On this special re-broadcast of the freeCodeCamp podcast, Quincy Larson (freeCodeCamp’s founder) interviewed Adam and Jerod in the ultimate Backstage episode to celebrate a decade of conversations, news, and community here at Changelog. Yes, this month we turn 10 years old! We go deep into our origin stories, our history as a company, becoming and being a leader, the backstory of our branding, our music from Breakmaster Cylinder, and where we might be heading in the future.
- We’re celebrating a decade of conversations, news, and community here at Changelog
- Adam goes fulltime
- We have 7 active podcasts
- We also celebrated 5 years of freeCodeCamp on The Changelog with Quincy
- Go back and listen to The Changelog #195, Quincy’s first appearance here on The Changelog
- You should listen and subscribe to the freeCodeCamp podcast
- Become a supporter of freeCodeCamp
Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧
Hey everyone, this is Quincy Larson. I’m the teacher who founded FreeCodeCamp.org five fateful years ago. I am ecstatic to welcome you to this very special episode of the FreeCodeCamp Podcast. Now, I know that Abbey said that we were all done publishing episodes until 2020, but today we are coming out of hiatus to bring you this exclusive interview with the Changelog.
If you haven’t heard of the Changelog before, it’s a podcast about open source software. Each week they interview new developers from around the software galaxy and explore what makes those projects tick. Adam Stacoviak founded the Changelog exactly ten years ago, and Jerod Santo joined as a co-host about seven years ago. Together across 370 episodes, they’ve interviewed everyone, from programmer legends to the maintainers of open source projects you may have used, but never actually knew you were using.
We’re going to explore how Adam and Jerod got into coding, we’re going to talk about how the Changelog has evolved over its first ten years, and we’re gonna look forward to where they’re going from here. We did this all in their Houston studio; I drove down from Dallas, Jerod flew in from Omaha… We all met at Adam’s house in Houston and we recorded all this.
Again, I want to that Adam and Jerod for spending the day with me. They have been huge heroes of mine since I was just first learning to code back in the early twenty-teens; I would listen to the Changelog religiously. I think I worked through almost their entire back-catalog when I was first learning to code, and to this day I still listen to it. It’s a fantastic window into the world of open source software. It was an honor to share their ten-year anniversary with them in this very special way.
Without further adieu, here’s me interviewing the developers behind the Changelog.
Hey, welcome to the FreeCodeCamp Podcast. We have a very special podcast today. We are interviewing the founder of the Changelog and his sidekick. I’m thrilled to ask a whole lot of questions to the creators of the show and celebrate their ten-year anniversary. How many podcasts do you know of that have gone on to ten years?
Not very many, no.
Alright. First, Adam Stacoviak, the founder of the Changelog and the host for the past ten years, and Jerod Santo, who has stepped in and been a huge force in the Changelog over the past few years… We’re gonna learn a whole lot about them. Let’s go.
First, Adam, I just wanna learn a little bit about you. What was your early life like, Adam?
Do you wanna go back to the beginning-beginning, like early life? Like eight, five…? What year?
If there were any really formative experiences in your childhood, go for it.
[03:47] I would say for me probably the one thing that wouldn’t seem obvious is I grew up poor. From a town that people either go to jail, become alcoholics… Just not a lot of hope. And I came from a place where I would say that to be where I’m at today, if people see me that I met and went to school with years and years ago, just don’t believe it.
My dad died when I was really young, so it was a big part of my life to have a father figure missing in my life. My mom was amazing; she raised me and my brother, single mom… And I love her. She has since passed away in 2008, but she was always my encourager, always my believer in me… And quite honestly, she’s the reason why I’m at where I’m at, because I guess ages ago when blogging was cool, back in 2003-2004…
Blogging is still cool, right?
Well, yeah… When it became, when it was the era of blogging, the first–
Right, yeah, the blogosphere… I had a blog. And I didn’t live right next to my mom anymore; I had moved, I was about five hours away, so… I had to have a blog to keep up with family. It was where we posted our family pictures and just did whatever, and I shared my thoughts… And I got really into web design through WordPress and the theme Kubrick, if anybody remembers Kubrick…
I do remember Kubrick.
