Karen Swyszcz 0:00
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Bacon Bits and Bytes Podcast. And today with me I have Jen Refat. So Jen is a software engineer with 10 plus years of professional experience in tech, as well as she’s the founder of Craftic, a craft tutorial platform and community. Welcome to the show, Jen.
Jen Refat 0:45
Hey, nice to be here.
Karen Swyszcz 0:46
Yeah. So it’s quite interesting. Again, I’m mentioned that I end up connecting with my guests initially a lot on social media. So Jen and I, we had connected originally on the mobile networking app Shapr and then just recently, for the first time we met in person at Collision, which I thought was pretty cool.
Jen Refat 1:05
Yeah, it was so funny. It was just like, a chance moment.
Karen Swyszcz 1:09
I know. Like, yeah, I think it was one of those things where I posted on my Instagram stories, and yeah, you messaged me, it’s like, you’re here. I’m here too.
Jen Refat 1:17
It was a good conference.
Karen Swyszcz 1:19
Yeah. Okay. So let’s talk about your tech background. First, how did you get your start as a developer?
Jen Refat 1:25
I actually went to this, I guess, like, go back to the start. I went to a high school where we had majors and there was a computer science major. So I thought, why not give it a chance? It sounded pretty interesting. I was kind of curious about working with computers at the time. I mean, this is when I was like, 13. And then after that, I learned that I was like, oh yeah this is kind of cool. I am interested in it.
So then I applied for college, and I did a computer science degree at NYU. And then after that, I realized that I like tech, but then I also like art, as well, like, I’ve always been more on the creative side, as well as the tech side. So I went to NYU grad program called ITP, which is the interactive telecommunications program, which is, it basically just means like art and technology program.
Karen Swyszcz 2:10
Jen Refat 2:11
Yeah. So it was actually a really fun program. And I got to work on like, really interesting stuff that was like artsy, but also tech. And actually, that’s where Craftic came out of. So it’s kind of funny because Craftic came out of grad school while I was also working full time as a full time like, web developer.
Karen Swyszcz 2:27
But that’s interesting how there’s a program that combines art and technology. I wish I had known or I wish I had, like, look further into those types of programs because I’m the type of person also who has a lot of interest. So it’s just not like one necessarily or the other. But like for me, I went into our started off actually in engineering, and then didn’t really like it. And then I went into science, and I didn’t really like either, but ended up graduating with a science degree. But for me, like starting the blog was my way to getting back into you like my creative side. So I think it would have been cool to possibly like minor in English or minored in creative writing.
Jen Refat 3:01
Yeah, absolutely. Wait, what kind of engineering did you do?
Karen Swyszcz 3:05
Oh, I started off in like chemical engineering.
Jen Refat 3:07
Yeah. So I think when I started college, I actually started as a computer engineer. Yeah. And then I quickly realized that physics was not my strong suit. So I quickly dropped the engineering part and just did computer science, which was still like fairly technical.
Karen Swyszcz 3:23
Jen Refat 3:23
Yeah. It was like, Oh, I’m like doing something less still like a fairly technical program.
Karen Swyszcz 3:28
Yeah. So what specifically like do you enjoy about like computer science? Is it the, like, the problem-solving?
Jen Refat 3:36
Yeah, I think that they’re like two main things where it’s like, there’s always something to learn. Like, you can’t get bored, because there’s just always any framework or any language, just like a new methodology that comes out. And it’s just like, you’re always learning. So that’s always like a really cool thing. Like, I love like reading and like, like, learning through like videos, and there’s just like, so much information out there.
Um, and also just like, yeah, like the whole problem-solving thing. Like, I’m fairly persistent and figuring things out. So when I get stuck on a problem, like it really gets to me, and then I can’t figure it out. So yeah, so I think those two things combined, like keep me interested in computer science in general.
Karen Swyszcz 4:17
Yeah, I’m kind of the same way, even though I don’t do coding like, like hardcore coding, but like the odd times if I have to add in a little bit of HTML, or CSS, and then I’m wondering why it doesn’t work. And I get really frustrated, but the same time I get very determined, like, I’m going to figure this thing out, like no matter how long it takes, or no matter how many times I have to Google it, but it’s I find it so satisfying, when you actually like figure out how to do it or how to solve the problem.
