Humans+Tech

Julia Evans

August 30, 2020 Aaron Randall, Amy Phillips Season 1 Episode 7
Humans+Tech
Julia Evans
Chapters
Humans+Tech
Julia Evans
Aug 30, 2020 Season 1 Episode 7
Aaron Randall, Amy Phillips

In this episode, we're so excited to be talking to the incredible Julia Evans. Julia is a software engineer and also an amazing illustrator and storyteller. She's the creator of Wizard Zines, the famous comics that explain complex tech in a short, simple and beautiful way.

We chatted to Julia about how her inspiration and process for creating zines, deep dived into her "Help! I have a Manager!" zine as well as discovering why we should all be writing brag documents. 

You can find all the links and shownotes over on https://humansplus.tech


Show Notes Transcript

In this episode, we're so excited to be talking to the incredible Julia Evans. Julia is a software engineer and also an amazing illustrator and storyteller. She's the creator of Wizard Zines, the famous comics that explain complex tech in a short, simple and beautiful way.

We chatted to Julia about how her inspiration and process for creating zines, deep dived into her "Help! I have a Manager!" zine as well as discovering why we should all be writing brag documents. 

You can find all the links and shownotes over on https://humansplus.tech


Aaron Randall :

Welcome to the Humans Plus Tech podcast. I'm Aaron Randall. And this is Amy Phillips.

Amy Phillips :

Hi.

Aaron Randall :

And today, we are so excited to be talking to the incredible Julia Evans. Julia is a software engineer and also an amazing illustrator and storyteller. She's the creator of Wizard Zines, the famous comics that explain complex tech in a short, simple and beautiful way. Julia, welcome to the show.

Julia Evans :

Thanks so much for having me.

Aaron Randall :

Um so one of the things we like to do with all our Humans Plus Tech guests is draw a doodle of them. And so I'm particularly excited today, given I get to show my doodle to someone who can actually draw. So yeah, I'd love to show you yours and kind of get your thoughts and feedback if that's alright?

Julia Evans :

Wow, I would love to see a doodle. This is very exciting.

Amy Phillips :

Okay, I just put it up for you.

Julia Evans :

Oh, this is incredible. I love it. Um, this is really I think this is better than my drawing skills. Actually.

Aaron Randall :

Absolutely not. You're making me blush

Amy Phillips :

Aaron's ego is just growing

Aaron Randall :

Julia says my drawing is good.

Julia Evans :

I truly only draw stick figures. And I, it's not because I can do better.

Amy Phillips :

That's great. Well, you're very, very polite, I think. It's always I think the test of how kind our guests are. Awesome, so onto onto your work. So Wizard Zines. So these have been around for years and I think I've certainly been referencing them and sharing them for years. But for anybody just in case there is anybody out there who doesn't already know your work. Could you give us like a brief intro, like what is it that you do?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, so I write these small like zines which basically what they are is they're tiny books, which are maybe 20 pages, about topics that usually topics that I'm mad that no one told me about before. And we're gonna be talking about one of those today. And so I kind of tried to write down like very briefly like the things that I like most wish I could have told my past self about that topic in maybe like 20 pages, and they're usually like there's a bunch of like comics. But the main point is that they're short and tell you what you need to know.

Amy Phillips :

That's awesome. I saw you tweet just the other day about how sort of online courses are always advertising about 50 million hours of training and all these amazingly huge numbers and you're like, I do completely the opposite so like it I think it's so obvious when you say it, but nobody seems to be doing that. So it was it always does that always the goal that these were going to be the shortest possible to like teach you the most you possibly could get into like 20 pages.

Julia Evans :

I guess so. I actually started writing them because I had RSI, so I started out like blogging. I've been blogging for a long time. I loved it, but I couldn't type for a while. And so, and maybe I also couldn't write that much. So I started writing these very short things just because those were like the constraints that I had in my own like body. But I still wanted to be like writing on the internet. Um, so I'd write these like very short comics about, like, things that I thought were interesting or that I wanted to share that I would normally have written a blog post about. And then it turned out that people really like them. So sort of an organic thing.

Amy Phillips :

So awesome I just think it's so effective, right? Because I never feel like what I love sharing about, like, when I show them to other people is it's like, Hey, I know you're super busy. But literally, you only need two minutes read this thing. And I just like, there's no excuses. I know that there's no excuse to not read this because it's so effective.

Aaron Randall :

We actually had them in my previous job, we had them some of the posters printed up and put on our fridge in our office for like, people who weren't even in tech were learning all about netstat or strace, or whatever it was, at the time. It's amazing. Yeah. Really cool. I'm really interested in how you went through this process of giving up your full time tech job to start this?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, um, so I left my job almost a year ago. I didn't start it. I started it maybe five years ago, I guess. Um, and so I started it kind of on the side, and at the beginning, I didn't charge for my zines at all. Um, and then I started charging for them. And then I was like, Oh my God, this actually makes money, which was very surprising that I could write like strange computer comics and sell them to people make money. I was like, okay, that's strange. But I was like, okay, it'll only happen once. And then I like made another like zine about maybe the command line, and then that also made money and I was like, okay, like something is happening here. And so I think I kept doing that for maybe like a year and a half. And then I'd been at my job at that point for like, six years, and I was like, this is kind of long enough for this job. And I left and I have not yet gotten another job. So yeah, here we are.

