In this episode, you’ll meet a former college English teacher who went through trauma, found her way to coding bootcamp, and grew from coding for therapy to coding for passion.
The amazing Bekah Hawrot Weigel shares her story of grief, loss, trauma, and finding her path into technology leadership in the most unlikely way imaginable.
You are going to discover the power of community, the link between language we speak and language we code, and be encouraged knowing you are not alone in any situation unless you choose to be.
Bekah is the Developer Experience Lead at OpenSauced, the global community of open source developers making an impact around the world.
In April 2020, Bekah started a unique online developer community, Virtual Coffee. It started as weekly coffee chats, and has grown into a community of developers at all stages who support each other, have weekly events, challenges, and more.
So press play and let’s chat… you’re invited to join the community of Happy Engineers!
Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff! HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach
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The Happy Engineer Podcast
WATCH EPISODE 109: YOU’RE NOT ALONE – POWERFUL COMMUNITY LEADS TO HEALING AND GROWTH WITH BEKAH WIEGEL | FOUNDER OF virtualcoffe.io
[00:00:54] Brain rejects code for Tuesday as Monday.
[00:05:22] Difficult childbirth dismissed, serious medical complication found.
[00:09:31] Surgery, overdose, PTSD. Coding brought healing.
[00:16:09] Online community brings therapy, connection, growth.
[00:17:59] Luck led to meaningful contract job opportunity.
[00:21:27] Coaching helps improve performance, need coach.
[00:26:51] Hacktoberfest motivates and connects digital community.
[00:31:21] Listen to connect, not to respond.
[00:34:27] Empathy, storytelling, and listening build connections.
[00:38:37] Encourage Becca, Virtual coffee, better questions.
[00:40:00] Values shared, impact and inspiration given.
LINKS MENTIONED IN THIS EPISODE
- Bekah Hawrot Weigel: Twitter | LinkedIn | Instagram
- Virtual Coffee
- Do you need help in transforming yourself to a successful career and a balanced life? Book a FREE Career Clarity Call now!
LISTEN TO EPISODE 109: YOU’RE NOT ALONE – POWERFUL COMMUNITY LEADS TO HEALING AND GROWTH INTERVIEW WITH ZACH’S DEBRIEF
EMBRACING COMMUNITY: OVERCOMING ISOLATION AND FINDING JOY IN CHALLENGINEG TIMES
“Embracing Community: Overcoming Isolation and Finding Joy in Challenging Times
ABOUT TONY WHATLEY
Tony Whatley is a 20+ year serial entrepreneur, business coach, best-selling author, podcast host, and speaker. He is Co-Founder of LS1Tech, an online automotive performance community which grew into the largest of its kind.
This website grew to over 300,000 registered members and 150 advertising accounts, and was later sold for millions, in only 5 years. Amazingly… it was just his part-time business!
Tony shares his mindset and business strategies within his Amazon #1 best-selling book, Side Hustle Millionaire, and teaches people how to startup, scale, and exit their companies.
With his previous oil/gas profession, managing $100M+ international projects, he consults small businesses on how to benefit from his expertise in processes, systems, and leadership.
His purpose is to help people gain the knowledge and courage to take action. He strives to help others become the best version of themselves.
When not performing the work that he loves, you can usually find Tony and his wife Lisa traveling the world, or racing cars.
FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.
[00:00:00] Zach White: Bekah. Hi. Welcome to the Happy Engineer Podcast. Glad you’re here.
[00:00:15] Bekah Weigel: Hey, I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me, Zach.
Expand to Read Full Transcript
[00:00:18] Zach White: You’re welcome. You’re welcome. So before I hit record, we had a funny interchange about. Mondays and I’d love to circle back to that really quick. We’re recording this the Tuesday after Memorial Day and you were like, oof, all holidays that are on Mondays should be on Fridays.
[00:00:35] And I, I loved it. So tell me, what’s your relationship to Monday?
[00:00:39] Bekah Weigel: Yeah, I love Mondays. That’s like back on schedule. I know what I’m doing that day, and this is where my momentum starts. So when there’s a holiday on a Monday, I have a hard time telling my brain that my Tuesday can be my Monday. It just doesn’t wanna accept that, and so then it automatically feels like I’m behind.
[00:00:58] So I’d rather move Monday holidays to Fridays because then I’m fine to embrace the weekend and start over on Mondays.
[00:01:06] Zach White: So if we are writing code for your subconscious to accept Tuesday as a Monday, your brain is rejecting that line of code like that does not For sure.
[00:01:15] Bekah Weigel: There’s, there’s a bug in there.
[00:01:16] Okay. Somebody’s gotta squash it.