Jen Refat 4:45
Yeah, like, there’s definitely like a cycle where you basically start with a problem, and you question everything you’ve ever done, then you’re like, even though, like the first figure out the problem, you’re like, Oh, my God, I’m a genius. But then like, the cycle starts on over with the next problem. Yeah. Yeah, you have to like learn to deal with that’s like, a computer scientist, that’s for sure.
Karen Swyszcz 5:08
I like that. It’s like sometimes, like I know, everything. Sometimes it’s like, I don’t know anything. With respect to say, people, who are interested in you know, being immersed in the tech community, because I know you reside in Toronto now. And Toronto has like a huge startup ecosystem, a huge tech ecosystem, would you say are there any specific meetups or events that you would recommend women to attend?
Jen Refat 5:29
So it’s kind of funny, because I haven’t attended as many tech meetups as I would like, I’ve been to like, there’s like a Tuesdays afternoon like coffee thing that happens. It’s on the east side of Toronto. And it’s actually like, super chill, like, basically everyone just like hangs out of the coffee shop. And then they just like, bring their laptops and work on whatever. And it’s just like a really nice environment. I think it’s called like code and coffee or something like that. Oh, cool. Yeah. And then everyone’s like, really friendly. So I was like, talking when I should have been coding. But it was like my first time and I was like, oh, my goodness, this is like such a nice group. And then they go drinking afterwards.
Karen Swyszcz 6:08
So nice. So then it becomes like code. And I’m trying to think of like a C-word for like, alcohol code and cognac.
Jen Refat 6:16
Yeah, I mean, yeah, it’s kind of funny, because the coffee shop is like up the block from the bar. It works out like there’s like the after hours. Well, I’ve also been to like the Python conference here in Toronto. So there’s like, Pycon Canada, which was actually a really nice conference. It was like, full of like, really friendly people. I think it’s just like the Python community, in general, is very like welcoming. So yes, I really like that one. I need to go to more. There’s like a women in tech thing that I think it’s on Thursdays that I really should go to one of these days, I will go.
Karen Swyszcz 6:48
Yeah, if you go like, let me know, I would love to go. So you mentioned about like Python? Would you consider that to be like your favorite language? And if it is why and if not, like you have a favorite programming language.
Jen Refat 7:00
Karen Swyszcz 7:50
So if say if you’re starting to learn like programming, and you, I’ll just go with like HTML and CSS, because that seems to be the one that everybody starts off with. So once you are familiar with say, one language, is it relatively easy to learn another language? Or would you say it’s completely different, like starting from scratch every time?
Jen Refat 8:11
Karen Swyszcz 8:44
Right. So it’d be good to start off learning like HTML and CSS first?
Jen Refat 8:48
Yeah, I think so. I think it’s also like with HTML and CSS, you can like actually build a page and it looks like something, it gives you a little bit instant gratification, which is a little like creating that momentum when you’re first starting out.
Karen Swyszcz 9:00
Do you have any general tips or advice for people who are just starting a career in software engineering?
Jen Refat 9:05
And then just like be consistent with it. I think that’s like, the most important thing is being consistent. Like, even if you like if you have a full-time job, and you’re like learning to code, at least like an hour every night, you know, like that’s, like super helpful than doing like eight hours in a day. And then like skipping a month, you know, right? Yeah, just like staying consistent is the most important thing and you know have fun with it and do things that are actually fun for you.
I feel like a lot of times, when people are starting out, they don’t know if they’re wanting to do front end or back end. I get this question all the time. And people are like, what should I do? And I’m like, Well, you could do both, you could do neither. I mean, there’s also a DevOps, which I think most people don’t realize when they’re starting out. So like you could not like actual, like web programming. And you might want to do like operations. Or you might actually want to do like back end programming all together. And like never see the UI, so it depends like on your I feel like it depends on you. But it also like you have to like try out little projects and each thing and then see what speaks to you.
Karen Swyszcz 10:40
So with respect to like projects, would it makes sense to like, try and create your own project, or are there certain websites that have like project suggestions?
