Making Chicken Salad

Valarie Regas

My father was 56 when I was born. “The Fall Crop” was his affectionate name for me, his youngest of four. He often used colloquial phrases from his youth. Phrases my peers at school didn’t know, hadn’t heard, and didn’t understand. I loved to quote him. One of my favorites was, “That’s like trying to make chicken salad out of chicken s***.” Clearly, the mere use of a cuss word endeared it to me as a lass. But more than that, I liked the sentiment.

George Regas — master of Dad-isms.

How often in our lives do we attempt to make the best of a situation, when clearly, it isn’t salvageable? How often do we attempt briccoleurmanship when the materials at hand would be found lacking even in the eyes of MacGyver? An astute adult in my life once observed that I had no reservations about refusing to make chicken salad, unless I could actually acquire a chicken. The luxury of youth is to see clearly what ought to be, how one ought to act, in blissful ignorance of the limitations placed on adults by the world around them. Sometimes, despite knowing it isn’t an ideal situation, adults are forced to find a way to make chicken salad.

I completed the coding boot camp at Georgia Tech in February of this year. After a moment of “well… now what?!” panic, I set out to find a job. I began along the traditional lines; I submitted resumes, I went to job fairs. It was hopeless, to be honest. My resume doesn’t reflect the best parts of me, and no one was interested. To be blunt: my resume reflected chicken s***. I quickly adapted to non-traditional job hunting techniques, which I have shared before.

Perhaps the best idea I had during that time was to examine the ingredients of me. Honestly, critically, without emotion; I evaluated myself. I had anticipated there would be difficulty in directly acknowledging my own flaws. I was wrong. As I picked apart my virtues, skills, attributes, and capabilities, I found it easy to see the areas in which I lacked. After all, how do we know what is going into our chicken salad, if we don’t identify every component?

Not to imply I beat myself up over my shortcomings. I did no such thing! I believe everyone should give themselves the same leeway as we give our best friends and favorite family members. But still, I had to be brutal in how to deal with the less desirable ingredients. I recalled one of my favorite passages from George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series. It inspired me to embrace my flaws entirely.

Let me give you some advice bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.

~Tyrion Lannister

I was a stay at home mom for a time before attending my bootcamp. It is no secret that there is a stigma around motherhood in most industries. Employers assume we’ll be out of the office constantly, our attention always divided between work and home. I knew that, to many, that time in my life would be seen as a detriment. I had to figure out a way to wear motherhood like armor. I started by speaking about it at a few technology events.

DevOpsDays Atlanta

I worked to make it a positive aspect of hiring me by shouting from the rooftops the myriad reasons former stay-at-homes are uniquely qualified to add value to technology as an industry. “Coming out” as a mother while in the midst of job hunting was terrifying. I knew potential employers would see my videos, see the title of my talk. Fear not withstanding, I was determined to wear my motherhood like armor, and with pride. I transformed motherhood into chicken.

I earned a BA in Crippling Student Loan Debt, er, I mean…. Psychology, years ago. Not the most useful degree for an aspiring DevOps Engineer, as it turns out. It doesn’t reflect well on my resume. However, during that time I learned much about interpersonal relationships. My ability to speak to strangers, find points of commonality, and make others feel heard comes, in part, from my useless degree. I turned my BS BA into a useful ingredient by turning my job hunt efforts towards relationship building.

I went to meetups, and attended anything that could pass as a networking event. I took business cards to parties at which I thought there might be an abundance of developers in attendance. The network of intelligent, driven, entertaining, and giving people I have woven together in just a few short months astounds me. Relationships with others being, by my estimation, the main purpose of life on this planet, I feel rich beyond measure. Each person I’ve met has added to my knowledge, and some of them are directly responsible for my modest successes.

Fortunately, the less desirable ingredients of me aren’t all I have with which to work. I put a great deal of energy into transforming my deficits while simultaneously putting the best parts of me front and center. Speaking at technology events has given me the ability to showcase things that aren’t easily conveyed by a resume. For example, there isn’t a clearly defined resume section to place skills such as sarcasm, banter, and inappropriate humor. Which is a shame! Those are the things that make me a fun coworker!

I currently have the most wonderful first job for which I could have asked. My company is welcoming, accommodating, encouraging, and I am thankful to be there every day. This role didn’t happen easily, and it certainly did not come as a result of submitting an online resume. I met the women of Airbus Aerial at my first speaking engagement: the Women Who Code of Atlanta International Women’s Day Celebration. They saw the best parts of me, the things not on my resume, and decided they wanted me on their team.

Those wonderful women went to bat for me, and their efforts led to me being able to speak to leaders on the development team. I was nervous when I met with the team to figure out if there was a place for me among them. I used that interview as an opportunity to highlight all the things that outshine my abysmal resume. My ability to learn quickly, my work ethic, and my wit were what I hoped they would see. Apparently, they did.

I now spend my work days learning and growing, while doing all I can to contribute to my team. I acknowledge my shortcomings and embrace my strengths daily. I ask for help when I need it. I celebrate each success. When I take a step back and examine where I am at this point in my life I am pleased. Despite having a kitchen full of inadequate ingredients, I found a way to make career chicken salad… and it is delicious.

Valarie Regas

Written by

Youngling developer. Relationship builder. Tech event speaker. Jr. Devops Engineer. Queen of the YAMLs. Total nerd.

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