Oct. 24, 2022

Why Not Become An API Developer? (Tips For Aspiring Developers)


There are so many aspiring backend developers that believe that it's IMPOSSIBLE to land a backend role as their first position. It's just not true. This episode aims to provide support, but also realistic expectations of the mindset needed to become a backend developer. Quite frankly, many coding bootcamps are falling short of properly preparing people for these roles.

As a bonus, what started as me wanting to pull as much advice as I could from Rob, for developers aiming for backend roles, turned into a long episode LOADED with advice for all aspiring web developers. I hope this helps!

Rob Dickinsong (guest):
Linkedin - https://www.linkedin.com/in/robfromboulder
Twitter - https://twitter.com/robfromboulder
Website (Data-driven API security) - https://resurface.io
Email - rob@resurface.io

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Transcript

Don Hansen:

Welcome back to another web development podcast episode where we help aspiring developers get jobs and junior developers grow. In this episode, we're focused on helping junior developers just learn some good practices for APIs. Um, I've had a lot of questions come my way. I know sometimes there's either too little of information on good practices, on, you know, learning backend, building good APIs with security or there's too much. It's overwhelming. Everyone has different opinions and so I brought someone on to share you even more opinions, but I think you're gonna find them very valuable. Rob Dickinson, um, has quite a bit of experience in this area. So, uh, Rob, thanks so much for coming on.

Rob Dickinson:

Thanks for having me. So I'm co-founder and CTO at Resurface Labs. And we're a cyber security company that focuses on API security as, um, as, as the real heart of, of what we're doing. And thanks so much for having me. I love talking about this stuff. It's a great time. It's the best time ever to be in tech. Um, it's a great time to be going into, to security, but API security is definitely, you know, a, a subject I'm very passionate about. So always, always glad to have the chance to spread the good. Love

Don Hansen:

it. All right. So I mean, you have quite a bit of experience. I'm gonna challenge you a bit. Uh, you mentioned you kind of like helped some younger people out and men, it sounds like you were mentoring them a little bit, but, um, we're gonna really go back to the fundamentals. So I think sometimes when people think of an api, like a lot of aspiring front end developers still, they'll, you know, build what they have to for the front end and realize there are limitations and there's a lot more, they can build more complexity when you bring in more data. And you mentioned you kind of have experience with some product work. So, you know, typical products are gonna have a front end and backend if it's web based. Um, and so a lot of times when people hear api, they know they have to interact with some api, they send something into a black box and they get something back from a black box. I have no idea what's going on. Right? And so can you kind of just go over some, like, gimme a little bit of a pitch here, Like what the hell is an api, Um, in a way that like a lot of junior developers can understand. Yeah,

Rob Dickinson:

absolutely. So, you know, the, the first thing, the, the first instinct you might have is go to Wikipedia and see what API stands for. And that doesn't help much , no offense to Wikipedia. Um, how, how I really think about, you know, API itself is, is kind of a generic term, unfortunately. There's like language level APIs, there's database APIs, there's all these different kinds of, of concepts where that acronym is used, but, but really how that's getting expressed moving forward. The kinds of APIs that are really driving businesses now and the kinds of APIs that people are talking about when they say things like the API economy are APIs that are being called across a network. So me as a consumer, I'm making a call to Twilio or making a call to SendGrid, or making a call to someone else's remote service to do some work for me. And I'm not doing that using a web browser. I'm using that, I'm doing that using a piece of software. And so that, that software agent that I'm using is making that, that interaction. And where it, where this kind of fits is that again, when you think about how these businesses are operating, you know, we, we've gone from an internet of cat pictures to an internet, which is the actual backbone for these, these digital companies. So we've gone from, you know, using phone calls back in the old. So using websites, you know, I'd go to your website, I'd fill out an order form and that's how I'd do a transaction, right? I'm using a web browser, I'm using your website, maybe I get an email as a receipt. We moved from that to mobile apps, talking to mobile app backends, where really that backend only existed to serve the mobile app to now companies like Twilio and SendGrid are my, some of my favorite examples. Um, but you know, GitHub, best APIs to be, Everybody has these APIs now that are available, but what it really comes down to is you get to write the kind of software that you're excited about and then you get to make remote calls to those other services so that they can do some work on your behalf and you can leverage what they do. So it, it's really an amazing time to be able to write software that kind of mixes and matches and matches up these different services from different providers. And you get to do that with, with your own locus of control and, and for your own fan base and customer base. Um, but that's really the kinds of APIs that we're, that we're talking about here. Um, so those are going over the network. Those are things like REST APIs or GraphQL APIs as their, as their basic, um, protocol. You know, of course there's lots of other kinds, but, but those are the ones that we hear about most often.

Don Hansen:

Yeah. Um, big fan of GraphQL right now. And that's kind of what I'm exploring with one of my recent apps. Um, but I think like a lot of times when aspiring developers, they learn more about APIs, it's, it's more focused on restful, it's more focused on that tradition. Like to me, I, I've always kind of seen that as like the traditional type of api. Um, but it, like you said, it kind of does get confusing cuz when you think of api, sometimes tutorials will just kind of mention it's. You know, uh, like a full stack tutorial will have you build out like a really fundamental basic api. And in that API you're gonna have resolvers or like something, some sort of interaction potentially with the database. If you're saving data, a lot of tutorials won't really have you build a lot of microservices or anything like that. So it's like really simple crud applications and, um, interacting with the database in a really fundamental way. But like, like you said, all these different services, they have different APIs you can connect to. And I even, like, I even recommend like for aspiring front end developers, you don't have to build a backend, you don't have to build an api. There are so many external APIs you can connect to, um, that have so much data. Like I love what you said, It's like you can build, I think the software that you love to build or that you want to build, and you can kind of integrate that into someone, someone else's piece of data or whatever they have that you can interact with. So you kind of just integrate those two. Um,

Rob Dickinson:

Yeah, exactly. And it's really, it's a, it's a decomposition. Of that stack that you see in a lot of coding schools and a lot of introductory literature. Like, I mean, what, what, what everyone wants to show at at the outset is here's all the different layers and here's the database, here's the application layer and here's the UI on top of that. You know, that those standard patterns, and that's all good. Like that's helpful to know. But what we're talking about here is, is some of the more modern variations of that that, that I think are tremendously exciting. You know, if you're not really excited about doing UIs and you really are more of a backend person, great. Go to work for a Twilio or a Send Grid. There is no official client, there is no ui. Right? I mean, the focus of what they're doing is processing those transactions that come in over the wire. Right. And then to, to your point, you, you can go the opposite way too. You can say, if I'm only focused on presentation layer, Then, then great, there's still this amazing variety of backend services out there that I can use and I can mix and match. And so I think that's really fun because to, to me, that sounds like I get to play in the ecosystem based on where I see my strengths are versus I need to, I need to be competent or an expert at all those different layers to actually get something done. Um, you know, as, as you get older, you realize like, nobody masters all those layers. Like maybe you master one, but, but really nobody does, does it all. Like you can be middling good and gets stuff done all the way at the stack, but you're, you're not really gonna master the, the whole thing. So I, I see it as you really get to focus on the, the areas of the stack that appeal to you most and, and really spend your time and energy.