Aaron Randall :

Amazing

Amy Phillips :

That's so awesome.

Aaron Randall :

And are you working on these completely by yourself or do you have other people who help you like condense the topics down or do some illustrations and so on?

Julia Evans :

I do all the interior illustrations myself that that is to say the bad ones there there's like cover art, which looks good. But the less technically complex ones. Basically, if there's a stick figure I drew it and if there's like a beautiful illustration, I hired an illustrator to draw it, that that's how it works.

Aaron Randall :

Nice.

Amy Phillips :

So So how do you choose your topics?

Julia Evans :

Um, yeah, I think it's always a difficult I think I read about things that I think are really confusing, I guess, um, or that like are causing people a lot of problems. So for example, like, I think a lot I started out my first one was about strace, I guess. Um, and like, I saw that well, I was at that point, I was, I think I called myself like the chief developer advocate for strace, because I was like, I think people need to know about this tool. And like, I saw that people didn't know about it, and I was obsessed with it. So I think I try to write about things that I think are a little bit like under loved or like underserved. But that I think, that are important to know about, I guess, and that are fundamental. So I read, I don't write about things that change very much. So for example, I don't write about like, I don't know, JavaScript anyway. So I shouldn't write about JavaScript frameworks, it would be a mistake. But I wouldn't write about JavaScript framework. I try to write about stuff that hasn't changed for maybe five years, 10 years something like that.

Aaron Randall :

I love that. And that point you make about the fact that once you've got those things in your toolbox, that kind of they're not going away, either because it's 10. Right? It's been around for so long, and it's really consistent. It's fundamental to what we do in tech.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, exactly. Like with HTTP. It's not going to change. Like,

Aaron Randall :

yeah, that's awesome.

Amy Phillips :

it's really interesting, actually. Cuz I think like, I don't know if like it's the same around you but in London over the last few years, like coding bootcamps have become incredibly popular. And actually, what's really interesting is you get these really great, like sort of junior entry level developers coming out, but because they haven't got like computer science degrees, so actually, you have this kind of, there's some foundational stuff which they have to pick up quite are they there's quite a lot of learning they do on the job. So I think it's really interesting. Like, I think it's really great. You have these like, easy accessible, kind of foundational topics as well, because definitely, those are the people who I think I try to learn as much as they possibly can in like, the first three months on their job.

Julia Evans :

Yeah. And, and I think it's pretty common for people who are further along in their careers to to not know these foundational topics either, like, I, I have two Computer Science degrees, and I never learned in my computer science degrees, how the DHCP Protocol works, you know, like no one told me what the host header means at any point during my computer science degrees. And so like, I feel like a lot of the time even if you do have like a more traditional background and you come out of school, and maybe after a couple of years, you're like wait, there's some stuff I really don't know, and you still need to learn it right? And that's fine.

Aaron Randall :

Yeah 100%, I was going to say exactly the same thing. Like I have a computer science degree as well. I think we all do, but I was like, I still needed these zines to help me that's perfectly fine as well. Yeah. And you have a bunch of zines now, do you have like a stand out most popular one that people always like know you for or, or particularly love?

Julia Evans :

It's hard to tell. I think the one I think people really love Bite Sized Linux. Um. What else do I hear about? I have one called "So you want to be a wizard", which I really love because it's about how I learn. Um,

Amy Phillips :

I love that one.

Julia Evans :

And I think it's sort of about like, I don't know if I think of it sort of as like the foundational zine.

Amy Phillips :

So one of your other zines, one that we particularly like is your "Help, I have a manager" zine, which the title just makes me laugh like, that's people's reaction. It's so great the way you describe the role of a manager, and probably better than most managers out there. Certainly a lot of managers describe their own jobs. But how did you learn about what your manager's job was? And like, how do you learn to work with them?

Julia Evans :

Um, so I think the way I learned is I had a really great manager, who I worked with for a long time, maybe three years. His name is Jay. Hi, Jay. If you're listening to this, um, and I think what I learned from working with him was sort of just like what, like a really great, like, healthy, like, professional relationship with a manager can look like, you know, like, I was like, Oh, this is like how it should be. And that's, I basically, like wrote this zine as being like, here's what I learned from working with Jay, if that makes sense.

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, that's great.

Aaron Randall :

I love that and I really love um so there's a doodle at the beginning of the zine, which I hope is ok to share but it's two stick people, so you drew it, one of them says, like, isn't managing me their job. And the other one says, You're both adults working together, it's your job too, and I just love that idea that, like, at some point, you decided to be like an active participant in this relationship was was this with Jay that you decided that you need to co-own this relationship? Or was it somewhere else on the line?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, I think that that, that that's how I learned it from working from working with Jay. Exactly. Like, I think, I think I learned like, what it meant to grow in that relationship, if that makes sense. I'm like, how it should actually work. Like, I might have had an abstract idea before, like, like, what it meant. Or maybe if you asked me if I should, I would have been like, sure. But I don't think I actually knew like how it worked.

Amy Phillips :

Was it something that like he did, like how did you like it feels like at some point, there must be kind of some training or education or something to sort of like demonstrate to you that this was, this was how the relationship should form? Like, how did he go about teaching you that stuff?

