Saron Yitbarek certainly has her hands full with running CodeNewbie, hosting Codeland, an annual conference, and running her weekly podcast. Immerse yourself in the CodeNewbie world, all started by Saron Yitbarek, our latest entrepreneur feature for Hover’s Being your own Boss series. Keep up with the CodeNewbie community in their Wednesday night Twitter chats and connect with others just learning and those well-versed in code and tech.
What gets you out of bed every morning and how do you start your day?
My work gets me out of bed, there’s so much to do! I start my day with a cup of coffee, a glass of water, and my inbox. I’m not a morning person, but I’ve started this new thing where I wake up at 6AM to work on emails and I’ve done a much better job of keeping my inbox under control. We’ll see how long it lasts!
How have you prevented burnout in the tough position of running your own business?
I don’t think the tough position of running your own business is what causes burn out, I think it’s more about putting in a ton of work and not always getting results. It’s a lot of stress and work without any guarantees of success or even progress. I’ve gotten better at handling that by learning how to manage my expectations, by forgiving myself, and by creating better processes and tools to measure my progress (I’ve found that I’m actually doing better than I thought, once I look at those stats!).
What are the challenges and rewards of hosting your own annual conference, Codeland?
Challenges: Everything is a challenge, but the hardest part is how many different people are involved. Between sponsors, speakers, vendors, attendees, volunteers, staff, there are a lot of balls in the air and letting one thing slip through the cracks can be disastrous.
Rewards: The conference itself! Because so much of what I do is remote, I rarely get to see the people I serve. Getting them all together in a room for two days and seeing their amazing faces is the best part.
What is the most difficult aspect of working for yourself?
I’m a huge extrovert, and most of this work is very solitary. It can be energy draining to be alone most of the time and have to make all the decisions by yourself. There are no annual reviews, no feedback, no grade, no ladder to climb. Without these indicators, it’s hard to know how well you’re doing, or even if you’re going in the right direction. So figuring out when to stay on the same course, when to try something new, when to keep pushing and when to let things go, these are all decisions I’ve had to make on my own with very limited information. That level of ambiguity is really hard to deal with, and dealing with it alone makes it harder. As we do more, I’ve been able to bring in more people and work with others, and that has been a huge help.
What is the most rewarding aspect of working for yourself?
Emails from people who truly understand what I’m trying to do and have benefited from that work. I get really heart-warming emails of people who use the podcast to keep pushing forward, who hear someone who they can relate to, who inspire them to try something new or scary. I try to make everything we do inclusive, but we’re not a diversity initiative. When people notice that we have a diverse group of interviewees, speakers, workshop leaders, etc. without me ever explicitly announcing that, it feels really good.
Who have you met or done a podcast with that has inspired you the most?
Paola Mata, episode 129 “Getting My First Developer Job”. She showed so much grit and persistence in her becoming technical, and I have so much respect for her patience and determination. She’s an inspiration.
Which accomplishment are you most proud of/which is your favourite and why?
I’m really proud of the CodeNewbie Podcast, and specifically our quality of audio. I put a lot of work into figuring out how to increase the audio quality, and created a whole system of shipping mics out to guests. I love hearing the show and knowing we put a lot of effort into having high quality audio, and it’s a special treat when listeners notice.
“[Running your own business] is hard work. It’s really easy to look at [all the glamour] and feel like everyone should be an entrepreneur.”
What is the number one step a person can take to get their own business of the ground?
To actually start the business part of the business. There are a lot of parts of getting a business off the ground that are fun to do, like designing a logo and telling your friends and deciding on a company name. People spend a lot of time doing that and drag their feet when it comes to the most important parts, like making an actual sale, talking to real customers, creating contracts. The first step is recognizing that not all tasks are created equal, and to focus on the parts of starting a business that are actually about the business.
What do you wish everyone knew about running their own business?
It’s really, really hard, very much glamorized, and often times not worth it. With the coverage of Silicon Valley and shows like “Shark Tank,” it’s really easy to look at all that and feel like everyone should be an entrepreneur. It’s easy to look at the successes and be jealous of how well it worked out. But what’s rarely shown is the hair-pulling, the ambiguity, the frustration and risk that makes up the bulk of the journey. For me, it’s all worth it, but it’s definitely not for everyone. At the end of the day, it’s perfectly okay to have a regular job with a guaranteed paycheck.
What is your favourite thing to do to relax and step away from the stress?
Watch TV and play basketball. My husband and I play one-on-one basketball almost everyday. It’s a great way to stay in shape and also leave the house! Those are the only two activities that are so consuming that I can’t think about work.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve given or received?
My favorite piece of advice ever given to me was “punch your feelings in the face.” It was a piece of advice given to me by my husband years ago when I was complaining about being too scared to do something new. I was nervous, I was freaking out, and my husband said to me, “You should just punch your feelings in the face.” It was his shorthand way of saying that sometimes, it’s helpful to dig into your feelings and understand where they’re coming from, and other times, you just need to do the thing you’re scared of regardless of how it makes you feel. It’s made me view my own fears differently. Sometimes, there’s good reason to be scared. Other times, you just need to punch that fear in the face and do it anyway. I loved it so much, I wrote a whole talk called “Punching your feelings in the face.”