Episode #15 - Stephanie Stimac talks about her journey from fashion and design into developer experience and web standards on the Microsoft Edge team

Stephanie is a program manager in the Microsoft Edge team. She's all about making the web a better place and is sharing her story of how she got into tech.

In this Episode

Joining us today is the web’s very own web witch Stephanie Stimac. She’s going to be sharing her journey from fashion and design into web standards and the Microsoft Edge team.

Stephanie is a design technologist and lives somewhere in-between the role of a designer and developer. With a background in digital design and many years of building things from wireframe to code, she finds herself currently working in the Microsoft Edge Developer Experiences team.

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We mention a few different resources in the show and you can find them here:

You can find out more about me, Rob Kendal, on my personal website, or follow me on Twitter.


S2: EP5 - Stephanie Stimac [00:00:00] Rob Kendal: [00:00:00] So joining us today is the web’s very own web, which Stephanie Stimac, I did not stress about how to pronounce ‘Stimac’. for several minutes, including finding an old video of a podcast you’re on just to say you pronounce it. and then I’ve gone and spoilt the game anyway by telling you that. Stephanie is a design technologist, and she lives somewhere in between the role of a designer and developer with a background in digital design and many years building things from wire frame to code. She finds herself currently working in the Microsoft Edge, developer experience team. It’s quite a mouthful, but it sounds very exciting. we’re very pleased to have you on the show. Thanks so much for giving up your time. Ah, how’s everything going?

[00:00:35] Stephanie Stimac: [00:00:35] Good. Thanks for having me today.

[00:00:37] Rob Kendal: [00:00:37] No, no problem. We like a wide variety of guests, you know? where, where, where are you based in the a, I Your Twitter profile says you prefer Scotland, but, your, your based state side, I’m going to kind of guess.

[00:00:47] Stephanie Stimac: [00:00:47] Yeah. I’m based in the Seattle area, but definitely prefer. Scotland.

[00:00:52] Rob Kendal: [00:00:52] If TV and movie have, taught us nothing else. it’s that Seattle rains a lot. So you’re probably quite familiar with the Scottish weather. It’s probably very similar.

[00:01:01] Stephanie Stimac: [00:01:01] It’s very, very similar. Yep. Except the summer right now. It’s perfect. And that’s about to all end. So.

[00:01:10] Rob Kendal: [00:01:10] we’ve had, one week of British Summer. We get like a week in may and then we maybe get like a couple of weeks in August where it’s too hot for us. We’re all like 27 degrees. We can’t handle that. and then it goes back downhill into just wetness and then Christmas then, then that’s, that’s kind of it. One of the things we like to talk about a lot on the show is kind of people’s paths into tech. And I think that’s something you and I discussed. cause I think you’ve had quite interesting. meander into it. So origin stories come up a lot and you know, it’s very interesting and I think it’s important to give people exposure to how other people get into designing and developing in tech, because it’s, it doesn’t have like a predefined route. You know, if you want to be like a doctor that you have to kind of go to college or university, then go do your med school residency or whatever that is. And then you kind of, you know, you get qualified and you’re allowed to. Chop limbs off and poke people and stuff. but with tech you can come in a wide

[00:02:00] variety of, of paths. So how did you find your way into a tech career?