[00:01:17] Zach White: Okay. Well, for anybody who is with me and Bekah on Monday’s Rock to start the week strong, we’re gonna start a petition for holidays that fall on Monday, to be on Fridays instead. That’s 100%. I love that. Well, Bekah, I’m excited. To get into your story when we first met, the whole narrative of what.
[00:01:41] Got you into this place of influence in technology and in developing. And your heart for developers is so unique. I’ve talked to a lot of people on the podcast and off, and everybody has a unique story. How did they end up falling in love with engineering or coding in the first place? But yours is pretty one of a kind and I’m excited.
[00:02:01] But before we talk about developing, maybe take us back to your original. You know, degree and work that you got into first and, and kind of why that happened. So tell us where it began.
[00:02:13] Bekah Weigel: I spent 10 years as a college English teacher. I was an adjunct. and I never really had any plans to change. I enjoyed what I was doing.
[00:02:22] I spent a lot of time reading and teaching, reading and, uh, in my heart I will always be an educator. I love that. And so it was, A big surprise to me when I made the change and it wasn’t something that I took lightly, but it started because I went through a trauma with my fourth child and it just kind of flipped my world upside down.
[00:02:46] Zach White: Hmm. So before we talk about that flip, were you the kind of teacher who would ask me to read a 300 page classic British novel and then expect me to comprehend and tell you about it the next day in class? No,
[00:03:02] Bekah Weigel: definitely. I’m definitely not one of those teachers. Okay. So we would take a good period of time to break it down and talk through it together.
[00:03:09] And I know I had some students, we would always read Shakespeare. It was required. And I know that that can be really challenging for a lot of students. And so there are resources online. Never fear Shakespeare, is what I’m thinking of. So, On one side, it has it written in plain English. On the other side it has like it written from Shakespeare and it gives that translation.
[00:03:29] And I would tell them like, Hey, the first thing that I want you to do is to understand what you’re reading. So why don’t you start there? Mm-hmm. And if you can’t get to the other side of understanding this semester, that’s okay. But at least try it. So for me it was all about like everybody’s journey is going to look different, and what’s important is that I’m equipping you with the tools that make sense for you at that point to be able to understand it.
[00:03:52] Zach White: I love that, that educator mindset coming out right there. Understand first we could probably do the whole rest of the episode just on that principle as it relates to our engineering careers, but what was your favorite literature? I mean, is Shakespeare your jam? Did you have a favorite couple of books you always taught?
[00:04:09] Tell us about that.
[00:04:10] Bekah Weigel: probably my favorite to teach was Crime and Punishment. And it’s kind of interesting. We homeschooled my 13 year old last semester, and so the novel that he’s writing his final paper on his crime and Punishment, and so I just sent him the prompt from my, my freshman freshman in college English.
[00:04:27] Wow. So it’s like, you know, a big difference there. But hey. He’s gonna be writing on it. what I love so much about that book is the humanity that’s brought forth in that. And I really like, To explore the brokenness of humanity, but how we can overcome that brokenness, how we can unite ourselves to other people who are not like us, and how we can all work together to, really understand that at the core we are, we are on the same team and we should be.
[00:04:56] Amplifying each other. We should be lifting each other up and we should be finding ways to forgive ourselves and to give, forgive others as part of that journey to, you know, becoming part of the, positive effects on humanity.
[00:05:09] Zach White: Hmm. That’s awesome. I have a feeling that thread may come back later in our chat as well, but tell us then.
[00:05:18] You know, life is going well. You’re loving teaching English. You have this passion for the written word, and, and then life takes a turn. You mentioned going through a trauma and you know, Bekah, whatever you feel comfortable sharing, but what happened,
[00:05:34] Bekah Weigel: I. So when I was delivering my fourth, after actually I had delivered her, I, you have to move from the birthing room into another room.
[00:05:43] And when I stood up, I knew like I was in the most pain that I had ever experienced in my entire life, and I had all of these side effects. Suddenly, I mean, it, it. I’ve never been stabbed, but I could, pretty confidently say that this would probably be along that same line of the pain that I was feeling in my abdomen.
[00:06:05] And I kept telling them like, something is wrong, something is wrong. And the doctor said, Hey, you’re a mom of force. Sometimes strange things like this happen and I thought I continued to have these symptoms. This is not, this isn’t normal. And then instead of really helping me, they just dismissed my concerns and they discharged me and they said, well, let us know on Monday if you’re still having these problems.
[00:06:33] I had the problems over the weekend, and I called them initially, they told me to go to the emergency room, and then they told me not to go to the emergency room. They said if you go, they’re just going to separate you from your baby and you’re not going to get any care. So I didn’t go, I went on Monday to see my ob gyn and I said, I’m still, I’m still having these issues.
[00:06:51] And she said to me, um, well, you’re not my problem. And in that moment, I felt the most alone that I ever had in my entire life because it, I wasn’t a person, I was a problem, and I was not her problem. So when you are at your most vulnerable and the person that you trust to help you, tells you that, it’s like you are sucked into a dark hole of loneliness.
[00:07:26] Oh, like, what am I supposed to do? You know, I can’t live. I remember going home and just like shutting the door and sitting down on the floor and thinking like, I can’t, I can’t live my life like this. And so I was very lucky because I have a very supportive family who was willing to seek out resources to call in favors to help me out and to keep pushing.
[00:07:53] because I wasn’t in a situation that was livable. It wasn’t something that I could go on. And, you know, had I not explored my options, I, I probably would’ve come upon some major, uh, medical complications and it. Wouldn’t have turned out well. So, with all that I did weeks later find some other doctors they discovered that I had a hole the size of a 50 cent piece between two of my organs.
[00:08:18] They had ruptured into each other and formed a tunnel. So not something that happens to a normal mom of four.
[00:08:26] Zach White: No, it’s not normal at all. Wow. Yeah, my. Yeah, there’s that part of me that is, is trying to imagine and understand in any way what that might be like. And of course Beck, I have no idea I’ve, every dimension of what you just described is beyond.
[00:08:48] My comprehension, you know, not being a mom, the, just all of what’s involved in having your fourth child and the challenge and emotion related to that, both love and joy and, and just the real pain and challenge. Ugh. And then to walk in that room and be told, you’re not my problem. When you’re in pain and you know that this is not right and people won’t listen.
[00:09:12] That breaks my heart for you. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.
[00:09:15] praise the Lord for your amazing family, for people supporting you. You got support and you’re here today and amazing. But that kind of dark hole that you described, that you got pulled into, I can just almost picture you on the floor in your room, like just how dark of a place that feels.
[00:09:35] It sounds like that affected you for more than just. That moment. so what happened? Like, tell us about the journey that came from that. Sure.
[00:09:43] Bekah Weigel: Uh, there’s a little bit more. So after I had, I had to have surgery to repair the issue and I also overdosed on morphine in the hospital cause I didn’t have my morphine pump properly capped.
[00:09:56] And so, oh, I had to be treated with Narcan, which meant all of the. Effects of the morphine went away after having major abdominal surgery. And, I, I was just not breathing and luckily my husband was there and told the nurses like, Hey, she’s not really breathing, you know, we’ve gotta do something. And so coming out of that experience, I went home and I had P T S D, I started having anxiety attacks for the first time ever.
[00:10:22] I was counting my breaths to make sure that I wasn’t. Stopping breathing cuz I was just terrified and it wasn’t rational, you know? And it was the first thing, uh, I was able to identify it fairly quickly as a panic attack because, uh, my husband had shared his experience and I knew it wasn’t rational, but I could not talk my brain out of it.
[00:10:40] And so I felt betrayed by my body. I felt betrayed by my brain and I just felt really broken. and in the midst of that, I was still teaching every day online. And I received an email, I think at some point asking me like, Hey, I heard you were in the hospital. Are you still okay to keep teaching? And I was like, I think I’m done with this, you know?
[00:11:00] And my husband was a second career engineer and he said to me at some point, this was probably six to eight months later. He said, why don’t you learn how to code? And I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me. Like, I can’t even hold a thought, like I can barely get a sentence out. All of that experience just kept repeating through my mind every day, and so he kept suggesting it and I finally said, fine.
[00:11:25] Like, I will try free Code Camp and then you will stop asking me. That’s, that’s the deal. What I found is when I started Free Code Camp, All of those cycling thoughts stopped. And so for the first time in almost a year, I had quiet in my brain and I felt like I could navigate through life. And I thought that, hey, you know, this seems doable.
[00:11:55] And so what started as my husband encouraging me to do something became a hobby. Became a community of people and then eventually became a career. It just got to the point where I made that decision. This seems like the place for me, and I found so much healing in that experience. Um, I did go to bootcamp and during bootcamp my educational, um, coach, she shared with me that she had been through a trauma.
[00:12:25] And she said, Hey Beck, I read your essay and I wanna know if you care if I share my story. And she did. She had been run over by a semi-truck and they didn’t know if she was gonna live. They didn’t know, think she would ever walk again. They didn’t think that she, oh my, she would have kids. Her daughter just turned one this year.
[00:12:43] And what I found from that experience was, That I had been living in this loneliness, thinking that I was the only one that could understand the trauma that I had been through, because it doesn’t happen to people. It happens to less than 1% of women in the world, and most of them do not live in the United States.
[00:13:05] but she was saying the same words that I thought to myself. She had the same expressions, and my understanding of trauma totally changed from that point. I finally felt like I’m not alone. And so for me, moving into tech, that’s been kind of the primary focus. I don’t want anybody to feel as alone as I did in those moments.
[00:13:26] Wow. And I’ve carried that with me. Hmm.
[00:13:30] Zach White: It may be a bit painful to go into this question, and if you don’t want to then say No, Bekah, but I know a lot of leaders who’ve experienced either as an. After effect of a trauma or just the compounding of difficult circumstances in their life, and they have that, that panic attack experience. And a lot of times at the beginning, there is some shame or doubt or just a question of like what’s happening and hesitancy to.
[00:14:03] Seek help or to talk about that or to almost a fear to go understand what’s happening, because we don’t really wanna know what’s on the other side of that door, and I’ve not experienced that. But would you be open to sharing a little bit of what that’s like if somebody might be wondering is, is that what’s going on for me?
[00:14:25] Bekah Weigel: sure. and I think it’s different for a lot of people. Um, my husband had had panic attacks and, and he still has them occasionally, but so he had shared his experience with me and so I can understand, you know, some people, it’s often mistaken. And for a heart attack, you know, like the hearts racing, your breath increases.
[00:14:44] In my mind, I just continued to think that I was gonna stop breathing and I was going to die, and my mind was like very fixated on that thing. and so a lot of it can be bound up in that anxiety and there was nothing that I could do to talk myself out of it. And so, you know, you talk about that shame, or mention it.
[00:15:02] And I definitely felt that as part of the experience. Cause I’m like, Why can’t I just stop? I know, yeah, yeah. That this is not rational, but I can’t. Talk myself out of it. It doesn’t make sense. And I think that it’s important to realize, like it’s not necessarily something that you control. Like it might be a physiological response to something that’s really triggering and that there’s very little that you can do to bring yourself out of it.
[00:15:28] It’s not about mental willpower, it’s not about strength, it’s not about any of that stuff. And so there shouldn’t be shame around experiencing that. it’s about like finding. The resources that you can tap into to help you move through that experience.
[00:15:46] Zach White: Yeah. So go tap into those resources if you find yourself in that place.
[00:15:53] Tha thank you for sharing that, Bekah. So tell us about the coding and the bootcamp. You, you had this very new experience of a quiet mind, or at least new sense experiencing this trauma. Was it. Uh, kind of a love at first line of code really shifted quickly, or was it something that developed as you pursued this and, and over time you started to experience that?
[00:16:18] Like how did that work? I.
[00:16:20] Bekah Weigel: I mean, I think the quietness really got me hooked because I, it really felt like therapy at that point. You know, I was getting some relief from all of these cycling thoughts, and then I started tweeting about it pretty early on, and what I found was there were people on Twitter who I didn’t know who were cheering me on.
[00:16:38] I’m like, what is this? This does not happen in academia, right? Like nobody was ever cheering me on. And so to have that connection with people that I didn’t know, and people even saying online never met these people. Hey, if you get stuck, let me know and we can pair up. And I was like, What, what is happening?
[00:16:58] People are nice. Um, so, so then it just that, that idea of community and growing and learning more. I’m from small town Ohio. I don’t really get out or I didn’t prior to being in tech because I’m a mom of four kids, really busy. Got a lot of stuff going on. I can’t really take time to go to meetups.
[00:17:17] The closest one’s probably an hour away. and so there wasn’t really community. Four Tech here, but I found this online community of people that was amazing and I, I was telling one of my kids earlier today that I’m getting much better with time zones because of all of the work that I do with developers all across the world and getting those experiences.
[00:17:39] Learning about them and their cultures and their approaches to things. So it’s really been a huge blessing to be able to progress in this journey and meet all of these different people and find this community. And so I think like once I really, found that community, it became kind of a less complicated decision.
[00:17:58] I didn’t have community in academia and I knew this is what I had been missing for so many years, and I couldn’t walk away from that. Hmm.
[00:18:05] Zach White: I love it. So, You build the skillset. Tell us about your first job in tech.
[00:18:11] Bekah Weigel: So I was really lucky, and I know that this is not most people’s experience, but I had kind of documented my journey both on Twitter and then through blogging about my experience.
[00:18:23] And, you know, writing was kind of in, in my wheelhouse because I was a college English teacher. And, uh, so I, I just had started writing. For myself, no comments. Not doing any tracking. Who’s paying attention to my blogs? None of that matters to me. so when it came time, when I graduated bootcamp, I put out a tweet.
[00:18:42] I’m looking for a job, wasn’t looking for full-time. I was looking for contract work. I had a couple of conditions I wanted, part-time flexible, meaningful work. I think those were the three. And so part-time
[00:18:56] Zach White: flexible, meaningful. Yeah, I love that.
[00:19:00] Bekah Weigel: Okay. And so somebody reached out to me and said, Hey, it sounds like we are on the same page and we would be a good fit to work together.
[00:19:11] And so it met two of them. It met flexible and part-time. And I talked to my career coach and I said, you know, like it doesn’t meet that third one. She’s like, you don’t have to have all three in one place. And I feel like this was prophetic for what the rest of my career would hold because I ended up finding meaningful work through the community that I started virtual coffee.
[00:19:34] But it was not on the radar then. But it, Was really important to hear her say that. And so I was able to work contract work until the pandemic hit, and then we, we both lost our jobs for a while, but it was really great to have that experience of learning and growing as a contract worker. And to better understand, he hired me as a front end developer, which I thought I would do back end.
[00:20:09] Zach White: Oh, I love it. Let’s back up to something you kind of glossed over that I know is important and as a coach myself, I believe in it, but I like to hear why other people do so say, Hey, I talked to my career coach.
[00:20:23] Why did you choose to work with a career coach making that transition and looking for the first roles?
[00:20:29] Bekah Weigel: they offered as part of our bootcamp career coaching, and so I definitely wanted to take them up on that. But also the educational mentor that I mentioned earlier who had been run over by the semi-truck, she and I still meet regularly for career coaching and I find it incredibly valuable, especially for me, I’m a real overthinker.
[00:20:48] And sometimes I have a hard time really discerning what is the right path for me. e especially in terms of I never expected to be in this career. if you would’ve asked me six years ago, like, where do you see yourself in five years, it definitely would not be here. And so, um, having someone help me to identify what that path looked like.
[00:21:10] Understanding what my strengths and my weaknesses are and how I can approach that job search and finding a place that’s meaningful for me was really important. it’s not just about the work, it’s about the whole experience and the community and the people that I’m working with. And so also to be able to have that input and insight into.
[00:21:28] Potential issues and ways to talk about those things and to figure out if this is a good place for me to work, not just a job that I would enjoy is really invaluable.
[00:21:39] Zach White: Mm-hmm. Bekah. What I’ve seen in my own journey with coaching, being coached myself, I have several coaches and still work with them to this day, and a lot of times people get surprised by that.
[00:21:50] Like, why do you need a coach now? You have a successful business, things are going great. You are a coach. Like what’s the point? And I have seen it over time, every time I always perform at my best when I’m able to take those conversations that you just mentioned. To an outside party who has the experience, who’s already done the things that I wanna do, can bring that lens.
[00:22:15] Or even just from the perspective of great questions and thought provoking coaching, even if they’ve never done what I want to do, my coaches help me accelerate and. My mantras, you know, the best players have the best coaches. Olympians have coaches. Athletes have coaches. Why would I not have a coach? And so it’s awesome just to hear your perspective on that appreciate what you’re saying.
[00:22:36] So, which by the way, you still meeting with that person? I.
[00:22:40] Bekah Weigel: Yeah, I still meet with my, uh, after I was laid off in January, I, I think the very next week I met with my educational coach to walk through. I’m like, Katie, I don’t know what I’m doing.
[00:22:50] Zach White: What do I do? Yeah, awesome.
[00:22:52] Bekah Weigel: I, there are lots of different paths in front of me and I’m freaking out.
[00:22:55] She’s like, all right, it’s fun. Let’s meet tomorrow or
[00:22:57] Zach White: whatever. See another great reason to just always have a coach. You never know when life’s gonna throw you that unexpected curve ball, and then you can make that phone call and you, you just like back on track so quickly. Absolutely. So, okay, you’re working this first part-time role and you made mention of this community that launched.
[00:23:16] Virtual coffee. And that’s actually a big part of how we ended up connected is one of my, my past guests, Eric Anderson, you know, he, after the show mentioned you and this group called Virtual Coffee and I was like, I need to meet this. Mm-hmm. This amazing, Bekah, what is this all about? So when did that start and what is virtual coffee?
[00:23:36] Bekah Weigel: Virtual coffee is an intimate group of people in tech who are at all stages of their journey. So it doesn’t have to be developers, but you know, it can be writers, it can be project managers, but anybody who’s interested in that space. And we come together and we meet up a couple of times of week, but we’re trying to empower people to be leaders, to embrace the journey where they’re at and to be comfortable in participating.
[00:24:00] In ways that work for them. So that last part is important to me because I think if you wanna be a lurker, be a lurker all day. I am a lurker in many groups and I think it is totally fine just to take in what everything is going on. it started because on the day that I lost my job, my first job, I had actually been picking up my kids’ schoolwork because they said, Hey, there’s this thing called covid that’s going around and we’re gonna shut down for three weeks while it resolves itself.
[00:24:30] Two weeks. Yeah. Which did, it’s
[00:24:32] Zach White: funny. Yeah. Going back to those conversations and. March, 2020. It is funny how many of those, oh, you know, for a couple weeks or just until this blows over, we look back now and think, wow, were we wrong? Yes.
[00:24:46] Bekah Weigel: Right. So they sent three weeks worth of work home, and then the kids never went back to school, never went back.
[00:24:53] And so then I got home with their schoolwork. Found out that I didn’t have a job. And then I was just, oh,
[00:25:00] Zach White: at a local same day, just bang, bang, babe.
[00:25:03] Bekah Weigel: I got a, I got my slack message from the guy that I was working with while I was picking up the books. Like, Hey, when you get in, like, let’s have a chat. And it wasn’t a total shock because at that point people were starting to panic and mm-hmm.
[00:25:18] There were layoffs. I had actually been on the phone with my dad and I said, I wouldn’t be surprised if I lose my job because I am the most junior person here, and what I’m doing is not mission critical. But we both lost our jobs for a while, and so I just, you know, it was like, Rock bottom for a while.
[00:25:36] Yes. Uh, trying to school at home. And then I was really interviewing for the first time ever because we had had a conversation about working together. There was no whiteboards, there were not behavioral interviews. And I remember I was just like crying every night. Uh, my husband was working two jobs at that time and, I was in an interview and my son, one of my kids, walked by my computer, opened the door to my bathroom, and peed with the door open.
[00:26:04] Zach White: Oh wow. In the background of an interview,
[00:26:07] Bekah Weigel: this is, I mean, you couldn’t see anything, but you could definitely hear it. I’m like, this is absurd. There’s no other way to describe this experience. Like, what are we doing? Oh, and so, Then it kind of hit me. I’m like, oh, wait a minute, this sadness, this loneliness, this emptiness.
[00:26:25] I know these feelings. I’ve been through this before. This is trauma and I’m not the only person that’s going through it. Yes, we’re all going through it right now. I’m not the only person that feels this way. And so then I put out a tweet and said, does anybody wanna meet up for virtual coffee? That was in April of 2020.
[00:26:43] Mm-hmm. And we’re still going strong today. We had a meeting this morning, but what I found was it wasn’t just, at first I thought this is just a pandemic thing, you know, people want to get together. But then, during our first octoberfest, which would’ve been October of 20, 2020. Octoberfest is a month long investment into open source contribution that’s sponsored by Digital Ocean.
[00:27:09] And if you sign up and get four pool requests, you can get some swags. So we ran an event. And everybody was so excited to participate. The connections that were made in that moment and seeing people so proud of the work that they did of completing Hack Octoberfest for the first time or the fifth time, it didn’t matter.
[00:27:31] Everybody was so positive and supportive and I thought, oh, this is not a pandemic thing. We need community all the time. And not everybody can have in-person community. I couldn’t have in-person community because of my responsibilities with my kids. Yeah. Because of my location. We all need different options and so this is something that’s going to continue to happen and we’re gonna continue to learn and grow and support each other.
[00:27:58] I. Through this no matter what. And so this is why we’re still continuing to do virtual coffee. And it was meaningful cuz it got a lot of us through those experiences in the pandemic. But it’s getting us through other things. It’s getting us through layoffs, through emotional, challenges. It’s getting us through those.
[00:28:16] Experiences where we’re excited, where we can cheer each other on. You know, it’s all of these things embracing the full humanity of all of our members. Cause we’re not just developers, we’re human beings first. Yes. And that’s what’s important to us, to recognize the person before we even think about any other part of it.
[00:28:34] Zach White: Yep. I tell my clients, you know, we’re not engineers who happen to be human, we’re humans who happen to be engineers, and I love that statement. We all need community we call our client base the e Waco family. For that reason. It’s like there’s something special about being able to pick up the phone or set up a virtual coffee with people who are like-minded and care about the same.
[00:28:54] Things that you care about and support each other, but Bekah, take this then, uh, this kind of shadow of the past. I’ve had these emotions before. I’ve experienced this in my life in a different context, and you were able to see that and take action. What would you distill this down to that are the key takeaways or for someone who might be in that place?
[00:29:18] What do you do first? What’s the, maybe the signals. That you’re going through or you’re in the middle of trauma in this way, and how would you encourage someone to take action to change that trajectory in their own life?
[00:29:32] Bekah Weigel: So I’m gonna take you back to my conversation with my educational coach, Katie McKenna.
[00:29:35] at one point I told her, uh, the month of November is Nano Arimo National Novel Writing Month in the United States and my past in English. I’ve always been fascinated by that you try and write 50,000 words during the month of November. And so I started writing my story and I said, Katie, I don’t know why I am writing my story, but I am.
[00:29:58] And she said, Bekah. We don’t tell our stories for ourselves. We tell them to invite other people to share their stories with us, and that hugely impacted my life because when we share, it’s not about us. It’s about opening up and creating human connection with other people. So when you feel lonely, when you feel hurt, You’re not the only one that’s felt that way, and it might be a different circumstance, it might be a totally different experience, but sharing that story allows us to connect to other people and to remember that we are not alone.
[00:30:36] Because when you feel isolated, when you feel like you’re the only person that can understand that, that’s when we start to go to really dark places. Human beings are not meant to be alone. They’re meant to be in communion with other people and to be able to share those experiences. So I’d say like when you start to feel tho that way, that’s when you start to share or you talk to somebody about it.
[00:30:58] Zach White: what a powerful message. We don’t share our story for ourselves. And what’s interesting be is my immediate. Like reaction was gonna be, we share it for other people, but that’s not it. It, it’s, we, we share it to invite them to share theirs. That’s really powerful. Really powerful. So get connected, start sharing.
[00:31:19] Is there any maybe wrong way to do that? Anything you’ve seen or learned in your own experience that you would say, here’s a productive or, or fruitful way to approach this, but don’t do things like this. It won’t help you.
[00:31:33] Bekah Weigel: Okay, so along this I’ve given a talk on the power of storytelling, and the last section of that talk is about listening.
[00:31:40] And I think that that’s incredibly important, and that’s one of those things that doesn’t maybe seem quite intuitive, like you’re telling me to share my story, but now you’re telling me to stop talking. But yes,
[00:31:50] Zach White: make up your mind, Bekah.
[00:31:52] Bekah Weigel: When somebody shares their story, that’s your opportunity to listen and connect.
[00:31:57] Connect. And when I mean by listen I don’t mean listen to respond to them. You shouldn’t be thinking about what am I going to say next? oh, I have a story that I can share too. Listen to understand what they’re talking about. Ask questions, but the focus should not be on yourself. And I would say like that’s.
[00:32:17] The biggest thing I once, um, I know that it can be really challenging and people want to relate and they want to share like empathy. And I was once telling the story of what I went through with my labor and delivery and this woman said, this is not the same, but one time I had an infected tooth and I was like, it, that is not the same.
[00:32:38] I understand. And you’re trying to relate to me and I appreciate that. And you know, for me, like it was okay by that point I was, it was able to recognize that, look, she’s just trying to, be a part of this conversation. Yeah. And understand me. But you know, it depends on the person and where they’re at in their journey and what they’ve just shared with you.
[00:32:57] If they’ve just shared something like really intimate and emotional, And your response is focused on you. Mm-hmm. And not in a way that really relates to them, then you’re going to, rather than creating a connection, you’re gonna create like a, a barrier between the two of you. So I think that it’s important to listen.
[00:33:15] With the intent of understanding that person’s experience, but also recognizing that you probably can never totally understand their experience. You can connect through those experiences, but it’s never going to be the same thing.
[00:33:29] Zach White: Yeah. Such wise insight, and it’s a good thing I didn’t tell you about my stubb’s toe from the weekend earlier in our conversation.
[00:33:38] I thought about it. I, I’m kidding. No, that’s super, super important to recognize. Especially when we haven’t really done our own inner work or developed in terms of emotional and social intelligence. There’s that temptation that comes across from a good intention of relating, but it may also be driven by some insecurity or ego or this part of you that also needs to feel like an equal participant in, oh, you know, Bekah had this really big trauma.
[00:34:05] Let me tell you about my big trauma so that we can do this together. And it’s like, resist. Resist that urge. Let that be their time. To share your time to listen. Can we relate this back to technology then? I, I’m so excited because I see the connection, but I wanna see how you relate them. How has everything that you just told us about in your journey maybe made you better at what you do or how it’s drawn in this passion and, and the work that you do in technology now?
[00:34:35] How would you relate these two parts
[00:34:38] Bekah Weigel: of your story? Yeah, I think it’s definitely impacted where I am now. I spent some time doing developer community work and now I’m a developer experience lead at open source. And for me, that’s all about understanding the person, the developer experience recognizes the person first and the challenges that they might be going through, and is open to looking at those different perspectives to figure out how to best.
[00:35:00] Empower and equip those people. You can’t do that without listening and you make those connections through storytelling. And I’m like very big on the storytelling aspect of things. I think that in tech we have this, Tendency to kind of distill things down and just want to be very bland and technical, and we don’t find value in being able to communicate through stories.
[00:35:24] But in fact, stories are way more effective at communicating information, getting people on board with your mission, helping to onboard new employees than it is to hand them a tech technical documentation. A PowerPoint that you read off of or anything that’s really distilled down to those main points.
[00:35:44] And so for me, you tell those stories because you want that connection. And that’s kind of been that whole experience. You have to look at the person, how do you connect with people? You connect with people through stories, you connect with them through listening, and then you take that and you work on it because it’s not easy, right?
[00:36:04] Like somebody. a while back I was talking about empathy and I mentioned to them empathy is a skill that you work on. it’s not, you’re born with empathy or you’re not, and that’s how you live your life. It’s hard. Yes. I would say seven years ago, before I went through trauma, I was not a very empathetic person and then I had to, I couldn’t stand on my own, like I needed help.
[00:36:24] So I was forced to be empathetic. Yeah. Like to understand it a little bit more because I was the zian of so much empathy and then my life clicked a lot more. And so that is the skill that you work on. Sometimes I find that like maybe I’m, I’m not being empathetic enough and I have to pause and remind myself like, this is an opportunity for you to lead with empathy and not think about, you know, the other paths that you might go down to approach this person.
[00:36:49] So, you know, these are skills. Whew.
[00:36:52] Zach White: I’m just picturing myself as, you know, a director or a VP of an engineering organization, or maybe a technical co-founder, building my team around a startup, and think about choosing between. Developers or any engineer who is masterful in the craft of writing lines of code or knows their technical skillset in mechanical engineering like the back of their hand.
[00:37:15] But one of them has this ability to listen, share empathy, who’s got the human centric aspect of their work, loves community, knows how to be resourceful and reach out for help when they need it, and leads in that way like, Which of the two do you wanna hire? Who do you wanna build the team around? it’s really an obvious, obvious question.
[00:37:36] And so I think this is awesome for everybody, for myself included, to think how do we always compliment our development around not just the technical acumen, and use a conversation like this one, Bekah, to say, I don’t need to go through trauma like Bekah did to. Take action to develop in these areas. You know, we can learn from your story.
[00:37:58] And so thank you for your courage and vulnerability to share it today. Really amazing. Oh,
[00:38:03] Bekah Weigel: I really appreciate you giving me the opportunity. And you know, going back to what you talked about with having coaches, this is another opportunity to bring a coach in. If you’re not good at storytelling, if you’re not good at communicating, if you’re not good at listening, There are people out there that will help you with that and make you a more effective leader, and I’m 100% on board with making that normalized in anything that we do.
[00:38:26] Zach White: Absolutely. Well, Bekah, where can the happy engineer who’s been with us in this conversation get connected to you, the amazing new work that you’re doing? What’s the best way to follow Bekah?
[00:38:39] Bekah Weigel: Well, you can always follow me on Twitter. I am still there in prolifically tweeting. I’m at Bekah HW for Herra Weigel, and I’m also on LinkedIn.
[00:38:48] Zach White: Amazing. We will absolutely put links to you in the show notes. I highly encourage everyone to go out and follow Bekah and check out what’s happening with virtual coffee. It’s a really amazing community. I know at times there’s a wait list because it’s such a high demand place to be, but if you’re a developer and you want to get plugged in with that, please reach out and make that happen, and I have no doubt.
[00:39:09] Bekah, you’re gonna continue to make waves in this world with your heart and your passion for it. So I’m excited to follow where it all builds and, and goes to land a plane. Then I’m excited to hear your perspective about this question, we talked about coaching. We’ve talked about developing engineering.
[00:39:27] They all have in common that the questions we ask lead and the answers follow. So if we want better answers, If we want to be happier at work, we want meaningful work, we wanna build those careers, whatever it is, we need to ask better questions. So what would be the question that you would lead the happy engineer with today?
[00:39:49] Bekah Weigel: I think that you have to start with. What do you value the most? And why do you value that? Because you have to understand what you want out of things before you can find the answer to those things, right? Like you can’t find a new job and expect it to be a good job. If you don’t know what you want yourself,
[00:40:12] Zach White: what do you value most?
[00:40:14] And why do you value it? Bekah, that’s amazing. Thank you so much again for your generosity today, for your courage to share everything about your life and story. I know so many people are gonna be impacted and, uh, inspired to action from what you just shared. So thank you so much. Awesome to have
[00:40:32] Bekah Weigel: you here.
[00:40:32] Thank you so much for having me, Zach.