That was an entry point for me. That’s how I learned CSS, by looking at that CSS and being like “What is margin? What is padding?”, all that stuff… So I got really curious about web design and all that stuff, and got really into it.
Then I got really busy at work, and just sort of didn’t have enough time, because it was just a hobby for me at the time. And my mom’s like “You’re not doing this anymore… Why not?”, this and that, and I’m like “I just don’t have time for it. It’s no big deal, whatever.” She’s like “But you’re really good at it.” She’s like “You’re really good at it. You shouldn’t stop, you shouldn’t quit. You’re really good at this, you should find a way to do this more.”
It was literally that moment, when she said that, that I sort of internalized that and was like “Huh, okay. Mom says I should do it… I should do it.” And literally, if she didn’t say that – and I know how silly blogging might have been at that time… It was not even a cool blog, it was just my family blog. It was like, nobody should ever read it. Not interesting thoughts at all. But she was like “You should keep doing this.” That’s probably one of the most formative things for me, I would say, to get me to here. There’s a couple other things too, of course, but that specifically around web design, web development and pursuing it deeper was that moment.
So you touched on the fact that you were working, and you were working in another field, and just pursuing software development as a passion. Let’s back up a little bit to high school, you’re in this town where generally people don’t go on to bright futures… How did you break out of that?
Sheer luck. Sheer luck, God’s will… Gosh, man - I look back on these times… I was the person that didn’t have any money for college, and many of my close friends had some sort of plan, because their parents were fortunate enough to have money in the bank and make that plan. For me, I didn’t have that plan. I didn’t even have great grades in high school. I was terrible… And not because I wasn’t smart, but because I just didn’t have anybody really, aside from my mom and a couple others, really helping me to apply things.
[07:30] When I graduated high school, I barely graduated. It was terrible. I missed so many days of school the last year in my high school year… I just didn’t wanna be there anymore, I wanted to move on to whatever was next. And when I left high school - this is going super-deep, but when I left high school I kind of told myself “I need to make a plan.” So the cool thing to say would be “I’m taking a year off, prior to going to college.” But I just didn’t have any money to go. I didn’t have a plan, like “How am I gonna get there?”
So I spent the next year after high school sort of like making some sort of plan. I worked at this place called Reese Brothers, where they did telemarketing. I was a telemarketer at one point in my life. I actually may have called you at one point to ask you about AT&T long-distance. It was probably ten cents, or whatever, and I can give you a great deal if you bought today… Hey, that’s how that worked.
But yeah, I was a telemarketer… I got done with that and then I became a pizza guy. There was a local mom and pop pizza joint; what’s it called…? I forget. But it was amazing, amazing. They had this thing called Red Top… Amazing pizza.
And then my roommate at the time - because I’d moved out of my home and went and got an apartment with a buddy of mine, and all that good stuff… He was in the National Guard, and I come from a family that has – you know, all of the men in my family have all been in the military: my dad, my grandfathers, my brother, my uncles… So it wasn’t like this legacy thing, but I was like “Hm… I’ve gotta do something. Maybe I’ll make enough money to buy a car…” I was really motivated by money and a car, and some sort of money for college. The SGLI Bill was an option then… And so I was like “Well, alright, I’ll go in the military.” So I went into the military full-time in 1998.
I was in the army for 3,5 years. They had this special program where you can go into – it was training plus three years, or something like that… So I went in for training, which was about 6-8 months, and then three years of service. So it was around 3,5, almost four years. Not quite four years. Typically, the term of service is four years; that’s why I’m making a big deal about it, because anybody listening will be like “Hey, I thought four years was the minimum.” I kind of got off a little bit there by shaving a few months off, but…
I went to Bosnia, did all sorts of cool stuff in the army, went over in Europe… Gosh, just a lot of fun. The military - Jerod knows; I’ve told Jerod this story at least, but the military for me was… There was a moment when I was in this thing called Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Everything in the military is an acronym. There’s always something. What am I getting at…? So when I was in AIT, the drill sergeant – even though I was in the military and I was trying to do something, I didn’t really apply myself to be the best soldier; I was still sort of like figuring it out, and I wasn’t doing a great job. I was late, not prepared, not the best at physical fitness… So I was like the lower echelon of soldier.