[00:02:03] Stephanie Stimac: [00:02:03] Oh, well, I’m going to go like all like pretty far back. So. When I was in high school. So like 17, 18. Years old. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I really loved fashion and I really, really wanted to be a fashion designer. And like, this is at the height of a TV show, called project runway. yes. And I, I used to watch that religiously and I was like, you know what? I think that’s what I want to do. And I had never taken any art classes, but I did kind of have like an artsy side and I actually spent quite a bit of time on learning how to use Photoshop. And so I took a art class, my senior year of high school. So my final year and tried to put together a portfolio and I had a really bad experience at a portfolio review, where there were a bunch of different universities. And I went to like the top, Fashion university to get like a portfolio review. And it was the way that they critiqued my portfolio was so devastating to me. And that I was like, I don’t want to do fashion at all. And I. It like, it was terrible. And I was so dejected and I ended up checking out a couple other universities at this portfolio review. And so I went to one and inquired about like graphic design and the woman was like, Oh, you actually have a really good eye. And what I was showing her was the things that I had created in Photoshop for life journal and just like random CD covers for like Depeche mode, because I’m a huge Depeche mode fan. And just like things that I had put together and she was like, You would be a good designer. And so. I ended up staying home, and attending community college, which is just like a cheaper [00:04:00] version of a university and doing a bunch of art classes to sort of get like my foundation in design. And then I ended up going to university here in Washington state. And getting a degree in digital media design. And I ended up in a path for web design. And. I actually talked about this in, in that talk that I did recently. my career path in the college was web design, but most of it was like focused on the visual aspects and not a lot of code. And any of the code that we did learn was more. It was action script for flash and how to use flash to build websites and I had the perfect like timing of graduating college. And then flash as a medium or web design died within like a year. And I had this very, very useless, skill now. but I really loved like designing for the web. I didn’t enjoy typical design like logos and whatnot. I really enjoyed building this whole experience for a user. And so after that, I ended up at a startup here in, Bellevue, which is outside of Seattle and I was there for a year. then I got a job at a creative agency as a designer, like, yes, that’s what you want to be doing. You want to be at an agency. And I spent four years there and that’s where I really, really fell in love with the web. So I knew like, Basic HTML and CSS. I was responsible for an entire life cycle of a project. So I would do the research, the user experience stuff, wire frames, visual design. And then I would build it in code. And anything else that like anything that involves JavaScript or like more complex interactivity that was just outside my skill set. We would hire someone.

[00:05:54] After four years there, someone actually reached out to me from the Microsoft Edge [00:06:00] team and was like, would you be interested coming to the Edge team as a designer, but in the role of a program manager? And I was like, that sounds really interesting. Yeah. And. That’s how I got into Microsoft. So I was. interviewed and did the whole interview loop. And then my role since then has evolved out of design and in doing more program manager role, but that’s how I got into tech. It started as design. And then I ended up really just falling into this world of like standards and developer experience that I really, really love.

[00:06:35] Rob Kendal: [00:06:35] That’s amazing. It’s great how you’ve got to where you’ve got to, where you are now, but it’s a shame that it had to come from such a devastating review. I think I don’t know what it’s like at that kind of top elite end, do you know whether they seem to be like, we haven’t got time for niceties or for kind of cushioning the blow with any kind of sugar. It’s just like, he’s the truth. And it feels like a, it feels like the devil wears Prada. You know the movie where it’s just like, you’re crap get out. and it’s such a, I, you know, I always try and think you’ve got to somehow find a positive somewhere, like whether you’re doing code reviews or just. But that’s, that’s devastating that there was so harsh, but look what he’s got you! That’s amazing as part of the Microsoft Edge team, I like the fact that they’re kind of head hunted you, into that. and that’s a great story about taking opportunities and kind of, I suppose, you know, making the lemonade with lemons that life will just brutally sort of drop on you.

[00:07:28] but program manager for Edge developer experiences, that’s sounds really interesting. What does that entail?

[00:07:34] Stephanie Stimac: [00:07:34] I’m on the developer experience’s team is made up of three different teams. So there’s a dev tools team. There’s the web apps team and then the ecosystem team, and I’m on the ecosystem team and we’re kind of the scrappy little team. It’s just me and three or four other people. And so we own like developer documentation. There’s a developer portal for edge. I own a part of that. And like the [00:08:00] experience around that. And sort of help make decisions on like what content goes on there. And then, we, we kind of get to plug into other teams. So I work with the HTML platform team. I’m sort of in the developer relations role a little bit. So I work with, my coworker, Melanie Richards, who owns like HTML controls work right now and improving those. And so I work with her and then I basically go tell the story at like conferences or write blog posts because she’s busy. Actually like specking out a feature and how that works. So when we want to share that work with the developer community, so I go out and do that for her, and I really enjoy that. I also own something called the web we want, which is focused on getting developer feedback on what’s missing from the web platform. And the cool thing about that is it’s not an edge specific thing. It’s just the web platform as a whole. So we go out and ask developers, It, if you could wave a magic wand and change anything about the web platform or dev tools, like what would it be? And. we’ve gotten like 250 submissions to that, like 150 of those are actually like, legitimate feature requests and they, they span from like JavaScript API is to, I want to be able to like, change this one thing in dev tools. That’s like a tiny little feature, but, And we’re working with people at Mozilla and Aghalia and Chrome. and Samsung internet. And so it’s not just like an edge thing. It’s for the web platform all up and standards groups. And so like some of these things, if things that like aren’t I haven’t even been introduced to standards groups yet. So we’re just like a pot of ideas to pull from.

