Veni Kunche discusses computer science degrees, growth mindsets, and diversity.
There are a few options for those trying to start a career in web development, teach yourself, join a bootcamp, or go to college. Veni chose the college route, she got a master's degree in computer science, which is awesome, but it didn't fully prepare her for web development. Computer science is primarily theory and it doesn't really prepare you for the engineering side of the job. There are only so many research positions where you'll get to applying your degree directly, the vast majority of us are facilitating commerce.
When Veni was earning her degree the competition between her peers was fierce, but in order to grow she had to let go of that competition mentality. It becomes a puzzle for you to solve instead a competition between others. Having this kind of growth mindset is key to unlocking your learning potential.
Veni is currently working towards increasing the diversity in the tech industry. She's building a community, figuring out what people need, and building awareness of opportunities. A lot of companies are trying to improve their diversity, but a lot of them aren't aware of how to do it in the best away.
To work for diversity we need to realize that we all have biases, and figure out how to do something about them. We also need to understand that visibility and representation has a considerable impact. When you're a white male you get role models everywhere you look, people to look up to and help you realize that you too can get where they are. Underrepresented people don't have role models everywhere you look in every field you could possibly want to be in.
"Embrace Challenges With A Growth Mindset - With Veni Kunche" Transcript
Joel Hooks: Hi, Veni.
Veni Kunche: Hi, Joel. How are you?
Joel Hooks: I'm doing great. How are you doing?
Veni Kunche: Good. Thank you.
Joel Hooks: I have several things I'm excited to talk to you about. One, you started a business in the last year, and I really want to get into that and what it's about. But, first, I wanted to kind of talk about technology and being a software developer, and, specifically, you've got a master's and a bachelor's degree in computer science.
Joel Hooks: You have that education, and I was wondering, how does that education prepare you for your career in software development development?
Veni Kunche: I studied computer science in 1991 to 2003. So, at that time, it didn't quite prepare me for a career in software development.
Joel Hooks: There wasn't really an Internet, even. I mean, so it's all changed radically since then, I would think.
Veni Kunche: Yeah. Yes. Yes, it did. Yeah. So I studied computer science, and it was a great experience, but it was a little bit tough for someone like me, who was new to coding. It seemed like a lot of my classmates, everybody already knew how to code, and I kind of felt a little bit behind.
Veni Kunche: But, even though it was difficult, I got through it, and, as I was approaching graduation, I learned that the real world software development wasn't exactly what I learned in computer science, in my classes.
Joel Hooks: They hold that back until you're actually about to graduate, and they're like, "Actually, the real world might be different than what we've been doing."
Veni Kunche: Yes, yes. So towards my junior year is kind of when I realized that, so I started volunteering for side projects and nonprofits to gain some real world experience, and, also, that's when I realized that there's also an IT-focused business degree. I was like, "Oh, shoot, that's probably what I should've studied."
Joel Hooks: Right.
Veni Kunche: But I then took some classes there, too, that really helped. But, yeah, in computer science, often there's a lot of misconceptions about what it is. It doesn't quite prepare you for software development. It's more like a lot of theory.
Joel Hooks: So how would you describe computer science, then? Because I agree. I think there's a lot of misconceptions about what computer science is vs. the engineering side, perhaps, if you wanted to compare the two. But what is computer science?
Veni Kunche: Computer science, I feel like it's the study of what is a computer. Things we learned was like how do you build a compiler from scratch or a parser from scratch or a database from scratch, which is all useful to learn, like what computers do. But in the real world, we're using computers to build software. So it's not there in computer science, when you're studying it.
Joel Hooks: Yeah. Have you built a compiler since ... After you graduated, have you ever sat down to build a compiler?
Veni Kunche: No.
Joel Hooks: I think it's interesting, though, because there's a lot of current technology, like in the web development space, like Babel and other things like that, where people are really getting down there to the compiler level, and that knowledge is useful.
Joel Hooks: I know a bunch of people that don't have that formal education background are now kind of not necessarily scrambling, but trying to learn that theory and understand, "How do I build a compiler, parse an AST, or do that sort of thing?", which is interesting, as well. So it can and is useful, for sure.
