From Film Student and Rugby Player to Startup Software Engineer with Michael Poage (S8E8)

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Michael Poage

In 2013, Michael Poage broke his jaw, which was a huge problem for his job as a recruiter. How could he meet the numbers if he couldn’t even be on the phone?

This was the start of Michael’s transition into tech, but it wasn’t his first career pivot. Starting out as an aspiring filmmaker, Mike worked at a film internship in Manhattan. But because it was unpaid and circumstances weren’t so great, he later found himself in a recruiting agency through the help of a friend. Here, he was exposed to various industries, including tech, which he took an interest in.

When he realized that he was burnt out from his current job, he studied how to code in an attempt to get into a coding bootcamp. But instead of enrolling, through a series of events, Michael was able to land a job at startup Teachable without a computer science degree or bootcamp experience.

This episode was transcribed with the help of an AI transcription tool. Please forgive any typos.

Laurence Bradford 0:00
Hello, and welcome to the final episode in season eight of the Learn to Code With Me podcast. I'm your host, Laurence Bradford and today's episode is all about how a former college rugby player and film student became a software engineer at a startup with no prior tech experience. But first, a quick word about this season's wonderful sponsor.

Laurence Bradford 0:36
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Laurence Bradford 1:10
And we're back. In today's episode, I talk with Mike Pogue. Mike is a software engineer at Teachable where he leads the internal tools team. In fact, he was one of their very first employees back when it was a tiny startup in 2014. And he and I used to work together at Teachable. The reason why I reached out to Mike and invited him on the show is because his background has always fascinated me. He went from being a film student and a rugby player at Columbia University. And then he got into technical recruiting, then he was a customer support rep, all the way to becoming a software engineer, which is what he does today. And he did all of this without a computer science degree without going to a coding boot camp, or an internship. And that's what we're going to be talking about today, how Mike got his job at Teachable, what internal tools are and why they matter to a company, and what his experience has been like working at an early stage to now a medium stage startup. Our conversation also touches on the importance of learning to code by doing and unique ways that you can break into tech. If you're coming from an unrelated background. If you want to learn how to code without a computer science degree or going to a boot camp, or want to learn more about working at startups, this episode is for you. And as I said at the start, this is our final episode of season eight. All right, enjoy the interview.

Laurence Bradford 2:53
Hey, Mike, thank you so much for coming on. Yeah, thank you. Glad to be here. Yeah. So you're the first guest I think I've ever had on the show that I actually worked with in real life, you know, in the past, but for the purposes of this interview, I'm just going to act like I don't know anything about you. And ask questions like, it's the first time I'm asking them that that works. I have no idea who you are. So that totally works for me. Okay, perfect. So I would love just to kind of set the stage and just like find out where are you living currently? And then where are you from originally?

Michael Poage 3:26
Right now I'm actually based in Jersey City, which for folks who don't know, the New York City areas, basically New Jersey's Brooklyn. It's right across the river from Manhattan. And originally, I'm from Southern California, a little town called Redlands, which is like about an hour east of LA.

Laurence Bradford 3:43
Alright, awesome. So what were you doing before you got into tech? So like, specifically, I'm thinking like, what did you study in college? And what were you even doing immediately after college?

Michael Poage 3:55
Yeah, that's a that's a great question. So I went to college for film studies and philosophy, which I'm sure most people can understand are super lucrative businesses to be in. And immediately after college, I actually worked at an unpaid film internship in midtown Manhattan was pretty nice. We shot like music videos, if you like product videos for folks, it was all unpaid. And, you know, in Manhattan, you can't really live off of no money. So eventually, I actually had to start working as a technical recruiter, I got hooked up with this job through a college friend who was working as a recruiting manager at the time. And it was basically just like a pretty standard recruiting agency setup. Like it wasn't at a company. We are just kind of working as one of 50 vendors trying to fill various jobs in the financial services industry. And interestingly enough, that was one of the first four ways I started to get exposed to technology, because I was recruiting a lot of software developers and like product managers and those kinds of people. And so I started having to actually understand like, oh, okay, that's how computers work. Yeah, that's a bit of what I was doing immediately after college and then eventually I kind of stumbled into a programming role.

Laurence Bradford 5:07
Right, right. So how long were you doing the technical recruiting after college?

Michael Poage 5:13
I want to say about nine ish months. Like I want to say I started working there in September 2013. And I was actually let go, unfortunately, I could not hit my numbers. I want to say around April, or may 2014. So I'm bad at math, however much that is. Got it.

Laurence Bradford 5:32
So going back a little bit when you were in college, okay, you played football as well, right? I played rugby. Rugby. Okay. Wait, why did I think you played football? Did you play football in high school?

Michael Poage 5:44
So I did play football in high school. I played a little bit of football in college. various reasons. It wasn't working out. But eventually I started playing rugby in college.

Laurence Bradford 5:54
Okay, Okay, got it. So I was going to ask like, what back when you were in school, and you were, you know, playing sports and studying these things? What did you think you want to do after college? Or did you not really think too far ahead.

