Why Engineer Carly Robinson Is on Year 6 (And Counting) Working at Slack

Blog post header with quote from Carly Robinson, Senior Software Engineer at Slack

Carly Robinson first considered Slack Technologies, LLC, a Salesforce company as a potential employer when a friend sent her an article in 2015 about a Slack employee who had joined the company after studying acting.

It struck a chord with Carly. At the time she was finishing Hackbright Academy, a coding bootcamp, after having pivoted to tech from a career in musical theater.

“I paid my bills tap dancing and singing, and it was so much fun,” reflects Carly on her first career. “But I’d been dabbling in coding between rehearsals, and I found that I liked spending more time learning about computers than I did preparing for auditions.”

Seeing that Slack valued people from non-traditional backgrounds got Carly excited to talk to the Slack recruiter who came to a Hackbright career day. During her interview process, she was surprised by how quickly she felt connected to the people she met.

“It just felt like home,” says Carly. “There was a guy who was early working on Slack who left a couple months ago. In his going-away message, he said that he described Slack to friends as ‘a company full of lovable weirdos.’ He said, ‘If you’re looking for a large collection of intelligent, empathetic, unique, and funny people, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than Slack.”

It’s those “lovable weirdos” that make up one part of why Carly loves being a senior software engineer working on Slack. The other key part? How much on-the-job learning she’s been able to do over the six years and counting that she’s been there. We sat down with Carly ahead of the engineering career panel she participated in on June 1 to hear more about both.

Finding Her Place

Carly first got into coding as a hobby.

“I figured I’d do it as a side gig, like making websites for other actors,” she says. “Long story short, it took on a life of its own.”

One of the things that inspired Carly to pursue a full-time career in software engineering was the familiar way it made her feel.

“It’s the feeling of being in flow. There’s an element of dance, especially when you’re learning choreography quickly for an audition, where you’re building this mental map that’s like pattern matching on the fly. And that’s what happens when you learn a code base. You’re building this abstract map in your head of how the system fits together, and working within that,” she says.

Another key part of the transition from musical theater to tech was realizing that the same kind of people could be found in both places.

“The type of people who are drawn to software engineering and who are drawn to theater are similar,” she says. “They’re quirky, with eclectic interests. You get a lot of unique characters.”

And Carly learned to see her creative background as its own strength too. “Writing code is like writing poetry: you want to make it descriptive and expressive, but concise too.”

Once she knew software engineering was right for her, she just had to find the right place to start her new career. And it wasn’t just that Carly found “lovable weirdos” at Slack. It was also that she was allowed to be her own version of that there.

“Slack was the first place I worked at where I felt like I could be completely myself,” she says. “I wasn’t expecting that. I was expecting to have to tone myself down. But here, I’ve always felt like I could dress how I wanted. I could be my goofy self, or my serious self. I’ve felt so supported.”

She’s also had role models while working on Slack who have shown her that all backgrounds and perspectives are valuable. “There are a lot of women here compared to the rest of the industry. Eighty percent of my managers over the years have been women. And there’s always been senior women to look up to, which has been awesome,” says Carly.

But her all-time favorite part of the company culture? Slack’s focus on continual learning and growth.

“They’ve been paying me to learn for the last six years, basically!” says Carly with a grin.

Trying New Things

Carly has sampled several different roles since starting at the company.

She first joined Slack as a backend engineer and spent two years on the team’s enterprise pillar working on billing. Then she spent another two years on the platform pillar, which builds out the Slack API developers use to build Slack apps. That role gave her exposure to Slack’s security team, and she later switched to that team for a year and a half.

“My managers have been super supportive, letting me do these ‘apprenticeships’ in other areas,” says Carly of the various roles she’s had throughout her time at the company — from an entry-level to a senior engineer, and pivoting from backend to frontend engineering.

Currently, she’s working with what is called the Scouts team. The team reports directly to Slack’s VP of product engineering and works to prototype new features and hand successful ones off to existing teams.

“This is more iterative—it’s more of a startup experience,” says Carly. She adds, as a teaser: “I’ve been working on a special prototype that I can’t really talk about, but hopefully it will be out soon and will make everyone’s lives better!”

4 Tips for Making the Most of Learning Opportunities at Work

Carly credits Slack’s engineering culture for her ongoing job satisfaction. “They want everyone to be happy with what they’re working on, and to be working on something that feels meaningful and interesting,” she says.

To make the most of similar opportunities when they come up for you, Carly suggests that you:

  1. Remember that growth isn’t linear. Right now, working as a frontend engineer and doing prototyping for the first time, Carly has found herself playing catch-up. But that’s OK, she reminds herself: “Sometimes you have weeks where you’re improving at an exponential pace, and then it’ll snag. It’s not linear,” she says.
  2. Ask lots of questions. “Try to figure it out yourself, but timebox yourself and don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t get it,” she says. “Even if you’re in a senior position. It can be hard. You’ll think, ‘Oh, I should know how to do this.’ But just ask.”
  3. Have compassion for yourself. This one Carly has ported over from the world of musical theater. “Being able to not trip over your mistakes, and not letting them be the end of the world, has really helped me,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or look goofy.”
  4. Keep in mind that grit can often get you through. When it comes to success, “it’s more about your capacity for grit than your resume,” says Carly. “If you have grit and determination, there’s a good chance you have what it takes to get through the hard part of being a software engineer.”

Want to learn more about what Slack engineering is like? Check out what Carly and her peers had to say about working at Slack during this live event hosted on June 1.
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