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Season 2, Ep. 4 – What do you get when you marry copywriting and coding? Gun.io’s Content Lead, Abbey Charles

When it comes to words, she’s got a lot of them. In the first team interview of the new season, we talk to the Content Lead, Abbey Charles, about writing, software development, and how you can find your own niche in the tech world.

Faith Benson
Faith Benson

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Transcript

Faith (00:05):

Hi, Abbey. (Abbey: Hi!) Welcome to your episode of the Frontier. Are you so excited?

Abbey (00:11):

So excited.

Faith (00:12):

Me too. This is a kind of unique episode in that we’re not getting into, you know, like a topic specific to the company around how we’ve grown or are growing. We’re actually just talking to a teammate about their professional trajectory so far—kind of how they landed here, and then what they’re doing behind the scenes to grow Gun.io. And so we’ve got Abbey here. Abbey’s our Content Lead. We get to work together every day. She’s actually the mastermind behind this podcast. So welcome, Abbey. 

Abbey (00:50):

Thank you!

Faith (00:56):

Abbey, tell everyone a little bit about yourself. Where are you based? Some things not Gun.io related, so people know who we’re talking to.

Abbey (01:05):

Yeah. I spent the last 20-ish years in Denver and recently relocated to Asheville, North Carolina. My husband and I bought a little farmhouse just outside of town. We’re living with our two dogs. We’re actually moving in this weekend.

Faith (01:22):

Oh, my god! Wait, I didn’t know that.

Abbey (01:24):

Yeah.

Faith (01:26):

Yep.

Abbey (01:27):

We don’t have much furniture in the house. So this whole room is right now covered in blankets to deal with the echo.

Faith (01:34):

Love that. That’s that’s very creative. 

Abbey (01:38):

Yeah. Outside of work, we do a ton of camping. Camping and craft beer, I would say, are probably our two biggest habits/hobbies.

Faith (01:47):

Habits, haha. Abbey’s dogs are also the stars of our Slack community, The Cantina (Abbey: Love it.)

My dog is asleep, keeping the door open here for me just in case I wanted to shut him out. That is not an option for me.

Abbey (02:04):

They just got a new fence. So they’ve been hanging out outside a lot. 

Faith (02:07):

Oh, so they’re living their best lives. Yes.

Abbey (02:10):

Yeah.

Faith (02:11):

That’s awesome. Abbey, obviously we work together every single day. I hired you to come work at Gun.io. Obviously I hired you for a reason, but I would love to hear a recap of your professional story. Abbey’s got a really interesting—especially for the developers listening—just like a really interesting winding path that ultimately brought her to a place where she has to use almost every experience, even like, the bike shop role. I assume that you are using that every day too. So yeah. Talk to us about what your career has looked like so far.

Abbey (02:51):

So I spent a long time working in outdoor retail, working in Boulder. You usually—if you’re a bum like me, you have a summer job and winter job. So I’d switch between bike shops and ski shops. And those aren’t jobs that pay very well. So I started copywriting while I was doing that. I started copywriting for a friend of mine who was building websites. So that was kind of like my first entree into like tech adjacent work. I also, during that period of time, opened up an art studio that I owned for a couple years where it was like an open space studio.

Faith (03:29):

Oh, I didn’t know that.

Abbey (03:30):

Yeah. I opened one in Denver, and I shared a space with like a DIY wine and cheese shop.

Faith (03:35):

That checks. 

Abbey (03:38):

Amazing, amazing. Wine, cheese, art, all the time. It was great. 

Faith (03:43):

That’s awesome.

Abbey (03:44):

I had that for a couple years, and it just didn’t make money—as art usually doesn’t—so I went back to copywriting full-time. I was working in an outdoor retailer office, and they went bankrupt. And at that point I was like—I had already been wanting to learn how to write code. Just kind of, I just knew it would always be something that was beneficial to my career. After about four months of looking for more copywriting jobs, I decided I was just gonna make a career change. So I went through a four month boot camp out in Chicago, Coding Dojo. I liked the experience a lot. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. (Faith: Really?) I like—regularly cried. I cried like every day.