Michael Poage 6:05
I mean, I definitely wanted to be a film editor. That was one of the things I really wanted to do. And I still kind of want to eventually go back into filmmaking. But I did find that I really enjoyed the editing process a lot. So actually, when I worked that unpaid internship, most of it was Film Editing versus shooting. And so I did expect to eventually get a job, probably shooting something or editing something like wedding videos, because those are oddly lucrative, but something like that. But unfortunately, in the city, there just wasn't an opportunity where I could get that. So originally, I wanted to do that and then eventually find some other job making movies.

Laurence Bradford 6:41
guy got it. I only asked that, because when I was in college, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And I, you know, studied history and economics. Yeah. Which is, feels very random at the time, but I always liked history. But in any case, so you, you know, back to your story here. So you were in technical recruiting. Okay, you did that for like nine months or so. And how did you end up working at Teachable, which is this tech startup that I ended up working out? That's how we ended up connecting. When did all that start coming together?

Michael Poage 7:11
Yeah. So that situation has a very interesting sort of Genesis. So basically, what happened was, was, like I mentioned, I was working as a technical recruiter. And like, oddly enough, Halloween, the year I had been so I guess this was October 2013. I had gotten my job broken around then, like, you know, I gotten mugged, all that stuff. So I actually had to take like about six weeks off of the job, because as a recruiter, I was on the phone, and I had been calling and stuff. And those six weeks were probably the best time for me as a recruiter. And that was when I realized, okay, I need to get the heck out. So at that point, I had actually applied to a developer boot camp called dev boot camp at the time. And I had gotten in and I was actually planning on joining there, I want to say like late summer fall 2014 cohort. And so I, like I mentioned I got like, oh, as a recruiter because I wasn't able to hit the numbers. And honestly, I was just burned out. So I taken time off. And then I was actually studying to become a part of the Dev Bootcamp cohort. At the time, another buddy from college, a different one than the one that got me the job in the recruiting firm, a guy named Noah, Noah prior, he was working at a company and called icapital network. He and I were hanging out, we started working on some side projects and stuff. Eventually, we move into together and we're working on some projects. On the side, we have this app called truck dar, it's like seamless for food trucks literally went nowhere. So you probably haven't heard of it. And he eventually needed to get another job. And so he was like, I gotta go work at this place called Fedora at the time Teachable was called Fedora. And going back to my original point, you need money to live in New York City. So I also needed a job. And so I was trying to raise money for the Dev Bootcamp cohort, it was about 15 grand at the time tuition which I didn't have. And so thankfully, through Noah, I was able to get a job at Teachable and at the time, I was doing stuff like working our marketing site, I was building that out. I was interacting with customers as customer support. I was doing stuff like we partnered with this one content creator who had an E book and I was sending out ebooks to people manually. So it was through a buddy Noah that I kind of transition from technical recruiting into studying for a boot camp to not going to a boot camp but instead getting a job instead. Yeah, that's kind of how I ended up at Teachable

Laurence Bradford 9:37
well I actually didn't know the part about having your job broken and all that so Oh, wow. That's actually sounds really scary. But you said during those six weeks off, you had to take you you started like looking into programming.

Michael Poage 9:49
Oh, yeah. Because again, like my jaw wasn't wired shut, but it was like rubber banded shot, like couldn't eat solid food for a couple weeks and I was just like, this is So much better than waking up at like 530 to go into the office and have to wear a suit and be clean shaven to spam message people about like, jobs in rural North Carolina. Like it was just that realization that like, I prefer having my job, bro came to doing my job, I probably need to make a career change because that's a very skewed priority set. So

Laurence Bradford 10:25
Oh, yeah, yeah, that that definitely makes tons of sense. And well, it's I guess it's kind of like a, I don't want to say it was a blessing that you got your job broken, but kind of a blessing in disguise that you had that time off to sort of reevaluate, right? Yeah, it, it definitely helped. Yeah, so Okay, so you were thinking of going to a programming boot camp? That never happened? Right. So you never ended up going? Okay. And then you started working on Teachable, right? So when you were learning, like more about coding and programming? How are you learning? Like, were you taking courses? Were you reading books? Were you just learning as you built different things?

Michael Poage 11:06
Honestly, it was mostly a combination of all that stuff. Plus, like I said, I was very fortunate to have a close friend in NOAA to actually work on it. He had a about I want to say, like a year, year and a half as a professional engineer. So like, I could actually ask him questions, and he would kind of work them through with me. But yeah, I did a lot of like, you know, just reading stuff online, watching YouTube videos, and copying and pasting what they did, and just kind of tweak stuff to my need. Yeah, I don't think I did anything like Code Academy or anything like that. I believe at the time when I was learning, it was still fairly new. But yeah, mostly just self taught kind of working on it. Admittedly, I hope I could say this. But ratchet applications, like my favorite was this one called hood roulette, which basically, if you're familiar with Chat Roulette, it's the same idea, except it would show you random hood fight videos, like I would just find like little goofy things like that, that I would just like, oh, that would be fun. And I would just try and figure out how to bake them. Another good example was, if you're familiar with the game Minesweeper, where you have to click the squares to not find the buying, I did one, which was a Facebook game called friend sweeper where it just took your Facebook friends and use them as the tiles instead. So I just found like little things like that. And then looked online, I found an article that seemed kind of like what I needed to do, tweaked it, and just kind of did that for a few months. Until I got my first job.

