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RailsConf 2019 - What I learned my first year as a full-time programmer by Hilary Stohs Krause

Hilary Stohs-Krause
Co-Owner at Ten Forward Consulting
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RailsConf 2019
May 1, 2019, Minneapolis, USA
RailsConf 2019
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RailsConf 2019 - What I learned my first year as a full-time programmer by Hilary Stohs Krause
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About speaker

Hilary Stohs-Krause
Co-Owner at Ten Forward Consulting

Hilary Stohs-Krause is currently based in Madison, WI, working as a full-stack software developer at Ten Forward Consulting. She came to tech by way of childhood website-building (a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fansite, to be exact).She volunteers regularly with several tech and community organizations, and co-runs Madison Women in Tech, a local group with more than 1,200 members. She loves sci-fi/fantasy, board games and bourbon barrel-aged stouts. She tweets at @hilarysk.

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RailsConf 2019 - What I learned my first year as a full-time programmer by Hilary Stohs Krause


If you’re a junior developer who’s ever wondered if joining tech was a terrible idea, this is the talk for you!

I was equally exhilarated and terrified to start my first job in tech. The road to success is often zigzaggy, and my view as to whether it was worth it - and whether I would make it - varied from one day to the next. Four years later, those fears have been dispelled, as have several key misconceptions I had about tech (and being a programmer). In this talk, we’ll explore them together (plus a few badass Rails tricks to help you level up).

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We're going to get started. So this is what I learned my first year as a full-time programmer. And I want to reiterate something that I think I've been so on the first day, which is a few kind of realize throughout the talk that this isn't what you were expecting or you're not getting a lot out of it. That's totally fine. Feel free to just like duck out and check out another session cuz there's so many great things going on right now. So a little bit about me first. Hello. I'm Hillary's those crazy. I work for June 4th insulting were based in Madison Wisconsin, and we build a real weapon

will applications from really for startups, but really for a lot of different kinds of businesses. I tweet a lot if you don't like cats or puns Maybe maybe follow someone else a lot of fun. Right. So the first thing I want to talk about is that programmers are not the most important people in Tech and I think this was a lesson that took me awhile to learn because Let me know when we think about like how Tech is portrayed in media. Right? Like you have your hackers like banging and keyboards and you have like the windows screensaver stuff going on and somehow that's like coding and and

and there's just is very elevated sense of the coder as like the person in Tech, right? And so when I when I came in a second as a programmer, that was really kind of mentality that I had absorbed. Not true, and I hope you appreciate this lovely Graphics that I made. So yeah, basically that's nonsense and we can forget this whole concept of like the Rockstar ninja 10x programmer because it's not real it doesn't exist or look at why? They're bad for business. They literally cost more money Harvard Business review this big study on on the sort of Superstar workers. Right? And I don't think it was

specific to text with across a variety of Industries. But this idea of like the Uber productive worker and what was the impact that they had on the company and on the bottom line and they found that they cost you money. And why is this they're overconfident when you're overconfident? You're much more prone to making mistakes. The more likely to break the rules and sometimes being able to see past standards or rules can allow you to innovate the lot of times those rules are in place for a reason and if you're breaking them without communication without a purpose

then you're actually just causing more harm. I'm sure they're more productive the turning out more, so they're pushing more often, but it's not as good of work because if you're not taking the time to do the work, well, then you're going to end up with Shawty code. I'm finally and perhaps the worst part the way that they interact in the office is infectious in a bad way, right? So they have been shown to bring down morale across the board. They make everyone around them miserable and therefore they're lowering the productivity Barbie else. And so even if they have higher productivity is

actually a net loss. So is being the sort of like, you know, christ-like figure and coding is not what we want. What do we want don't go Rogue, right collaboration is going to get you a lot farther than just venturing off on your own and trying to take control of things and do it the way that you want to do it. Slow and steady. This is not a race, right this came up again. And one of the key notes write the idea of like a rose like ship fast should quickly a ship now, but if we take a second to kind of pause really think about what we're doing why we're

doing what is the problem we're solving we're going to have a much better product in the end. I'm going to get like I said fostering a collaborative work environment with your co-workers instead of trying to compete against them to see who can like Curry favor with the boss or get the most code pushed out. So this is from that that study that I mentioned when Harvest Harvard Business review and they love this. It's basically taking us if you if you take one of your Superstar workers and you turn them into an average person. You're actually creating more value than if you replace an