Don Hansen:

I like that. And for this episode, I definitely, so I give this scenario with front end developers that wanna connect with external APIs, but I really want to learn more about, and just get your perspective on how to go about like if an aspiring back end developer or so much that just wants to build out APIs in general for any sort of client, um, I wanna get a feeling for what they should focus on, where they should start some good practices to start with. Right? Um, if you have different recommendations and you wanna branch out of like a kind of a restful pattern, that's fine. I'm open to recommendations. I find that that's a very common pattern that you're gonna see in coding boot camps, et cetera. But yeah. Kind of, I guess I'm gonna ask pretty specific questions, but, um, if someone did want to, like their, maybe they went through this tutorial and they built out like a really fundamental api and they're like, This is really cool. I like processing these transactions. I like being the, the decider of what's gonna happen with this data. Right? Maybe I'm gonna, like, maybe you have ideas come, uh, to your head of like how you wanna handle like, different types of authentication and even potential middleware you wanna build and, um, or you wanna do something else where it connects, uh, with an integration, some other external service. I feel like it's great to get hungry and curious about that kind of stuff, but if people wanna start out with learning APIs on how to build one, can you give any advice on how to go about that? Yeah,

Rob Dickinson:

I, I think the, the best example or the best advice is get your list of favorites together that you would want to emulate, right? So like a lot of artists. , when they're early in their career, they're emulating other artists. They're imitating other artists. And then as they get more confident and they build their own body of work, then they find their own voice. You see that, you know so much in the music industry. For, for example, um, you know, by the time a, by the time a band gets to their third or fourth major album, they've come into their own sound. Like they, they're, they're not sounding like anybody else anymore. They're sounding like them, right? So I think, you know, if this is something that you're excited about, you know, jump, jump right in. I mean, think about the kinds of APIs that you'd like to build. If you're gonna be on the API provider side of this, think about the, the kinds of APIs that you'd like to build. Think about who, who operates in that space or who is similar to that, that, that you might wanna take inspiration from. Go and go splunking through their APIs. Like, look at their API documentation. Try it out. See how it works. , um, that's gonna give you that immediate tactile sense of what are the things that are like natural and yeah, I would do that, versus the things where your, your inner voice is saying like, Well, that seems really hard and that seems really complicated. Why would I do it that way? I, I think I could do it simpler. Um, but I think if you can, there's, so, you know, we're talking about APIs as if this was a new concept, and it is for a lot of people, but the reality is like the API economy is already here. I mean, you know, web traffic on the, on the internet now is actually a small percentage of traffic. Most traffic on the internet, um, that isn't streaming traffic or entertainment related is API traffic, right? So the revolution is already here. So whether you're talking about retail, travel, legal, finance, Tech, any, any operate, any, any sector of operations really. Um, healthcare, aviation, there are APIs available for all those things already. So start with that, right? And, and get your feet wet. Um, and those are, you know, those are generally well documented and you can get in very quickly and, and get a sense of, of what they're all about. You know, those folks have put a lot of energy into making it easy to onboard onto their platforms. So they want you learning their APIs, right? There's nothing, there's nothing black hat about this. It's not like you're hacking into somebody else's, which is actually one of the questions that we hear quite a bit, um, from folks who are getting started. Like, well, if I'm just calling someone api, like, isn't that a hack? Like, no, I mean not, if not, if it's a public facing API that's designed to be called and documented for you, like. Have at it , you know?

Don Hansen:

Right. No, absolutely. Um, you know, there, when I started as a, a developer, there was this, um, it wasn't super public, but it was all over Twitch forms and tons of API developers were using it. But there was this one API that gave like chatter information, et cetera. It was never maintained. It was kind of a broken api. And it was funny to see everyone trying to overcome this brokenness and try to account for it in their application. But it was also fun to try to overcome it and think about, okay, well what other pieces of data can I pull from this application that's going to at least give me more confidence in this semi broken data that's coming through? And so you, you'd have to validate it, but like all these services, they have a lot of different external APIs and it, it's fun to play around with it. I don't think you're. Like, your intentions don't have to be malicious, but it's, it's definitely okay to, to test off the API and try to get certain data back. And like, especially through documentation, they're gonna have different authentication, uh, rules that you need to follow to be able to get that data back. And, um, yeah, I, I don't, I don't know why someone would call it like black hat hacking, that that's like what every is aspiring developer does and they just poke at it and see what they can do with it.

Rob Dickinson:

I, I think one of the things that is a little off putting here that, that I think people wrestle with is the API stuff is great. Like this, this level of collaboration and openness, um, is, is amazing and it's paying all kinds of, of benefits and it doesn't have high capital requirements or high time requirements to get to get into it. Right. But we have actually taken a step backwards in terms of when we were focused on websites and web operations. Those are very tangible and easy, easily accessible. I mean, anyone in your company, your grandma can get on a web browser and go to blahdi blah.com and look at what's there and have an opinion and fill out an order form and did it work right? But as soon as you say we're going, we're going to APIs, those APIs are dark, right? You kind of have to be a developer to understand them. It's very, very difficult if you don't have a development background or a security background. It's very difficult to really have any kind of personal sense of what capability that actually represents. Right? And I think just as humans, it's very hard for us to react to things and care about things and understand the risk of things that we fundamentally can't see. And I think that. That's kind of a cultural element here that's hard to ignore, that we've, we've lost something going from those web operations that were really designed by humans. Now we've got all these APIs and I can empower all these different kinds of software to use these things on my behalf, but it's, it's much, much more difficult to get a sense of what those are. So the quicker you can get across that boundary, and so specifically, you know, whether you're going into cyber security or the development side of this, you know, start using postmen, start using insomnia. Start writing your own scripts that exercise those APIs so that you understand better what the shape of those are. And, and, and that stuff shows up on your screen. Right? Um, but we just have to recognize that for, for the folks without those technical skills, it is really difficult to get a sense of. What the technical folks are actually talking about and managing what kind of risk that represents to the business, what the potentials are, um, in, in a way that that's personal, right? And then unfortunately there's always a certain amount of gatekeeping, that development imposes, right? Um, because there is that, there is that knowledge barrier. Um, so APIs are absolutely the future. And if, if you're, you know, if you're able to take something like insomnia and exercise the GitHub API for example, which is something, you know, that you can, you know, you can learn how to do that in a weekend, um, or less. Um, that's really like the kind of direction that you want to go towards. Um, Even if you're not right prepared to write those APIs, that's fine. Um, focus on the consumption side of it and there are software and tools that like, you know, like Insomnia and Postman, that'll, that'll help you with that.