Julia Evans :

Amazing. I feel like you should have him on the show and ask him because I bet he would know the answer. I don't know. I mean, I think I think one thing that was really, that's really helpful in general, to me is like, anytime I, let's say ask my manager for something and they explain, like, why they can't do it, you know? And they're like, okay, these are like, the actual constraints of dealing with. Um, I think I've always found that really helpful. Because then I've been like, Oh, I see. This is like how the system I'm working in the works right. And like, there may be some constraints, but I didn't know about.

Aaron Randall :

That's an interesting point. And I find that actually as a manager as well, that idea of like not leaving a void or filling in the voids with with actual context, I guess to explain to you like why decision certain decisions have been made. It's actually really important as well. And I guess as you're working with with Jay and becoming like a co owner of this Manager-Report relationship. What did you find are the biggest things that changed as a result?

Julia Evans :

Um, I think I think I felt a lot more. Like, at the beginning, I think when I had a manager, like, I'd go to a one-on-one, and I'd be like, what do I talk about? Like, what? Like, do I need to be like justifying my existence to this person? Is it okay, like, are we? I don't know. Am I doing enough? And and I think that, like, once, we found a good way of working together, I didn't feel that sort of like, insecurity, you know, which really helped. I was just like, okay, like, I know where I stand, and I know, like, like, where we are. Um, I've already forgotten the original question.

Aaron Randall :

I was, I was asking, really, as you began to co-own this relationship with your manager, I guess, like, what were the biggest things that changed as a result?

Julia Evans :

Oh, yeah. So yeah, I feel like like understanding how, like how the relationship works really made me a lot more confident at work, and made me feel better about things like like when I started having a manager I'd be like, like, if we had to talk about like promotions or like compensation, I was just like, oh my god, like, I can't have this conversation, right? Like, I've no idea how to start. And like, once I had, like, a more clear relationship with my manager I'd be like, Oh, yeah, let's just talk about this. It's not a big deal, right? Like, like, I would know how to start this conversations. And everything got a lot less stressful.

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, that's a really great point. Like so many people. I've worked in places where they sort of measure those sorts of conversations kind of as like employee engagement sort of measure, like health check. And the question will be sort of like, Oh, I can have meaningful conversations with my manager about pay. And what they were trying to ask about was like, you know, I can understand the pay, compensation process and things like that. And actually what ended up sort of surfacing it was people being like, Oh, I don't know if I am allowed to talk to my manager or how do I start that conversation, it threw up a completely different situation. That was much more that people just didn't feel like they knew how to even begin.

Julia Evans :

Right. Yeah. Like, it's like, what are the first words that are supposed to come out of your mouth? Like? Yeah,

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, that's right. Yeah, it's like a taboo topic. Like, it was really interesting. I kind of I love the fact that you've sort of highlighted this, like, We're adults, we need to work together. Like, why do you think that's just not obvious from the beginning? Is it something uniquely to tech? Or is it just like maybe the kind of manager-managee relationship? Do you think?

Julia Evans :

Um, I don't, I think maybe it's, my guess is that anyone when they kind of like join the workforce doesn't really know like, how it works. You know, like, I feel like when I was a kid, I would read like the business section in the newspaper, and there's like, all these articles about like, how to do things at work, it was the most boring section. But now I kind of understand like where it's coming from, is that there a lot of adults that read the newspaper who are like, I don't understand how to like navigate my workplace, or like how it works. maybe like reading the business section to try and understand it. And so I feel like it's a problem. Like I don't think like, the way the modern workplace works like in tech or outside of tech is like obvious to anyone, like when at the beginning, right?

Aaron Randall :

Totally. I mean, you covered it. I think you touched upon this so nice and succinctly in the zine with this sentence. Remember, managers are only human. So it's like such a wonderful phrase. And they're also like, Well, yeah, first of all, thank you for calling out the obvious but overlooked part of managers like we're all humans as well. But how, how do you think we normalize this and remember that both the people in this relationship are are humans and people will have off days and bad days and good days and so on?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, I think I found it pretty helpful to learn about like so for example, once I I was asking my manager something about like remote compensation, um, because I worked remote. I've, I've actually only basically only worked with managers remotely. Anyway, and I think I thought at that time, that manager had some control over this. And what I learned was that he had no control over this. And he was like, you know, if you have an idea of like a case I can take to HR you can tell me but like, I this is not something but like I control it, you know, like, and that was like a kind of big eye opener for me because I was like, Oh, yeah, of course, like, in retrospect, it makes sense that like, you know, in like, a large growing company, like, like managers only can control some things. But I didn't like have any model at the time of like, what things a manager does have control over and what things they don't

Aaron Randall :

make sense.

Amy Phillips :

I think it's something that like, sometimes as a manager, you sort of don't want to maybe reveal how little control you have over over the workplace. It's kind of it's nice, sometimes people think you can do things and achieve things and you certainly have weeks where you don't manage to do any of these. Best not to mention it.

Aaron Randall :

It's Patti McCord, who was Chief Talent Officer at Netflix we had on a previous episode, she said something about when you get promoted to become a manager. She said what was that phrase? She said, Oh, Congratulations, you've got two new things. You've got a new business card with your name on and you've now got the ability to read read your reports minds. I love the idea of like the fact that suddenly you become superhuman that you forget that actually, we don't know we're doing either lots of times, so call out. One of the things you've been mentioning, Julia actually is like one on ones. And again, that's a great topic that's covered in the zine. And you have some really nice suggestions for areas and things like promotions and other benefits you can talk about. What for you, what do you think is the purpose of having a one on one?