average person with a superstar. Which I think was against a lot of what we hear and what we might think is sort of obvious on the surface. What are the reason for this right this idea that like getting rid of that? I'm sorry getting rid of that toxic person creates more value is because where is program is aren't the only people right. We're not Island. There's a lot of different roles that they went to Tech even if you know, whether you're you're working in it tech department at a sort of like not Tech consulting company. There are ton of different people that

make something a success right? So we have Qi project manager product manager data architect and not everyone has all of these rolls. But all companies are going to have some of these rules and if the it mean is all have to come together right for us to be successful. What I found really valuable in my career and I should say I've been full-time developer for 4 years. Now what I found really valuable is seizing the opportunity to learn where I am from people around me including encoders. Server example finding who writes the clearest documentation

project manager who leaves the best feedback on pull request in October 30th who finds most tax breaks figuring out who around you is an expert at what they're doing and a learning from that person about that specific slice of what you really admire about what they're doing so that you can intern really pull the best practices for your own work. Another thing I want to talk about it. There are a lot of ways to contribute right when you first start out in Tech, especially if you don't have a

computer science degree, maybe went to bootcamp Move Yourself pot. It seems like you're just dead weight, right like imposter syndrome by everyone is doing more than you are but there are a lot of different ways that you can bring value besides just writing lines of code. So against documentation, this is the thing that one of our Junior developers in particular really spearheaded. We had like no documentation. We are pretty small company and it was kind of this idea of like, well, we all know everything about every project so we don't really need to write it down. You can ask someone and she

came along and she was like, this is something very flawed system. I don't know anything and it makes it really hard for me to get started and I really can feel like I'm contributing and so she started to do a lot of our documentation beefing up RV needs all of that, which is a great. It's helped everyone pairing on Kodi reviews right to maybe Maybe someone needs to be looked at and you're not really sure what's going on or its language works with a lot or framework you haven't used but just sitting next to them and having them explain to you for disturbing as I can in person rubber

ducky for them and catch a lot of bugs or Miss. Doing research for now. What is an extinguisher of using why should we use it and then presenting not to everyone's kind of help in that way because we always need more texting right? I feel like any place. I've worked keyway always has more to do then they have time and you can really can't do too much testing. So talking about some kind of like serious stuff today. So I threw in some pain relief methods throughout to kind of like lighten the mood a little bit and this is probably one of my favorites not as early for what it does, but just

because it's squish Has anyone used squish? Cool. I don't see any hands could be the blinding lights. So squished just takes a like multi-line string and makes one eye but I love getting to write like type squish into code, right? Yes, excellent lots of ants so this is one that I sync two. Is maybe more inherent to those of us who are from underrepresented groups in Tech, but they're still our groups. You are not a member of that. You are probably writing checks. And so I think this is something that is just super important to keep at the Forefront some examples. I want to go

through quick so she in her name at all. Brittneyjo1, thank you not alone. Okay. Well for those of you who don't have one it's very obnoxious being a person with a hyphenated name on the Internet. I saw a great talk from Erin O'Neill a few years ago and she started out her talk with just one slide that says the internet hates the Irish. cuz she has an apostrophe in her name and so for example No, foreign things that my name is a real like the third one actually says please enter a valid

textual response and I read that it's funny. It's kind of annoying sometimes but I've been at sites where I can't check out because it just gives me this random error message and it doesn't even tell me it's because of my name and I have to figure it out and then it's okay or signing into two flights. I've had issues where my Global like entry name. I can remember if it's I think it does have a hyphen but sometimes flight software script out and so that it wouldn't match my global entry and so I couldn't check into my flight and they wanted me to pay $100 to change my name to match my