Laurence Bradford 12:33
Yeah, that's, um, I'm laughing because you're also just so creative. Like, I feel like you have all these different ideas that like no one else would really think of. And one of the most common questions that people ask is, what do I build? Like, I know, I should build different things to help me learn, but how do I come up with ideas, but feels like you have no shortage of ideas of things to build?

Michael Poage 12:54
Yeah, I mean, that's definitely something that I can appreciate people struggling with. And even I can struggle with it. Like it's, for instance, I'm pretty well known as like as a punny guy, right? Like at work. People always like expect me to say like the goofy jokes and stuff. But if you ask me, like, Hey, Mike, come up with a joke. I'm like, I don't know. Like, this is how I felt when I first met my fiance's dad. Cuz Yeah, he likes fun, too. It's like, Hey, you will love each other, just saved jokes. And I'm like, I can't do this on the spot. So I can appreciate why it's hard to find an idea. But in terms of like, good ideas on stuff to work on, when you're first learning to program. Start with stuff you like. So like, let's say, you know how to play the bass, and you want to learn how to program but you have no idea where to start. build something about bases, right? You know, musical tabs. So maybe you have a little form, where you type in the song name, and it shows you the tabs from like four or five different websites, right? If you built that application, you're going to learn so much about how to program and it's going to feel relevant, because it's something you actually want to do. I think one of the biggest problems with the way people kind of approach learning programming initially is like, they just build that bog standard Twitter clone app, which, honestly, most people don't get that excited over Twitter. And so it's really hard to actually understand the concepts and stuff if you're just building something that you have no passion for. So I would say, if you're into theatre, or arts and crafts or cars, or like, literally anything, try and figure out something geared to that. And you'll probably be more successful. People learn differently, but that's something I found to be pretty helpful. Small aside, I know my fiance recently actually switched jobs from being a data analyst to being a data scientist. And she went through a boot camp and I kind of offered similar advice to her and she did a project on Parks and Rec because she loves Parks and Rec. Basically, given a script. Can you analyze the content to tell who's the primary focus of the episode and whenever She's on interviews, trying to get a job and stuff like that's the project people gravitate towards, you know, one because everyone likes Parks and Rec. But that's also where she showed a lot of growth and like whatnot. And so again, most people like something. And so try and figure out a project based around that. And, you know, the rest will kind of fall into place.

Laurence Bradford 15:20
Yeah, awesome. That's great advice. So going back to you at Teachable and starting to work there and getting your foot in the door through Noah. How many people were working there at the time?

Michael Poage 15:33
Let's see there is Chris. JACK, Conrad Anker. No, so there were five people there. So I was the sixth person in the door, not counting the two founders. So of like actual, like, employees, I was basically number four. And yeah, that was a very interesting time. Because Originally, I had interviewed with Conrad, who was one of the co founders at the time. And it was at a 500 startups office where there was nobody in there, it looked kind of abandoned. And it was like a 10 minute interview where it's basically like, Hey, you seem chill. Do you want to build our website for us and help out? And I was like, Sure. Can you pay me? He was like, yeah, we could do that. Okay, cool. So yeah, it was a very interesting experience when I first joined. And then my very first day, we were same amount of people. But we actually moved offices into a we work down in a, it was the Fulton Avenue, we work down in a financial district. Yeah. But I want to say for the first three or four months, we were basically at that size until we brought on Sid, who was a front end engineer at Teachable, who eventually, you know, went on to become a VP of product at Teachable TKR. I want to say around October or September, and I started in August. So yeah, very, very spot the time.

Laurence Bradford 16:53
Yeah. And you were doing so much at the beginning. I mean, I think you gave us a glimpse, like a few minutes ago when you were talking. But you were doing things from like the marketing site. And were you also answering a lot of support tickets.

Michael Poage 17:06
Yeah, at the time, I was basically like the support guy. And so what would happen is like somebody would write in, and let's say a dozen people had some nasty bug. If it wasn't like mission critical, then I would also try and patch the bug and respond back to them. And again, I was also helping out with the marketing site, when Sid came on, because he was a front end person, he would help out with that stuff. But yeah, early days, it was a lot of grinding. I'm not super sure if your audience is familiar with him. But if they know of a gentleman named Brian holiday, he had probably one of the most interesting course launches in Teachable history. He was the first big partner with us, he had an ebook about growth hacking that he released on the platform as a course. And every single person who bought the course was supposed to get either a ebook or a physical copy of the book mailed to them. And Amazon didn't have an API for this at the time. And I want to say he sold several 100, if not 1000 copies. And so like, one of the things I would do is I would go into our Amazon account and like, physically fulfill those orders for people, just because again, back then, like five, six people, we all just kind of had the grind to kind of get business. But yeah, very, very early day stuff.