Jen Refat 10:49
I mean, there’s definitely courses that walk you through your own products that you want to work on. So like there had like a sample, and then you like, work through it with the professor. But then I feel like especially when you’re starting out, you want to keep it fun. So you also want to create side projects for yourself that are like fun for you. So when I was starting to program like more like web stuff, and like I wanted to like play around with like CSS3, and this kind of dates me a little cause CSS3 was like just coming out. And it was like this new thing. And I really wanted to play around with it. But I didn’t have anything at work to do with that. So then I was like, Okay, so I’m just going to like create myself like this random like, CSS3, like project and then I ended up making a button keyboard.
Karen Swyszcz 11:34
Jen Refat 11:35
Like long story short, it just looks like when you hit a key, it draws a canvas like a letter, but it’s like using like points that I created. And yeah, so it was just kind of like messing around with like the canvas thing. I like messing around like rotations and that kind of thing. So that was kind of more fun. And then I feel like when you do something like that engages you more and you actually want to finish it.
Karen Swyszcz 11:58
Yeah, that’s great advice. Make it make it fun. Okay, so speaking of fun, let’s talk more about like the Crafty side. So you mentioned that you started it when you were in grad school in New York. So did you end up like establishing a community over there initially, or it started to grow more when you came to Toronto.
Jen Refat 12:18
So it’s kind of funny because I worked on the thesis. And then I graduated and promptly forgot all about Craftic because I was working full time. And then I was starting to look for the next job and it was just like a lot was going on. So I basically just like had one full-time job after another. And then it wasn’t until I started contracting that I had like some time in between contracts. So then I realized, Oh, I really want to get back into this. So I started picking up Craftic around 2016, which was like almost like eight years ago, but it was always in the back of my mind. And there was always like involved with like craft groups and stuff in New York, but nothing with Craftic itself.
Yeah, so then I launched in 2016 in November, and then it was good timing because like good timing because it was my birthday. So it was kind of supposed to be like this celebratory thing. And it was like, I’ll never forget, you know, my launch date or like my website anniversary. But then there was also like bad because well things happened in the United States. Anyway, so it was just like not a great time to launch anything. But then like we ended up moving to Toronto, like about a year later. And then when I came here, I started to like really start building out like the community and started hosting like in-person meetups, and that was like a very selfish thing because I really just wanted to like meet new people in a new city.
Karen Swyszcz 13:39
No, not at all. But does it make sense rather than you know, like having to deal with I don’t know about you for me networking small talk, I hate it. But if I’m going to a workshop or something with like purpose, like, Okay, I’m going to I’m going to your workshops, learn how to do a craft kind of like, okay, there’s something else to talk about.
Jen Refat 13:55
Yeah, it gives you like a really solid starting point. Yeah. And then like, I’ve noticed that way I meet other crafters we just have like a much easier time talking as opposed to how’s the weather?
Karen Swyszcz 14:06
Yeah, well, there’s my default. So I guess I kind of gave it away. But I started talking to you about the weather it means I ran out stuff to talk about.
Jen Refat 14:13
So yeah, so like the craft meetups have been really fun because it’s like I get to meet different people each time. But then there’s also like a recurring like group of people who come each month, which is really nice. So we like become like a little group of friends who like get together once a month. And it’s just been like really nice. I ‘ve got to discover like different locations in the city, like the shop owner at Paper and Cloth she’s like super nice. And she allows us to use her space like every few months, and she’s so gracious about it. It’s just nice to have like space in the city that I can use that. That’s like super crafty. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s just kind of funny. How like, things have changed a lot since getting to Toronto.
Karen Swyszcz 14:53
So with respect to the crafting meetup like how do you decide on what type of craft you do? Or is it I guess similar to like a code and coffee meetup where it’s a free for all you bring whatever project you’re working on, and then you just kind of share? Everyone gave you some gives each other tips on how to progress in their craft?