Global Entry, which is a nightmare. I don't matter right like my my name with the for a lot of us your name that carries a lot in with your sense of self, you know it and it has a lot of personal meaning like a stork meaning into me this as like we don't care about you at all. And we think your name is fake and you have to change because we're too lazy to write software that can accept - right. This is such an easy thing to fix. Who here is a woman? Yay. We all know there are tons of things this offer that are terrible if your woman right leg vocal recognition software that literally could not

hear women's voices right guys, who here is not Weiss? I don't need to tell you this is terrible suffering. This is off or if he knows somebody has been in the news a lot because it's a software that people are looking to use for like the like criminal justice. I mean, this is just these are horrible things that are happening because people are forgetting that we're not our user right. That's great. Brave early thinking I've heard a lot about this. I get it there and talked about here, which is awesome. But like what am I supposed to

do about it? Diverse Staffing one right? I think that's pretty self-explanatory user-testing. So getting it in the hands of real people like all it would take is me to fill out a form once we would have found someone. Hey, this doesn't accept - like we should fix that. Cross-cultural checklists is something that I really like so I have a cross-cultural checklist with names from different cultures around the world for the same reason, right so we can test do we accept apostrophe so we stopped and there's more than one what we would consider last name. So we cut off the length of names if you

have a really long names do we take names with accents? Right? And so all I have to do is like Play guidance run a few tests and it'll tell me hates. All of these names failed like a fix it. Device lab Sanford has a device lab a lot of work actually made a slack Emoji for me because I have an iPhone SE little tiny ones. I buy a refurbished because I like a cell phone. I don't want to change and I'm going to hold onto it as long as I can. But I caught bugs on our products. Or I caught responsive issues on our websites because I have a smaller phone

than anyone else in the office except for Fred who also has a small phone. And I feel like that's a it's really valuable because I know it's very frustrating mean it's not that old of a phone right? It's not that all there is so many people that are using white older phones with smaller phones. Like we most of us have access to much better technology than perhaps the average person really been a lot of our users and so like just having a small phone or on the outfits. You can just pull things up. It doesn't take long and I can really solve a lot of headaches for a lot of people that I

would venture to say. None of us are doing nearly enough of myself included. Localization is another big one a current project. I'm working on is used globally and we're doing a lot more would like internationalization and localization that I've ever done before. It's been a really great learning experience and it's so much easier to implement that if you're doing it from the beginning Fun Wheels Medford number to pluralize the time I think it was really recently. I had a colleague who wrote the method to basically do this and they

there when you were two rails and you are so excited. They're like look and I figured out for these cases and you can just put one in if you you know, if it doesn't fit the standard pattern for making That's great. Or you could just use fertilized. That's a fun one right number three, you will never know everything you want. There's always going to be someone who knows more than you do. And that's okay, right we can work with that everybody. Somebody was concept of rubber duck eating.

Not that I love explaining this to some of the students that I tutor who haven't heard of it because they look like while you've clearly Denny breakfast but it really is true that just saying something out loud changes how we perceive it, right? We talked about that earlier with doing parent code review. So even if you don't feel confident in doing a review of the code yourself just serving as a sounding board for the person who wrote it is really valuable. So if you're feeling frustrated or feeling like we don't know what we're doing, we're never going to finish our

assignment the code is too hard. How do we how do we snap out of it? How would we break out of that mentality? Reframing our feelings as a big one in this is something that I learned while researching this talk and I really love this idea. There is a psychotherapist. Dr. Laurie Nadal and she says that frustration isn't an emotion like anger or sadness or joy. It's a I'm going to quote this. It's a distorted cognitive response to a presupposition that we are entitled to get what we want in a particular moment. So when I think

about this in terms of coding, it's the idea that when we're frustrated it's because we feel like we deserve to understand and we understand what there's no reason. We should know something. We don't know already. Right, there's so much that really especially in the first through their senior different learning all the time. And this idea when you're when you're frustrated It's like because you feel like it should be easier. Whatever you feel like you should just get it and that's just being way too hard on yourself. It's perfectly normally don't understand something. I don't

understand something all the time. I'm constantly bugging one of our senior developer. Like I'm literally like Wheeling my chair over and just like poking him like I have what is this nonsense? So really just working till like recognize that frustration figure out. Where is that coming from? I just kind of refreshing it is. Okay. This is an opportunity to learn right or maybe this is hard, but the other thing I did earlier like with a breeze right? I already learned how to do that. So just kind of reframing how we're thinking about Those those you know that act of being frustrated. Going