Julia Evans :

So I think this might be different if you work with your manager in person. So I don't have a really good sense for that. Um, I worked remotely and so my one on one was the only time that I talked to my manager face to face ever, basically, right. Um, and so that that was like where the entire relationship got built and like, like cuz we didn't like we already talked over Slack but we didn't talk otherwise at all. Um, I guess unless it was in a meeting and so that's kind of how I thought about a one on one is you know like this is like your entire relationship with this person. Um but I think it might be different if you work with someone in person.

Amy Phillips :

It's really interesting that this all came about cos like through remote working like do you like how did you kind of manage the one to one like, was there a structure right like Was there some sort of structure or format that went in because like you said, I think when you're in an office you kind of have these extra things you think about like which is where should I do this one to one like Should we go for a walk or is this the right meeting room like when you're doing this remotely? Particularly I suppose for a lot of people who have suddenly unexpectedly now doing this remotely? Like were, was there like extra or maybe not extra in your view, but like was there like structure and things like that around the around the meeting as well?

Julia Evans :

I know that some people like to do really structured one on ones I don't think I've ever had those, um, I think it's been a lot more like, okay, I'll show up. Maybe I'll have some ideas. Some things I want to talk about, like, there's a project that like, sometimes I'll just be like, okay, let's like brainstorm some some things about like this project we're working on, like this problem that we have to solve, right? Or sometimes I'll be like, Hey, I noticed that this like problem with the team and like, what do you think about that? Like, what can we do about it? Um, I definitely like I think, I guess I think about one on ones a lot of like, like a place like problems or like talking about them. I think that can be really fun. Yeah,

Amy Phillips :

It's really interesting. Like, do you think that your one one's like, always have a similar style? Cos I think that's the other thing, isn't it? You can sometimes end up in a little bit of a rut, like a one on one is always a discussion about the project or, you know, career or something like that. Like, how do you kind of mix it up? Because you call out so many different topics and things you can be covering in one to ones like should people be actually trying to move through those? A few of those topics at least?

Julia Evans :

Yeah. I think it's important to talk about different topics because like, I feel like, again, like, I think in my context of like, this is your entire relationship with that person. Like, if there's someone who could be working with for like many years, like, it seems silly to only talk about one thing every time you talk, you know, like, you have to talk about lots of things to like learn how to work together effectively. And like, there's a lot of different, I don't know, like, there's compensation and there are projects, and there's like team dynamics, and there's just like, what's going on in the company in general? And like, what, like trying to understand that together?

Aaron Randall :

Do you have space to particularly where you don't have that physical bumping into each other in the kitchen or in the office to catch up? That kind of the watercooler chat? Do you have space in your one on ones to like, get to know that person is as a human like, it's no more than just the work topics and the things you're working through is as employers, as colleagues, sorry.

Julia Evans :

Um, I think other people like I don't know, I think different people have different approaches to this remote. I think that one consequence of working remote for me has been that I don't have a great idea of like, my coworkers personal lives, you know, like, like, there's some people who have like, become good friends with and who I actually know and other my friends. And I would like talk to them outside of work, but for most people, I think I have a sort of vague idea of like, this is what this person is like at work, you know, I know that they have kids, like maybe two. Like it's like a little I think that, like the details of their personal lives are a little sketchy sometimes. You know, like, I know, maybe they like cars. I don't know

Aaron Randall :

How about as you transition to Wizard Zines and focus on that, working mostly independently, have you found going from my work in your team to working by itself.

Julia Evans :

It was great to work in a team. I mean, I definitely miss having co workers and I've been trying to like figure out how to how to build out working with for people like now I work with freelancers sometimes which is really great. Like I've been working with a really great designer, which is fun, but it's definitely it's super different.

Amy Phillips :

So what back sort of on the one on one stuff like, it kind of gets interesting with the, it's kind of feels hard for me anyway, if you don't have so much personal relationship with your manager, like, how do you bring up a problem with your manager? Like, is there a certain length of time that needs to elapse in the relationship before you feel comfortable, or is that other stuff that you feel like you can actually do to make this easier to like for people to actually bring more of themselves to the meeting I guess?

Julia Evans :

Yeah. I, I'm trying to figure out how I think about this. Because I think that having a personal relationship is really different than having a work relationship and trying to like articulate how, what I mean by that. So for example, like at work, there are a lot of things that I value, like, I think it's important for there to be some, like for people to be included, right for people to be treated fairly. Um, and I think of those as sort of like my personal values at work. If that makes sense. So that's not really like, and I feel like I end up like bonding with people over things like that. So being like, okay, like, I don't understand the engineering levels. I don't think other people understand them, either. I think this is a problem, what should we do about this, you know, and I feel like that's a little bit more of like a like, like, that's not like strictly like, this is related to my programming job. But it's also like it is about my values, and what's important to me. Um, and so I think I built a lot of relationships at work with people like along those lines, right, which isn't necessarily about like what I like to do in my personal life. Yeah.

