Alyssa Nicoll: A love story — The Web & Angular

March 19th, 2021

Google Developers Experts is a community of passionate developers who love to share their knowledge with others. There are over 150 women in the community. #WomenAreExperts is a series that features their stories and achievements, with an aim to inspire more women to follow their path.

Today, meet Alyssa Nicoll — a Google Developer Expert in Angular, and Angular Developer Advocate for Kendo UI. She is an international speaker, and streams weekly on the Angular Air podcast and Twitch CodeItLive channel. In her free time, you can find her gaming, scuba diving, and spending time with her little one that fondly goes by “Mr. Milks”.

Alyssa Nicoll, Angular Google Developer Expert and Developer Advocate for KendoUI

Hi Alyssa! Tell me about yourself, how did you become a developer advocate and an Angular expert?

In 2011, my best friend and love of my life introduced me to the wonderful world of the web. I was finishing up my psych degree at OU and had become completely un-enamored with the field of psychology.

@Turtleguyy showed me what HTML, CSS, and JS were, and I immediately fell in love. You could not only help people but you had this raw power to CREATE. I decided to follow in his footsteps and enrolled at Full Sail in the Web Dev & Design Program. Full Sail is a really cool, futuristic Arts & Science University, and I feel so proud to be an alum. I learned all about not only full-stack web development, but I also took classes on Photoshop, Illustrator, color theory, UI/UX, and more. Receiving a general understanding of what Web Designers and Graphic Designers do on the day-to-day prepared me (more than I knew at the time) for the real world of web development.

During my capstone project, my Professor, Rachel Higgley, taught me AngularJS, which forever set me on the Angular path — a debt I still owe her today. I will never forget the first time I wired up Firebase to my Angular app to achieve what I was calling “three-way-binding”. I was sitting in one of the Full Sail classrooms, late at night. Rachel was standing over me as I plugged in the last missing piece. When I updated input on my site, saw the change reflected in my database, and then back down to update the UI, I fell. I fell for JS, I fell for Angular, I fell fully in love with Web Development.

I was the last of my graduating class to receive a job offer (still weeks before I graduated, but the last none-the-less). I never actually interviewed for that job. This story is as integral to who I am today, as when I fell for Angular.

My friend Andrew Smith and fellow Full Sail alum told me about BarCamp. BarCamp was an event for devs in Orlando to get together and share knowledge. It is the most unique conference I have ever been to to-date, and that is saying something. Everyone gathers in a central square near downtown Orlando and large whiteboards are set out in the center with categories and time-slots written out and anyone interested walks up and adds their talk. I decided to give this whole “speaking thing” a try. My talk was titled “Common Pitfalls of Web Students”. (Truly the only thing I was certified to speak on at the time.)

I found a rush of endorphins that day on stage that felt intoxicating. The audience, not primarily being students, still resonated with my pitfalls and were kind enough to cheer me on for my first ever talk. I have now given talks at over 30 conferences internationally and plan on doing many more.

Alyssa talking on stage

After I stepped off the small bar stage in the hot morning Florida air, I was approached by Gregg Pollack, who I later learned was CEO of Code School. It was a brief, albeit memorable conversation. Gregg asked me if I was hired by anyone yet. I told him I wasn’t and he told me to come into the office next week. When I arrived, I assumed I would be interviewing for a position, but Gregg just took me around the office, introducing me to this designer or that developer. To my shock, he introduced me as “the new content developer” and so I was. I had no idea I was interviewing on that bar stage, but it is something to keep in mind. You never know what a talk might lead to.

I loved my time at Code School. I was able to hone my teaching skills, my development skills, and my on-camera skills. I was also introduced to the Angular team more personally whilst working on the AngularJS course curriculum.

Alyssa at a video shoot
Alyssa and other speakers at ng-conf

That year I attended my first ever ng-conf. Without ng-conf gathering the community and Angular team together, I would not be where I am today. It was through that stage that I was noticed by Brad Green and Jules Kremer of the Angular team. They asked if I was interested in the Google Developer Experts program.

The GDE program, as with speaking on a stage, opens doors. It allows for connections that can aid you in your career. At the time, I just wanted to hang, I wanted to know more about Angular and I wanted to know more of the influencers in that space. I joined the GDE program and shortly after decided it was time to leave Code School as well.

At the time, I didn’t even know DevRel was a real job title. All I knew was that I wanted to code and speak at as many conferences as I could. Tara Manicsic, a fellow GDE, told me about an opening on her DevRel team at Progress, and history was made. I have found true peace in Developer Relations. My roots were planted deep at Code School, to teach other developers. I also have this need to keep learning and be able to create using the tools of the web. I could not have found a more perfect home for my talents and am so blessed this part of our industry exists.

More than anything, I must mention my current boss, mentor, and friend — Sara Faatz. Without Sara, I would have given up early on in my DevRel career. I assumed it was me that was broken and not the current systems set in place. About a year into my time at Progress being the Angular Developer Advocate for Kendo UI, I was burned out and unsure if I had chosen correctly for myself, this role of DevRel. I wondered if I should look for an Angular developer position and scale back speaking and teaching. Things shuffled around on my team and I was introduced to Sara. Through the last two years, with her at the helm, our team has found its footing and truly flourished.

Sara has taught me so many things, but the most important is how to be a strong successful woman in this tech world. I no longer am ashamed that I only program/write code for about 40% of my job. Speaking and teaching is a justifiable use of my time and I am no less of a developer for it. I will forever be grateful for her guidance and I want to share this with other women in tech right now. We all belong in this community, this community is just not perfect yet. We must keep striving though, it can be.

That is a great story (and love letter to Angular). You are passionate about supporting women in tech. Tell us more about it.

Alyssa making an awkward face

When I am streaming on Twitch, speaking on stage, live coding for an event, or even interviewing someone on Angular Air, I try to be unashamedly as dumb as I truly am. I try my best to ask simple questions and make everyone feel heard. There is a lot in this ecosystem I have yet to learn and I know I am not the only one. For those women who are too shy to ask, I hope that I can be that voice for you. It’s really hard though, embarrassing even, asking questions you feel like you should know already. But I hope I can encourage you through this post. I have never received admonishment for wanting to know more from our community. If anything, I have learned how many men in the room cannot answer the question I thought was too dumb to ask.

What advice would you give to a woman considering applying for the GDE program?

DM on Twitter with any questions you have about the program or interview process. It can be nerve-racking but I assure you it is worth putting yourself out there. If you aren’t quite ready, the Angular team will provide feedback so you know what to work on to apply again in the future.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I tried to sum up my journey thus far as succinctly as possible, so many details were left out. One that weighs on my heart is my long history and struggle with being neurodiverse, some in great part to being a female. In college, I struggled heavily with an ED, depression, and anxiety. Recently, with the birth of my first child, I had a really hard time with Postpartum Depression and re-entering the workforce/stepping back on stage. And through all of it, I have struggled with the beast that is my extreme ADHD. My mother and sisters all have it, which makes family gatherings a hoot, but focus a bear.

If you are reading this and struggling with mental health, know you are not alone. So many people right now are experiencing mental health issues. It will get better. Please seek help and give yourself grace. ❤ Know that I am an open book and would love to talk with you, my DM is always open.

Thank you for so candidly sharing your story Alyssa!

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