for a walk the Studies have shown that if you go for even like a 5-10 minute walk into work like you can be on a treadmill indoors, but just the act of like walking and moving clear your head and makes you more creative immediately afterwards. So taking a short walk will actually like literally make you think better. Switch in the paper. So other Studies have shown that students when they're taking notes on their laptops in class forces writing things down that retain the information better and they have a deeper understanding of it when they're writing with pen and paper thin when

they're typing on their laptop. So there are times when I just like literally shove my computer to the side pull out a piece of paper and a Sharpie and I just write down what I'm trying to do or I draw it out into a graph for math amazing how that can really clear your brain. Cleaning and rearranging your desk. Right? It's so easy to get distracted by things that are in your work area or maybe it's doing the dishes if you have a kitchen in your office, or maybe it's cleaning out the fridge something that that again like you take a break you clear at the space you complete something

concrete and then you come back and you have more of a sense of accomplishment and I think it helps us feel like we have more space to just kind of like bang our heads in and work through something and then helping somebody else. So this is also shown that like, it's again that it did idea of accomplishments. So when we're frustrated when we feel stuck, it seems like we're not getting anything done. And so even if it's something completely unrelated to what you were trying to do helping someone else that act of altruism improves our mood you don't make sense enough to inspire better. It

just like allows it to reproach something in a better frame of mind. Can't figure it out after doing all of that which will definitely happen a lot and that's fine. Right cuz we don't know everything. Then that's when you can go back to those internal resources we talked about right? So if you're working on documentation and you don't know how to describe something go find that person if you're trying to write s who writes the most test in the bestest go find them. There are there are ways to ask for help that are more productive for both parties and someone to talk a little bit about that

now. The first what are you trying to do? Right? There's a lot of times that so Post in her slack and the say hey this thing isn't working. What am I doing wrong? So what are you trying to do? Right? Give me some contacts. What's the big picture? What are you trying to do here? Because maybe you don't even need to mess with whatever you're trying to mess with right? Maybe you're trying to write a message when you can just be sterilized. So what are you trying to do? What have you already tried? It's not helpful for you. If I just tell you I'll do

this thing or do that thing. Can I try that already? Tell me that a front right? Make it easy for me to help you. What might work do you have inside right maybe one stack Overflow and you like maybe I could try and it solution but your little nervous cuz it's really work to the lab before so you have an idea what might work but you're just you're not sure you want to try it on your own. And then lastly, how can I help you? Right. Do you want me to come sit in a few imperative together dutifully pointed in the right direction. Do you want to know if option

A or option b is better. What exactly are you looking for from me and how can I give you the best help and one of the other senior developer is it in Fort Weaver Road guide for all of our Juniors with a lot of these steps. So if you're interested that's right up there. Another thing to remember is even though you don't know everything you never will, you know a lot more today than you did even yesterday right especially being at this conference. I'm sure everybody has learned stuff while they been here that they didn't know before and that's awesome. But it's easy to focus on what you don't

know rather than acknowledging what you do if I want to talk about how we can do that. So track and celebrate your girl. This is a huge one, right? I have a word doc that I just keep open. I mean, I'm a big tab purse and I think I have like a hundred and twenty two tabs open at any given time on effort that one. But what those tabs is just a word doc and anytime that I figure out something that that was new to me or that's what really hard or I get a really good comment on a code review or someone post and Spark. You know how Thanksgiving

Hillary was such a big help with x y z. I just screenshot it or a copy it and I put it in that Dock and then when I'm having those times that I'm really frustrated, I feel like everyone knows more than I do fraud and why are they even paying me I told her look back of that talk and I just got to read through it for a minute and reminds me that you die. You have had success you are doing things right like you are you're contributing you have value. This is just a bump in the road this too shall pass. And also it's really handy when it comes around to asking for a raise or a promotion cuz

you basically have like an Evidence Journal of everything that you're doing right and bring to the company and I definitely got my last raised because I just told his friend that out and like put it in front of my boss. Document your successes in Republic way for comfortable rain. Does your company of a Blog Steven personal blog? I like to do a lot of like really short post on a thing that seems like it should be easy but wasn't for me for whatever reason so adding a copy to clipboard button to your website or making a like a text input field that shrinks and grows in a mclee as you type

into it. And that not only helps me to understand what I just did better. But also it's like a public record of like, oh, yeah, I figured out a thing see that I figured that out. That was me. Tutoring and mentoring. Nothing helps you. Realize how much you've learned more than teaching it to somebody else. And so that's a great way to 30 amp smear area or Community College or anything where you can kind of just like lend your voice and help people. That's a great way to realize how much you've learned that you didn't know before and that you don't realize

