills and knowledge to be successful, then perhaps I do.’ Having such external validation can be a tremendous boost to your self-confidence and can only help you to feel more comfortable and secure in your career transition.
If an engineer is interested in helping out with Nuxt.js, how can they begin?
Debbie: It is important to make a positive impact on the world by offering our support to causes we believe in. For me, I am particularly passionate about documentation and I feel that I could make a meaningful contribution to this area. On the other hand, you may have a different cause that you are passionate about and want to support, in which case, you could also make a valuable contribution.
A common IT industry interview question is, “Who has been your biggest impact in the tech industry?”
Debbie: Sarah Dranser is an exemplary professional and an inspirational figure in the industry. She is a member of the Vue Core team and an employee at Netlify, and her excellence and expertise are unparalleled. Beyond her technical knowledge and skills, what truly sets her apart is her communication and ability to share her work with the world. When I observe her work, I am filled with admiration and motivation to strive for the same level of excellence. Sarah is a role model I can look up to and aspire to emulate.
Any closing remarks?
Debbie: You should never feel restricted by your capabilities as a coder. Everyone has a different learning rate and that is perfectly normal. As someone who learns at a slower pace, I understand the importance of taking your time and enjoying the journey, rather than feeling pressured to keep up with the pace of others. Whenever you feel overwhelmed or unfulfilled, take a break and do something that brings you joy. No matter what your circumstances may be, if you have faith in yourself and your capabilities, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. The sky is the limit!
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