Laurence Bradford 18:24
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think that's how it is that most startups I'd imagine people are doing a lot of different things. Maybe they don't have such a clearly defined role, because they're helping out in other areas. I mean, yeah, you were, I believe the only customer support person for quite some time. And that fell on your shoulders, among other things. And of course, the team and the company has expanded quite a lot since then, which is all very exciting. I actually wanted to ask a little bit about that, like, when did it at what point like how long were you working there? So how long were you learning to code where you became like a full time engineer, so not just, you know, the person who did all this different stuff. And some of it was coding, but you actually like, that was like your main focus.

Michael Poage 19:07
I want to say that happened. Probably like a year and a half into it. So like, I always have to recount this. But I want to say I've been at like eight different offices. And I want to say by like office number three, I have transitioned purely into being a developer. At that point, I have hired on a couple of other people to work as customer support agents. And then one of them actually ended up taking over as our head of customer care, a woman named Tova pain. Really, really awesome. If you're listening Tov, I love you. And at that point, I transitioned fully to being a developer, and have been more or less developing since I now do engineering management, which is not quite development, but still in the engineering team.

Laurence Bradford 19:52
Yeah, awesome. Toe is great. So actually, I want to take a quick break, and come back because I want to talk to you more about your experience. at startup advice you could share to others. So we'll be back in a second. Whether you're just starting to tinker with code, or you already have several projects under your belt OneNote is a great place to host your websites and apps. In fact, with Linode, you can do weigh more than just that. You can set up your own VPN, run an online store, build a game server, there are so many possibilities, you can fully customize your Linode server yourself. Or if you want to make things super easy, you can use one of their one click apps to deploy a prebuilt setup in seconds. They've got apps for WordPress, Minecraft, get lab and loads more. If you ever get stuck, Linode customer service team is on hand 20 473 165 days a year over the phone and online. In fact, they've won a whole bunch of awards for their customer service. So you know you're going to be in good hands. I highly recommend using Linode for your next project. And you can actually get $100 in free credit when you create a new account with them. Just go to forward slash learn to code and click the Create free account button to get started. Alright, okay, so we're back. And I wanted to talk a bit more about just like working at a startup that's small in general. So I know like the position sort of came to be like through Noah, Who is the CTO of Teachable who was also your roommate in college, buddy. But like, what are your thoughts on someone just starting out someone who's listening to the show right now on working at a startup as a beginner in tech versus a larger, more established company?

Michael Poage 21:50
Yeah, I think the thing with working in a startup is it's, there's a lot to do. And I think it's both a good and a bad thing as somebody starting out. So like, when I first started working on Teachable like, there was a ton of opportunity. So like just to name a few of the features, I was able to basically architect within my first two years of working on Teachable the captioning system for our video player, our quiz feature, and our web hooks infrastructure. And if you aren't familiar with web hooks, it's basically just something happens in my application. And I want to send a payload of data somewhere else, right, maybe you want to integrate with something, I was able to kind of work on all these things as a pretty junior developer, because we didn't really have other people to do that sort of stuff, right? If you go to a bigger company, you're gonna have a lot of mentoring, you're gonna have a lot of structure. But like, there's a team of PhDs that have probably figured this stuff out. Whereas at a startup, there's a lot of opportunity for you just to try things and make mistakes, which are both good and bad, because it lets you grow and lets you get a lot of new experiences. But like, as somebody who's been at the same company for seven years, like, if you last that long, those mistakes can kind of creep up on you and find you. So like, maybe you're six months in and you're like, I want to show that I'm learning and growing as a developer, maybe you're feeling that imposter syndrome, and you want to rebuild this thing, just to show you can do it. Well, now you got to maintain that. And so five years later, you might still be having to maintain that thing, just because you want to prove yourself when you're six months in. And so at a startup, you want to try and find opportunities to stretch and grow. But you also want to be mindful of the fact that like, you have to kind of own what you build. And so I think that's probably one of the biggest challenges at a startup. Other than just the pace, right? Some people want to have a hero, my clearly defined set of responsibilities and like I just described to you like, yeah, I had some wild responsibilities when I started at Teachable, mostly because we just had to get that stuff done. And so you got to kind of be prepared to work past five a little bit or have to make calls or decisions or figure stuff out on the fly in a way that if you're at a more established company, you know, I'm assuming you don't I haven't worked at Google, but I'm assuming it's that way.