[00:09:50] Rob Kendal: [00:09:50] that sounds like a really interesting role. It’s, it’s something I, I think eventually like to go in and you know when I kind of like lose the will to live on the bleeding edge of like [00:10:00] JavaScript thing. That, that whole dev rel thing it seems to have come about. It feels like overnight, but I think it’s been a few years, but. It seems quite an interesting area for, you know, to, to help developers get the best out of development. I think it’s nice that Microsoft are leading it cause I think arguably a lot of people would agree that, hither to edge, which I must admit is quite good. It feels like a dirty secret to admit it, but I’ve been using it for the past few weeks. I’m like, I really like it. But hither to, like Internet Explorer has not been everyone’s kind of favorite browser, certainly not as a developer mainly because it did its own kind of thing with standards that a lot of other people didn’t get on board with it’s nice that Microsoft and Edge kind of pushing this, let’s all get, you know, let’s all get some great standards.

[00:10:43] What are some of the best parts of being a program manager for dev experiences.

[00:10:47] Stephanie Stimac: [00:10:47] Well, so for me personally, I. I actually love and I, of course, who doesn’t love to go to conferences and do all that, even though like, we can’t do that right now. but I actually love talking to developers and finding out, like, what do you not like about our product and what would you change and how can we make it better? And like, I just really enjoy those conversations and talking to people and, and being someone who. Can sort of bridge the gap. Like I love getting tweets from people asking questions about edge and if I can direct them to like the developer documentation and help them solve a problem, like, I feel good. So that’s, that’s what I love. And then, like my, my program manager role is a little bit different because most of the program managers, other teams like the HTML platform team their feature PMs. Did they get to the spec out? Again features like how this thing is supposed to work and whatnot. And I did that for a little bit for the dev tools and it is interesting, but not my favorite, not my favorite thing.

[00:11:54] Rob Kendal: [00:11:54] In terms of experience and things, it looks like you’ve got quite a broad wealth [00:12:00] of, of the kind of design and dev side of the coins. Do you have one that you prefer rather than the other? it sounds quite people heavy. and, and documentation heavy, which again, secretly, I quite like I really quite like documentation, but it sounds like it’s more of the design and documentation side that you’re doing now, do you, do you have a kind of preference for design and dev.

[00:12:20] Stephanie Stimac: [00:12:20] You know, I think a year ago, I would’ve said design. But I love code. And I, well, you know what? I don’t. I like both. And I think that’s why I like I’m a designer, but I love to build my designs. Cause I have control over how that thing was supposed to look. but I would say definitely now, like I like program management because I’m, solving problems in a different way. Like as a designer, you solve problems like visually, as a program manager, you’re solving a much larger problem with lots of different components, as opposed to like with design. You’re just pushing pixels sometimes.

[00:13:02] Rob Kendal: [00:13:02] and you’ve been involved with, web hint, which again, I’m learning loads of new stuff. I think that’s one of the things I quite like about, you know, tech is that there’s always something new to learn and you know, your work in these little boxes and then you talk to some of the people and you get out of the boxes I’ve just discovered through researching yourself, sounds a lot creepier than it is, is Web Hint. I’ve installed on vs code and it’s, it’s really good, you know, running the scan and then seeing what parts of your, website can be improved and things. How did you get involved with, the Web Hint? Is that something kind of, you own or you started where they are, you just kind of collaborate on or how, how does that work?