Amy Phillips :

That's really great. I love that you brought up the values like that's so key, I think, like companies usually always have values that are written down, but actually, I don't think very many individuals like really take a lot of time to think about their individual values. And actually make sure that you're applying those so yeah, that's such a great point.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, and I think I found it pretty easy to find people who sort of like share my values at work. And I think it's a nice thing to be able to like work with them on over over over a long period. Right?

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, totally. And I think that's also kind of ties into this, like, in your zine you talk about the keeping conversations mostly constructive, bringing ideas and solutions and things like that, again, such a great point. Like, I'm so glad you brought that up. Because I don't think people necessarily always feel empowered to propose, like, they see a lot of problems and don't always feel empowered to actually come along with a load of solutions and ideas. I think you capture that really, really nicely. Yeah, super awesome.

Julia Evans :

Yeah. And I think what I realized about like bringing up problems, I think maybe at first I thought that by managers would have more of an idea of how to solve solve the problems that I saw that they did, you know, like, I'd be like, oh, here's a problem and I thought they would just know what to do. As your laughter indicates, it turns out that this is not the case.

Aaron Randall :

Did you discover that you wanted to be more proactive in bringing potential solutions to these conversations because there was a gap missing fromyour managers ability? Or was it something else?

Julia Evans :

I think often they were able to do something, but I think I just realized that, like, my input was valuable, if that makes sense. Like, like, it wasn't that like, they just like, knew exactly what to do. It was more like, oh, we could all figure out what to do, if we all think about it. Um, but I think just realizing that like, if you see a problem, maybe other people don't know that, let's do that either. Otherwise, it wouldn't be happening. And so like, maybe your input into how to solve it is, you know, valuable.

Amy Phillips :

Do you think there was something in like, your team or, or your managers like reaction that actually helped you realize that because that actually sounds like such a powerful thing to actually realize that you know, your your ideas and solutions really matter? And, you know, you your ideas are totally valid say, Was this something like maybe in the structure of the conversation or the feedback you've got or something like that, that actually really reinforced that for you?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, I think Think that, like seeing people actually put my ideas into practice was really helpful. You know, like one, I think one big example of this, I can't think of a small example right now. Okay, now, here's a small example. Um, once I was mad about, I was working as an infrastructure engineer, and I was mad about our job description, because I thought it was too like,. like, it was like, Oh, you should know how to do these things. And I was like, This is nonsense. I didn't know how to do any of those things when I got this job. So obviously, you don't need to know how to do those things. Like, this is silly. Um, and so I brought this up to my manager at the time, and he was like, oh, yeah, great point. Why don't you write a different job description? That's more like how you think it should be? And I was like, oh, yeah, I could do that. Right. Like, probably I've never written the job description before, but why not? Um, and so I did. And then, you know, I got the feedback. I made the changes and they put it on the website. That was it, you know? And so I think like, like having yeah, being able to like actually see your ideas through. Instead of people being like, oh, that's cool. Like, that's the problem, but we can't do anything like really being like, yes and I think is really is really amazing.

Aaron Randall :

That's awesome. A lot of that sound as well, like, you wouldn't be able to get that at every company. It sounds like something that's very much about like having a culture of like trust and autonomy as well. Is that is that the kind of things you had in that business?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, yeah, I think that's really important. Like, it's hard. Like, you can't tell people like, Oh, you should tell me your ideas if you don't implement any of them. Right. Like, yeah, there definitely needs to be that ability.

Aaron Randall :

One of the, I mean, staying on the kind of trust topic, I guess, one of the things that you mentioned previously in the chat was around promotions and kind of this idea, I guess, that there are a taboo subject. And I love this point, you make in the zine about treating promotions as just a normal thing that you can have a conversation about with your manager. And, and actually the idea that if their the people in their team are getting promoted, that makes the manager look good as well. Yeah. What kind of techniques do you use to actually have those kinds of promotion conversations with the manager?

Julia Evans :

Um, this is a good question. So I think the last couple of times I got promoted, I was working with a manager who was already pretty good at getting people promoted. I think that I didn't realize that this was a skill that like managers could be better or worse at getting their team promoted. And I said that it is that some managers are not very good at this. Because well, anyway, for various reasons. And so I think that made it a lot easier, because if I, like I made I think maybe I brought up some, like, concern that my compensation and he was like, Oh, yeah, let's get you promoted. And I was like, Okay, sure. Let's do that. And then, you know, we did.

Aaron Randall :

It sounds so simple when you say it like that.

Julia Evans :

But I think that's really been my experience with it. Like, I think I've been very lucky in that way where I've had managers who have been like, yeah, like, let's get you, okay. And then they sort of explained to you like what what kinds of things I need to demonstrate. And then I've demonstrated the things.

Amy Phillips :

It does seem so simple when you have someone who really understands, like it feels like it's the it's kind of the translation, right of there's a system in place or a document that exists that says, This is the stuff and it's like, the difficult bit is actually translating that into behaviors or projects or, or tasks that you can actually use to demonstrate the abilities. It's definitely it's definitely there are times where it's easier and harder.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, yeah. And I think there is a social aspect to promotions that I didn't understand it all before, like much earlier in my career where like, I think at many companies to get promoted, your manager needs to explain to other managers why you should be promoted. Um, and so I think they like they need to feel confident in those conversations too. And like, that can be stressful for them, especially if they haven't done it very often before. I think it's kind of like sell you a little bit. And like, they don't want to be turned down. Because that makes them look bad, right? If they're like, Oh, this person should be promoted, and everyone else was like, No, definitely not, you know, and I think I didn't realize that there was like, that extra layer of like, you know, like, like a calibration unit or whatever that people had to go through.