Don Hansen:

Yeah, that's a really good strategy. So a couple things. You had mentioned a lot of people kind of see it as this there, there's kind of like a curtain in when you aren't used to interacting with an api, you're not really sure like what it means to connect to that api. To try to grab data, to try to update data. And sometimes that can be a little bit intimidating, especially if you're dealing with an external api. And so I want you to correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like a good piece of advice for people that are just like really struggling to understand API stuff, really struggling and they're kind of fearful of interacting with these other APIs. Just build your own, build like a really unified version of it to understand what the hell is happening with my data. And like, I'm sending a request, but what the hell does that look like to them? Right? Um, yeah, like get your hands dirty. You kind of suggested that, um, I feel like you should do that pretty early on. What do you

Rob Dickinson:

think? I, I think the sooner the, the better. And, and the thing is, what's, what's really fun about this is that, again, this is not incredibly capital intensive. You don't have to go to school for this. Um, you know, you, you can, you can grab the low hanging fruit here. Um, you know, you don't have to be an expert coder overnight. There are tons of templates and examples and things that people have blogged about, um, that, that will help you get started. And, and the other thing that you can do is, If you go down that road of, you know, let me build, let me build just a simple API that tells me what the current time is. Right. Or like, whatever that is. Yeah. Um, you know, gives me my favorite Mon Python quote. Um, whatever that is, take, you know, go through the, the learning of that and get the benefits of having learned that. But don't forget the step at the end, which is take, take that experiment and post it as part of your portfolio. Put it on your GitHub profile, put it on your GitLab profile, right? Or publish a video, a walk through, through it on you, like however, is most, you know, most comfortable for you to do that. But, but taking that last step of actually using that as a way to build your portfolio and say, This is what I did. So just share it. And now anytime you're, you're, you're able to reference that in the future, um, folks who, you know, when you're applying to a job or you're looking for a new position, they're gonna check out that. So those social media profiles, looking for the, that evidence of your portfolio, just give it to them. , even if it's only a blog post, or even if it's something, you know, I figured out how to install Kubernetes on Mac Os and I struggled to do that, but here's how I did it. Um, take that, write it up, put it on your GitHub profile, and you'll get SEO traffic to that. You'll get employers looking at that. Um, And you were gonna do that work anyway. Just don't forget to share it at the very end.

Don Hansen:

That's good advice. I mean, I think a lot of, you know, I think it's a misconception. A lot of aspiring developers, they, they feel like, and there is this aspect, they feel like they need to prove themselves that they can do professional work, right? But, I think also a lot of aspiring developers, they put experienced developers on this pedestal, like they're miles ahead of them and know everything and they've mastered everything. And you just being a lowly aspiring developer, all you know how to do is like build out a basic api or you kind of experimented and just set up Kubernetes and you broke everything on your Mac. And like that's, that's what experienced developers do. Like we've all been through this process and that we slowly upgrade and we remember how we did certain things. We remember not to do things this way. Like I think a lot of people are afraid to put it on social media. These projects, they're like, no one's gonna care about these projects. I think that's so far from the truth. And in fact, I've talked to so many hiring managers, they're. Tell me what you're curious about. Like where did you just like completely get lost? I remember one of my managers saying, I think he put it on his portfolio. He is a cto, tons of experience I've interviewed on multiple times in my podcast. And like, he manages a team of like, uh, around a hundred developers or something like that. And he started out with like, he built a mobile app that was a beer coaster just to see if he could get a mobile app on. Um, I think it was, um, for iPhone and like, it wasn't rated super high, but he did get a lot of downloads and he was curious about that. And then he was also curious about building a script for his Xbox. Right? And like a lot of developers are, this is stuff we love. Like what the hell got you into coding? What the hell got you into wanting to build this stuff? This is the kind of stuff I wanna see what motivates you and what you're curious about. And like, that could be a, a little project that you decided to go AOL with, or not aol, but like you took it into an entirely different direction. Tell me about that, what you learn from it. I think more people need to share that kind of stuff on social media. I think it's so cool.

Rob Dickinson:

Yeah. You know, that, that's one of the things about our community that, you know, I, I think is fair to, to critique that there is, that there is that gate keeping aspect sometimes. And that, I mean, the, the fear of that is really real, right? The fear of that, that like, I'm gonna be called out as being a hack, or I'm gonna be called out as not knowing what I'm doing. And, and you, you see, you know, it's, it's like that ongoing joke, but like, you see that at places like Stack Overflow, you know, somebody will post a question and you'll have 10 people to show up about how this question is stupid and why don't you already know that? And like all those kinds of things. But, and, and there's always gonna be that, I think. Um, but, but, but I think. The, the smarter folks, you just kind of get over that. Like, if you're gonna be a standup comic, you're gonna get booed and heckled. If you're gonna be a musician, you're gonna have people telling you. So, like, it's just, you just, you just gotta put yourself out there. And, and the more you do that, the more comfortable with it you'll be. And you'll have those experiences of like, yeah, I posted something and somebody told me I was, you know, a horrible programmer for having that opinion and life went on because Stacked Overflow is in a real place. Um, , you know, But the other, the other thing too is if you're, if you're really, really, um, on the ball, you can actually use that to your advantage. Um, so one of the things that I've, I've done, and this is a trick that a lot of people have used, but when I was at Intel, for example, um, we did this where we basically said, Hey, we're gonna put out these templates and they're not gonna be the greatest templates ever. And you know what? These, these smart cranky people out there, they're gonna be crawling all over themselves to come in here and correct us , because we're in town and we're putting out something that isn't like as perfectly awesome as it could be. Right? And we basically did that and we thought about kind of, you know, some of our community oriented projects. We really thought about driving growth of those projects in that way. Um, get people, if it, if it's, if it's something that gets people stirred up and they want to tell you where they're, where you're wrong and how you could do better, let them, and you just, you, you accept that you, you get to filter again what you choose to listen to and what is actually action. Right? And you're still gonna have the same, There's still gonna be people tell you, you suck and that's fine. Um, but the, the more you're, the more you're going through that process and the more you're comfortable with that process, that's what's gonna build your, your, your own comfort level. That's what's gonna give you that confidence. Because at the end of the day, everyone struggles with this their entire career. I mean, I know people that are, you know, they're, they're, they're in the twilight of their career and they're still waking up and fighting imposter syndrome every, every day. Like people are gonna realize, I don't really know Kubernetes all that well. It's like, Dude, you're fine. Like nobody has 20 years experience in Kubernetes. You're doing fine . Don Hansen: I like that. That's a really, that's a really useful mindset to have and I think building that filter is healthy. And I think over time you'll learn not to attach so much emotion and you'll not, you won't let your, Sometimes it's just insecurities and your confidence of what you could do, but you learn to manage that. And I think managing your emotions when you're getting that feedback is you're gonna get all sorts of feedback as a developer, whether you're on Stack Overflow, which is definitely a bit harsher. You'll be in a community where quite frankly, they're too nice. They're not giving you the feedback that you need. Right. And you're gonna be navigating so much feedback. But, um, I like. I do like that strategy of like kind of not giving the perfect template and getting people to just like really get engaged with the community. That's fantastic. That's actually a really good strategy. Um, but I, I wanna get your opinion on this. I want you to try to be realistic. Maybe you don't have any data or anything like that, but I just wanna poke you with this for people cuz you, like, you talk about, like, we've kind of been diving into this curiosity and if like you, uh, are kind of curious about diving into someone else's documentation, how they do things, I don't wanna do things that way. I'm gonna simplify it. And you're reading that and you're thinking I would do it a different way. Like, to me that's a really good signal. You're like, you might be interested in building out your own api, right? Um, or building or just doubling down and learning more about this. But a lot of people wanna gem and a lot of people are transitioning into tech realistically. Do you feel like there are a lot of job openings for people that wanna dive into building out more APIs or dive into the back end a little bit more? Or do you feel like there are a lot more openings, people should start elsewhere? You know, it's, it's, it's a really good question. Um, I mean, I think, I think it's, it's a great time to be going into whether it's, whether it's, you know, production or consumption of APIs. If you know, if you're, if you're start, especially if you're starting out, because one of the biggest advantages that you have as, as a younger developer is it's easier for you to enter the. With the more lucrative skills that everyone's looking for, that really, like, not, not everyone has mastered and, and can claim a decade of experience. That's kind of why I used the example of Kubernetes, for example. Like so many folks are moving towards Kubernetes. Very few organizations are actually a hundred percent of the way there, and that is gonna take years to unfold still. And when you ask those people what's holding you back, they say, Well, we don't have enough talent. Um, right. And so I, I feel like APIs and cybersecurity, it's exactly the same thing. Um, you know, nobody has 20 years of experience writing GraphQL APIs. It hasn't been around that long. Um, nobody has 20 years of experience in API security because that landscape is not that. So that's what, as a younger person, that's what gives you an edge to, to get in and, and there are real business needs attached to those things. Um, right. When it comes to hiring SQL server developers or COBAL developers or, you know, older style technologies, they already have people in place to do that. And that's where you're gonna be competing against people that, that truly have decades more experience than you. And it's gonna be really hard to catch up. But the best thing about technology is every new technology generation, there's a reset button. And you know, now we're gonna be hiring for Kubernetes. And nobody has more than five years of experience. It's, it, it levels the playing field out. So, so the best thing, and, and the other thing which I think makes it the, the best time to be going into tech is that, you know, you can get a typical Linux laptop, a typical Mac lap, laptop, you know, start with something Unix based and just. Get to it. I mean, an hour a day. Right. Um, of, of learning how to do that. The same way that you would learn the piano or learn how to play racketball or how to coach Little League, which I'm doing right now. Um, , it's like I've played baseball in 20 years, right? But now I'm like helping coach Little League. And so I've gotta, I've gotta put all those skills back together. Um, that's what I mean, like, like, you don't have to say, I'm gonna take a year away from my job and I'm gonna learn this, or I have to go back to school to do this. The, the best people in tech are already doing it, and they're, they're finding ways to, to make more money doing the things that they already love. But if you're naturally curious, you're naturally exercising these things. It's something that you, you like to tinker with, You like to play. Like you're already on that path now. You just need to figure out how to get paid for it, um, for doing it so that you're spending the bulk of your day doing that thing. Um, cuz remember every day you wait to get into the field. Everyone else in the field was learning that day. So get yourself going, get, get some momentum, build that portfolio, figure out what that first gig looks like, and, and make that, make that quick transition. Um, but it doesn't have to be, you know, a hundred thousand dollars in debt or any of these things, you know? I mean, when I was first getting started in technology, like you really had to be at, like, you had to have access to a university lab or you had to have, you know, you had to have significant money to like have a PC at home. Um, and, but now, I mean the, the equipment is cheap. The tutorials are everywhere. All this information is free. Um, You know, So if you can, if you can get that started, if you can start that journey on your own, that's that to me as a hiring manager, like that's my clearest signal, right? Was somebody already curious about this and they're following that path. Those, those are the people that, cuz you're gonna, that's the journey, that's the whole thing, whether you're getting paid for it or not. That's what being in tech is all about. It's being naturally curious about these things. Wanting to, wanting to push yourself to learn. Um, and, and just having fun with that. I mean, if it's fun for you to do that and you enjoy doing that, you're gonna be just fine . Don Hansen: So, um, I have You bring up a lot of good points and I, I kind of want to go, go off on all these tangents and I wanna ask you questions, but. Be conscious of our time. So this is, this is interesting, your mindset. I think I, I think your mindset is very encouraging. Um, and I, I find that a lot of hiring managers do want that curiosity more than most people think. And like you said, it doesn't matter if you've explored it and got paid for it, or you've just explored it. They just want that curiosity and then it's time to figure out how to get paid for it. But like, I guess I'm gonna, I'm gonna toss this your way because a lot of people will listen to you and it sounds like the positions are very open, but there's still a huge number, like majority of people that feel like back end positions, positions focus on API are not junior. That companies don't want to risk a lot of their data. And just even being able to interact with that data on juniors, because like, quite frankly, it takes a while to get really comfortable with security. Um, and you, you do have to dive a little bit deeper into it. And I think it also helps to have more context of interacting with the users and what kind of data you need to serve to those users or other developers. And, you know, um, discovering more quirks as you work more on your product. And I think there is a benefit that comes from experience dealing with data that's important with customers, um, or with other developers. And sometimes you just have your personal projects right to, to start with and you haven't really thought through a lot of the holes that are probably gonna be in your APIs cause you haven't really tested it. So with that said, most people think that it's not junior friendly to get a back end position, first API position first. What do you think about that? I'm, I'm just laughing because I'm, I'm not particularly sure that any aspect of tech is, is really like junior friendly. Um, un unfortunately, uh, I mean a lot of those junior positions have gone overseas and it's something that you have to recognize if you're gonna be in this business, that this is a global marketplace that you are competing in. Right? Um, and when you're working for a big company, um, you, you should have this conversation with yourself. Like, What am I gonna do today that justifies me being here when they, you know, the company could hire three people for what they're paying me overseas that, you know, would, would be my replacements. Like that is the reality of what we are, we are living in. But there's a brighter side to that, which goes directly with what you said, is that the more you're dealing in trusted data and trusted policies, trusted databases, the more, generally speaking, you're, you're working in security as well. Less of that is really the, the instinct is for that to go overseas, right? Compare that with qa, for example. Like qa. You know, we maybe could, we, maybe we could send that overseas and we'd have more warm bodies on it and we'd have more, you know, we'd have more tests executed per unit time and maybe that's a good thing and that's all there is to it. So I think a lot of, a lot of businesses are thinking about that. Like, it doesn't matter what size of business you are anymore, like you're going to have, you're going to have a global footprint in terms of what you're doing. If you have any level of success, you're gonna get to that extremely quickly. . Um, Right. And partly because your competitors are willing to do that, um, and your competitors are willing to, to think to, to, to think that way. Um, so, but, but the good news is that the more you get into that, right, the, the more you're able to climb the ladder. If, if climbing that ladder isn't as easy to get into those things, that is actually a benefit to you long term. Because those are the jobs that are harder to send overseas. Um, Right. Your, your most trusted senior technical people tend to be in the jurisdiction where the, the company was founded originally. Right. Um, and it's not just American companies, European companies, Asian companies. You, you see the same thing, you know, like the bulk of the company is in Germany, but they do a lot of other things all around the world. But like engineering and management is in Germany, or engineering and management is in the us so that's, , you know, But yeah, it is, it is, it's tough to get to that first gig. Um, one, one thing that might be helpful in terms of, of thinking about this, one question I get a lot is, should I, should I, should I do consulting first or should I go after a paid salary first? Like, which of those is easier to do? Um, which of those is more profitable to me and, and on this journey that I'm on, um, my personal opinion is, um, I think contractors, like a lot of people say that's like the cheaper like, or like the safer choice because like you, you can just do something for a while and, and then if you don't like it, you can move on to something else and or then make some arguments around that. It's kind of like rent a house, like you never do as well running as you would if you bought the, the thing, if you're gonna be an employee. Um, When you go after that, that junior employee position versus a contractor position, the companies that you wanna work for, they're gonna be hiring people for a skill second. So let me have the people who can grow, the people who can learn new things, who are on this journey already, they're going to make better employees. If you're hiring contractors, you're hiring pure skill and you're, you're expecting to pay top dollar for that, in my experience. So I think you actually have, so it, you know, if it, if it's a 50 50 either way, I, I would go employee as, as a first, as the first couple gigs. Um, and I don't, it doesn't limit your opportunities at all, in my opinion, to do that. Because at the end of the day, all you need is one employer to say, and you, and you work there a year and you got your first gig and you did this full time, and you've got that experience that you can claim, and that's the hardest stepping stone to get. But you get that knocked out and, and you're off, you'll have lots of opportunities from there that, that you'll be able to, to build towards. Okay.