Laurence Bradford 24:17
Yeah, that makes so much sense. And when you were talking, I was also thinking about some things like what you said with more loosely defined responsibilities and you know, mentorship and like a clear cut role. totally true. The other thing that I think is a really big difference, and I don't think people always realize this is the like benefits and not just like health care. I also mean just like things like a 401k you know, employee, employer 401k contributions and other benefits that bigger health companies will give out like credits for I don't know, like dog care or something right. And Oh, goodness, oh, and even just salary in general. Like I know, I have a lot of friends who work at bigger companies and they'll Maybe have a higher, you know, base salary, and then they have all these different bonuses and it can be kind of like complicated, but they can end up making, you know, quite a lot by the end of the year. But I feel like at a smaller company, there's just not like the HR, the resources to manage all of those different things. So usually like the pay could be less too, but I think it does come with different trade offs.

Michael Poage 25:21
Yeah. That's, that's definitely the unfortunate situation. Like, for instance, our taxes weren't great. The first couple of years, like I ended up having to owe the government because the withholdings were messed up. And, you know, I and like, conqueror, see, I love him to death. But like, Oh, yeah, there are definitely times like early on where it's like, ah, payrolls, a couple days late. Just because again, like some of this stuff is just literally manual at this point, like you don't have the HR the infrastructure to get the stuff in place. And so Oh, yeah, that that was definitely something that I would recommend to your audience. Like, if you're in a position not to rely on benefits, that's a very good position to be in at a startup? Because I know for me, there were definitely times when I had to make trade offs on like, do I work from home today? Or do I have dinner because I could either afford subway or I could afford McDonald's? Because, yeah, I was pretty strapped for cash. And like, had I had a family or anything like that, it just would have been a very untenable situation. And so any way you could build up savings and support to kind of account for that stuff, that would be great. Because, yeah, most startups, unlike Google, or Amazon, or Facebook, just don't have the same benefits. And kind of the reality is a lot of startups don't become Facebook's and Googles and stuff. And so relying on that is a little bit tough. But I still think it's worth it, especially if you're starting off as a engineer. Because, again, there's so many opportunities and ways to grow. It's just one of those trade offs. You have to kind of make.

Laurence Bradford 26:56
Yeah, right, of course. So and I feel like it's important for us to note that Teachable, eventually got all those things, right. Like, I remember when I started working there, there wasn't the Oh gosh, the 401k employer contribution thing, but I think like a year or so in, they began offering that. And I remember being like, Oh my goodness, it felt like a milestone of being like a real company. There was health insurance and all that before that. But for some reason in my head when that matching employer contribution, it was like, a whole other level.

Michael Poage 27:29
Oh, yeah. And like, yeah, and you know, full disclosure for the audience, like Teachable, did get acquired, and like, Yes, I got some money out of that. But like, honestly, the 401k is easily how I'm making, you know, bank off of the company. Like that's one of the greatest benefits we've been able to get. And to your point, yeah, eventually, we were able to kind of grow and get the sort of niceties that, you know, you think of when you think of startup world. So definitely something that does happen to most places. I guess I'm just thinking more of like, if you're trying to go for like the under 12 people, sort of situation. Yeah, it's probably not gonna have cucumber water every day.

Laurence Bradford 28:09
Yeah, right. No, exactly. And especially now that everyone is working from home unless you make your own cucumber water, right. You're out of luck there. Exactly. Yeah. So transitioning a little bit correct me if I'm wrong, but most of your time than at Teachable as a software engineer, and I think even today, with with management, you are working with internal tools, right? Yep. Okay, so I don't think we've ever really talked about internal tools on the show before. So I'd love you to tell us about it. Like what is internal tools? And why does it matter?

Michael Poage 28:45
Yeah, internal tools basically are just, you know, different means or mechanisms by which employees can kind of do their jobs and do them better. Right. So like, the example I always like to explain to people off is Uber, right, most people understand Uber. And if you don't understand Uber, I'm sorry, it's super convenient. But it's a ride sharing app where you can call for people to come take you from one place to the other. But if you're familiar with it, right, you have the version of the app that you see the call the driver. And then you have the version of the app that the driver sees to see, oh, somebody wants me to go picks him up. And then there's the third version that most people don't see, which only Uber support sees, which is Oh, I need to process a refund, or I need to cancel this right for somebody. That last version is effectively what I work on. And my team works on. So we kind of work with the different teams inside of Teachable and we try and help them use tools, whether they're like home built proprietary tools, or it's just kind of stitching together various vendors. We just try and help them do their jobs a little bit better, a little bit more efficiently.

Laurence Bradford 29:52
Yeah, awesome. And how did you end up falling into that and I have like, it's funny because I sort of have like my recollection of the story as like the outsider kind of looking in and looking at you and your your role at Teachable, which I'm just going to give super quickly, I feel like you built the original staff app, right? And then that maybe was also coinciding with your help with support tickets since you answered support tickets early on with the company. And I feel like then your role just evolved from that. And that was kind of like your domain was just the staff app and related things.