Jen Refat 15:12
Yeah, that’s exactly it. It’s totally free for all. It’s not like a workshop or anything. It’s because it’s like if it’s a workshop, it’s like a ton of like prep work and like break down work. So it’s like, way more than I would want it to be. So it’s like super informal. Everyone just brings a project and I’ve seen like some amazing stuff like calligraphy, water coloring, knitting. I’ve seen like diamonds painting I’ve seen like, embroidery. Yeah, it’s like it’s pretty cool. And then like a lot of times people say like, oh, if I didn’t do it today, I probably wouldn’t have finished this project. Yeah, it’s just kind of nice like, you know, give yourself like a few hours like even like once a month to just like craft and then just like hang out with other crafty people who get it and it’s just like a nice because also like people do give each other tips or like people will like peek over at someone’s bullet journal.
Like what is that? What are you doing?
Karen Swyszcz 16:03
That’s so cool. Since you do a lot of crafting do you have a favorite type of craft you enjoy doing or pretty much anything and everything?
Jen Refat 16:11
I do a little bit of everything well, or most things I don’t so yet. Want to learn to do that’s like my big got everything that I want to learn but like my go-to is always knitting. Oh, cool. Yeah, I just I find it super comforting. I think it’s like one of the things that I can because I can knit and watch TV and then zone out. So I kind of like that. And also like drawing like sometimes I’ll just draw for like two hours without realizing.
Karen Swyszcz 16:39
Jen Refat 16:40
Yeah. And it’s just kind of like this like, I guess I meditative things that are most attractive to me. Which is probably why I’m not like great at cross stitch because that requires a ton of attention.
Karen Swyszcz 16:51
Yeah, that’s fine. I can’t knit like or so unless you count like sewing a button as something. But like the idea of it Yeah, being able to do it while like watching TV. I’ve seen people knitting you know, say on like the subway or on the train. But yeah, it seems like do something to help them pass the time and let your mind wander. And so do you think that kind of thing is one of the reasons why doing crafts has become so popular? Or would you say it also has to do with seeing stuff on Pinterest and Instagram?
Jen Refat 17:18
I mean, there’s definitely been like a craft resurgence probably since like 2008, which is kind of funny, because that’s when Craftic probably should have been launched. Yeah, but I do think there’s definitely like a very meditative kind of therapeutic aspect. And I think that’s like really draws people and especially since, like, you know, like we’re surrounded by screens, and we probably have like eyestrain, all of us. So it’s just kind of nice to have like those moments where it’s like you’re touching something tangible. And you’re actually like making something like you just get like this really nice sense of accomplishment, even if it’s like a tiny, like, square pothole, or something. Like you can point to that and be like, I need that. And it’s like this really awesome feeling.
Karen Swyszcz 18:04
Yeah, so I think and correct me if I’m wrong, like the difference with Craftic is that rather than, you know, suggesting projects, and then you have to buy all these supplies, it’s more so that it’s just projects that you can create with the existing supplies you have.
Jen Refat 18:18
Yeah, so the main idea is that so like if you look at the navigation on the site, it’s all based on materials. So you can search by like yarn, paper, beads, etc. So it’s more about like, what do I currently have? And what can I make with it? And a lot of times, like my biggest pet peeve with craft tutorials, is that they’ll say like, Oh, you just need like, you know, like a pair of scissors, a piece of paper, and there’s like $300 piece of equipment. Like my ideal tutorial is that you have like alternatives. Maybe you don’t have that $300 piece of material or tool. Maybe there you can use just like scissors or like a cutting knife or something. So yeah, so like, I think that’s kind of like where it came from. Also, like when I was thinking of Craftic originally, it was like during the US recession. So a lot of things were like, people are having issues with the economy. So the whole idea for Craftic was like how do you get to make things but like, have it be affordable?
Karen Swyszcz 19:19
That definitely makes sense and seems more environmentally friendly as well? Do you have a go-to place where you get most of your craft supplies initially? Like for me, the only thing that comes to mind is either like Dollarama or Michaels.
Jen Refat 19:33
Oh my God. Dollarama is the best! I’ve definitely gotten a lot of supplies from there since I moved here. I actually really liked their notebooks because yeah, like really solid sketchbooks for like $3. Like, that’s a great deal. Michaels is definitely up there to like support, like smaller stores. So like I know Etsy sellers who sell like jewelry supplies. I know like they’re like local yarn makers. Like I know like Quince and Co like they’re in Maine.