Don Hansen:

It definitely, like, I definitely hear a lot of experience in your voice, and I think you have a lot of depth of knowledge, especially when it comes to a little bit more senior type positions. And like once you get into security and you're handling some pretty sensitive data, I get the feeling that you want to, like, you're going to close that circle of people that you're going to trust, especially with, uh, a little bit more secure, uh, stuff that needs a little bit more security. That makes sense. But you also, I, I think it's, I guess I wanna ask you this, if. If you are that employee, you had brought up the idea, or if you wanna aim for that full-time employment, you brought up the idea of like it's skill second, you know, con consultation, um, that's, or even a contract position, expect to pay higher so that they're paying for skill. But if you want to actually get onto the team, join the company, it's a little bit more of an aim for where can we take this engineer and how can we help them grow and kind of integrate into like where we wanna build our products. And so it's skill. Second, you can come in with like, you know, humble personality, super curious. You mention like you love, uh, when people are, are curious about these things. You don't need like the super fancy education or degree to learn this stuff. You just need to be curious. There are tutorials out there, you dig into it, you build that crappy Kubernetes set up locally, right? And you talk about it. What, what, what, well, what didn't, But technically speaking, like if you felt like someone. Because I, I do feel like your background is definitely like, highly in, um, cyber security, but I, I want your opinion on this. For a junior developer to get into a backend or API position that's more junior friendly, um, that entry level position, what do you think skill-wise, they need to show what kind of good practices? What would you recommend for like, maybe projects to showcase anything like that?

