[00:00:20] Welcome to the apprenticeship.io podcast, where we gather the courageous leaders, the tech industry needs to talk about education, equity, job hunts, hiring in tech and you guessed it apprenticeships. Whether you're considering a career switch to tech currently studying or working and leading in tech, we hope to show you stories, ideas, and tactics to inspire you and equip you to make the tech industry, and our future together, a more equitable place for all of us. Let's get to know today's guest.
[00:00:50] Kamrin Klauschie: Today's guest is Saron Yitbarek. Saron became an Apprentice Software Developer at thoughtbot in New York after attending Flatiron School in 2013. She's the founder of CodeNewbie, one of the largest and most supportive communities of programmers and people learning to code in the world. She recently graduated from Columbia Business School and is currently the founder of a new startup called Disco.
[00:01:12] This episode was originally recorded in April 2021.
[00:01:15] Welcome to the show, Saron. And I'm so excited to have you.
[00:01:17] Saron Yitbarek: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:19] Kamrin Klauschie: I start the show with the same question for every guest to see where you might wander. And that question is what was the educational upbringing of your childhood? This could be a number of things like schools, people, subjects. Another way to think about it is what memories from your childhood education stuck with you the most?
[00:01:39] Saron Yitbarek: Yeah. I had a great childhood education. So I started in DC public schools which, if I were a grownup maybe was not necessarily the best school, but I really enjoyed my experience there, make great friends. My principal was super engaged and really active in our learnings. So I really enjoy it. And I was competing in the spelling bee. I was third citywide. I was very really proud of my accomplishments, but it wasn't really, until we moved to Maryland and I went to a magnet program for both middle school and high school, that school really kicked my butt and that's one things were really taken up a notch.
[00:02:15] And I think that's when I realized that my DC education actually. Wasn't that great. Because all of a sudden I was being pushed intellectually to new limits. And I was no longer at the top of my class. I was, somewhere in the middle and there were so many more kids who were smarter than me who knew more than me.
[00:02:32] And I just felt like I really had to work hard to keep up and to, hold my own there. So that's my school life. And then at home I grew up in a household where school was the most important thing, absolutely, the most important thing. My parents are both pharmacists. For them, education is everything. Where Ethiopian immigrants came to the U S and I was almost three years old, and for them, education was your ticket. That's how you end up making money. That's how you become a doctor or an engineer or a lawyer.
[00:02:58] And, one of those procedures, careers. And when the kids were doing sleepovers, I was doing math workbooks, and I was the one that was just always, doing problems. Especially with my dad would work nights, so he could take care of me during the day. And for him, studying was really just the most important thing. And so this idea of, education being a priority has been instilled in me ever since I was little. And, I think that the definition of education for me has changed over time.
[00:03:27]When I was growing up, it meant college and immense specifically med school nowadays, bootcamps are a way to learn, which, I did a bootcamp just reading books, Khan Academy, Coursera. There's so many different definitions of education now than there used to be. But either way, some type of learning is always very important to me.
[00:03:45]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:03:45] Totally. Is that where you got the inspiration to initially go down like a health path with your career, just from your parents?
[00:03:53]Saron Yitbarek: [00:03:53] Yeah. Yes, because they were pharmacists. I remember, my mom said, Hey, if you want to go into health, I can advise you, I can help you out. I understand that, industry, if you are to do something else, you're on your own. And she didn't mean it in a mean way. She was just like, I just don't know what else is out there. I don't know what other careers you could have. So I can't, I'm of no use. You're going to have to figure it out on your own. And I was very adamantly against being a doctor until my dad took me to this.
[00:04:19] Event. It was I think it was a movie screening by this Ethiopian doctor who was studying AIDS and she was doing she's basically doing these media production projects where she was trying to help tell stories about AIDS and just create more awareness. Of the issues specifically in Ethiopia. And I went to this event and I swear, she looked just like me, we had the same bone structure and facial shape. And I said to myself, Oh my God, I can see myself being her. I want to be just like that. And the way she commanded the room and held people's attention and how intelligent she was and how smart she was and, looking back I'm very sure my dad did that on purpose.
[00:05:04]I think that was his strategy and it totally worked and it totally got me really excited about medicine. And then when I actually shadowed a doctor very late in my undergrad career, I realized that what I liked about medicine wasn't so much the people interaction. It was more of understanding the chemical reactions and how science actually works.
[00:05:26] And I felt if you're not excited about visiting patients and really helping save lives and you probably shouldn't be a doctor. And so I decided to move on to something different.
[00:05:35]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:05:35] That's so interesting that you shadowed a doctor. I, so I shadowed a doctor. My mom got diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was in high school and I was very similarly obsessed with the idea of oncology. And so I got to see in what was otherwise like very depressing circumstances, like the scenes of what a career actually looks like and had a similar reaction more in, in terms of like similar to how I feel about computer science, which is I felt becoming a doctor requires a lot of studies that I was not interested in like chem and a number of others. Sounds like that's your strength.
[00:06:12]Saron Yitbarek: [00:06:12] Yeah. Yeah. I w I wouldn't say it was my strength. I would say I was very excited to tackle it. It was very painful, but I felt like a God afterwards. I felt amazing tackling it, but no, it was very interesting.
[00:06:26] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:06:26] Is that how you feel when you're programming as well?