Veni Kunche: Yes, yes.
Joel Hooks: But my personal practice, I'm mostly what I call a glue coder. I take all the really smart ideas that other people do and then just assemble them into something that works for users.
Veni Kunche: Yeah. I'm the same way.
Joel Hooks: I think there's a convergence, whether you go to school, whether you don't. If you want to be employed, there's only so many research spots available in the world, so the rest of us are just kind of building things ...
Veni Kunche: Yeah.
Joel Hooks: ... to facilitate commerce and whatnot.
Veni Kunche: Yep.
Joel Hooks: You said it was a little rocky, because you came into it not understanding how to code, and I had the same experience. I think it's hard. I was wondering, when you first encountered it, how did you overcome the process of just the general weirdness of being introduced to computer code?
Veni Kunche: For me, it was, I think, one of the hard things, going through college, was that it sort of becomes a competition, and I felt like, "Oh my gosh, I'm behind. I need to catch up." But I think, after a while, I decided to let go of that mentality and just focus on, "Doesn't matter what grades are. I'm just going to learn to learn and understand."
Veni Kunche: I think that really helped a lot. It kind of became like a puzzle I was trying to solve - or like things I wanted to build, once I started focusing on that, it became a little easier for me.
Joel Hooks: I'm reading a great book right now called Mindset that talks specifically about that. It's the growth vs. fixed, where if it's a game or if it's a contest, then you're competing against other people, and that's a fixed mindset.
Joel Hooks: But if you consider this just a challenge for yourself and something that you want to learn, that's a growth mindset, and it's statistically, scientifically proven that that mindset leads to more success, especially in hard situations like that, like in an academic environment. People that see it as a contest, "Nope. I'm going to lose," and then they just quit ...
Veni Kunche: Yep.
Joel Hooks: ... vs. the other way, which I think that's probably true professionally, too, honestly. That's just a way to look at life.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, yeah. I definitely agree. Yeah, I didn't think about it that way, but that really changed how I view things now. It's definitely not a competition. It's just my personal goals and meeting the requirements of the users. Once you prioritize that, it kind of becomes easier.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, and I love the puzzle aspect. I think that's probably my single favorite thing about this career, is that if you treat it as such, it's a constant, interesting puzzle that you get to solve on a daily basis. That part of it is super fulfilling for me, anyway.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, same for me, too. Every new framework, everything is kind of like, "Oh, how do figure this out? How do I make this work?"
Joel Hooks: Yeah, I've seen a lot ... People talk about fatigue, but, at the same time, it's really actually kind of fun.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, yeah. It is fun.
Joel Hooks: So what are your favorite software tools? What are you using now? What's your favorite stack?
Veni Kunche: Right now, I'm a big fan of Netlify. I recently used it to launch a number of projects, and it's been great. It lets you do web posting, but also lets you build and deploy your projects pretty fast and also lets you set up your HTTPS automatically. Everything just works.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, it's great. I love it.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, and I'm in the process of moving a lot of my projects onto it. So it's one of my favorites right now. Also, Gatsby has been awesome. It's a static site generator, and I don't even know React, but I was able to build a pretty good website just readily.
Joel Hooks: So there's a Create React app, which is the kind of official tool for scaffolding up your React app, and Gatsby has replaced that for me in general. The approach, the static rendering and the GraphQLs is really, really neat.
Joel Hooks: You've been doing this for a while. You said you graduated in 2003. What's changed? What's the big differences or the big shifts in kind of how we approach these problems? What changed over that time, since you've been doing this?
Veni Kunche: When I was starting out, there was never a focus on user experience. That's a big thing that has changed, which I'm very glad for. I think we never thought about, "How does the user use this? How do we make their life better?" It was always "build something and teach them how to use it."
Veni Kunche: That was kind of the mentality for most of my workplaces, and I'm really glad that kind of mentality is changing and we're working more on user experience and how to make it better for the user. So that's been a big change, from what I've seen.
Joel Hooks: In terms of the puzzle aspect of this job, what's your favorite sort of software challenge? What gets you excited when you get to sit down and solve a problem?