[00:13:37] Stephanie Stimac: [00:13:37] So that was a project. I think my second here that we started. on the edge team. and I was involved with that from the beginning. I’m not as involved in any, any more because my time is all with the web we want and, the evangelism stuff. So there was an old developer portal and there was a site scanner on that website it was [00:14:00] basically for internet Explorer and to like help people. Help developers like update their code or so that it was compatible with internet Explorer. And it was very targeted and the owner of that project, Anton, he had this bigger vision to make like a site scanner that was wasn’t so targeted and he wanted it to include a bunch of different, categories for scanning. I was a designer for that if you go to webhint.io, I loved the experience for the website and, sort of picked the mascot a little narwhal and she’s my baby. That’s Nellie, the narwhal. And yeah, so I just led all the design of that and did like, have some opinions on like the type of hints that we scan for, but that lives under our dev tools team now. And there’s still, there’s a browser extension as well for it is that I did do the design on. and then the vs code extension.

[00:14:59] Rob Kendal: [00:14:59] I love that little narwhal. I don’t know, anything sea-based kind of love it. Like I know docker has got the cute, I mean, I do understand as a front end developer, what the hell docker does, but I love the little logo with the shipping containers. And it does something with containers. That’s as much as we know. But anything with anything, anything marine themed I’m now I think both with the edge stuff and then like Web Hint and everything else that it sounds like there’s quite a good mixture of organic opportunities that came along, but also kind of taking advantage of them. And I know it’s something we discussed about, you know, what we’re going to talk about in here about luck and making your own.

[00:15:34] What are your thoughts on that, that kind of idea of luck and then coupled with kind of making your own luck really.

[00:15:40] Stephanie Stimac: [00:15:40] I actually gave a conference talk last year in Scotland, it was my first conference talk and so the conference theme was luck. Now this was design it, build it in Scotland I was like, when I submitted my CFP for it, I was like, Oh, I have a story about luck because how I got my job at Microsoft was not, like, I would

[00:16:00] never have expected to like, be contacted and gotten an interview the way that I did. So, I mean, I live in Seattle, that’s where Microsoft is headquartered. So of course, like in the past I had tried to get a job at Microsoft and it like, there’s just so many open positions and it does feel like your application goes to a black hole. Like if you don’t know anyone and I had never heard back, so I kind of gave up on getting a job at any of these big tech companies. And. I was pretty active. I mean, I’m still active on Twitter, but it like, this is like 2015. I followed quite a few people like in different, career areas than design. And so I was following a couple people who worked at Microsoft to were like software developers and like. This world that I knew nothing about. I liked someone’s tweet if again, a Microsoft employee. And the person who was on the edge team had like opened up that tweet to see who had liked it and happened to like click on my profile and see that I was a designer. And I had my portfolio link in my Twitter profile and he then went to my portfolio and then. Messaged me about this opening on the edge team. And I was just a moment of like, if I hadn’t have liked that tweet.

[00:17:17] I don’t think I would’ve gotten a job at Microsoft. And so it was just this moment of like, like, what are the chances of that, but also there’s this other aspect of like, yes I was tweeting a lot, but I, I also had like my portfolio in my, Twitter profile and I always kept it up to date. I mean the opening of the tweet and seeing that I had liked it, it was super random, but I was choosing to sort of show up on the internet in a certain way and like present myself as I am a designer. And then even though I don’t tweet about strictly design, I had sort of created this opportunity for someone to find me that way, even though, that wasn’t necessarily my intention. If that makes [00:18:00] sense.

[00:18:00] Rob Kendal: [00:18:00] Yeah, I think that’s something people miss out on a lot, you know, it’s like successful people. Sometimes they do have. you know, a good bit of fortune, or a good start behind them, but a lot of it is just, I suppose giving yourself the tools and the, and the opportunity to get opportunities. Like if you’ve got a Twitter profile, you just make a Twitter profile, you don’t change your profile pic. And he just put like, hi, I’m Dave and I leave it. Nothing’s going to happen because who cares? Right. There’s billions of people on Twitter. I think you’ve got to kind of work at it. And you know, like you said, have links to things. People are interested, they click, but if you don’t give them the opportunity to find out more about you and, and how you might either help them, or you might be useful. and then keep your ears open.