[00:06:29]We talked about this before, but I'm wanting to say that the listeners, like your story, I think is documented very well online in terms of like your journey in bootcamp and the inspiration of the Steve jobs book, like really giving you. The path that like spoke to you in terms of seeing yourself in technology. And so really encourage folks to look at interviews that you've done already. And my goal here is to uncover some new stories and some new things about you. So I wanted to ask I think there's probably a lot of folks who admire you and want to like, deconstruct what you've done to apply it to their own life. And so they're probably trying to like reverse engineer, how you got to where you are. And I'm curious, like what about your journey? Do you feel like people miss that's not on social media? What do people not realize or see the actually makes you who you are? I can give an example of like my life so that this comes to life a little bit more.
[00:07:24]My parents got divorced when I was five and a lot of people know that if they get to know me as a person, I think that's like more common for folks from our generation to have divorced parents. But the thing that made me really special in light of the divorce was I had to switch back and forth between houses every other day for my entire Mondays and Wednesdays was my dad Tuesdays and Thursdays with my mom. And then now I make my home wherever I go. And it's like very surprising to folks how much I travel and being a digital nomad and that kind of thing. And I think when you dig into my like early childhood, that was very built in from the beginning and it's like pretty unique to me. Is there anything similar to that for you where it's it's super unique and most people don't realize it, but it makes you who you are and defines your journey?
[00:08:13]Saron Yitbarek: [00:08:13] Yeah. I think for me, the magnet program. The middle school and high school education I got has played an incredible role in my career most. Very honestly, most of the skills that I have today, I learned in middle school and high school. Most of the skills that I use on a daily basis, the speaking, the audio editing, the writing, the communication skills, all those things. I did not learn that in undergrad.
[00:08:43] I just finished my MBA did not learn that in graduate school. I learned most of the skills that got me to where I am in middle school and high school. I went to an absolutely exceptional program, one of the best in our County. I went to school in Montgomery County, which is already one of the best in the nation. We learned communication skills.
[00:09:01]When I graduated, I remember thinking, I wish I was in the tech program. There are two magnet programs. There's our program, which is media communications, language arts, humanities, and then there was the the technology program, science and technology where they did like robots and computer science and hardware and biology, chem, like they did more of the STEM stuff. And I'm thinking, Oh, the STEM stuff would have been so much more applicable to a career. It would've been so helpful, especially nowadays as a developer. But I think that focusing on those communication skills, learning how to edit video, how to produce a movie. I was on the the school newspaper, and we took that very seriously. We did really hardcore, we consider to be very hardcore reporting and, and we wrote articles on a weekly basis and it was very harshly graded, and most, just most of what I know, and most of what I use comes from a very strong writing and communication background and I learned that many years ago.
[00:09:56]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:09:56] Yeah, that shows through, I think in big ways. The source of it is super interesting. So it was actually quite young for you. I feel very similarly that college for me was not challenging, and that high school is actually where I developed all of my major core skills. That's super interesting. I think it'll resonate for a lot of people as well, related to what you're talking about with the definition of education today has changed pretty dramatically. It's not just what you learned from a book anymore, and thank God for that. We gotta get back to a place where education is very broad.
[00:10:28]Saron Yitbarek: [00:10:28] Absolutely.
[00:10:29]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:10:29] It seems to me like it's been pretty natural to you to have this very interdisciplinary career and that to me is really fascinating. It seems like you're able to, and maybe this is just me, seeing everything that you do and seeing how confident you are, but it seems like you follow your passions and set out to see how much you can achieve rather than doing things as people expect. An example would be, some people might say you should only have one podcast, but you like do a bunch of really awesome podcasts, or you should work at one company at a time, but you've worked at many companies. How do you approach prioritizing and picking the projects that are worth your time and effort? How do you think about managing and growing a career at the intersection of so many interesting things?
[00:11:17]Saron Yitbarek: [00:11:17] Yeah, that's a great question. I think that for me, in terms of, picking things, I'm very bad at doing things I don't like doing. That's one of my biggest weaknesses. If I don't want to do it all, man, I just really struggle. To me, enjoying what I do is very important to me, so in general I pick projects and do things that I like to do. And fortunately, most things that have come my way I have wanted to do, so it just worked out that way. I think that, a big part of it is also just valuing time and just, literally how much does it pay? There's some things that are worth doing for free and others that require a much higher fee. So I think part of it is just a very practical question of how much are you paying me and is that worth the time I'm giving you? Those are probably the two main things. When it comes down to how to craft a career and kind of put that together, I think for me the two biggest things are saying, yes. I know that, these days I see on Twitter, learn to say no for me, it's saying yes has gotten me where I am. It's people. For example, is Command Line Heroes, the podcast that I host with Red Hat, that was a random email I got from a producer who said, "Hey, we're doing this show. We know you. We think you do great. We'd love to have you as a host." And I was like, Oh yeah, that sounds awesome.
[00:12:32]I don't really know what that means or, what the responsibilities are, but yeah, it was another show for me, it's been saying yes, a lot, very frequently and saying yes to things that are new. And I find new generally to be just very exciting. I don't really, I don't get scared of new things.