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Yeah. And I think that kind of really comes into this like relationship side of it. So I think probably that's the other thing that maybe, well, everybody maybe doesn't really realize quite as much the value is managers need to have good relationships with other managers for those meetings, but also, I think, you know, people need to have good relationships with their peers, even in other teams because there's probably quite a lot of those moments coming along. Where calibration or being picked for projects or whatever it is actually don't realize that, you know, those comments you're making over lunch are really affecting you being put on this cool project or not.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, yeah.

Amy Phillips :

What do you like you mentioned kind of early on that you were, you've got lucky and you had like a really great manager. in Jay like, what? what's the what's your definition of a really great manager? Like what was the what was the stuff that you you got that meant he was better than all your other managers?

Julia Evans :

Oh, man. Okay, great question. Um, what are what are some things let's try I would love to know also what, what what your definitions are? Um, okay. So I think the big one is likes managing. I'm like, I really love it when managers are like, Oh, I love my job. Like, I'm obsessed with this job. I got this team and they're doing all these cool things. And I get to like, tell everyone about it and like help them do it. Um, so I think I think that's huge. What, what else? I think there's like understanding the company really well, right? And like, understanding like the systems in the company, like how do projects get defined? Like what's going on in the like political ether, right? Like, I think I think that's, that's super valuable. What? What else is important? I've never been a manager and so I have trouble thinking about like, what the skills are, if that makes sense.

Aaron Randall :

Yeah, I mean that that last point, you made a great one though I guess it goes back to a previous point you made as well, which is like, understand how the company works and the process side and also if your manager knows how it works, they can do things better for you, like get you promoted, and navigate that world. So yeah, it feels like yeah, yeah, totally, like a massive part of what you need to love as a manager to be good at, I guess so. Yeah, I definitely agree with that.

Julia Evans :

Yeah. And there's definitely like executing engineering projects, right, which is like a huge thing, right? So it's like, okay, we have like this big project. Like, can they provide the support needed to like, get it done. which is I think there's a lot of like sub skills in that, right. But it's really important.

Aaron Randall :

Nice. I would add another one to this as well maybe which again, you've already provide the example for, which is great is the the job spec one, like that idea of your manager coaching you through that, knowing that actually, you already had a great answer. And you could make this thing better and not just rewriting it for you and like letting you own that was a really nice example of them giving the space for their teams to do amazing work as well.

Julia Evans :

Right, right. Like sort of like giving people stretch projects, and being like, hey, this is like what you could do next. Yeah, that's very true.

Amy Phillips :

Yeah. Yeah. So awesome. Yeah. And the building whole relationship thing, right, I think Yeah. Like, that's the kind of foundation for everything. So I think, I think it's often just assumed it will happen, but it's certainly not. And I think when you're a new manager and you walk into a team, you're a bit like the new kid at school. You've got to do the work, you know, to get to know these people. Prove that you know some stuff and all of that. So It's definitely there's definitely some skills around that piece as well.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, for sure.

Aaron Randall :

One of the things I found very helpful, I'm interested in seeing if it's the same for your Julia is building that peer network of people that are going through similar experiences. And you can talk to about your experience maybe is working with your manager as an example. Is that something that you found, you've like invested in and built by either people inside your previous companies or maybe friends outside of work?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, definitely. I think both with friends outside of work. I have like a Slack with like eight friends, where we talk about things and we're like, oh, this is what's going on. And what's nice about that is like as you grow together over time, like you learn more, right, and you like, you all have new problems. Which is really nice. Like, it's like you have gradually ascending levels of problems. By which the harder problems not worst problem hopefully, but like different problems. Um, and also at work, I had a few people who I tried to have weekly one on ones with again, because if I didn't have one on one with someone, I would never talk to them. So yeah, and that was super helpful

Aaron Randall :

With that peer network that you built with your eight Slack friends, is that do you think they encompass your manager Voltron? As. Lara put it like your different sets of skills that other people will support you on?

Julia Evans :

Oh, man, that's a great question. So yeah, because the Manager Voltron is all about like, they're like, your manager is gonna be missing some skills and you might need some, um, I don't know if that if that's like, I think it's definitely helpful. I'm trying to go where I would go for like, I I think a lot of my problems would be work problems like like problems that were maybe like more specific to the company. So I might go talk to like, maybe like another tech lead, you know, or like, like someone else at the company and be like, hey, like, I like I have this like, weird situation, like, what do you think, but also for technical problems. I think it can be really helpful to talk to someone like outside of the company to get a different a different view because often if you're working with like some technology like someone at some other company has had like similar problems like maybe they're ahead of you and like they're like no you keep on going down this path like this will happen. So I think like having a network like for people at different companies is extremely helpful for getting some perspective

Aaron Randall :