Michael Poage 30:26
Yeah, that's definitely like, I guess that's more or less how it kind of came about slightly different spin and kind of going back to an earlier point, like, yeah, it was just kind of like, an area where like, our regular engineers aren't like, heck, yeah, I want to build the admin platform for a platform. So it's just like, Oh, I can kind of work on this. To your point, I was already pretty familiar with a lot of the use cases, and why you would need a tool like this. And so I have pretty good background knowledge. And so yeah, it was just an opportunity to basically like, own an entire part of the system. So that kind of grew me there. And then since then, it's just kind of been like a sort of, that's been a domain area I've kind of I wouldn't say excelled in, but like, it's kind of become my wheelhouse within the company at this point.

Laurence Bradford 31:14
Okay, so you kind of explained the difference between the admin interface and platform that like the customers are using versus just staff app? And it said, No, is that what you guys still call it? Cuz I know, that's what we called it when we were there.

Michael Poage 31:27
Yes, yeah. So called staff app, because I am not very creative when it comes to naming things.

Laurence Bradford 31:32
Okay, so the staff app. Okay, so then we have the staff app, what technologies and languages are being used to create and run and maintain that?

Michael Poage 31:41
Yeah, so it's actually going through a bit of a migration right now. So where we're trying to move towards is Ruby on Rails back end, a graph qL API with a react front end, historically, it was all just Ruby on Rails server side program, because for a long time, it was just me. And that was the language I first learned it was pretty comfortable with, we're trying to mix up some of the technology, so to kind of better fit the rest of our front end development at the company. And then we also have me it's kind of hard to describe, but like, there's a series of just like smaller microservices, that kind of power, certain features. And those have been written and stuff like node or Python, which are the three primary languages. I've used professionally a Teachable node, Python, and Ruby on Rails, or Ruby, Ruby on Rails being the framework, they add, it's more or less the technology that we're using.

Laurence Bradford 32:36
Right. So with like internal tools, do all companies or larger companies, maybe just software companies? I don't know, do they have that kind of team in some shape, or form? And if they do, is it always called internal tools? Or are there other names for it?

Michael Poage 32:54
Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of companies do, but they may not always call it that, for instance, like we primarily focus on internal tools for our non technical employees. So like Customer Care agents, some of our risk management, team, financial users, stuff like that. There's also like developer tools, right. And a lot of companies will have people building developer tools, right things to allow you to deploy faster on like, the infrastructure or DevOps side, or things to make front end development a little bit easier. So like, those teams very much do exist, but they may not be called an internal tools, team. And that kind of highlights how even the name internal tools is a little broad, and something we're always trying to think of, is there a better name for this? Because, yeah, there's just different kinds of tools that people use internally. And so I think that a lot of times, companies, especially tech companies, will just have a need for that sort of stuff. If you're a pretty simple standard. I'm running on Shopify ecommerce type of business, you probably don't, but like, anytime you have like your own proprietary software, there's a possibility you might need to build bespoke technology to support it, because there might not be a good off the shelf solution to just kind of like, plug in and get everything you need.

Laurence Bradford 34:14
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I can't even imagine just like with Teachable and like the customer care tickets, and as you said, like other people who may need to use it, like people who are on the finance team or something. I don't even know how you would go about getting all that different information without having something like a staff app to log into, which is essentially just showing all of this different internal information for the different accounts that are on Teachable. So if someone has like a billing issue, or they were supposed to get a payout, and it never came, they can right into customers to poor customer support can kind of pull up their account details and like see where things see where things stand. So it's really I mean, it's really cool. And I would imagine a lot of companies similar Teachable the software, as you said proprietary software would would have something similar to this.

Michael Poage 34:59
Yeah. And there's a huge array of options when it comes to that sort of stuff, right. Like there's a recent company called retool, which is pretty popular in this space. And like, again, if you're just working with like, I got stuff in Shopify, and I need to look at it in QuickBooks and kind of manage the two, there are tools like that, which are really, really good for you, if you have something proprietary, but you don't want to build your own framework for their stuff like in Ruby on Rails, like rails, AB bin, which are pretty darn nifty, especially if you're a startup. And then if you have a pretty complex system with a lot of nuances and complexity, you might have to build some more like custom made stuff. And so yeah, I think that, you know, at the end of the day, like, employees need a way to kind of manage stuff. And so some form or fashion will probably have it again, it really just depends on what your other tech stack is, and like what options you have available.

Laurence Bradford 35:57
Yeah, so this may be a tough one. I'm not sure. But most of the folks listening right now are beginners, right? And for someone listening, who thinks, oh, that actually sounds really interesting, like internal tools, I would love to work on a team like that at a tech company, what would you recommend would be a good way to go about that?