[00:12:48] I just find it fun to try something new that I haven't done before. So for me, it's been all about saying yes in unknown circumstances. And I think along with that is is just being very open about my adventure. I think that putting myself out there tweeting about, what I'm trying that's new, my accomplishments, my goals. I think the more you put yourself out there, the more people go, Oh, didn't Kamrin say that she was interested... oh, I have an opportunity, and people can link you to things if they know what you're looking for. Because if you just stay quiet and no one knows your dreams then no one knows how to help you get there. They don't even know to think of you for those opportunities. So I think just being very vocal and being very loud on Twitter. Now I have a decent following, but even when I had hundreds of followers, I was still tweeting the same thing, I was still like, Oh, look, I tried this new thing. I wrote this new blog post. And just putting myself out there has been has been a really big part of my career.
[00:13:42] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:13:42] That's awesome. So it sounds like it's a kind of growing magnetism. I talk about this with candidates who I work with all the time as a career coach is you have to be known for something so that people can send opportunity your way, so that resonates a lot with me. You touched on the idea of how you manage finances or how you manage being able to support yourself as a creator. One of the things I'm amazed by today is how, especially in technology, people make it seem like it's low costs and it is getting much cheaper and more available and accessible for folks to create. But I still think that in order to become profitable and be able to support yourself, it takes a long time. Have you ever like financially struggled in your career as a creator and how do you manage for yourself, like I'm passionate about this and I also have to make money off of it? How do you prioritize those two?
[00:14:36]Saron Yitbarek: [00:14:36] Yeah. I don't know if I've ever, or even if I do currently see myself as a creator, I think I've always seen myself as a Community Manager and then CodeNewbie became a media company. And we started creating products, I ended up having not a lot, a couple of employees, people who helped out and worked on our projects.
[00:14:58]When I think of a creator, I think of someone who is taking their passion and turning it into a revenue stream. I've never looked at anything I've done as doing it for me. I've always thought of it as doing it for other people. When I do a show it's satisfying in that, I did a show, I did a good job and that feels good, but ultimately it's not necessarily taking a passion of mine and turning it into money. It's creating a product that other people can make use of that. I figured out how to make money from. Do you see what I mean? Like the distinction there. And so that's the way I look at it. And so in, in that respect, yeah, definitely struggled with CodeNewbie. I did CodeNewbie on the side for three years, then I quit my job to do it full time for another three years. And that first year I was like, man, we're not making a lot. I got to look at our revenue at the end of the year or like our projected revenue the end of the year. Luckily my husband was working, we didn't have any expenses, so it didn't hurt us. But compared to the salary I was getting, it did not compare. For that to change, we just made some really smart business decisions. We went to a conference, a podcast conference called podcast movement, and I learned about this thing called ad insertion. It's also called dynamic advertising. It basically says that you have one ad and it gets inserted into a number of podcasts or a number of TV shows, that sort of thing. What ad insertion meant for us is that instead of monetizing one episode at a time, I can monetize my entire backlog of episodes.
[00:16:34]In a given week, what we learned from our data is that half of the downloads we get in a week come from the backlog. It comes from the long tail of hundreds of episodes that we've done over the years. What I was able to do is essentially write a script that said, take this advertisement, break up all of our past interviews into three segments, insert this ad in all of our podcasts episodes, all 200 of them, and now I get to charge sponsors for all of that ad time. That literally doubled our revenue overnight. Literally overnight. We made twice as much revenue as we had, and that was because we went to a conference that taught us about this new concept that we never heard of before. So that was huge.
[00:17:18]The other thing that we did that really changed things is, as the the primary person on the team, I'm also the sales person, right? So I would talk to advertisers. I talked to sponsors. What I realized is that when you talk to the marketing team of a tech company, it's very different from talking to the sales team of a media company because media companies and advertising companies speak in terms of CPM, they speak in terms of cost per thousand downloads, views, impressions, et cetera. With marketing teams, tech companies, they don't talk in CPMs. I ended up doing a lot of frankly, educating of saying, this is how we charge. This is what this means. What I realize is that they don't care about a per download number, the way they look at it. They have a budget of how much they want to spend, and they will look at what value you bring. They are willing to spend that amount of budget. And that budget was generally higher than what an advertising company would value it as. They just they valued it more. They cared more. I was able to increase my rates to match their marketing budget, that increased our sales again. Between doing better job in individual pricing, and making money off of the backlog, I think we quadrupled our revenue in the matter of weeks. It was incredible. I think the lesson there is always look for more information. I think that us going to that podcast conference. We didn't have an agenda when we went, we were just there to listen to observe, to take down notes, to just learn. Always be learning about your industry. Always be learning about your craft, take notes, steal from other people's ideas. In terms of doing business, look for not just how your industry does business, but how the specific person on the other side of the table thinks about their money and how they do business. If what you were doing matches what they do want to make the sale a lot easier. You might end up making more money than you expect.
[00:19:12]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:19:12] Yeah, I hear a lot there. Don't be afraid to sell yourself and to sell your value, because I think a lot of people get a little bit shy and afraid about the sales process, but I tend to think of it as the transfer of enthusiasm. And that's one thing that stands out for me about you completely is you're just full of enthusiasm. I think folks can take that from you. It goes a long way, if you show up authentically and are enthusiastic about what you're doing. I'm curious to dig in how you originally learned about the apprenticeship at thoughtbot. Did you know what an apprenticeship was when you did it?