Veni Kunche: For me, it's ... I think the newness really excites me. I know I can't always work on new things. That's why I have a lot of side projects. I think there are so many different frameworks. There are so many different tools. But everyone has their reasons for starting, getting everything suitable for certain things.
Veni Kunche: So it's kind of very interesting how this creator has figured out that this is a good way to go about it for this problem and so on, and for me to learn it and figure out which framework is best for this project vs. another one. So I think just learning the new thing and trying to apply it for the right problem, I think that that excites me a lot.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, it's interesting, too, when you combine the picking tools with the idea of user experience. I think that ... because that's part of it, at the end of the day. UX isn't just the visual design, obviously, but it's also the tools that we use and our ability to address concerns and create features, too.
Veni Kunche: Yes.
Joel Hooks: What are you working on right now?
Veni Kunche: Currently, I'm working on Diversify Tech. It is a project that kind of came out of my own need. It's where I'm sharing resources, like jobs, events, and opportunities for underrepresented people in tech, because, a lot of times, there are opportunities out there, but they're shared in closed networks, and sometimes, when you're new to tech or when you're one of the few people in tech, you're just not aware.
Veni Kunche: So one of the goals with Diversify Tech is to kind of bring awareness to opportunities for underrepresented people.
Joel Hooks: With Diversify Tech, how are you bringing awareness? What are the tools that you're using? I don't necessarily mean software tools, either. Sorry. I mean, what's your approach, in terms of bringing awareness?
Veni Kunche: Yeah. So I've sort of been unconsciously building a community. At previous Diversify Tech, I started a newsletter called Code with Veni, which was to help women get into tech, and I've sort of been building a community. With that community, I kind of figured out some of the things that people need.
Veni Kunche: So using that community to start out with, I'm expanding that community more and connecting with other networks, other communities, and kind of bringing awareness in that way.
Joel Hooks: There's also ... There's kind of a job placement or kind of matchmaking service for employers and potential candidates, too.
Veni Kunche: Yes, yes. One of the things I've noticed is that a lot of companies are working on diversity and inclusion in their workplaces, but some of the newer companies, they're not quite sure how to get started, or they're not aware that a job description can make a difference in who applies to your job, or if you target only computer science universities that you might not be aware of other candidates that would be interested. So things like that, I'm trying to help out employers to ...
Joel Hooks: So it's almost like a consulting aspect to the business.
Veni Kunche: Yes.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, that's interesting. I'm a big believer that most people want to do the right thing, and when you hear, "Oh, we need an inclusive and diverse company," I think most people would want that, at the end of the day. But how do they get there and do it in a way that makes sense and actually works and fits the bill? That's probably a hard question for people to solve.
Veni Kunche: Yes, yes.
Joel Hooks: So you launched Diversify Tech in 30 days. I watched a Twitter thread that you created. You're going through, and you actually built the business from the software and the ability to be a business in a 30-day challenge. I was wondering what that process was like for you, what you learned from that experience.
Veni Kunche: Initially, the idea for Diversify Tech, I came up with it last year sometime and actually was like ... Over a weekend, I built something very minimal, and I put it out there to see if people were interested. I got a lot of positive reception from it, and it was great.
Veni Kunche: But I have a job. I have a baby. With that, I just did not have the time to work on it more, and then I'm part of a community called Women Make. In October, I think they wanted to do this 30-day challenge, where each of us, our own personal project or work project or business, take that project and launch it in 30 days.
Veni Kunche: It was an amazing experience, because I think it really made me focus, figure out a plan for it, what am I going to include, and how am I going to do this. It was great to also have the support of the community, because all of us were working on a variety of different things. One of my friends was writing a book. Another person was working on their blog.
Veni Kunche: It was all way different, but we all had this main goal to put something out there, and we also asked each other for feedback and incorporated it. It was just awesome to have that support. Actually, at the end of it, we also, all of us launched on Product Hunt, and if it wasn't for the community, I probably would not have thought about doing that.
Veni Kunche: So, because I launched, I actually got number two most promoted product of the day, and I also got a Golden Kitty Award.
Joel Hooks: Oh, nice. That's awesome.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, and, honestly, I wouldn't have thought about it if it wasn't for this community, that I should do this.
Joel Hooks: So, after that's done, is that ... I mean, launching is so difficult, I think. Ideas are easy, they say, but the actual execution is the challenge. Since then, since you did that challenge, have you been keeping it up, and is it something that you continue to work on?
Veni Kunche: Yes, definitely. I've been trying to grow the community more, and, also, finally, I've been trying to start a business for a very long time. But this is my first business where I have actual customers and that's finally generating revenue. So it's been great that way. So I'm trying to connect with more employers to help them with their diversity initiatives and trying to get more people hired.
Veni Kunche: I mean, diversity can be approached in so many different ways. Right now, I'm trying to figure out what the best way is. I'm trying different ways, and we'll see how it goes. But, so far, it's going well.
Joel Hooks: What does it mean to ... When somebody says that people need to do the work for diversity, what does that mean?
Veni Kunche: First, kind of realizing that we all have biases and, after acknowledging that, kind of trying to figure out that maybe we can do something about it, and you know something? It doesn't have to be this major thing, but taking small steps.
Veni Kunche: For example, somebody I follow on Twitter, Tatiana Mac, she said that, "Okay, here are some simple ways that you an include gender pronouns" - for example, included in your Slack profile or your email signature and things like that. It's way simple. I just took ten minutes to make all of those changes.
Veni Kunche: So I think first is being aware that we have a problem and then working towards some of the inequalities that exist in tech.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, and it's kind of ... I feel like representation and just visibility has been a big and important factor. I mean, does that make a difference, if we see more people doing this thing, and young people see it and get the aspiration? I feel like that's kind of part of the overall puzzle.
Veni Kunche: Yes, yes, definitely, and one of the things I'm ... I have a newsletter called Code with Veni, and that's kind of the main theme behind it, is to show women that there are people like them out there so that it encourages them to think that they can do it, too - and they can. Even for me, it has helped a lot to see other women that are speaking or things like that. It really helps me, also, too.
Joel Hooks: Sure, because you're organizing it, but I imagine you're learning and growing through the entire process and meeting people and benefit from the community as well, right?
Veni Kunche: Yes, yes. Definitely. For example, I've been invited to podcasts before, but I've never said yes ...
Joel Hooks: Oh, wow. Thank you.
Veni Kunche: ... because I was like, "People like me don't do these kind of things." For speaking, for the longest time, I never did anything, because I just never saw people like me do it. I was like ... It really helped, for example, Lindsey and Ali, who have been on your podcast, who are like, "Oh, we've been on Joel's podcast, and it was an amazing experience." I was like, "Oh, people like me can do this."
Joel Hooks: Oh, that's great to hear.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, yeah. So, definitely, representation matters, like seeing people like me kind of doing more than the stereotypes, it really helps a lot.
Joel Hooks: Yeah. I agree with that, and doing the work, for me, has been really considering that. I graduated high school in the early '90s, and it just wasn't even a topic. I love that, kind of almost as a society, we're kind of growing past that, and we have a long ways to go, but it's good to me.
Joel Hooks: I think everybody deserves the opportunity to enjoy these lucrative careers and remote work and kind of having it be puzzles every day to solve. I think it's rewarding and want everybody to experience it that wants to.
Veni Kunche: Yes, definitely.
Joel Hooks: So I'm really curious about just building the business, and you mentioned, when you were graduating, you found out there was an IT for business degree that you could've taken. But you didn't, right? You don't have a business degree, and you ...
Veni Kunche: No.
Joel Hooks: ... have had a goal to start a business. What's that been like? As opposed to being a software engineer, what's the business side of it like, and how have you approached that, or how do you think about that? Maybe what did you learn in the process?
Veni Kunche: So, yeah, I do not have a business background, and it's been an experience to kind of learn a lot of things on my own. Marketing has been a big weakness for me, so ...
Joel Hooks: Yeah, I feel that one.
Veni Kunche: I know. I actually discovered the MegaMaker community through a book called Marketing for Developers.
Joel Hooks: So that's Justin Jackson's ...
Veni Kunche: Yeah.
Joel Hooks: That's his community, right?