Faith (04:35):

Oh, I feel like you never hear that about coding boot camps, about how hard they are. 

Abbey (04:41):

I mean, and I don’t know. I don’t know if this is the experience—you know, obviously there were people in the program who were like, you know, 19-year-old wiz kids, but as somebody who had come from more of a creative background, there were a lot of things. Like, I saw it as another way to build things, another way to create, another way to make things, but it was hard. And the bootcamp that I went through, you didn’t focus on a single stack. You focused on one stack every month. So every month, you were learning full language and stack, which was—your final test for each one of ’em was like building a full RAGX compliant site that you had to log into. You know, it was just, yeah, it was hard. But it taught me how to learn a language more so than be like super proficient in one, which was great, because as soon as I left there and went back to Denver, I started working as a front end developer for a FinTech company in a language I hadn’t learned yet.

They brought me on kind of as a—my job was initially to help integrate a new CMS into the overlaying product, which I think was like, they were like, “Oh, you have a lot of background in writing. You’re new to development. I think this would be a good fit.”  And it was, it was great. I learned a lot over those three years. I left there, and went somewhere where there was—it was more of a hybrid role. So I was doing some front end work and also doing all the content management for a running shoe company. I was there for about two years, I guess I just never learned my lesson. I kept going back in the outdoor industry and I was like, god, the pay isn’t great. The people are kind of, you know… I just wanted to make a move. I wanted—I missed being in a really tech-heavy community. I saw this opportunity pop up at Gun and I was like, I think I’d be a really great fit. This sounds like an awesome job. And obviously, I now work here. It is an awesome job. I love it. I love being able to combine my tech background and my content background.

Faith (06:56):

Yeah. It’s funny because when we wrote the job description for the role, we were like, we are looking for a unicorn. We want somebody who— right? Like we want somebody who is a developer, speaks the language, understands kind of the problems that devs are facing, so that they can, you know, create messaging around how we solve those problems and copy that lands. So we were like, there’s no way we’re gonna find somebody with development experience who like wants to come back into the marketing world. And we did. So if you are in similar issues as I, which I would assume is just about every software company that’s trying to market to developers, there are people like Abbey. But please don’t take her away from us.

Abbey (07:43):

Yes. We’re out there. I’m not the only one. I can’t be, you know?

Faith (07:47):

Talk to me about—I mean, I feel like when people think about mid-career changes and like the options are, you know, copywriting, marketing, and software development, most people think of it as like, you know, marketers turned software developers. And you have had several of those switches over your career. I’m curious about the decision to pursue something where you’re creating with words, and not necessarily creating with code. What were the decision points there for you?

Abbey (08:22):

I know that this is a problem that every developer has, but my my imposter syndrome was like, for me, impossible to overcome at that point in my life. Like, I was just like, I am not good at this. I’ll never be good at this. And I hadn’t had that therapy at that point to be like, totally okay with that. So I was like, I gotta do something different. I think I really like the challenge that the tech community brings, you know, it’s always changing. I think that it’s really cool to always have something different to talk about, something different to write about. And I kind of felt like, I think that a lot of people were afraid to make a career change so late in life, I think I was—I mean, this is now telling everyone how old I am, but—

Faith (09:08):

Age is an accomplishment!

Abbey (09:11):

It is! I made a career change at 35, and I think a lot of people are afraid to do something like that, because it feels like starting over. And especially in tech, you are almost undoubtedly going to be working for someone who’s younger than you. You’re either ok with that, or you’re not. And my understanding is like, I decided to make a career change at 35, while these people have been pursuing the same path for the whole time that I was doing something different. (Faith: Mhm) But in the end, I think it does give me a leg up in a lot of places, because I don’t just have a passing knowledge of writing. Like I was really intimately involved with it. I’ve, you know, done it for a living. And I think that that’s something that a lot of people, when are moving into development late in life, kind of don’t see like how many things are adjacent to tech that aren’t specifically just like sitting in your code day after day after day. You know, there are a lot of things you can do with that.