[00:19:50]Saron Yitbarek: [00:19:50] I could guess that it was almost like getting training for a job. I think I always understood an apprenticeship to be a bigger commitment than an internship or an internship was you'll be here for a couple months, see you later, and apprenticeship was more of, we're going to invest time in you with the expectation that you will be brought on board and leveled up to be a contributing team member. That's basically my apprenticeship was. I got connected to it because I graduated from the flat iron school and I met trace wax who at the time was, I think his title was managing developer director. I don't know what his title was, but he was he was one of the lead people in the New York office for thought bot.
[00:20:30]I met him during our science fairs. We had the science fair, where everyone presents their apps that they're building. We just connected, we just clicked and I remember very vividly, he wanted to give me a thought bot t-shirt, but he didn't have any in my size. And he only had a three XL t-shirt and I remember he was very embarrassed about it and he was very flustered, and I said, no, man, this is a great, this is a great pajama, I'll take those for some pajamas. I think I still have that three XL, a thought bot shirt that he gave me, eight, nine years ago now.
[00:21:02] When I interviewed, I think they were a little bit concerned that I wasn't quite ready. With the apprenticeship, the idea was you do it for four months, you level up and then you are ready to be essentially a consulting developer, right? So you're not a junior developer, there's no concept of a junior developer or an early career developer. There were no levels. Everyone was a developer, and the expectation is that you are able to provide expertise and knowledge because you were the people the client is paying for to help them build software.
[00:21:36]Consulting is, it's just a different game. My apprenticeship frankly, was really freaking hard. Any of my other jobs, I'd worked for eight hours, I'd come home and I'd have enough energy to work another eight on a side project or do something else. I remember when I did that apprenticeship, I got home at, seven, 8:00 PM and I was wiped out. My head hurt. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just want to turn on TV and just veg out. It was so just cognitively stressful and just really hard. I did get a job offer at the end of that, which was tricky because they had a hiring freeze right before they offered me that job. They had a hiring freeze for a month. During that month, I was like, Oh man I'm not going to get this job. I need to start interviewing. I started interviewing at all these other companies around that time. I got the job offer from thought bot, I also got a job offer from Microsoft for a totally different position.
[00:22:25]I basically had to make the decision of, do I want to continue down this road of being a developer or do I want to do something different still in technology, but not actually coding? I felt like the Microsoft position was just too unique to pass up.
[00:22:38]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:22:38] That is amazing. Oh my gosh. The thing that you were saying that stood out to me, it was the idea that like coming home and just like begging out and like just not being able to handle anything else. I think that is such a common experience for folks across bootcamp and across apprenticeship and just being a junior engineer in general building up that muscle and that like brain capacity to handle as much as you're having to handle in terms of reading code, like interacting with people.
[00:23:09] It's a very demanding job. And I think one of the best advice that I saw you give from I think it might've been the Career Karma interview, was just don't go into this with the expectation that it's going to be easy, go into it with the expectation that this is going to be really hard. So when it's hard, you don't give yourself so much shit about it because you're doing the hard thing. And so if it feels hard, that's actually what it's supposed to feel like. It's not your fault. I think so many people like default to this idea that it's their fault or something's wrong with them.
[00:23:39] Saron Yitbarek: [00:23:39] A hundred percent. Coding is the hardest thing I've ever done by far. It is so hard. And I'm not going to say it is, hard, like it is different levels of hard for different people. For me, it was very hard. And I'm someone who, like I said, I went to a magnet school. I studied organic chemistry.
[00:23:56] I'm a biochemistry researcher. I've been published in DNA detection methodologies, like I've done hard things. Coding is the hardest thing I've ever done by far to this day, the hardest thing I've built, a company sold a company. It is the hardest thing. If it is hard for you, it's okay. It's hard for me too.
[00:24:15]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:24:15] I think one of the things that makes it extra hard too, and I'd be curious, what you think about this is so many companies treat it like it's sprint. Like you have to just like very quickly achieve things. And I think there's a lot of pressure to just ship more and more stuff. But the more that I'm in the space, the more that I realize it reminds me a lot of running a marathon where it's you have to really know the whole code base. You have to know like how your decisions are going to impact other people. There's all these things that are like bigger picture stuff that I think as you become more senior, you start to lift up and see that horizon.
[00:24:48] But in the meantime, you're just like on this hustle to just make something that's valuable. I have to contribute in some way. I feel like so much of it is that little incremental stuff and just trying to collect all the little wins, but you don't really ever have that time to okay, Oh my gosh, this is like something that I need to be able to do over a longer period of time and that it shouldn't just burn me out every single every single day.
[00:25:12]Saron Yitbarek: [00:25:12] I think that if you're in a healthy work environment with tech leads managers, a CTO that understands that it should not be a sprint, or maybe it's a sprint on occasion, we all have those weeks where things just gotta get done features gotta be pushed and, and maybe that happens.
[00:25:28] But overall, ideally you're in a workplace that understands that it is a marathon and they're able to give you that space and they're able to let you grow, take breaks when you need to and go at a steady pace. And I think that we're tech, especially, startup tech gets a bad reputation is we're always sprinting, just constantly sprinting. It doesn't have to be that way. I think we are moving towards a healthier work mindset.
[00:25:54] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:25:54] I'm seeing pop up too about four day work weeks. I would not be surprised in any way if that makes, especially folks that have to do such demanding thought work, that it makes you more productive, more rest.