Rob Dickinson:

Yeah, I mean, definitely in that, in that case, um, you, you don't wanna just purely be a developer. Um, you, you wanna be thinking of going into DevOps role for, for sure. Um, so

Don Hansen:

with, with backend positions, do you feel like, like a lot of Oh, absolutely. With the backend developer, posi, so there are a lot of backend developers that do not deal with a lot of DevOps stuff. Do you still feel like it's worth aiming towards that direction? ? Well,

Rob Dickinson:

the, the, the, the thing is there, you're right there, there are, there are folks that choose to specialize. Um, but those, in my opinion, those folks tend not to do as well over the, the long haul in your career. Because it's kind of like, it's kind of like if you're, if you're only buying stock in one company or two companies, like you will only do as well as that one thing does, right? And so you, you, you wanna be a little careful about tying yourself too tightly to, to one style. And the, the, the writing is on the wall here that, you know, development as a pure play. Like I do nothing but write Python code or I do nothing but write Java, Java code. Um, that is not worth as much on the open market. As someone who can write that code and deploy it to Amazon themselves without having to get an IT person involved. So again, you don't, you can always say, and I think it's very authentic to say, My heart really lives here and I've spent a lot of time and energy honing to where I can, I can, I have expertise in this and I, and I can almost do that without thinking, right? I mean, I, I'm, I'm so good at that. I can just get in and play. And can you pay your bills that way? Yes, absolutely. But if you wanna be in this game for, for the bulk of your career, that the, the more you do that, the less comfortable you're going to. Because eventually you're gonna be back out on the market again, and what you did is gonna be revalued with respect to the current market conditions, um, development and operations with DevOps. I mean, that's been merging together for the last 10 years. It's nothing new and there's nothing about that that's going back the other way. So I would say, you know, if, if you're almost without exception, like if you're a developer and you do DevOps as well, even if you, even if you aren't particularly good at that DevOps part, you are still significantly more valuable than the person who says, No, I'm not really, I don't, I'm not really gonna go there. Right? We all get to choose what we wanna invest in. I think the, the important bit over the span of your career is that you always do have something that you're learning. that you're putting yourself back out there, that you're building those new skills, right? It doesn't matter what direction it is. Um, there's gonna be opportunities all, all around that. The, the people that wither and die are the people that say like, C plus plus is the only language I'm ever gonna use, and I'm a master at that, and that's all I'm gonna do. Um, they get pigeonholed ultimately. Um, so I, I think the, the generalists, you know, even, even if you stink at doing, at, at doing some of those general things, like the fact that you're willing to take it on and learn something about it, it, it makes you, it, it's such in better position to be able to contribute to those efforts. Um, you know, like I might not be an expert on how stuff deploys to a given cloud platform. But I've worked enough with it that I know what it's supposed to look like and if something breaks, I can describe what's happening to someone that knows it better than me and they can fix it. That's a very different posture to be able to take than like, Oh, I don't really know anything about that Terraform stuff. Like, uh, I'm not gonna get into that . I

Don Hansen:

Okay. I, I definitely have something to say to that I just noticed. Um, how much more time do you have actually, yeah, cuz we're getting up to about the end of when we schedule Do you have like 10 to 15 more minutes? Oh yeah, sure. Oh, I think my voice will hold up. Okay. No, I mean, you're doing great. So basically en coding boot camps. Uh, I gotta be careful not to vent. I have so much to say about, about this, but with coding bootcamp, like first of all, my mindset coding boot camp's still your best shot at getting a developer role for the price. A lot of self-taught developers. I love to see them be successful. I love that resources are pushed. I love that more supporters go into it. Um, but quite frankly, a lot of self-taught developers fail. And sometimes it's because, like a lot of people are just transitioning for the money. They don't get curious, They don't explore, they don't take that initiative to try to set up that environment. Like they, they're like, Oh, okay, I'm gonna learn how to build a backend then am I hire. Well, o okay, well why did you learn how to build the back end? Are you trying to serve up some sort of data to users? Do you like, you know, handling those transactions? Like, tell me what you're curious about. Right? And so a lot of people, I think they need to, some people just wanna transition and better their careers, which is great. And, but I think you do need to find that enjoyment, that curiosity, that exploration and that developer that will take that initiative to even learn like, Hey, I kind of recognize this error, uh, with Kubernetes. I don't know exactly what's going on, but you know, I can give some sort of context to at least ping DevOps and say, I think this is in your realm. Right? Um, or correct me if I'm wrong, right, That even alone is more than, quite frankly, a lot of aspiring backend junior developers can do and they're willing to do. And so with coding boot camps, they're spitting out a lot of people. They made a lot of money during the pandemic, opened up tons of remote positions, like they're making a lot of profit for it. I am completely open to that, but the quality is lowered. And for full stack programs that claim that you are going to become a software engineer, a hireable software engineer, they'll literally drop the ball. You'll learn how to build a basic api. You'll learn how to interact with the database with some object relational mapper, um, potential, or just write some basic sql and then you put it on Heroku. That's not an, like, Heroku is a really, really simple solution to set up that pipeline, right? And I think coding boot camps that are SP students where some students have an advantage, they're learning how to put it on Amazon, they're learning how to set it up with, uh, Google Cloud services or you know, like really dive a little bit deeper in actually build some pipe. I think it'd be pretty cool to build some sort of pipeline that at least has, even if you're, you set up get checks to block certain commits if it doesn't like get, uh, certain things aren't accepted or you can even set up a something where it's custom and if your tests fail, it won't push to production, right? It falls back potentially. Like that kind of stuff. I think that's what employers wanna see. And I know coding boot camps, they stop short. And that blend that you're talking about, I think you're really talking about a trend in the industry that explains why so many full stack coding boot camps. Are not getting developers hired in back end positions, it just falls short. And I do see a blend between DevOps and, and backend focus.