And then there are a lot of like Toronto based yarn centers and dire and yeah, so like, or like even like stationery shops in the city who are owned by like, you know, small business owners like those are the ones that I really tried to like, give back to the community. Yeah. And then there’s also other ways to get supplies, right? Like you don’t have to actually buy anything. You could so I’ve done two craft swaps. Actually three, one last fall. And one. Sorry, I think I’ve done two, the fall and one in the spring this year. And I’m planning to do another one this fall, but you like a lot. So like the big ideas like crafters have a lot of stuff. Right?
Karen Swyszcz 20:43
Jen Refat 20:44
Like we just end up getting way too much. So yeah, so like, the idea is like, Oh, you know, like I have way too much of this and I’m tired of it. So like I’ll just bring it in and see what else people have. Like at the last swap someone gave away I think dozens and dozens of like yarn skeins. And then I gave out like a bunch of beads and other things and stickers and it was just like this amazing.
It was so funny because like some people were like, Oh my God, I’ve been looking out for that for so long. And like they couldn’t find it and then someone was like, oh, I’m trying to get rid of it. Take it please take it. Swaps I find that like are amazing. Because it’s like one it’s like obviously like you have to pay for anything but to it’s like super environmentally friendly because like you’re not shipping anything like there’s no carbon footprint and it’s just like nice because then you get to meet other people.
Karen Swyszcz 21:35
Yeah, I’ve been to clothing swaps before where it’s pretty self-explanatory where you exchange clothing. But yeah, I’ve never heard of a craft swap. And now that you’ve mentioned it, it definitely makes sense. Because yeah, I’m like I’m not a really a crafter myself, but I know some people who are and I’ve seen you know, they’ve had like storage bins of craft supplies or even, you know, separate rooms for like crafting. And it was like, wow, that’s amazing.
Jen Refat 22:02
Yeah, we have a guest room, which is not really a guest room because I just took over.
Karen Swyszcz 22:07
It’s the craft room.
Jen Refat 22:12
Yeah, it’s like the craft room/ office, but mostly craft room.
Karen Swyszcz 22:16
So if somebody was interested in getting started with crafting, I’m curious to know, are there any specific items or must-have items you would recommend to say to put together there? And I’m thinking along the lines, like similar to how if you’re creating like a first aid kit, if what are some items that you would include in like a beginners crafting kit?
Jen Refat 22:36
That’s a hard one. Because there’s so many types of crafts. Like, obviously, you would definitely want a good pair of scissors.
Karen Swyszcz 22:42
Yeah, I was thinking that.
Jen Refat 22:44
Invest in like a good pair, like, not the dollar ones because it will save you a lot of headaches down the road. And I think like good adhesives. I mean, it also depends like what kind of craft you want to get into. Like, you can accumulate things super-fast, because you’re like, oh my god, I want to like start paper crafting. And then you do that for like a month. And then you’re like, I’m gonna start knitting and you start and then you get all these materials before you’ve even used any of them.
So the very first thing I feel like people should do is pick one thing, actually do a project, see if you like it, and then if you like, enjoy the process and like really want to get into it, then start accumulating the things but before that, like don’t go crazy because I’ve seen it where like, like for paper crafting like I would say like my go-to thing is like washi tape right? Like I find it like super versatile.
But then you can easily overdo it.
Yeah, try using some washi tape, like it a couple of rolls if you like it and then see if you know how to like if you can figure out like ways to use it. And if you actually like the process and then and then start buying a little bit more things. But I feel like it’s really easy. When you’re starting like you’re just want to get the whole of Michael’s in your apartment.
Karen Swyszcz 24:03
So I’ve seen the washi tape on your Instagram and I think I may have already asked you this question via DM but what is washi tape like used for? Is it to like decorate? I don’t know, like the borders of your notebooks and stuff. Like it’s very pretty tape. But I’m just wondering, like, you know what, I wouldn’t use it just to like stick things on the wall or would I?
Jen Refat 24:25
I need to make a video of like, the 20 different ways or like or blog post.