[00:26:08]Saron Yitbarek: [00:26:08] Yeah, absolutely.
[00:26:09] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:26:09] It'll be interesting to see how things like that, evolve over time, our definitions of productivity. So you've also written recently about your hypomania and being diagnosed bipolar. I had a boss very early on he was also diagnosed bipolar and I'm pretty familiar with the day-to-day realities and struggles from my time collaborating with her. And I also can say that I had a phase after leaving a startup where I was struggling with like passive suicidal ideations and was really like deep in depression in ways that had previously never encountered before.
[00:26:50]And I think for me, I really struggled to admit it or to talk about it because I didn't want anyone to overreact or to make it into more than what it was. I read some of the work that you've put out about this recently, and I deeply empathize with it because I felt the idea that it's passive and it's not an active thing for you is so important and we don't really have a lot of language around this or we don't see it in media necessarily very often. There's not like a lot of knowledge in like culture and people who know what to do. How are you managing your mental health today?
[00:27:30]Saron Yitbarek: [00:27:30] Yeah, I manage it through drugs. Drugs are awesome. It's amazing to me that I spent a year, suffering on my own, just refuse to get on medication. The thing with bipolar is some months you think you're doing great, right? And then you realize you're just being manic and then all of a sudden you're super depressed for another three months and you think, nothing's changed and then, time passes and all of a sudden you're doing great and you're like, ha I beat you. You just go on this very amazing rollercoaster of a ride for a year.
[00:27:59]At the end of that, I was like, I think I'm tired of this. I think that this isn't just going to go away. In my situation, my idea of managing it was eating better. Lifting weights, exercising regularly, sleeping regularly. I did all the things they tell you to do when they talk about mental health and I think it helps. I think some of it did bring it under control to a certain extent, but it really wasn't until I got on medication that things actually improved. I remember very vividly, we were in San Diego at the time. We were driving to San Francisco.
[00:28:29]I remember my husband, who is the sweetest, kindest, most loving man in the universe said something to me that could be mistaken for something mean if you want to look at it that way, you can totally read into it, or you can just take it at face value and just move on. I remember hearing that and me thinking, huh? I could get really mad right now, but I'm not going to, I'm going to treat this like a normal person and I'm going to just have a conversation back. It was this really interesting fork in the road that I never experienced before, where I felt like I had a choice of how I could react and that was the first day that I had taken my medication. And I remember thinking, Oh my God, this is incredible. I don't have to be angry right now. I don't have to go off the rails and shout and be angry, like I can choose how I respond and I'm going to choose to respond with patience.
[00:29:27]I'm just going to have a conversation, a normal conversation back, and that was when it just changed my world. It just, it really hit me how powerful that could be. So that's my primary thing. Besides that, I try to eat while I sleep very well. I sleep at least eight hours a night. Sometimes I sleep too much.
[00:29:41]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:29:41] Yeah. I'm really glad to hear you encourage that. You touched on something there that I think is wisdom from... for me, I think of Victor Frankel, where he talks about like the space between stimulus and response is a space. The more you can occupy that space, that's from the book Man's Search for Meaning. That's something that I have only discovered as I have approached and gotten into my thirties. In my earlier years did not have so much sense of Oh, the space. It's a sacred place, especially at work. Do not send that immediate response Slack message that's like across the entire company... comes with time.
[00:30:21]That's awesome. I want to stay here a little bit longer. I think what I would want to dig into is when you're in a really dark place and you're maybe trying to find your way out, we've talked about drugs, therapy or professional support. How have you been able to go from a place where, it's a pretty scary place, when you feel like you don't have anything left that you can give or that there's any anything that you want to see maybe more or to witness or to experience. How have you been able to bring yourself back?
[00:30:55]Saron Yitbarek: [00:30:55] Yeah, to me, the first step is figuring out. What is the broken thing? Is it my feelings or my mind? If it's my feelings, we can work with that. If I'm depressed because something happened or I learned something or I thought of something and there is some type of logical end point to that feeling. We can work with that. We can talk it through, for me, it's all about talking it through and really digging and digging until we get to the bottom of it. I've learned that almost all of my negative feelings come down to my very deep Daddy issues. No matter what the feeling is always comes back to him.
[00:31:30]For me it's really just talking it through and just trying to get to the source of the problem. Once I get there, I can usually break out of it. For me, getting to the bottom of things is very important. Sometimes it'll take many hours. It'll take me talking to myself, me writing my feelings out loud, mostly me talking to my husband. But that is the solve. If the thing that is broken is my mind, I haven't found a good solution for that. I've tried meditation. I don't like meditation. I don't get it.
[00:31:58] The idea of just sitting quietly is very hard for me. I'm very in awe of people who do it. I find it incredibly boring. I've tried yoga. I think yoga is really boring. I've done it. Don't like it. I have tried gratitude journals, but for me to do something like a gratitude journal, I have to already be in a good mood, if I'm depressed and hating my life, I have nothing to be grateful for in that moment. That kind of works in a certain context only. So when I get really deep really deep into it and, I recognize it as depression that is beyond logic, I just go to sleep. That's really my solution. I curl up in bed. I put on some Netflix, I fall asleep and I just wait it out.