Rob Dickinson:

Yeah. A a, absolutely. And I'm, you know, it's, it's been interesting to watch kind of how that code school, you know, code bootcamp, like movement is kind of, um, progressed. Um, and I know a couple people who've gone through programs like that and, and I think, you know, the, the advice that I would give around that is what, what you don't have early on in your career is evidence that you can do the job that you want. That's what you're bumping up against, Right? And there are people who are, you know, hiring managers who are telling you that you don't have it. So there's that external way, but also like internally, like you don't have the confidence yet that you can do it. You don't. Right. A big part of it is just saying, Screw it, man. Yeah. I can do. That's all it is. I can do that. Right. Um, and, and so I, I think like, whether it's a coding boot camp or whether it's a cybersecurity program or you know, somebody getting their masters in cybersecurity or, or anything like that, or somebody who's thinking about on the DevOps side, somebody who's thinking about like getting a certification, like getting their Amazon certification, getting their Azure certification, like it, it's all about what you think you're gonna get out of that. Like, those are great ways of demonstrating your enthusiasm and your curiosity. Right? Those are very tangible, measurable things. You know, I got a certificate in cyber security as part of the journey that I'm on, and I can hold that up and, and, and show that, Right? So, and I, I kind of think about the coding schools as the same way, like. if you've been developing stuff, if you've been self taught and you've hit the limits of what you can do and you want to try to get to the next level, and you also want the reinforcement and the confidence of saying like, Wow, even in this field of people that are thinking like me, like I can actually do this. Like, that's tremendously helpful to like, get you that certification, like get you that experience, right? But I think the idea that you're gonna take someone who's never coded before and six months later, six weeks later or whatever, that they're a software engineer, uh, not really. I mean, you, you wouldn't expect that in music or the arts, for example. You wouldn't say somebody who's never played the piano before, you're gonna come to my piano bootcamp and six weeks later you're gonna be a concert pianist and you're gonna be opening for Taylor Swift. Like, that's probably not going to be happening. Right. But if you've been on that journey the whole time and you're trying to get to that next quantum level, Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's a great way to demonstrate your curiosity. It's a great way to get that experience. It's a great way to build your portfolio. It's a great way to network with other people who are on that same journey. Um, that part I think is all good, but, you know, but the idea that, you know, you're, you're just gonna do, you know, you couldn't learn Spanish in six weeks of most of us. You couldn't learn Russian in six weeks. Are you really gonna learn to speak computer in six weeks? Probably not. Um, but it can be a really good thing to do, and it can, and it can really help you to get to that next level, right? Um, never forget there's a lot of people. That might be at the same level as you, but they don't actually do the thing, right? Like you go to a, you go to a code school, you get your certification, you go through a Master's pro, whatever that looks like, right? You're gonna be one step ahead of the person that said, Yeah, that'd be real. I'd really love to get into cybersecurity. And then you ask them, Well, is it something you're reading about? No, not really. Well, then you're not really that interested in it. . Yeah. And again, that's where it's really gonna show up. And I think that's part of where, you know, again, it's all about what, what you're trying to get out of it. You know, if you're, if you're going through a code school so you can become a contractor and, and compete based on your skills, I think that's, that's, you know, that's an uphill battle. But if you wanna show that as part of the transformation that you're making, you know, I, I, I mean, as a hiring manager myself, I love people. Who are going from one thing to the next thing, and they have a sense of what that is and what it's gonna mean for them. And they don't even know what it translates to in the future yet, but they're super excited to see where this part goes. I mean, those are the, those are the people that come to the, the top of my list, you know, every single time.

Don Hansen:

I, I like that. Um, so I, I think, yeah, you're, you're really honing in on being careful to think like even any certification, any coding bootcamp is gonna get you from A to Z and boom, you're in the industry. And that's just not realistic. And I think it's important to recognize like, the people that are successful and get jobs with coding boot camps, they're usually front loading a lot of information. Then the coding boot camp starts 'em at a higher level, or boot camp is like really fundamental. They graduate and then they're spending the next three to six months like, Building about projects diving in deeper and like if it's a full stack program like you recommend, I think it's amazing advice. Experiment with DevOps a little bit. Get your hands dirty with aws. Right. Um, I think blending, again, DevOps look back and if you're aiming for that API or back composition, I think it's super, I think those are the types of people and when they continue to show that they have curiosity to. Um, get a little bit more general knowledge. You know, they might have their focus, but a little bit more general knowledge that's going to, quite frankly, they're gonna be more valuable to solve business needs. Where like, maybe that company, like if they can hire developers that are super curious, they're gonna figure out the DevOps. They don't necessarily need to hire people in IT, or like specifically DevOps, their backend developers can take ownership of it. Um, but I think kind of like what you're alluding to is like, I think backend developers, API developer, so front end it's, it's is a little bit different and it's a different trajectory. You don't need to learn DevOps stuff at all. It's a, it's a completely different trajectory, but backend, like I, I think that's what's needed. That's what companies. And they want that backend developer that's curious, has a little bit more general knowledge. Cuz all the backend developers that I knew, they did start exploring that more. And they were super knowledgeable about like all the AWS errors that like I had to deal with as a front end developer being on call. And I would, you know, I learned as much as I can, but backend developers, I think they, it's more on them to figure that kind of stuff out. And it, it's expected of them, it pays well when backend developers are curious about that stuff and dive deeper into it. Um, but yeah, I, I think that was just a really good thing to, to emphasize cuz that's a pattern I see happening. And I mentioned coding boot camps cuz that's what my channel's about. I review tons of programs. So I think people are thinking about that. Um, but maybe, maybe my advice for that is like, if you're going to a full stack program, like if they're just setting you up with something like Heroku, I don't think that's enough. And I think I would expect to get a little bit more curious and get your hands dirty with something a little bit more complex like aws. I'm just thinking through some of this stuff as, as you're saying it. Um, with that said, we're just at the end. Um, is there anything like, you can, you can respond to what I just said, um, but is there anything else you wanna share for, like, advice that are for aspiring developers that are like backend developers? They want to get into API stuff. Um, because I think, I think you've been encouraging, but I feel like a lot of people don't feel like that's in their path in the future. Even if they spent like a whole year, whole two years diving at a back end API stuff, DevOps stuff. There's a big consensus that no junior developers are not allowed here. So like, do you have any advice for people that are like, this kind of stuff is exciting. I don't wanna go to front end. I don't wanna have to deal with JavaScript. I don't wanna have to deal with css. Right. Is there any advice for people that do enjoy the back end stuff where they can actually land that position?