Faith (10:14):

It’s so true. And I find—I mean, obviously our business is we help developers get hired. Like, that is what we do. And it’s funny because the story that you’re telling me where, you know, there’s like stress with, you know, a mid-career change. And alternatively, like on the other side of that whole process, you have hirers like us who, when we see that a developer has previous experience founding a company or working in sales, you know, all of these adjacent skills that might not help them write better code help us to sell that developer into a team, because we can say, look, they’re gonna really understand how to work closely with your marketing team, because they’ve been a marketer before. Right? (Abbey: Yeah.) Or they’re gonna understand how to prioritize their product roadmap based on your business needs, because, you know, in a past life they founded a business. So things like that just make you more valuable as an employee. And you’re a great example of that. Like, like I said, Abbey’s a unicorn, and it’s really hard to find great writers who are also developers, so kudos to you.

Abbey (11:32):

Yeah. There was a thread on the Girls Gone Wired subreddit a little while back where this woman was like, “I just got a degree in biology, and I hate it. I don’t want to go into tech.” I was like, do you have any idea how many avenues you can take with that? (Faith: Right.) What a cool background to have. And there’s so many people like that where it’s like, you worked in biology or you worked in the medical field, or, you know, you worked in marketing, you worked in product development, whatever it is. Like those skills are more transferable, I think, than a lot of people realize.

Faith (12:06):

Mhm, and that’s exactly—I mean, the example you gave of your first coding job where you’re like, “I don’t know, they hired me in a stack that I had never worked with before, but they figured I’d be good at it, ‘cause I was working with a CMS tool.” (Abbey: Yeah.) Like, that’s a prime example. So yeah. Awesome. Abbey, circling back to Gun.io, obviously this interview is in the context of like, who are the people that are building Gun behind the scenes? I know what you do, but I think listeners would find it really valuable to hear, like what piece do you play in that puzzle of growing Gun.io? What do you do all day? 

Abbey (12:47):

Every day is different, which I think is pretty par for the course when you’re working for a startup and working on a small team. Some days, I’m researching for writing articles. Some days, I’m doing SEO work. Some days I spend doing admin, because if I don’t keep myself organized, everything goes off the rails. Some days, I research upcoming topics to put on a calendar. My goal in all of it is to make sure that we’re kind of like—we’re talking to the two sides that we work with most. We have the clients that want to hire talent, and we have the talent who wanna be hired. And both of them have a really large stake in the game, and getting the right person in the door, and understanding what what their role is in a contract that they’re entering into. And, you know, we do have really senior level talent, but not everybody. Some people are new to freelancing. (Faith: Mhm) 

And I think like having worked as a freelance writer for so long, there’s a lot that I have, you know, experience with, and knowledge with, where I can say this is something that worked for me. It doesn’t necessarily work for everybody, you know, just kind of things like that. I’ve obviously never really been in the position of hiring somebody, but I do understand the process. I’ve been through it a lot. 

Faith (14:16):

Yeah. I mean, all of that is contributing to this huge piece of our marketing strategy that you own, which is content. So this podcast that you guys are listening to right now, if you’ve ever read anything on our blog, if you follow us on socials—Abbey is the mastermind behind all of that. So how would you say the content you create is serving Gun.io’s growth? Like why is it important that we are creating this content?

Abbey (14:47):

I think from a brand perspective, you know, like we only hire people who are really good at their jobs—and that’s both internal team and the external talent that we have on our platform. One thing that’s really important to me is to convey that, you know, we have experts here, that we have experts on the team internally and on the platform. And the best way to do that is to show it—not just by saying, Hey, yeah, we’re all experts here. It’s are we showcasing the people that we have on the platform in a way that highlights their talents? Are we showcasing the people who work for the company in a way that says we are the people you should be asking for help, we are the people who are the most knowledgeable?And kind of just—I want us to be the thought leaders in what we’re doing, because nobody else is hiring the way that we are. And the best way to do that is communicating it out. Content is king. And I know that that’s like such a cheesy thing for the Content Lead to be saying, but…

Faith (15:52):

But it’s true.

Abbey (15:53):

It’s true. It’s how, you know, it’s always how you’re communicating that people are seeing and understanding. And I think that it’s really important to grow that. And, you know, you’ve done such a great job over the last few years of growing the brand and growing, you know, the leads and the community that we have. And so I just feel like it’s a cool opportunity to be able to take one part of that and push it up to the next level—to be kind of like out there and saying, this is who we are.

Faith (16:24):

I think what makes marketing here a unique challenge—and again, other folks whose kind of like ideal customers or people that they serve are developers are gonna understand this—but it is very hard to market to devs because their like, bullshitometer is so strong. (Abbey: Oh yeah.)

Right. Like, there’s a book about how developer marketing doesn’t exist. And so yeah. You know, Abbey’s the—the content that Abbey creates has to be like, we can’t bullshit it, you know, we’ve gone through these chronic pains before. 

Abbey (17:01):

And it has to be something that is like relevant and interesting, which is impossible to always hold somebody’s attention. (Faith: Mhm) 

So, you know, just to be able to like, stay on top of it and say like, we’re not set in our ways by any means. (Faith: Right.) Which I think is a really cool thing about this company. You know, that we’re not— it’s not just that we’re not set in our ways. We’re like actively encouraged to go outside of those boundaries.

Faith (17:29):

Abbey, this is a fun question. If somebody is listening and they’re like, that sounds rad. Like I would love to be in a position like that where I’m kind of pulling from two really disparate experiences that I’ve had, or, you know, I’d love to work at a tech company where I’m kind of owning the content strategy, what advice would you have for those people, if they wanna pursue the same path as you?

Abbey (17:56):

Definitely write a lot, and get and give feedback on it.

I’d say you’re writing a lot, and if you have experience working in marketing. Because I came from a background of copywriting for marketing departments, I think that was a lot easier for me to understand coming into it. So I’d say if there are three things that are blended here, it’s my experience with marketing, content, and development. It’s a very niche corner. (Faith: Right.) But I think overall, you know, it was kind of—if I can get out there and look and see, you know, what are some writing related tech jobs, those are the things I’m going to be most drawn to or things that, you know, I know that if you have experience working with the CMS, and you like writing, there’s a perfect opportunity for you to understand how content flows, how it gets built out, what a calendar looks like, what kind of cadence you should be on, and that comes from that blend. And I think on top of that, any niche that isn’t specific to content. There’s something that exists out there, you know? Look up—maybe you’re really into, you know, like motorcycle racing. There are probably programs that do time tracking, you know? It’s just kind of  looking for those niche things and finding a way that really holds your interest to do both sides of it. To be able to have that experience and say, you know, I really love writing. I love that I have the opportunity to write here, more so than I have in any role I’ve been in, in the last five years. So just find what soothes your soul, and find a way to make tech work with that.

Faith (19:51):

That’s very sound advice, because I feel like often people focus on, you know, what’s a role that needs skills that I already have? (Abbey: Yeah.) And I do a shit ton of interviews here, and the thing that sets people apart is not that, oh, look, they have experience, that is exactly what we need for this role. It’s this person is really, really, really passionate about fixing hiring in tech. Yeah. Or this person is really passionate about, you know, making freelancing a legitimate career path for people. (Abbey: Yeah.) And when we find those folks, that’s—I would hire someone with zero marketing experience if they were like, “This is the thing that fires me up every day.”

Abbey (20:41):

Yeah. And I think that a lot of that is what drew me to the company, you know, like having gone through a lot of tech interviews, and knowing exactly how they make me feel, which isn’t great…and knowing that that is how a lot of people feel when they go through the process, to be able to work with a company that makes it less painful—that, you know, recognizes the value of the people—it just feels like a really human and humane way to do things. If you’re passionate about fixing a problem, there is a place for you.

Faith (21:20):

Yeah. Just make sure they know that. Write it in your application text.

Abbey (21:26):

Yes.

Faith (21:27):

Well, Abbey, this has been so much fun to talk to you. I hope it’s been helpful for our listeners. Again, Abbey Charles is our Content Lead here at Gun.io. We’re lucky to have her, and if you’ve got questions, she’s the lady behind the keyboard of all of our socials. So feel free to shoot her a DM on Twitter, find her on LinkedIn, and we will see you next time for another episode of the Frontier.

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