[00:32:40]That's the only solution that my husband and I have figured out works is just to wait out the storm, and if I'm asleep, I don't have to feel sad because I'm asleep. I think that is a huge privilege that because I work for myself because I'm my own company. If I get really depressed on a Wednesday at 11:00 AM, I can go take a nap. Things are just so much harder for everyone else who, you just gotta power through. For me, one thing also I learned about myself is that work is a very effective distraction, specifically collaborative work.
[00:33:11]My husband and I have said for years, why is this an issue now? This doesn't seem to be an issue when I'm in meetings? I never struggled to get through a meeting, but there've been so many times where I was super depressed in tears right before meeting, I go into the meeting, I'm chipper, I'm happy. I'm doing a thing, meeting ends I'm back in tears. And we're like, what happened in that one hour meeting? Like why was that so different? When I'm doing collaborative work, when I feel like I have to present, when I feel like I have to perform, for some reason, I snap out of it. For me, work has been a very productive, I don't know if the word is distraction, but has been a really effective way to manage and deal with it.
[00:33:51]Which frankly, can make entrepreneurship hard cause entrepreneurship you're largely alone. You're by yourself and you have to figure things out. There's ample opportunity to get really down on yourself. When I was working a regular job, work was a very good management strategy for me.
[00:34:04]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:34:04] I think it's, at least for me, it's very gratifying, relieving to hear someone, who I admire... I think a lot of folks probably listening really deeply admire you... hear you advocate for just resting, like just take a break and sleep. Because I think, people imagine that you just have to go all the time and rest can be a radical or revolutionary act that, something you deserve and can claim for yourself. I am a big sleeper. I come from a family of sleepers and it's awesome to know that you are getting, and you're still also successful. Those two things can be in congruence with each other.
[00:34:39]Saron Yitbarek: [00:34:39] Yeah. When I was an undergrad I got no sleep, especially being pre-med. I took 21 credits for three out of the four years. I took summer classes. I took winter classes. I was just always studying, always doing something academic and I got no sleep. I pulled so many all-nighters I brought a pillow in my car and slept at the library. I was all in, in a very unhealthy way. Nowadays my body's nope, not doing that. I've tried pulling all nighters. My body just won't let me do it. It's look, we've given you four years of, abusing us and you like, you're going to go to sleep.
[00:35:14] So it's not even a choice anymore. If I'm tired, I can't get my eyes open, which if I don't get my eight hours, I just can't be productive. I have no choice. It's not even a decision. It's just my body telling me that, Hey, I need to rest and I'm not going to let you get away with your energy shots and your cups of coffee. You just need to go to sleep. It's my, body's the boss and I just. I just obey.
[00:35:35]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:35:35] I love it. Everybody's got to get their sleep in tonight, tomorrow.
[00:35:40]Saron Yitbarek: [00:35:40] Yep. It'll catch up with you. Maybe it's years down the line, but your body will not let you do that to itself.
[00:35:46]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:35:46] Definitely. You started touching on, you're in this entrepreneurial phase now with Disco and it's early stage. We won't talk about the product direction, but I'm curious, in light of what you shared about really building community with CodeNewbie, what are you trying to create for yourself and for others with this new company?
[00:36:06]Saron Yitbarek: [00:36:06] Yeah. Yeah. I think for me, what I've always been trying to get people to is to reach their highest potential. To be honest, it's not even really community as an end game. Community is a very powerful way to move ourselves and each other forward.
[00:36:29]I really believe that we can get much further together than we can on our own solo journey. It's we've made a friend now we can learn from that friend and we can make that friend better. We can improve. It's really about this journey of self-improvement and self-actualization that I'm passionate about.
[00:36:46]With this company, and if I have another company, I think I'll still be in the same space of my goal is to get you as far as you want to go. And that might be education for me. It's always been my career has always been the most important thing to me. So for me, if you ask me, what's my potential, it's definitely a career for other people. It might be a certain amount of money they want to have in the bank a certain year or age. They want to retire. Good health might be their potential. But I think what I've always cared about is helping you become the best version of yourself you can become.
[00:37:20]The way I've always focused on that has always been career. Career is just another way of saying money, if we're being honest. Money is freedom at the end of the day. It comes down to freedom. Money can buy you health. It can buy you time, right? You can get your time back. If you have money to pay a cleaner, to clean your apartment, that's two hours of your life you just got back and you paid for that. If it comes down to your education, money obviously pays for education. Financial freedom is a big part of that story.
[00:37:47]Whatever it is I end up doing with this company, with future companies, focusing on people's ability to maximize their their net worth, maximize their career potential, their professional development, those are all things that are really important to me. Absolutely.
[00:38:05]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:38:05] This might be a little bit selfish on my part, but very curious to hear your answer to this.
[00:38:11]Saron Yitbarek: [00:38:11] I'm excited. I have no idea what you're going to say. All right. Let's do it.
[00:38:13] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:38:13] Do you listen to your family and friends for entrepreneurial and career advice? Why or why not?
[00:38:21]Saron Yitbarek: [00:38:21] Oh, that's an interesting question. Family. Not really. There's this book that I highly recommend. I've read it at least four or five times called The Mom Test. And it's a guide on user interviews. So it basically helps you do user interviews, which you should absolutely do if you're building a product or a business.
[00:38:38] And the idea behind the mom test and why it's called the mom test is because if you tell your mom your idea, because she loves you and she wants to support you, no matter how terrible your idea is, she's going to go, Oh my God, it's amazing. So basically you want to design a user interview where even your mom can't lie to you.
[00:38:55]My mom does not have that problem. If I tell my mom an idea, she very kindly very sweetly rip it apart. She will make me tell her why it's better than the existing solutions. I definitely not so much get her advice, but definitely get her perspective and use her feedback to find the holes in what I'm doing. She's been a really effective resource in that respect. The rest of my family, I don't come from a family of entrepreneurs, I don't really think there's much they can add. But friends for sure. I have a standing weekly call with one of my friends who used to have a couple of businesses, she's an amazing product designer. We talk, we've had a standing call every Sunday for the last eight years. Every week we have one hour conversation. We talk at least once a week, have one hour conversation about my business, her business. I get a lot of great advice from her. I have another standing meeting with one of my best friends in London, who's actually a business partner of my husband. They are our co-founders. They work on a company called the Story Graph which is a GoodReads competitor. It's doing very well. She and I meet for at least an hour in exchange founder stories, and we've had a standing meeting for every Sunday morning for the last four or five years.
[00:40:10]I definitely use my friends and I'm very lucky to have a group of friends that are, if not, entrepreneurs, are very entrepreneurial, and who are in tech and in the startup world who can provide just really good feedback and guidance. I definitely leverage my close social circle to help me build really anything. I build not just businesses, but any type of thing I'm working on.
[00:40:31]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:40:31] This is really interesting. I think there's a lot of complexity here that people don't necessarily appreciate every single time because with family, it can be what your TA you were touching on a bit, which is it can either be overwhelmingly enthusiastic in ways that are not helpful. Yeah. And also be like very overly critical and yeah, like long time ago and Whoa, where did that come from? Like breaking you down in ways that are also like equally unnecessary. Yeah. Yeah. I think for me, at least it's been very hard to know, like who should I trust? Who can I trust to offer a perspective? Like what you were saying with your mom's perspective? Not only that I think is something you respect as an individual, but also maybe it's in context, it sounds like the relationships that you've built have so much context you've experienced over time. And I can only imagine how, that's incredible eight years.
[00:41:30]Saron Yitbarek: [00:41:30] It's called Kim and Saron talking shit and it's been on the calendar for eight years. One thing I've learned I think that you said, people want to reverse engineer my career. I'm constantly trying to reverse engineer everyone else's success. Constantly. I read tons of startup books and, the origin stories of all the big tech companies and How I Built This is one of my favorite podcasts. I'm constantly trying to build a blueprint or find a blueprint of how to do this. I've learned after many years of going on this journey that no one knows my business more than me. There might be a couple of experts in the world that can advise on very specific things. No one knows if it's gonna work. I feel like I spend way too much time asking people to tell me if my idea was good or bad, or to tell me if I was going in the right direction. What I had to learn the hard way, after many of these conversations, is literally no one knows there's no one on the face of the planet and who can tell me if I'm going in the right direction. No one. There is a lot of blog posts that give advice. There are a lot of friends that can help provide some direction and give you feedback, but ultimately the only way you'll find out there's just by doing it and seeing what happens. As someone who loves planning and predictability, that is a very painful reality to accept. It is very hard for me to just say, okay, I have to take a leap of faith. There's only so much even the smartest, the brightest, the most experienced people can actually help me with.
[00:43:02]The other part of this is as soon as you tell anyone your idea, they're going to give you advice. That's just the way it works. You hear something and they're going to go, Oh, did you hear about this company? This is what they're doing. How is your thing different? If you want it to be different, you should do this instead. As soon as you tell people your idea, they're going to want to tell you how to fix it and so you have to just prepare yourself for that and be ready to just ignore it. It can be very noisy if you take all of that energy in. I'm careful with how deep I get with different people and how much I share because I just don't want that noise in my life. But also even people I do respect going into that conversation going all right, I'm going to tell, so it's about this. I know he's going to say this and that and we're going to politely listen and then do whatever we wanted to do anyway.
[00:43:47]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:43:47] Exactly. That was the perfect ending and then do the thing anyway. You touched on there, the idea that you have to have this resilience within yourself. It feels like I should naturally riff off of Guy Raz in this instance and ask him how much of your success...
[00:44:03]Saron Yitbarek: [00:44:03] Yeah. What is that saying? Luck is hard work meets opportunity or something like that. I want a hundred percent believe in that. I had to be a really great student at that bootcamp to be worth that introduction. That relationship would have existed with or without me. But it's the fact that I worked really hard at coding, and during that experience that I was worth an introduction. That's how that came together. All the speaking gigs I've had were from me getting recommended or someone saying, 'Hey, I saw your video of this other speaking thing and I want to have you speak at this thing that is, built on me having done a good speaking thing at the very beginning.
[00:44:43]There's a lot of luck in terms of people knowing the right people, having the groundwork laid out for me. Luck opened the door, but I think I got myself through it and I got myself the seat. You can have many doors open to you and if you don't do well, when you're given those opportunities, you won't get another one.
[00:45:04]For the most part, I think I've done well in enough of those situations that I've been able to get to where I am today. I think the luckiest part of everything is that I'm in America. As an immigrant, the fact that my dad entered a lottery system in order to get a visa to come to the U S. That is a hundred percent luck. It doesn't get more luck than that. And when I think, especially right now, there's literally like a genocide happening in my country, in the area where my mom used to live. If we hadn't gotten that lottery and if we hadn't found a way to the U S I might literally be dead right now, and that is about as lucky as you can get. For me, I think the luck really played a role in literally me being in this country and me having the opportunity to be raised in America, to go through the American education system, to have access to American universities and colleges, and to have the opportunity to have a career in this country. That is the biggest thing that has shaped and determined my future and that is entirely based on luck.
[00:46:07]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:46:07] That's awesome. It's such a perspective, too. It sounds like you come from a family of folks who create your own luck and have that bias towards being proactive or taking the shot to see if something will work out in your favor and that you're always ready. You're always prepared for that shot to show up and to take it, so that's really awesome. So to close out here, I thought I would help folks out who may be listening... let's say folks want to connect with you and maybe are doing outreach. Are there like two or three interests of yours that you are always wanting to talk about with folks that you always find interesting that maybe isn't public or like online as much?
[00:46:55]While you're thinking of this, I can give examples for me.
[00:46:58]Saron Yitbarek: [00:46:58] Please give me some examples of things.
[00:47:00] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:47:00] The way that I think about this is... what's the thing that you're ranting about with your husband, what's the conversation that you find yourself having over and over again. For me, things like QAnon right now, like I have gone down the rabbit hole of understanding this internet movement, not believing in it, but studying it. I find it super fascinating and watch a lot of theories about like how it's unfolded over time and how it's grown. Dog breeds are another thing that I was like fascinated about. I don't know why, since I was a young girl, I can just talk about for days. And then another thing, the way that the internet affects relationships. I could talk to folks about that for a long time. Is there anything like that, where if a non-traditional engineer wants to connect with you, or somebody wants to connect with you, you would want to talk about for sure? It might be something that you're not known for. You're not like it might be a little bit unexpected.
[00:47:52]Saron Yitbarek: [00:47:52] Ah, I travel or I used to travel a lot. I used to travel like every month. Traveling for sure. I really I hate saying I love traveling cause who doesn't love traveling. I really do love talking about that and I don't really get to very often. I don't think I'm that interesting of a person. I talk about my dad a lot because I have so many daddy issues. I don't want to talk about that with any of you though.
[00:48:11]No, that's just, that was just for me. Here's something that I think is very funny. It's not that funny. I just think it's funny. I love economy movies. Too big to fail is one of my favorite movies. I love that movie. I've watched Hank, I've watched what is it called equality for all, which is a really great economics documentary. With Richard reach is that as, I don't know how to say his last name anyway, his famous economist. He's awesome. The big short is my all time favorite movie margin call wall street. I love financial documentaries and movies. But I also equally find all of that very intimidating. So it's like this love, fear relationship where I'm like, Oh my God, I'm obsessed with learning about you. And I want to understand how like the financial markets work and how the economy works, blah, blah, blah. But I'm also like, Oh my God, investors are big important people with, and it's so complex and it's so scary. So I love learning about it and I love taking it all in, but I also find it just also intimidating. That's probably my favorite thing that I don't think I've ever talked about with anyone.
[00:49:16]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:49:16] Super interesting. So it sounds like finance and the economy, which is again, more complex, like very tough stuff. Does that intersect with crime as well? Cause I am a bit of a crime junkie. I can make some very good recommendations for shows at the intersection of like white collar crime.
[00:49:35]Saron Yitbarek: [00:49:35] Oh, I never thought to look into white collar. Oh, that could be really interesting. I never thought of that. I don't know where this came from, but I think that I really like murder fiction. Like I was listening to an audio book and there was this crazy shit that happened right in the beginning. Just absolutely nuts, so shooting and things exploding. And I was like, Oh my God, this is amazing, and then for the next couple of chapters, no one died. And I was like, what the hell is this? Give me my murders back. I think I'm much more into murder fiction than I than I thought.
[00:50:07] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:50:07] That's so interesting. Is it the fiction or the murder? It sounds like it's the murder.
[00:50:12]Saron Yitbarek: [00:50:12] I think I could do a nonfiction one as well.
[00:50:15]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:50:15] That's a whole genre of podcasts by the way. Huge. This is crazy. We're just like shooting the shit at this point, but great. My cousin goes to a conference called CrimeCon.
[00:50:26]Saron Yitbarek: [00:50:26] Oh.
[00:50:52]Saron Yitbarek: [00:50:52] Wow. That is incredible. Yeah. Like now that I think about it, I'm totally not surprised, but I would never have guessed that would be a thing. That's incredible.
[00:51:00]Kamrin Klauschie: [00:51:00] So what are you saying is finance and economy documentaries, essentially murder, potentially murder. You know that it's gonna come from this interview. If people reach out to you... have folks not reach out to you with that... it's amazing... this has been super fun and you're amazing. I admire you so much. So thank you so much for your time.
[00:51:20]Saron Yitbarek: [00:51:20] Thanks for having me.
[00:51:21] Kamrin Klauschie: [00:51:21] This was a lot of fun. Yay. Awesome.
[00:51:23]Kate Martin: [00:51:23] Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the apprenticeship.io podcast. You can learn more about apprenticeships and find us online at www.apprenticeship.io. Don't forget to follow us on Spotify, and subscribe on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
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