Rob Dickinson:

Yeah, absolutely. Just, just just go after it. Um, my dad is an old school power engineer, and when I was first starting getting started in my career, um, he gave me this advice, which is, which is basically something like, um, think of something that you can do in 15 minutes that may, that moves you 15 minutes closer to the project you're trying to build or the whatever it is that you're trying to learn. Or like say, say to yourself like, What, what can I do in 15 minutes? Or What can I do in 30 minutes? Or, What can I do in an hour? And if I can't get it done in an hour, who can I ask to give me the answer about why I'm not getting there as quick as I should be? Right? And so you, if, if you're naturally curious, and, and naturally excited about, about going in this direction. Um, there are, there are lots of, there are lots of steps that you can take to, to do that, but I think the trick is getting out of that mode where it feels like it's overwhelming or something larger than, like, that is your emotional reaction to the scenario. And that's real, but it's not. But, but don't be driven based on that, right? Like sometime, here's an example of that. Um, you, you might hear from someone that they are, uh, a, a, a friend of mine, he's like, he's, he wants to get his cloud certification, this cloud DevOps certification. And he's like, Once I have this certification, then I'll be able to start interviewing for DevOps positions. And I'm like, No, stop. Um, the fact that you're going after that certification right now, Is good enough? Like why would you wait to act? Why would you wait two more months to like get that certification? Like go and interview now and say that you're getting that and you'll have it in two months. Like that. Is it, is it better to already have the certification? Absolutely. But don't wait. It's worse. It's actually worse to even wait. Um, so the, the more you can, you can get on that and the more you can think about, just like, I'm only going to be able to spend 30 minutes on this today. Um, you know, I'm, I'm a cto, I have kids at home. I've got so much other stuff on my plate, like around running the business and all this stuff. And so I'm, I'm literally still doing this, like, like when I sit down at night and I'm like, and I may have an hour of uninterrupted time, and I'm like, Okay, what can I, what magic can I do in the next hour that like gets me closer to what I want to do? And you know, and if I can't, then I'll back off and I'll do something else. Or I'll, that's where I'll start searching on Google and I'll start looking for the answer or that's where I'll start going through my network. Um, I think the more you can actively break that down into very manageable pieces, um, the more it kind of diffuses the fear around that. And also you accomplish something small, it gives you that confidence to wanna accomplish the next thing. Um, and you need that. You need, it's all about your confidence, your imposter syndrome, your fear of gate keeping by the more senior folks like that is ultimately what deters a lot of people from working in this industry. Um, and I think the industry, there's things we could be doing in the industry to make the industry more welcoming. Um, and I think part of that is just acknowledging. That for, for most of us in this field, it, it's a journey of a whole lot of little steps and little things we were able to do and tick off. You know, nobody's born knowing how to do all this stuff. And, and even if you were, the tech's gonna be different in five years and we're beginning the reset button anyway, . Um, and if you're, if you're just in it for the paycheck and you're not naturally curious and you're not naturally having fun, there's even a place for you as it turns out in this whole thing because those, there's a lot of folks who realize, like, I may not, I may not really love software development, but solution engineering or technical sales or technical support or product manage. or project, but like, there's all these other ways to be involved in technology where you can use what you've learned already. So like, I don't really believe that anything you pick up along the way is ever wasted, um, in this, in this field. Right? And can you go into technical sales and compete against the people that never coded a day in their life? Yes, , it's an advantage. You can suck at being co at being a coder, but it still, it still gives you an advantage in, in some of these, these auxiliary functions. So again, that's kind of like that gate keeping aspect, right? Like, like unless you're writing code and c plus plus and you think in terms of STL templates, like you're not a real developer, you're not really in tech. There are lots of ways to be in tech and, and don't, don't be afraid to explore that. And, you know, stay, stay loose, stay limber, you know, don't, don't get too discouraged. . Um, and over time you'll find out the things you're naturally comfortable with and you'll, and then you, as you get a sense of that and you know what you're excited about more, then the easier you can skate to where the puck is gonna be. And the more you can do that, the more, the more you'll, you'll be worth on the open market as well. Um, if you're in this field for long enough, you're gonna have a lot of gigs. So the onus is on you to kind of figure out what your trajectory is, what your path, what you want, your path to look like. Um, and, and you have a lot of fun, a lot of control in, in that process. Um, it's just hard to get going and, and everybody knows that it's, it's universally hard to get going, but that's okay. And believe it or not, there will be people in your network that will, that will sign up to help you, you know, with that all day long. . That's

Don Hansen:

true. Yeah. That's really good advice to end with. I like it. I appreciate that. Um, I, I think, I think curiosity is very interesting and I do think sometimes people get tunnel vision, especially when they wanna transition into tech and there's nothing wrong with transitioning for money, but I don't think software engineering is something everyone is going to enjoy or even make the most amount of money in, depending on like, what they really wanna dive heavily into in tech. Like there are a lot of other positions and be happy. They give you a work life balance, good medical benefits they give you, give you purpose or they, you can specialize more, you can make more money depending on like which profession you're going. Um, I love like you've really beaten down this idea of like, curiosity. Curiosity. What do you like, Find some enjoyment with it. Explore, learn something new. It'll all carry over into eventually, you know, what your career's gonna look like in tech. And I think that's fantastic advice. Um, okay, so with all of that said, um, I definitely enjoyed this conversation. Uh, Rob, if people want to reach out to you and anything else you wanna shout out, where could they reach you? Yeah,

Rob Dickinson:

I'm easy to find online. Um, you can reach me on Twitter. Um, my handle is at Rob from Boulder. Um, also available on, on LinkedIn. You can reach me by email at Rob at resurface io and really encourage that. I mean, if, if you're, you know, if you're curious about how to get started, if you don't feel like you have enough support, um, you know, in getting that first position or getting going in this field, you know, Please reach out. Um, I know people that want to mentor and it's hard, it's hard to find those, those folks, and it's such a meaningful experience to go through to help help someone get started. Um, so any, anything that I can do, um, to, to help somebody on that, I mean, I, you know, I was there too. , we all were. Um, but it's really, it's, it's a great time to be in this field. Um, you know, not just to, not just to have more control over your financial destiny, but in terms of living where you wanna live and doing the kind of work that you want to do. And, um, you know, there's so much empowerment a, around this right now. I mean, it's easy to, it's easy to recommend, you know, going into this, going into this field. Um, and, and I, and I do feel like there is a, there is a legit pot of gold at the end of the rainbow there, you know, for the, for the people. That are, that are willing to go there. Um, it's, it's just hard to get started . Yeah.

Don Hansen:

Yeah. It is. I think a lot of people, I mean that's, that's showing empathy. It, it truly is. It's hard to get started for a lot of people. Um, but there are a lot of people that, we all had those feelings, we all had those insecurities and imposter syndrome and we made it end attack just like anyone else can. So, um, yeah. Fantastic advice. Um, yeah, that's it Rob. Uh, stick around for a couple minutes, but thanks so much for coming

Rob Dickinson:

on. Just see everything. Thanks again for having me. See, just see everything. Just see everything.