Definitely

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, it's definitely definitely on that tech road. Is this the way you would do this. definitely don't do that. I'm really curious that you said like, what I love the fact that in the in the zine you you put in kind of topics and kind of like great sort of things from other people. And we've got like, stuff from Camille Fournier's great book, The Managers Path as well as Lara's Voltron and things like that. How do you pick because like, I've kind of always a bit like, there are eight. I mean, those two are excellent. But there are eight million great books out there like how do you actually condense this down and go this is the one thing that will add to the zine and it will help at least a few more people.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, so I only recommend stuff that I found helpful if that makes sense and I think I don't always find everything I read that helpful for me personally. So like Camille's writing, for example, is like, sometimes I'll read like just a blog post of her's, right? and I'll be like, Oh my God, my mind is blown. Like, who are you? How did you explain everything in this one blog post? Yeah. Like Camille is just outstanding. I like like her book The Manager's Path is is incredible. Um, and I also like Lara has written so many great posts that just like really, like condense the issue and like, you're like, that's it. That's what I wanted to say. But I didn't know like, or like, say, I don't know, I think I guess I would say I don't find most things helpful. And so I just like try to stick with the things that I find really helpful.

Amy Phillips :

I think that's a great answer. I think like that. You're like, well, hang on. Wait, why? Actually I kind of like that your starting point is like, no. Unless you're really convinced.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, there's definitely so many takes about tech culture, you know, and I feel like it's better to sometimes just let it wash over you like, okay,

Amy Phillips :

definitely.

Aaron Randall :

Julia, so you've got a blog post on the site called, "Get your work recognized? Write a brag document", which I love by the way, can you tell us what a brag document is and why you recommend people write one?

Julia Evans :

Yeah, I would love to. Um, okay. So I think what happened here is, maybe I was talking to a manager about careers. I don't remember exactly what happened. And he was like, Julia, why don't you just write down like some stuff you did? Maybe you called it a career narrative. And I was like, Okay, I will write down some stuff I did. And I was like, okay, cool, this is really helpful. Um, and then I think, like, I realized that the reason that writing down some stuff you did is helpful is that like, managers do not know what stuff you did, actually. Like, I think that like, there's this idea, right? But like, if you do good work, people will recognize it, which I think is just like, it is like sometimes true. But I think it's like, probably not true. in a way that's like a little disappointing, but also like inevitable because like, people will just like, forget, you know, or like didn't see what you did. And so, and I think also in particular, one thing that I was interested in, is I think often women are less likely to like kind of promote their own accomplishments. I think I was often actually quite good at putting that accomplishments. But I think like, not everyone is right at some some people's like work. Like, you'll be like, Oh, hey, this person did this amazing thing and people will be like, really, I didn't know like, like it like and they won't realize like, how Important that person's work is. And so the idea of a brag document is the this basically, the idea is that, like, your manager should be able to know the facts of like what you did. And like, why it was important. And I kind of like, I was working the way the way, like, this brag document that came up is I was talking to my coworker, Carla Burnett, who's the best. And we were like, hey, let's organize a workshop for like, women to like, sort of like write down like our accomplishments. And then so that we like have something when it comes to getting promoted that we can go hey, here's stuff I did before like, Oh my god, you're the best, right and humble, like, like, That's the dream, right? Um, so we did this workshop and we came up with this like brag document template, and I think we shared like examples of like, what we what we'd written for ourselves. And the process kind of like spread throughout the company. And a lot of people ended up writing them and I think when I left someone told me that like the support team, like whenever someone new joins the support team like someone on support would sit down and be like, Alright, you need to write your bag document, here's how it works like, here's the file. So it really kind of became a thing. And so I think after like it existed at company for a while, and people were really doing it. I wrote a blog post about it. And I was like, Hey, you should do this, like this is this is the thing that works, you know. So that's what it is.

Amy Phillips :

So awesome. So we'll definitely link to that in the show notes. But like, I'm just sort of flicking through now so, I love that you've got like a full brag document template included in there. So for anyone who's just doing the audio, but obviously they should be reading as well as like, you've got like goals for this year, goals for next year. projects, collaboration and mentorship, design and documentation, company building, what you've learned, love that that's like so easy to just lose track of like all these, like when you're learning something is so hard, isn't it? And then like you immediately move on you forget that I never knew that thing. As well as outside of work. Super awesome.

Julia Evans :

Yeah. And like, I think what I also realized was when I talked to some of my, like, more experienced coworkers that they'd be like, Oh, yeah, I do that. And I was like, Oh, well, no one told me I was supposed to do that, you know? Like, it's really something that I think a lot of people have been doing for a long time.

Amy Phillips :

I think maybe it depends on the sort of companies you've worked up because I think if you've come from like a bigger company, or more established companies, they perhaps have like these kind of performance reviews, which structure like, self review in a slightly similar way, maybe. But I like it. I definitely haven't had that consistently. In all the companies I've worked at. It's definitely like, now I'm at the stage, right, like, can pick the best elements from all the different companies I've been at. But, you know, you definitely don't get that in the first sort of four companies you work at, so maybe that sort of ties in as well.

Julia Evans :

Yeah. Yeah, I think so. But yeah, and also, I feel like, there's something a little bit different about performance reviews to me, which are like, I would write a lot more in a brag document that I'd write in a performance review. You know, like, if I was writing a self review, I feel like I would write like, 200 words. And if I was writing a brag document, like for, like everything I did, I might write like seven pages, you know. And it's like, here's all the stuff.