[00:18:46] I’m technically a Senior AWS engineer. I do not know enough about AWS to be called that but that’s what I do. And I got that job because I applied for a different one and they went, Oh yeah, this isn’t really for you, but I’ve got this other one. And I said, yeah, I don’t really know enough about AWS, are you sure you want to put me forward for that. But went ‘ah, screw it, we’ll do it anyway’. And here I am, you know, like X months later.

[00:19:08] I mean on social media, you’ve got quite a, quite a decent following, you know, on various places like Twitter and Instagram and stuff. Is that something you kind of, work a lot at an in terms of kind of personal brand? Is it something. you recommend people get and any tips for, for them looking to kind of grow that?

[00:19:27] Stephanie Stimac: [00:19:27] So when it comes to Instagram, I’ll say that that’s sort of a separate thing. So I used to run a fashion blog and a lifestyle blog, and that was more geared to Instagram was more geared towards that. And I still post like outfits and whatnot on Instagram. I don’t have any tips for trying to get followers on there because Instagram is such a weird platform.

[00:19:49] Rob Kendal: [00:19:49] I’m not even on it. What would I post, you know? I work from home in this office.

[00:19:56] Stephanie Stimac: [00:19:56] Yeah.

[00:19:57] Rob Kendal: [00:19:57] Just a, just a day by day scan of [00:20:00] a different bit of my wall. It was like, There’s nothing there.

[00:20:03] Stephanie Stimac: [00:20:03] Twitter. So at least my thing with Twitter is if you follow me, you’re not getting just tech like and Microsoft stuff you’re getting, like I’m a huge fan girl. I just share like, bits of who I am. And even some of the like style stuff on Instagram makes its way to my Twitter. So with Twitter, like you will get the tech stuff, but you’re getting me as a whole person. And I think I’m pretty authentic to like who I am as a person on Twitter and just what I tweet. so. And that seems to have worked out well for me.

[00:20:32] Rob Kendal: [00:20:32] that’s what I try and do a blend of it’s like, everywhere’s a bit of a dichotomy with me. If you listen to Spotify, I would literally have something like Slayer and then the next thing will be like a really catchy Disney tune. I love, I

[00:20:44] love. Uh, under the sea, yeah, the, like little mermaid songs and stuff. So it’s not really weird. And Twitter’s the same. It’d be really motivational. You can do it. Just keep learning and then they’ll be the next one. It’d be some kind of graphic shit post about it kind of HTML’s not a programming language.

[00:21:00] I’ll not, you should give Stephanie a follow on Twitter. I caught one of your, cocktail streams the other day. It was great. It’s just like the last one you did was like you slid in like Tom Cruise out of Risky Business. It was kind of like, Hey, we’re doing cocktails and then straight out of the gate you had a troll and you were just like, ‘well, you can fuck off!’ and then just started doing the cocktail. I was like, yes. this is the sort of stuff I live for. So that’s the kind of mix of stuff you can expect if you follow Stephanie, who’s got the, one of the best Twitter handles outside of mine, which is a ‘seaotta’ with an ‘a’ instead of an ‘er’. amazing.

[00:21:35] I see you’re a very active speaker as well. how have you found it with, with 2020? I’ve interviewed a few people who were speakers and we were talking about, and it was like, yeah, conferences are the best thing ever, but don’t go to them now. have you found that it’s how have you found it in 2020? Is it kind of changed for you?