Michael Poage 36:20
Well, I think the first thing in terms of really any, I think this might be good advice for any sort of position at a company is just showing interest, right? And especially if we're talking about like a smaller company, where like, you don't have a full team of people for a single button. People probably have a lot on their plates, like I know, for me and my team right now, right? Like, we're still trying to hire, we got a bunch of good talented people, but we still have a huge backlog of stuff we're trying to get through. And so like, if somebody is like, Hey, I opened a PR, and I added this feature or fix this thing. I'm probably not going to say no. And like that kind of shows aptitude. And from there, that's where you start getting into internal transfer situation. Or if you want to, like let's say, so I guess this is coming from like, let's say you're already at the company, and you're like, Oh, this team sounds cool. And I want to start working with them. I think those kinds of opportunities could be really cool. If you're in a larger company, I, I'll be honest, I'm not super sure. But like, again, at smaller companies, I think most people probably don't care. If you help out their lives and make their lives easier. If you're somebody who's like, I want to work in internal tools, but I am not working in a company. And I want to figure out how to apply to that job. I think in general, especially if you're somebody brand new, just showing a lot of like, grit might be the best way to put it. So like kind of going back to like, what project should I learn, like, have something up on Heroku, like have some app that shows like this person is willing to learn, they're curious or willing to put in the effort, and then reach out to the startup? startups are constantly hiring, they're constantly looking for good people. That's the kind of stuff that really stand out. If I'm like, looking at a resume, it's like, what kinds of projects are you doing? Like, are they just following that rails, Twitter clone tutorial? Or are they you know, pushing themselves? That was a long answer.

Laurence Bradford 38:17
No, no, that was good. And I mean, because you're hiring now you are you've always been interviewing, but I think you have even more responsibility now on that front, because you're a manager, right? Yes. So when you're looking at someone's resume, since you do this a lot, or their whatever, their website, they're whatever they give to you on the application? Are you looking at like their GitHub, and in seeing like what they've put out there?

Michael Poage 38:44
Ah, yes or no, I mean, GitHub is a little bit tricky. Like, for instance, if you look at my GitHub, Ruby bruzzese username, I don't really have that much up there. Because most of the work I'm doing is to my job. And that's like private, so you can't really see my activity. And I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm like a poor candidate. And so if people have stuff on GitHub, that's awesome. And that's great. If you don't like that's not necessarily a knock against you. I guess when I look at resumes, the stuff that I'm really looking out for is like, what is the job history? Like, right, like, are they jumping around from place to place? And like, that's not necessarily a bad thing, but like, you know, is it because the company went under, maybe you made Facebook for dogs and just didn't work out? Like, that's totally fine. But, you know, I want to make sure that like, you're the kind of person who's willing to stay at a place for a few years to try and like learn and all that sort of stuff, right? If you're, again, brand new, it's your first programming job, like, that's okay. But again, a little bit consistency goes a long way. The other thing I like to do that isn't just on the resume, but more just like something I asked people in interview questions, which, if you're able to handle this question, I think most of the time I'm usually like, yeah, we should bring them up. is talking about a time when you messed up and how you responded to it. All the good engineers I've worked with and don't mess up, like they am talking like they cost the company 1000s of dollars, they took down a website during a big feature launch, like just some really bad stuff, right? If you're not able to talk about that, then you're probably not being honest. Or you're haven't been doing it long enough, or you haven't tried or whatever, right. And you know, how you respond to those kinds of situations is important, because you probably will cause outages, again, spoiler alert, we all mess up. And how you respond to that it's really, really important more so than like, Oh, you went to this boot camp, or you went to this college? Like, that's really doesn't matter. Throw consistency? And then, you know, can you talk about, like, what you've done in the past, especially your mistakes?

Laurence Bradford 40:56
Yeah, that's a really good tip that and that's, that makes a lot of sense why that would be a really good question to ask to gauge a person and just even I'm thinking, at least with in person interviews, you could just pick up a lot on their body language, probably when they're talking about that. And that'd be really informative. Okay, so I'm switching gears, kind of, but I really want to ask this. So I'm thinking about like your college experience, right? Studying film philosophy, playing rugby slash, maybe football a bit in the beginning, and then mostly rugby. Is there anything that you learned in those areas that you think helped you in your career in tech?

Michael Poage 41:37
Oh, yeah. So it's funny enough, philosophy actually has a lot more to do with computers. And you think so like, for instance, Symbolic Logic, which is a class I took, it's basically how computers work, we get down to the nitty gritty. It's all like, Boolean algebra, and like logic gates, and stuff like that. And so oddly enough, I find philosophy, remembering double Morgan's law helps me out. But uh, yeah, the other thing, I think that honestly, of all my college experience, it really helped me a lot is being able just to cram and learn a lot of stuff in a short amount of time, one of the things I think is really important to kind of internalize is the fact that you're not going to learn everything, you're not even going to learn a fraction of everything, there's so much out there in terms of programming. And so being able just to, like, rapidly digest and get caught up with stuff is really, really important, more so than memorizing everything. And that kind of goes back to just getting as much exposure to things as possible, and not getting hung up on the little little things like, learn about Docker at a high level, you don't have to learn about every internal aspect of it. Because if that's the approach you're taking, you're gonna get bogged down. So learn the high level overview, do what you need to do move on. And that's kind of something I had to learn in college writing dozens of 12 page papers on European philosophy.

Laurence Bradford 43:07
That's really interesting. Yeah. And I'm glad that you had some things that carried with you and are, you know, helping you today, I've never, I don't think we ever spoke to anyone on the show that studied philosophy that I can think of at least, but that, that adds up, I guess, like that there's similarities, I never studied it. So I don't know too much about philosophy, but I can see it helping for sure. The other thing I just want to ask just to wrap things up, is any kind of like Final advice, or thoughts that you could leave people with who are trying to transition into software engineering, but they don't have you know, they didn't go to a boot camp, maybe go to college, they don't have any work experience yet.

Michael Poage 43:48
Yeah, that's a I would say, the best advice I can give is, try and put yourself out there as much as possible and try and connect with people as soon as possible. There's, it's like very weird, prevalent stereotype that programming and engineering is it's like, anti social thing. And like, that's very far from the truth. Like, even if you're just coding by yourself, you're using libraries that other people have used, and you're not gonna know how they work perfectly, you're gonna need to like learn how to talk with other people and ask the right questions, and all that sort of stuff. And so if you're somebody who's like, I want to become an engineer, and I don't know anybody, I don't know anything about programming. Yes, the first thing is, you know, go to W three schools and start learning about programming. Google, how to build a website, do whatever you need to do just to start learning. But I would also encourage you to try and find other places, look on Reddit, look on social media, try and see if there's anybody you went to high school with, that might know about programming, like you would be surprised at how many people even if it's not building an app. For big company, they're building websites. So try and connect to them. And you know, just so you can ask them questions, right? Because purely learning online is possible. But it's a lot easier when you have somebody else. The other thing I would say is learn HTML and CSS, it is easy, it is simple, you don't need to know that much about how computers work. And it's an incredibly fast feedback loop. Programming is hard, you're gonna get frustrated, it will take a lot of time. But just getting your name on a page, changing the font size, and then hitting refresh and seeing that change is the small bit of positive feedback loop that you want to be creating early on. And so if you're learning and you're like, I'm a built in operating system, don't do that. It'll be too much. It'll be too long. Start off with HTML and CSS. And yeah, I don't know. Yeah, like I said, find a network, get people you could talk with and learn something simple and easy at first. So you get used to make a change. I see it happen, because there's a lot of stuff you can learn. And you just want to start out very simple.

Laurence Bradford 46:09
Yeah, that's great advice. And I totally agree. I feel like also HTML and CSS can can help you in like, all these different ways. I'm just even thinking of like formatting a blog post on my own blog, or something and how there's times I need to make a small change or something with formatting and just knowing like HTML, CSS helps with that. And likewise, with a lot of different stuff you may want to do online, it can be helpful. Oh, yeah. It's a bit of a weird analogy. If you if you know me long enough, you'll know I love weird analogies. But like, it's a bit like the 21st century equivalent of knowing how to change your car's oil, or like fill up the, you know, tires, or gas or something or air, don't fill up the tires with gas. That's a terrible idea. But yeah, I think, you know, everything is online, everything is web based. The other day, I was trying to order something on grubhub. And I was able to debug an issue with the coupon code, because the error wasn't showing, but I opened up the developer tools, and I could see the error message to JavaScript through. So yeah, I definitely think that even if you're, I don't want to become an engineer. I don't want to become a software developer. Knowing HTML, CSS, and JavaScript is, yeah, you should just do it for modern life. Awesome. Well, I think that's a great note to end things on. Thank you so much again, Mike, for coming on. And where can people find you online?

Michael Poage 47:34
Yeah, that's a good question. So I don't really use Twitter that much. But I do have a Twitter account. I need to look it up, it’s @rubybrewsday. You'll find me on Twitter. I'm also on GitHub as Ruby Brewsday, that's just my general handle. I have a website mikepoage,com, but there's not much on there. And yeah, if you want to, you know, shoot me a message on Twitter. I'll try and get back to you. Yeah, it's been great being on the show.

Laurence Bradford 48:03
Awesome. Thank you so much again, Mike.

Laurence Bradford 48:10
I hope you enjoyed today's episode. If you missed anything, or would like a recap, you could find the show notes at If you're listening to this episode in the future, simply click the Search icon in the upper navigation of the website and search for the guest name. If you enjoyed this episode, you can subscribe to my show on whichever podcast player you use. For more free tech related resources, tips and recommendations, visit the website and blog over at

Thanks so much for tuning in. And I'll see you next time.

Key Takeaways:

  • Even without any formal education, there are many paths to transition into tech without a technical degree. A coding bootcamp is just one option, but you can also land a job using referrals.
  • When things are getting rough, it can sometimes help to take some time off. Mike only realized he was getting burnt out when he took six weeks off after having his jaw broken.
  • If you’re finding it hard to generate ideas on what to build, just start with anything you’re passionate about. 
  • When deciding between working for startups or bigger companies, look at your priorities first. Do you want to grow a lot faster or have a more stable income source?
  • Startups are constantly looking for people that are passionate and make things that stand out. If you want to get a position at a company, show them your interest.

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!

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