Amy Phillips :

I think the name like, really influences it. Because it's not like self review. It's balanced. It's not balanced. It's bragging, it's only the really good stuff. I think that's what I love most like, I've worked in places before where I've had, like, so in, sort of, in England or Britain, we're quite self deprecating, you know, don't really brag about stuff. We're not good at bragging. When you work at companies that also have like US offices where people are bragging, but they're well naturally used to kind of like, selling themselves, right pitching their ideas and stuff. Wow, that was really hard to balance self reviews because the British ones were always super critical. I didn't achieve anything. I know nothing. You're like hang on wait, stop.

Aaron Randall :

I think the point you made around the naming that you made Amy, like the fact that it's a it's called a brag document. Like you can't, you can't do like, you can't go halfway on it right? You have to go. You know, you're not filling the template in properly, if you don't brag.

Amy Phillips :

Exactly. And you don't really want it to be like, yeah, if you've only got a couple of lines, you're still not bragging. that's just quietly mentioning.

Aaron Randall :

Exactly as Julia said, seven pages or nothing.

Amy Phillips :

So really sad to have to break this up, but in the interest of time, I want to move on to our super fun quickfire questions. So all of our guests on the humans task, humans plus tech podcast, try and get our actual podcast name correct. All of my guests get asked the same four questions. So Julia what is your top book recommendation?

Julia Evans :

In this context? Definitely The Manager's Path.

Amy Phillips :

Oh, yeah. Yeah, I feel like I literally got it right next to my desk. Just keep that one right there. It's, I like the fact that, like, it's relevant to so many different people, right? Like, yeah,

Julia Evans :

yeah, like it's helpful, even if like, I've never been a manager and I still learned so much reading and it was also like, this is what the job the tech lead is. And I was like, you know, taking notes and then once I became a tech lead, I was like, oh my god like this. Like no one told me what my job. Okay.

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, the tech lead role in particular seems to be the one that we keep the secret the biggest secret is about.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, it's even secret from the tech leads often.

Amy Phillips :

Most definitely. So, next question, what or who is your number one tip for keeping up with the industry?

Julia Evans :

Um, I think I try, I don't think of it as like the industry is moving ahead and I am following it. I think I try to think of it more as like what are my questions about what I want to learn about And try to like, make sure that I'm like continually asking questions and like, trying to learn what I want. Does that make sense?

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, that's a great one. So who inspires you?

Julia Evans :

Um, Kelsey Hightower. I think like, what one thing that was really because like, obviously, he gives all these incredible talks. Um, and like, he like he taught me about Kubernetes like through his talks, and I was like,

Amy Phillips :

he taught everybody about Kubernetes

Julia Evans :

He did teach everybody about Kubernetes. But like, in addition, I think once I had a question about Kubernetes, and I don't know how I ended up DMing him because I certainly would not have DMed him about my question. I don't think but somehow I ended up like, talking to him on Twitter. And he was like, Oh, yeah, like, your problem sounds really interesting. Do you want to just like get on a video chat and talk about it. And I was like, Yes. Oh my god. We had this really helpful video chat about, like, what problems I was having with running Kubernetes he was so nice. And I was like, Who is this person? Um, and I really like I am not that great. And it made me really think about like, how I could be like more helpful to people in the future, you know? Like, like he's like really at a different level.

Amy Phillips :

Yeah, he is incredibly helpful. It's quite staggering. Definitely, I agree with you definitely makes you feel a bit bad. I should help more people, I'm not even doing a fraction of what he does.

Julia Evans :

Yeah.

Amy Phillips :

And then what is the most ridiculous thing about you?

Julia Evans :

Oh, no. Wait, I have no idea how to answer this question, though. I didn't know how I thought about it. And I really don't know what to say.

Aaron Randall :

I feel like this question is really mean, Amy because no one ever really knows what to say. You're all good Julia.

Julia Evans :

What's the most ridiculous thing about you?

Amy Phillips :

I think it's probably the most ridiculous thing is I take I'm gonna take ridiculous in a slightly different way that I spend a lot of time thinking like, I really love writing and actually I do very little writing. I spend a lot of time thinking I like writing and a lot of time reading often about writing, but I actually do little amounts of actual writing. Which feels ridiculous to me.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, I've the current problem right now with biking, where I really love biking and I'm not doing any.

Amy Phillips :

Like, it's like a different hobby isn't it. It's like, I really like thinking about doing this.

Julia Evans :

Yeah, yeah, totally.

Amy Phillips :

So finally, where can people find out more about you Julia?

Julia Evans :

I've a blog. Um, but you can find by googling my name, probably most easily. Um, I'm on Twitter. I post a lot of like comics about currently CSS and things that change over time. My zines are at Wizardzines.com.

Amy Phillips :

Amazing. Thank you so much for talking to us today, Julia. It's been awesome.

Julia Evans :

This has been so fun. Thank you.

Amy Phillips :

We're huge fans of wizard zines. And so anyone who hasn't checked those out already, they should definitely, definitely go check that stuff out. But yeah, thank you so much.

Aaron Randall :

Thanks a lot, Julia.

Amy Phillips :

We'll share links to all the zines and books and other cool things that Julia mentioned over in the show notes on humansplus.tech. I'm Amy Phillips. This is Aaron Randall. And you've been listening to the Humans Plus Tech podcast.