Stories/Jess Lee
Jess Lee

Jess Lee is a co-founder of DEV community and one of the core mainters of the DEV platform.

#founder# developer

Tell us about yourself

When I was in college, I was one of those kids that kept changing or doubling up on majors because I wanted to do everything. I ended up with an individualized degree with most of my credits concentrated in music performance/therapy/theory, and a sprinkling of accounting. That is to say, I was very far from the tech world. It wasn't until burning out at a record label, a leap of faith, and a few chance encounters, did I end up where I am now — co-founding a social network for software developers.

How did you first get started in your career in tech?

I got into tech by way of temp work — I had left the aforementioned record label after several years and was trying to figure out my next step. The temp agency placed me on the product team at a startup where I noticed that only developers were treated as first class citizens. A few months later, I decided to enroll in a bootcamp so I could be a developer, too.

After graduating from the bootcamp, I was determined to work for a mission driven organization. So even though I was looking for developer roles, I ultimately started working at DoSomething.org, a non-profit that activates young people for social change, as a product manager. I had known about the company for a while so I was extremely familiar with their product — when I noticed they'd be at a local networking event, I made sure to introduce myself to everyone on their team.

At the same time, I was working on DEV as a side project during evenings and weekends. Building a place for developers to share knowledge and support one another was both a labor of love, and what they call "scratching my own itch." When I churned out of the bootcamp, I felt immediately isolated and needed a way to connect with people beyond Hacker News and r/programming. I serendipitously met Ben Halpern who shared my same feelings, and discovered that he was trying to do something about it. I knew immediately that I wanted to join his mission of building out a supportive community for developers. We spent eight months in the chaos of juggling full-time jobs and building DEV until we went full-time in January 2017 and brought on our third co-founder and co-CEO, Peter Kim Frank.

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What are the most important skills in your current position? How did you develop these skills?

I used to be ashamed of being a "Jackie of all trades" because it meant I was a "master of none." Well, it turns out my cumulative past interests and experiences have given me the skills needed to be an entrepreneur. In my co-founding relationship, PB (Peter & Ben) lean on me to distill our vision into actionable tasks, and to ask thoughtful questions. The latter has probably gotten me the furthest in my career. When you're the question-asker, you get the benefit of learning a ton and bringing clarity to the team.

BTW, I recently learned that the complete saying is "A Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one!"

What are some resources that helped you in your journey in tech?

I spend a lot of time thinking about internal processes and team dynamics so I really enjoy books about team culture. Two books I'd recommend are "Powerful: Building A Culture Of Freedom And Responsibility" by Patty McCord and "It Doesn't Have To Be Crazy At Work" by Jason Fried & DHH.

What difficulties did you face in your career? How did you overcome them?

My biggest ongoing challenge is dealing with imposter syndrome. I've never worked as a full-time software engineer, yet I'm facilitating this (wonderful) community of developers and I'm one of the core maintainers of the codebase. Luckily, it's only been a battle with myself because not a single person has expressed anything but gratitude for the work I'm doing with DEV. I'm not sure when I'll overcome this insecurity but I feel a little better with each pull request I find time to submit.

Looking back on your career, what advice do you wish someone had given you that would have helped accelerate your career?

It's OK to stray from your original path. If I had boxed myself into my college degree, or first job, I never would have looked for new opportunities. I guess my advice would be to stay opportunistic and surround yourself with people that are a few steps ahead of you already.

Thank you for sharing your story with us. How can we support you?

DEV is OSS, so if you're looking to make your first or hundredth contribution, please check out our repos! Our last couple of hires were some of our most active contributors before they joined the team.

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