that you've learned. Begin a local Meetup. This one's a little scary for some people totally get it but I will say is someone who helps run like three meetups. We always need speakers and lightning talks, you know, if we're doing it right away to come get your feet wet. It's not it's not he spent minutes 5 minutes. You can do 3 if you want you an ass like the whole five and that's another way to really Acknowledge your working also like kind of on your expertise right like acknowledging a public way like yes, I know things and I can do things and it

feels really if you're into that kind of thing. I know some people don't like speaking totally fine right on Rails method number 3. Previous changes. This is actually one that I just learned recently who's use this one before. Discover people. So this one returns a hash of attributes from a model that were changed before you save it. So if you say something in your call, I didn't mean to do that. You can call this on that model and you can see exactly what the data was before you saved. It is pretty sweet. Write this is my favorite. I think you like wearing dresses to work then do it, even

if our noses and t-shirts. So when you're in a new environment, I think it's specially again, if you're from an underrepresented group in whatever way there is this desires kind of fit in right and like some code-switching is just an edible. That's just a part of being in the society we live in but I think it's important to try and bring your authentic self to work when you can and so I realized that the first after it's been in my company bought three months. I was the first technical women on the team and I was wearing t-shirts like everyday and I only only 10 teacher looks like going through

those really really fast. And it was because and it wasn't a conscious decision. It's not like I pulled my t-shirts out from back of the closet and put them down with I can only wearing these it happened gradually because everyone else I was around for the most part was and I realize it one day when I went to some kind of networking event or something and I like dressed up and put on like a sundress and I was just like myself so much. It's always I decided that sending you know, I was going to be much more conscious about doing things because I wanted to and not just because it was

easier or like made me feel like I fit in more with this order. I'm a programmer that I thought so this is not my personal office Style. so sophisticated We talked about the little bit earlier, right the differences that that you have so free, semi no means I have a small phone right or is it in my name or I'm like all of these differences? hammock you feel But you stand up right or like you don't belong but they're also a source of strength. So your voice matters,

right? This is something that I think is really important, especially for those of us again who maybe don't have a CS degree or or come from a group that is not very well represented in Tech. I think it's really important to remember that that your voice matters. I thought we should do this. So how do we use it? Right because I can be a little scary especially if you're like the only of something in your office, right it can it can feel really daunting to speak out then again. I think there was some other talk to talk about this idea to like wow, do

you use your voice? And so look for things that could be improved an offer a way to improve them. So it could be something like the office culture in the environment like a maybe we should be composted right? That's something that feels a little less scary. It's a little less controversial. You can start small, build your way up. Is there anything with the development process of a look at my office? I said we had each other for a while we can have a system. We don't really think about what would you like for someone new coming into the process? And then we had someone

come in. He was like, I think we can really fix some things here because it's very difficult to dislike break into this or the monolith because nothing is written down. It was a great idea and we really kind of relation warrant or processing but it took someone, you know, raising her hand and saying hey just could be better. Docking station Ray Bonding activities when your team is having like like a team celebration night. Is it always pizza and video games or is it always like stupid crafts or something? I don't know, you know

actually sounds really fun. Whatever it is, like if there's something that you think that would be fun or different to do like to suggest it right again this seems like like more of a safe way to kind of like Tech the water are people not listen to me. Do they care what I have to say. Try it out workspace Arrangement even write like maybe we should have all the Cure sitting together or maybe we should break up. There's a lot of different ways that you can you can use your spirits near prospective to improve the office in ways that are not necessarily related directly to Cody Wright, This is

a big one. Some of my we we got t-shirts a couple years ago at 10 for it. I should say 10-4. It is now 70% women and I think we're 30% people of color. But again, I was like the first woman hired and we got t-shirts and we got two different colors of t-shirts blue and we got like a dark gray. I don't know what y'all would I have enough Darkrai t-shirts. Like I wanted the blue. The really excite was very pretty blue. We didn't get the blue and fitted Style. We got the grave and fitted in straight cut. We only got the blue in like traditional men's cut and I was

