Lean Into The Awkward

4 min readMar 11, 2020


By Paul D. Cloeter, Software Engineer, Subscriber Experience

I don’t generally think I’m an exceptionally awkward person. Perhaps those who meet me feel otherwise (maybe I should ask around)…

However, like most people, I often find myself in awkward situations, and I believe that how one behaves in those moments can indicate a lot about their personality and how they perceive the world.

My first introduction to tech@BARK came on my graduation night at App Academy. I was proudly, albeit somewhat super-terrifiedly, showing off my final projects. At last, in the final throes of a grueling bootcamp, I readied my 4ft wide table to display Sequential Sounds, a 1980’s Lite Brite-themed audio sequencer, and Meet.Sup? Like MeetUp… get it?

(I’m momentarily rethinking that thing about me not being awkward…)

Now, stone cold “networking” is not my favorite thing to do, though I’ve done plenty of it. It’s not because I’m shy, but I am more naturally sparked by conversations that are either absurd in nature (my adolescent sense of humor), or that educate me on something I never knew before. Luckily for me, faking interest was not my destiny that evening.

How I got here

Like many people who attend bootcamps, I have somewhat of a unique professional background. Post undergrad, after being accepted into doctoral school for clinical psychology, I decided it would be more adventurous to take a scholarship offer from an arts conservatory in Scotland. Adventurous it was! Though I worked in my field for years after graduating, I ultimately settled into what would become the next 8 years of my life — Business.

In my time as an executive at a 501(c)(3) charity, I learned about everything from investment law to union negotiations. I even completed a competitive business administration program sponsored by Goldman Sachs. My company did important work and I felt accomplished, but I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want to take out my earrings or have to put on a suit so that people would take me seriously. The futurist in me wanted to create and build.

So when the time came for me to make a change, I remembered how much I enjoyed working with SEO and developing different websites for our company projects, and I started upon a determined effort to learn more about programming.

Fast forward to boot camp grad night…

As the room rotated with recruiters and past graduates, a broadly smiling person approached my station. We began discussing the technical aspects of my projects and the use of Disney villains as seed data for my full-stack social networking project. (In my mind, why wouldn’t Maleficent, Scar and Captain Hook want to meet up and explore the sewers underneath NYC??)

This latter point of conversation stood out to me. Discussing the merits of my technical work was by no means a unique experience that evening, because having a technically sound base is key for any position in engineering. A conversation about my creativity and the choices I make in a vacuum was, however, something very few people cared to broach.

Cliffhanging reveal: The person effortlessly navigating both the technical and personal sides of this conversation was Becky Segal, BARK’s VP of Platform Engineering. She described a team of self-driven individuals who work hard, are authentically in love with dogs, and aren’t afraid to be weird.

I applied immediately.

Meeting the team

Every step of my interview process only served to reinforce my initial impression of life at tech@BARK. I met with team members from Engineering, Product and eventually, Management. At each juncture, even when whiteboarding and reviewing my coding challenge, it was clear my future colleagues wanted me to feel comfortable so I could show the best version of myself.

“Awkward,” I would later learn, is the tech team’s unofficial name. In fact, we have a weekly meeting, properly named “Awkward Weekly,” where we step away from our computers and gather in a room, making sure to grab some candy or a beverage along the way! Someone posits a never-dull “question of the day” and we discuss at length (or don’t, and sit in awkward silence — we’re comfortable there).

It is for these reasons I was so drawn to BARK, and invested a continued diligence into my application and interview process. Likewise, I believe in large part it is for these reasons I was ultimately offered a position — I was appreciated for my creativity and ability to visualize a world that encompasses code, yet isn’t limited to it.

There is a bigger takeaway here, too. Leaning into awkwardness, being comfortable in uncertainty — it’s a valuable life skill, and one that is fostered here at tech@BARK. In this space, there is freedom to learn and curiosity is allowed to thrive. It’s ok not to know, because especially in the shifting winds of the tech industry, it’s impossible to ever know it all! What’s far more important is being excited by the chance to grow.

So the next time you feel a situation becoming a bit awkward, consider fighting the instinct to escape it. You’re probably about to learn something interesting! Instead, settle in and embrace the opportunity of that weird little moment. Lean into it!