[00:21:57] Stephanie Stimac: [00:21:57] Last year. I never thought I’d speak at a conference. And [00:22:00] then I did the one in Scotland, and I was like, yeah, I can do this. And I was supposed to speak in like New Zealand I had like, Eight weeks, I think of just travel lined up and I, got to one meetup in Newcastle. Like I made it to the UK right before Microsoft put a travel ban in place because of COVID. That was like my, final hurrah and then they. I couldn’t travel for anything else and everything I think got canceled or postponed. And so I just had my first postponed conference, I presented remotely for front con. Two weeks last week or week and a half ago. That was quite interesting. I think I prefer actually like having 200 people in front of me, as opposed to looking at my slides and not being able to see anyone. Because, the thing that I found was when you don’t get that feedback from the audience, there were a couple of points that I know that like I tripped up and like misspoke over my words. And so I was just sat there with like, That sort of failure. And, and so like the parts that I assume went well, I didn’t have like the audience feedback to confirm that. It was an interesting experience that I have a couple more of those I think, coming up at the end of the year. So. Definitely a whole new world.

[00:23:21] Rob Kendal: [00:23:21] There’s no one there to laugh at your jokes either.

[00:23:23] Stephanie Stimac: [00:23:23] Yeah. Yeah.

[00:23:25] Rob Kendal: [00:23:25] It’s just, you going ‘oh’, and then silence.

[00:23:28] Stephanie Stimac: [00:23:28] Yup.

[00:23:29] Rob Kendal: [00:23:29] It doesn’t feel as big time as well. If you just start doing it in like, you know, your underpants or whatever.

[00:23:35] Stephanie Stimac: [00:23:35] I mean, yeah. I mean, I dressed up.

[00:23:39] Rob Kendal: [00:23:39] It’s like the weatherman thing, just from like the top of everything else it’s just a mess under the desk. No one sees it. is there anything else you’d like to, you’d like to talk about, you’d like to mention?

[00:23:50] Anything you’d like to plug?

[00:23:52] Stephanie Stimac: [00:23:52] I am, you know what? I’ll plug the web we want. So. The whole thing with the web we want is we have this sort of [00:24:00] in-person component with like conferences. And getting people to submit things so they could share their want for the web at a conference, but we’re not doing that at the moment. but we’re still like, Taking submissions. So if there’s like something that you want for the web go to webwewant.fyi. And submit something like it could be anything from like CSS subgrid to, again, some feature in the dev tools that isn’t there. I like we have, we haven’t been getting submissions and I think that’s because again, we don’t have this sort of in person event component that we usually drive people to the website with. So. so tell browser vendors what you want because, we are actually like taking these things and there’s a feature that is in edge Canary right now that was a web we want submission. So your thing could make it into the browser.

[00:24:58] Rob Kendal: [00:24:58] It’s like that thing with, with complaints and I dunno the Americans seem better at it, but the British folk a very like, if we complain to ourselves or maybe one of the person who is of no consequence, you know, and then nothing will happen, but we’ll, we’ll feel angry that nothing happens is that you’ve, you’ve got to tell people stuff, you know, if you want something to change, don’t just complain that chromium is taken over all the browsers, you know?

[00:25:21] Ask about features and tell them this doesn’t work, or this could be better. You know, you’ve got to tell somebody, and this is a great platform. That’s what’d you say the web, we want, webwewant.fyi

[00:25:31] you can find out about that. You can go to web hint, which is webhint.io. That’s great. As a vs code extension is a bit like a linter, isn’t it? It goes through and tells you this accessibility is terrible. Don’t include this theme meta-tags as I found. Cause it’s. It just doesn’t work anymore. you can find out more about Stephanie by going to stephaniestimac.com that’s S T I M A C. And you can follow her on Twitter at @seaotta with an O T T A. but all of this [00:26:00] stuff will be in the show notes and, yeah. Thank you so much for coming on. That’s been amazing. I’ve learned loads, just talking to you and doing research about it.

[00:26:08] Stephanie Stimac: [00:26:08] Thank you.

[00:26:09] Rob Kendal: [00:26:09] No, best of luck as with your role as a product manager. Is that a program manager? That’s what it is. I know really I’m paying attention. Oh, thank you very much for coming on.

[00:26:20] Stephanie Stimac: [00:26:20] Thank you for having me.

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About The Front End

The Front End Podcast explores the in's and out's of life as a developer. Covering topics such as modern-day development, learning and professional growth, frameworks, tools, techniques, UX/UI, and careers.

Created by Rob Kendal, a UI developer from Yorkshire.