not happy about that and I told him once that was not happy about that until the next time we got t-shirts. Which way I should have worn it and think about it, but we actually got t-shirts that I've been wanting to get for a while that the tenets of you girl gang and it had like a really cute and we have like an artist who like a design of like Rosie the Riveter but it's like oh dang and they're really cute and it was just like I said something a company heard we pivoted and it got better but I had to say something because I was literally the only one on the team who cared about the

back of Eden Hazard insurance. If I didn't say something it probably wasn't going to change and I know that I can be scary and like in all of these situations. Are you only do what you feel you can do safely. That's not going to jeopardize your job, right? I want to make Make it easy to say. Yes. So that's actually learned a real skunk skull years ago with a talk about remote work and has really stuck with me. Make it easy to say. Yes. So, how do we do that? I guess I didn't ask for help.

I'm stuck. You're probably not going to get a lot of feedback. But if you say hey, here's what I'm trying to do is for this client or this part of the product. Here's what I've already tried. Here's a link to like my Branch I get help liking someone help me do XYZ. I need this done by Thursday because we promised it would be fun to see white or whatever. I am much more likely to be like all week at totally. Okay, check it out after lunch sometime to pair. He was good resource in the meantime, so really like thinking about how can I cover all of my bases

so that someone feels like a real jerk if they say no to what I'm asking This is like literally my life motto and its mate. It's just Play everything so much better. It does require more work on your part. And there are times where you should not have to convince them to think that someone is something that feels very self-evident. But again the world we live in at least right now. And if you do get what you think is important in that helps to move that needle a little bit. If however you're at a company where you're doing, all of these things you're putting in the extra effort

and you're still hearing down, but you're still getting shot down. You still feel like you're your contributions and nothing valuable or not listening to your voice does not matter to the company where you're working. BART map in California Can you show me put up a bullshit? We work in an industry where there are eighty thousand projected until tech jobs just in the US 2022 that's a lot of people who want to hire and cannot hire because there are not enough people. and that also means that there

is opportunity for you know, of course is dependent on a lot of things right? Like if you have a family it can be harder to move. If you are a caregiver. If you have health care, right, there there a lot of things that make it hard for us to move from job to job. But I feel like just given the the supply and demand issues within Tech is easier than a lot and that's a good thing to keep in mind. Working remotely is also not sure I gave you can't move for a number of reasons but tons of companies are hiring Molly. So maybe consider that if you feel like where you're working now is not

supporting you. I'm going to get this idea like every company that accompany right. So maybe you're working for the hot new text and it sucks and like Filipino work on there like internal inventory system or something, right? But maybe they'll at least treat you like a human being and that it cannot be over. valued and then it supposed to be for like those of us who come from and over communities. Besides I eat I met your students at the YWCA Madison Rayne the boot camp and I get asked a lot. Like how do I ask about diversity in interviews? And there are lots of

studies that show that you know, if people of a majority the company advocates for someone in a minority there seems like a good citizen, right they get points for that for management or as if you're part of a non majority group, even if you're advocating for a different group, right you're seeing is a troublemaker that kind of that scores against you which sucks. So so that's a thing but also there are a lot of companies that like like there's been a lot of attention to the company store in Traverse a lot of companies in one

type of birth to get it maybe don't know want it for the same reason but I do feel like at least as a white woman that plays to my advantage to a certain extent because there are companies who are only in Irving about to do so if I come in the door and more recognizable rememberable. And when you're able use that to your advantage of tokenism because it doesn't do any good to get a new job just to find out it's the same with your shity old backdrop, right? last fun rails method Thunder created by

if you if you're not sure that I record exists. I say you have a user trying to create account. Right so you don't agree to duplicate one so you can use this method and if it doesn't find the user based on the criteria that you passed in then it creates a new one. Otherwise, it's the really useful. How do I have I just want to say I like for all of the the folks that are newer and programming or new to the tech industry like you got this right? You're

going to be great you're going to succeed. This is especially this conference is a great way to meet people who want to help you succeed and who be those supporters instead of just allies writer instead of just measures so go find them and then make use of them cuz we all want you here. Can check out on my flights are available. There's been a link everywhere, but it's also right here. I have stickers. I'm dining stickers. If anyone's into Star Trek, you know me, you can come talk to me, and that's why I have to thank you.

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