Veni Kunche: Yes, yes, and it's ... Things like that, I found different communities to kind of help me with my business. I am also part of a group called Dreamers and Doers, which is for women entrepreneurs, and we do a lot of exchange of information, like I give tech help and they teach me how to do social media marketing, things like that.
Joel Hooks: Yeah.
Veni Kunche: So it's been a process. It's not something I learned overnight. It's been the past three years, I've been picking up things here and there, like marketing or copywriting, which I'm still trying to figure out.
Joel Hooks: That feels like a lifelong pursuit. One thing I'm always amazed at, I think there's a lot of crossover, in terms of the puzzle aspects of business and software ...
Veni Kunche: Yep.
Joel Hooks: ... because it's fun and interesting. You have to figure it out, and there's so many facets to it.
Veni Kunche: Yes. Yeah, I think sometimes it helps to kind of look at the data behind it for me, because, for social media strategy, what's working, what's not working, kind of to see the data behind it, it's like a puzzle that I'm trying to figure out - What is working? What's not? Yeah.
Joel Hooks: So my personal favorite ... I don't know if you're familiar with Copyhackers and their materials, but Joanna Wiebe puts out amazing work, and it's one of my favorite places for learning the hard tech, writing persuasive copy, which is interesting, because once you do this, once you spend several years trying to get better in this space, it affects everything.
Joel Hooks: It kind of affects your communication overall, and I feel like I'm always pitching. For better or worse, whenever I'm writing, like I'll be writing a text message, and I'm like, "I'm pitching again." It just kind of seeps into your soul, and I think it's like writing software. It kind of does the same thing.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, yeah. That's [inaudible 00:18:38].
Joel Hooks: So you've been writing a newsletter, Code with Veni, and I was wondering, why did you choose that format over kind of maybe a more traditional blog format?
Veni Kunche: Code with Veni started ... Actually, before Code with Veni, I used to do online answers for people, kind of like one-on-one mentoring for people who needed it, and I started seeing that people had the same questions again and again. It was either about salary negotiation or "What is the first thing that I do if I want to get into tech?" or "Which programming language should I start with?"
Veni Kunche: It was a lot of common questions, so I was like, "One-on-one answers is not sustainable and scalable, so let me see if I can reach out to more people and share this knowledge with more folks."
Veni Kunche: So that's why I started the newsletter, and then, also, I realized that, again, because of lack of diversity in tech, I noticed that a lot of bloggers who are women are not highlighted as much. So I started focusing on that, too. There are a lot of women bloggers, but you just don't see them a lot, so I started focusing on them and amplifying their work.
Veni Kunche: So it's kind of like ... I think I'm trying to do both share information, but also amplify other people who are already doing the work. So that's why I chose the newsletter format instead of just blogging.
Joel Hooks: For me, it's almost more personal, like the style of writing, and it doesn't necessarily have to be. I just kind of feel like I fall into a different mode when I'm writing ...
Veni Kunche: Yeah.
Joel Hooks: ... an email vs. writing a blog post. I agree. I wish I did both more. I feel like I always need to be blogging or writing or doing something, like that constant drive to just do something.
Veni Kunche: Yeah. I mean, that's another reason. Blogging is a lot more time-consuming, too.
Joel Hooks: Yeah. It's more formal, I think. It's out there, right? It exists in the world, so you have to polish it more and that sort of thing.
Veni Kunche: Yeah.
Joel Hooks: So community seems to be a recurring theme in the discussion and what you're doing. It's like this idea of building communities, and you mentioned a couple business-related MegaMakers and Dreamers and Doers. I was wondering what other communities you generally recommend to people that are aspiring software developers or software developers?
Veni Kunche: I mean, dev.to is one of my favorite software development communities right now.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, they're great.
Veni Kunche: It's a very supportive community. People are receptive. People are more collaborative, and they give you constructive feedback instead of just critique, things like that. So dev.to is one of my favorites, and I think I mentioned Women Make is another great community for women who are making products. It's a very "go, go, go" kind of community, which really helps to help with your motivation.
Veni Kunche: I also love Indie Hackers, which seems to be a lot of software developers plus solopreneurs kind of group.
Joel Hooks: I noticed Rosie Sherry being kind of their community liaison over there, and it was a great community before, but now they have a person that's actively in there, tunneling I think is the word, which is a weird word. I had to look it up, but it's the idea of getting in there and getting the community to do things and stuff.
Joel Hooks: I love what they're doing at Indie Hackers. It's such a neat thing, because Stripe bought them, but then they fund them, and they don't really expect anything. There's no commercial goal, or they're not trying to profit or squeeze ROI out of it. It's like they're just very well-funded and now can grow this community organically, and I think that's awesome.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, yeah. I love that community. I especially love the stories that founders share, because I think, a lot of times, we don't get the full story, but with Indie Hackers, I like that they share what kind of marketing did they do to get this to work. Things like that are very useful when you're working on similar products.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, it's kind of in the trenches, and I love the crossover. It feels to me like ... I don't know. I don't want to say hacker news, because people have a really negative opinion on that, but maybe how it was back when it first started, but without the goal of ...
Joel Hooks: I don't know, because it's about Indie Hackers, right? It's about bootstrapping businesses. It's not about venture capital, which is different and unusual, I think, in the space of building business, and my preferred. That's what I love. I love that world. It generally fosters better communities.
Joel Hooks: I think dev.to is one of the best, my current favorite in terms of software development. I absolutely love what Ben and them have been doing with that, and I think it can be a little overwhelming, too. So how do you recommend people get started on dev.to?
Veni Kunche: dev.to, I think you can either be just a reader, if you want, and just learn from others. I see some folks kind of asking questions or kind of bringing up topics that they want to talk about. So that seems like an easy way to get started, and I see a lot of people getting started with blogging because of dev.to.
Veni Kunche: They try out a topic. It may not be a huge blog post. They start off with a small topic, and, as they get feedback, they write more and more. So I've been noticing that a lot, too, I think because the community's supportive. It makes it easier. You don't have to be afraid that people are going to critique you.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, because they just don't really tolerate any sort of ... You can't attack people.
Veni Kunche: Yes.
Joel Hooks: You can't be super negative. If you're not going to do that, then you just don't belong here.
Veni Kunche: No.
Joel Hooks: You can go to Reddit or wherever, where that sort of thing is allowed.
Veni Kunche: Yeah, they moderate really well, so that helps a lot.
Joel Hooks: I generally recommend that folks start their own space, but, at the same time, if somebody hasn't blogged at all, if you haven't written anything and published it in the public, I think it's just such an amazing spot. I know several people that have used that as their first spot to go blog and actually do the thing, which is amazing. There needs to be more space like that, where people can feel safe to express themselves.
Joel Hooks: Speaking of ... What do you think, in terms of individuals? Each of us is an individual, and how do we contribute or help create better online communities?
Veni Kunche: I think it helps to be a good listener, too, instead of ... Participating in a community is listening to our fellow developers or so on, see how we can help them. It seems like a weird thing to suggest, but being nice and respectful of people and their opinions, accepting that we're not always right about everything, but we should think about others' opinions and see how we can learn from them. I think that kind of attitude helps.
Veni Kunche: I think being open to people who are different, who have different opinions. I think having that kind of attitude helps a lot. In all of the communities that I've mentioned so far, like MegaMakers and Women Make and dev.to, I think the common theme they have is they're all really supportive. A lot of the times, in these communities, I may not be the ... I may be the minority in the group, but I still very accepted.
Joel Hooks: Yeah, so ... Well, I would say that, I mean, the word might be inclusive, right?
Veni Kunche: Yes.
Joel Hooks: We're listening, and I think it's actually ... It's a learned skill. We may be born with it early, though I have a young child, about the same age as yours, and they're little tyrants, a lot of the time. So I feel like that sort of thing is learned over time, like accepting others, and it's something you can work on. It's an actual skill that you can build.
Joel Hooks: Well, Veni, I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to talk to me. I'm glad you've done your first podcast. I hope you consider doing more, because you're awesome, and I think you have a lot to share. Thank you so much for hanging out.
Veni Kunche: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. It's been a great experience. Thank you.
Joel Hooks: Good to hear. Bye-bye.
Veni Kunche: Bye.