Karen Swyszcz 24:29
Jen Refat 24:30
Yeah. Cuz like I get this question all the time. I honestly feel like you could do so much with it. Like you can use it like, like tape, right? Like, you could wrap a gift and then
Karen Swyszcz 24:39
Jen Refat 24:40
That could be like really pretty just like decorative touches, I actually do put like, like, put like postcards on the wall. And I’ll just like use like pretty washi tape and then just like stick it on the wall. So I have like a giant wall. It’s actually in my Instagram like not, I think that’s like I posted like a few weeks ago. And it was like a wall of postcards. I also find it really nice to like decorate things. So like you can wrap pens that are really boring looking. So like the Muji pens, or like a super plain notebook. And you just want to cover the front and you just like cover the whole thing with washi tape. And then people use it in their planners and like paper crafts, like if you’re like sending out snail mail, it’s like the most perfect way to like, you know, jazz up like an envelope or a card.
Karen Swyszcz 25:26
Jen Refat 25:28
Yeah, like there’s just so much. I feel like, you can washi tape anything.
I put washi tape on the camera slot on my laptop.
Karen Swyszcz 25:39
That’s so funny. I feel like that should be a hashtag. Washi tape everything. In your form that you filled out you mentioned that Craftic 2.0 is launching soon. Would you be able to share like a little bit of detail behind that or when we can expect that to be launched?
Jen Refat 25:54
Yeah, so like Craftic 1.0 was like the MVP. So it’s like a very pretty, pretty Tumblr that’s been skinned to like Craftic 2.0 is like a completely custom Python app, which is why I talk about Python so much. But it’s a Django app. And it’s like completely custom and it’s like really much slicker. And it’ll have like way more functionality where each tutorial actually have like a full list of links. So you can actually buy all the materials that are in the supply list. So it’ll be easier for you. Like, if you’re missing something, you can just go and like click a link. Like right now there’s just like one amazon link in there just like takes you to like Amazon. But this will make it a lot easier because like every single item has been accounted for on the site. So yeah, it’ll be just like, and it’s also just like a prettier design, like I updated the design. And it’s like, mobile-friendly with which will be finally a good thing, because currently, the site is not very mobile friendly. Which is terrible as a front end developer to not have. Yeah, so I’m super excited. And it’s like, just like much cuter.
Karen Swyszcz 27:06
I’m excited to see it. So you had mentioned that Craftic the version 1.0 is an MVP. And that means a minimum viable product. Correct? And for those who might not be familiar with what an MVP is, do you mind like going to sharing a little bit more as to what it is?
Jen Refat 27:23
Yeah. So an MVP, in essence, is like a very, very basic version of the site that you plan on launching. So like, what are the like, absolute minimum thing, like features that a user would want on your site? So it doesn’t have to be like a fully functioning thing. It could just be like, you know, like a pared-down version where it’s like, okay, Craftic, you know, like in the future we’ll have like all these like amazing, like features where you can create an account blah, blah, blah, but is it like necessary for launch? Like, what really matters is like having content so like having the posts so like, that was like MVP.
I hope that makes sense.
Karen Swyszcz 28:02
Yeah, no, it definitely does. You’re on a lot of pretty much like almost all the social media channels Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube. With the handle Crafticland, is there a particular social media channel where they are the most active where people can reach out to you if they’re interested in learning more?
Jen Refat 28:19
Instagram is definitely my favorite. Like I hang out there way too much. So yeah, Instagram is like my favorite one. Just I don’t know. There’s like a very like, vibrant like creative community. So I gravitate towards that.
Karen Swyszcz 28:32
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for chatting, all things tech, and all things. crafty today.
Jen Refat 28:37
Yeah. Oh, I completely forgot.
Karen Swyszcz 28:41
Jen Refat 28:43
About the meetup?
Karen Swyszcz 28:44
Oh, yes. Yes. The meetup we sort of touched base on it. But yeah, so before we sign off, so Jen hosts the monthly craft meetups in the Toronto area. They’re usually held at the last Saturday or Sunday of the month. But if you’re interested and would like to learn more, please sign up for the newsletter. And the website is www.craftic.com.
Jen Refat 29:08
Yeah, that’s it.
Thank you so much.
Karen Swyszcz 29:11
Oh, no problem. And thank you, everyone, for listening. Have a great day.
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai