From Hardship to a Staff Engineer at Apple with Cher Scarlett
Cher Scarlett overcame hardships and poverty, and worked her way up to become a staff engineer at Apple. Cher has incredible strength in her, and bravely shares her struggles dealing with mental health issues publicly. She also regularly reminds people that they belong in tech independent of their education or background. She openly shares her vulnerabilities and encourages and lifts up others. Also, listen to the second interview, where Cher Scarlett talks about how she got hired at Apple despite her bipolar disorder.
Read the whole episode "From Hardship to a Staff Engineer at Apple with Cher Scarlett" (Transcript)
[This transcript is the result of a community effort. You can help make it better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github*.* I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.
Special thanks to ry-v1 for helping improve this transcript.]
Michaela: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I'm your host, Dr.McKayla. Before I start, I want to tell you about a new project of mine. I'm writing a book about code reviews. It would cover the latest research and best practices around code reviews everything I learned when working with teams at Microsoft, as well as with companies around the world, would go into this book. If this sounds interesting to you, then you can become an early reader and get exclusive access to some of the draft chapters. You can find out more at michaelagreiler.com/codereviewbook. I will link it also in the description. Well, but now let's start with today's episode and it's special.Today we listen to the first part of a two part interview series with Cher. I've never done that before, but well, Cher has been very inspirational story to tell. She did share with us how she overcame hardship and poverty and worked her way up to be now a staff engineer at Apple. Cher has an incredible strengths in her, bravely shares her struggles, dealing with mental health issues publicly. She also regularly reminds people that they belong in tech independent of their education or background. I'm impressed by how she openly shares her vulnerabilities and encourages and lift up others. So I'm really happy that Cher is here today. Welcome to my show Cher.
Cher: [00:01:37] Thank you so much. I don't think anybody's ever said so many nice things about me.
Michaela: [00:01:45] I could have gone on and on.
Cher: [00:01:55] Brevity is important.
Michaela: [00:01:58] Um, so it's one of the first thing I want to talk with you about is your journey into tech, because I know it's not a very traditional journey. So you recently started to share more openly that you actually don't have a computer science degree background and things like that. Do you want to tell us a little bit how you actually started in tech and you know, what brought you here?
Cher: [00:02:22] Yeah. So I was definitely like, always very like curious
kid and I'm, and I'm still like curious. Uh, and I was always like really
interested in the way things worked. And so my mom. She worked for a
construction company and she would like take like computer parts from her work
and like bring them home.
And so I was very interested in like learning how to like, you know, build
computers. And so that was kind of like where that started and it just kind of.
You know, moved on from the hardware to the software. And so I was actually
playing an online game called EverQuest and I had a really popular guild on my
server and all of the other popular guilds had websites.
And so I was like, I need a website, you know, but I'm like 14 years old. Like,
I don't know how I'm going to get it. And so I remember I was sitting there like
on one of the websites and internet Explorer, and I just like. You know, right.
Clicked it, which was like, I was like, there's some way to like, take this
thing apart and see how it works.
Cause that's like how my brain works, you know? And so I just, I saw view source
and I was like, Oh, that would make sense that this is how this works. And so
that's what I did. And basically just started reverse, you know, reverse
engineering HTML, which was quite easy because it's just XML. And then moving
And reverse engineering action script, um, to kind of learn how to build all of
these different things. So that's kind of like where my air quotes education
came from to begin with. And then I had a kind of a rough life, which I've,
I've talked about in the past, in that I was
struggling because, and I don't think this is something that people talk about a
lot, but like as a woman, like with a certain, like, I bloomed very early and so
very early on, I started getting a lot of unwanted male attention.
And as I got into middle school and high school, I basically got a lot of like
really negative slurs towards women being thrown at me constantly. And even
though I wasn't initially, I wasn't like, you know, didn't fit those lists. I
mean, I never fit those labels, but I wasn't even like close to fitting those
Like it just became kind of a self fulfilling prophecy where people would say
that I, you know, was sleeping around when I wasn't and then it turned into, I
was because I was so desperate for, you know, this like sense of belonging
somewhere because I, you know, I was getting, you know, neglected and abused at
And then I would go to school and I was getting, you know, emotionally abused
by, you know, my peers. And I just felt like there was nowhere that I fit. So I
stepped into the box that they were creating for me. And it never aligned for
me. And so eventually I just got to a point where I dropped out of high school.
And I started using drugs and, you know, sleeping around to use drugs and
just living a lifestyle that was very, um, Not conducive to having a productive
life and moving forward, but it's because I really, I did not care what happened
to me. And I ended up in a lot of situations that I haven't really openly talked
Um, I'm hoping to get to that point, but there was, I did have talked about how
I got into stripping and pornography. And then there was, um, a major event that
happened that caused me to attempt to take my own life because I just. There was
nothing. I just felt like there was nothing left for me. Like that was the only
like drugs weren't even enough of an escape from my life that I had to fully
escape my life.
So that was, I was unsuccessful obviously, cause I'm still here. So I spent time
in a mental institution. I was for the second time diagnosed with bipolar
disorder. And then I don't know, I didn't have like a renewed sense of life or
whatever that people talk about. I, um, I went straight back to the same
lifestyle that I was living before of just like self-harming and, you know,
sleeping around, you know, for drugs and, and finding ways to like make money to
make ends meet and stuff.
And then in that process, um, I met a man, uh, who I use drugs with, um, at the
time who got me pregnant and I It was, I always talk about like, Oh, like I got
pregnant and then I changed my life, but it wasn't really that like a simple, it
was definitely more like a process. I did stop using drugs of course, and
drinking while I was pregnant.
But I wasn't on a clear path. I was just kind of like ignoring the fact that I
was pregnant without like hurting the child and my daughter. Um, but when I got
to be about, so he kicked me in and out of the apartment that he lived in like
several times and my mom lived 2,800 miles away. So I was driving back and forth
between like, Oh, come, you know, come get back together with me and live with
me and stuff and let's make this work.
to you know, driving back to Washington. So I didn't have like a steady job or,
or any money during all of this. I went through several like, you know, $200
cars during this process. Just a lot of like, really dumb stuff. And I got
arrested several times because I wasn't paying fines and stuff that I was
getting like for, uh, various, um, things that I have done in the past, or was
currently doing, just ignoring like general responsibilities.
And then the last time I went back to my mom's house, I was seven months
pregnant. And I just, I guess maybe it was a little bit of like nesting that the
feeling that women talk about it, like, you know, needing to create like a space
for your child to like, Be born into. And so for me, it was like, my whole life
was not that space.
And so I went to this company called Luxuryrealestate.com they had,
Michaela: [00:13:48] Yeah. Somehow for me it sounds like a cycle, right? A virtuous cycle where you, if you're in it, you're somehow getting deeper into it. And it's really hard to get out. And once you're out, it's, it's the same cycle. You can actually get that up. Do you feel that way as well?
Cher: [00:14:05] Oh, definitely. You know, only 4% of people that come from poverty will ever break out of that cycle. And I think a lot of things that things that people don't really understand, like, especially with like incarcerated people, is that a lot of people that, you know, have done like worse things than me even, they, they really did it out of like a combination of necessity and then circumstances you know, like people, like I have a lot of emotional and mental health problems, of course, because of the way that I grew up and very easily, you know, think if I didn't get pregnant, like in the life that I was living, like, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that I could be in prison right now, you know, instead of where I'm at, just because I know that that's where my life was going. Those were the people that I was around. Those were the things I was engaging in, but like, recognizing that like. I, you know, basically I was like rehabilitated that I'm not the only one that, that can happen to you. And when we don't take the time to recognize that, that those people who, you know, like my friends who are still in that life, it's like the reason that it's there in that is because it's, it's a cycle and there's, there's really no escape from it.
Michaela: [00:14:48] Yeah. It's really hard to get out. So one of the things that you. Tell me, is that this getting pregnant was definitely a, when the changed your mind and you know, where you were thinking, well, I don't want my kid, my baby to grow up in that environment or with those circumstances. And then there's this event that you have at the hotel, but do you think that there were other things, were there other people in your life up to you to come out of that or strengths coming completely from inside of yourself?
Cher: [00:15:23] Um, I definitely think that there were people along the way who helped. So I definitely got like positive feedback along the way. Um, but I just it's, it's like a mixture. Like I wasn't ready to, I had so much like damage that I wasn't processing and that I was shoving down that it was like, I couldn't accept those things about myself to actually, you know, try to get myself out there until it was a point where like, I, you know, it's, it's either find something or you're gonna lose your kid and be homeless, you know, that's, that's what it took for me. And I do think that I do think that it's, it's like both, both things matter that has to come from like internal and then you also, cause you have to be willing to accept like other people's help. And if you're not like you, you can't, you can't move forward.
Michaela: [00:16:14] Yeah. But I think it's really, there's an incredible strengths to being in a situation that really seems. You're a little bit stuck right your, um, things are not, I mean, you definitely knew that the situation isn't as it should be, or it could be. And, and then if, because we were saying, well, this is the cycle, right. Then if you're seeing that it's actually happening again and again, that you're in those situations, which I think they are somehow attracting themselves. Right. So one bad situation somehow attracts another bad situation. It really takes a lot of things to say, well, okay, I can still get out of that and applying to this job and I'm going there, you know, whatever it takes and even standing there in front of this person in the hotel and saying, well, I don't have a credit card.I don't have a debit card. I don't have the a hundred bucks, but I'm staying in this hotel tonight. Right. Um, I think is, is this is Incredible strengths. That, you lifted yourself up to be, you know, in a very different position. I think especially his first leap. Um, you get out of that. This is, it's really incredible. I mean, I'm very, very impressed by that. So when then you were in this better job, right which brought in more money and there's this upward spiral, right. What was the next step? So did you think by that time, I really want to become, you know, a staff engineer at one of the largest and most prestigious, you know, software engineering companies in the world.
Michaela: [00:25:16] Yeah. I think that's really interesting. And I think it's somehow it's, it's similar to the story of , you know, not giving up and not saying, well, this is how my life now is, and that I'm convicted or, you know, I have no roof over my top. Here's the same. Somebody somehow treats you not with respect, but instead of saying, well, I'm quitting, I'm going away. You're finding a way to actually. In your way, right? Make space for yourself and get, get the respect that you actually should, should have. I would like to ask you a little bit about your job at Apple now. So what are you doing there? I know the title is staff software engineer, but what is, is staff engineer at Apple? What do you do? What are you responsible for? And also, I would like to hear everything about the hiring process because I'm super afraid of interviews and things like that. So we'd like to know. How he experienced that? Yeah. Also for my listeners that want to apply at Apple, what should they do?
Michaela: [00:26:17] Well, who wouldn't like to know. Right. But this is the end of today's episode in part two I deep dive with Cher, into the hiring processes at Apple, engineering culture and software engineering practices at this large prestigious company, I hope you tune in, in two weeks for now. I say bye, and have a good day. Bye. I hope you enjoyed another episode of the software engineering unlocked podcast. Don't forget to subscribe. And I talk to you again in two weeks.
Cher: [00:26:48] Bye.
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