So one day I’m staying in the third line of formation, and the drill sergeant says “Stacoviak! Front center! You’re first squad leader now.” So that means that you’re now the leader of the first squad. There’s usually 3-4 squads, so like three different lines. If you think of a formation, the rows are squads. So if you’re facing the formation on the far left side, that’s the first person, and that’s the person that’s in charge of that squad.
So I got basically made under the person who is in charge of the unit; I was the second in command, for a lack of better terms. And I didn’t do anything to deserve it or earn it, he just gave it to me… And from that day on I was like “I’m a leader now. I have to be a leader. How do I be a leader? How do I lead? What’s it look like? What does a leader look like? How do they talk, how do they walk, how do they act?” And it sort of reshaped my formation of what it meant to lead.
I started to press my uniform, shine my boots… They call it “Dress Right, Dress” in the military. All the angles are squared, and whatnot… So I guess I was given an opportunity to lead, which is why I’m a huge advocate for just helping somebody that doesn’t even think they deserve it or know how to do it - give them a chance. Encourage them into a leadership position.
[11:55] I was not the best. I probably failed a lot, and that didn’t matter though… Because where I’m at today as a man, as a dad, as a father, as a leader or any sort is because of some of those moments.
Well, he must have seen a lot in you if he gave you that responsibility… So it’s possible that–
I don’t think he did, honestly… [laughter] I don’t think he did. I don’t think I deserved it at all. He wasn’t like “Oh, he looks good. Let’s get him up here.” I think he was just like “Rando”, and I was just the luck of the draw. And I think I was telling Jerod this story today, and he’s like “What do you say - would you thank him today?”, or something like that.
Yeah, we were talking about people who influenced us in our lives, and the question is should you go back to that person – because you don’t appreciate it then… I mean, sometimes you do, but especially as a young person, we just don’t appreciate what we have, the opportunities given to us… And the question is “Well, now that we look back…”, and we were talking about a teacher of mine, shout-out to Mr. Kasner in high school…
There you go.
…a guy who I was like “Wow” – I didn’t realize it, but he was a good teacher, and he impressed things upon me… And the question was “Well, would you go back to that person if you could, to just thank them?” Because now you have that appreciation. And that was why In was asking you.
And I would. And I was like “Well, do you know what I did today?” I was googling drill sergeant Hillard. The person’s name that did this. And I was like “What’s really interesting - as somebody in that position, he probably has no idea he changed my life.” These things happen out there that we don’t get that feedback loop. As software developers and people who deal with teams, and flows, and frameworks and systems, we crave that feedback loop, and it’s a built-in mechanism into the human brain to desire and need that feedback loop, right? To have relationship is a key humanistic feedback loop. Find a human in solitary confinement, find somebody super-alone and you’re gonna find somebody who’s seriously dealing with some mental issues because of that solitary, because of that soloness. And yeah, I don’t think he has any idea that he influenced my life so well… Which is crazy to me.
Yeah, the feedback loop is very loose in the real world…
Were you able to find him on Google?
Are there so many drill sergeants by that name, or…?
As a matter of fact, I kind of got scared for a second, because I did find an article from the base I was at that was tragic… And I started reading through it, and thank God his name wasn’t in it; it was something else sad about this situation, but I was like “Gosh, here I am, looking for this person, and something bad happened to them”, or whatever. You find somebody’s obituary… And it’s kind of terrible too, because if you’re out there and you’re listening to this and you’re thinking “Man, there’s somebody who influenced my life” - try to thank them if you can, because… I mean, the last thing I would want is to find that person’s obituary and be too late.
If I could find them, somehow, someway, I would be like “Thank you so much for sharing leadership with a crap soldier like me, because… Wow. It changed my life.”
That’s a great reminder… I’m gonna have to put that on my to-do list, because I’ve got a lot of people myself who have steered me in the direction; a lot of teachers, a lot of employers and managers…
So you get back from the Army, you did your three years and your education before that… Did you end up going to school, or what did you do from there?
That’s funny… So that’s actually the next part that got me to where I’m at, closer to today, I would say… Here, specifically geographically, in Texas. So for a little while there i lived in Canada, and - that’s a really long story, and I don’t feel like going into that, but… I went from the military to Florida because a good friend of mine that I grew up and went to high school with - this was one of the people who had a plan, had parents with money, and they sent him to college, to school. And so instead of going to school, I went into the military. This person, my good buddy - Donald Kilgore. You know Donald…
[16:00] We worked with DK quite a bit… He went to film school in Orlando, Florida, at a place called Full Sail, really well known for audio, visual, directing film, all that good stuff… So I left the military with this SGLI Bill, thinking “I’m gonna go to Florida and I’m gonna go to film school, or I’m gonna go to audio school…” So I’d wanted to do either directing of films, or getting into audio stuff around films. I loved it. I didn’t know how to do it, but I liked the idea of it, which is so ironic of what I do now. And… Yeah, I never went to school. I never went, I never ended up making it there… Which is kind of an interesting story, if you wanna go there; I can take you to the next–
If we had to facet my skillset, one of my biggest skillsets is sales, and just relationships and partnerships; I love that kind of stuff… And I’d mentioned Reese Brothers and doing telemarketing - well, I’d always like to help people. I think sales is really just trying to help people solve their problems. It’s not about getting Jerod to buy something he doesn’t wanna buy, with money he doesn’t have… It’s about he has a problem, I can help solve that problem - that’s sales to me.
It’s kind of a long story, but I’ll make it really short - I had a friend who was trying to be a DJ… And we were at a club, early in the day, kind of like seven o’clock… time it’s borning at the club. It’s not the time you wanna be a DJ. So we were there, I see him talking to this guy at the bar, I see him go back and do his thing… And I go over and introduce myself, because I’m like “If you’re a friend of my friend, you’re a friend of mine” kind of person. So I went over and I introduced myself and said “Hey, I saw you talking to my buddy Donald. My name is Adam etc.”
And long story short, this person’s name was Sean Hughes; another person that I would love to see again and thank… Because that day I was at the crossroads of like what I was doing, which was basically nothing. I had no real ambition at the time. I was like “Well, I’m really hating what I’m doing now, and I’m thinking about getting into car sales.” So car sales, right…? I love selling, people need cars… I can help you solve your problem by getting a great car, whatever. But car sales is generally not the most fun sales job. It’s got just a lot of eekiness to it, so to speak. It doesn’t have a great reputation for being a great job. You can make a lot of money, but it may not be the best job for you.
Long story short, I mean Sean, and he’s like “Don’t get into car sales. I’ve been into car sales, it’s terrible. Don’t do that. I’ll tell you what - come in on Monday (this is Friday) to my office. You sound like a great young man, you’ve got a great head on your shoulders… I’ve got something I’m working on at a company called Muzak. I’d love to interview you for this thing we have going on.” So that’s another huge moment in my life where I went from no direction to direction.
I go in on Monday, meet with Sean… It’s a great office, it’s a legit job, where you’ve gotta dress nice, and you’ve got a computer… I mean, I’m not talking to a POS (point of sales system), or… Which - there’s nothing wrong with that; it was just the next direction for me… Because at the time I was a server. I was waiting tables, doing that kind of stuff in Orlando. Making good money because there’s lots of hospitality around that area, but… This guy hired me into this position; it was an LAPD program, Leads, Appointments, Deals, Proposals. And that’s what it was all about. I was basically inside sales for account executives… And I learned the ropes of this business.
If you haven’t heard of Muzak, if you’ve been into, say Old Navy, or a Banana Republic, or any sort of like upscale retail environment, they put the sound systems in, they put the music in, and that’s where I learned how to do a soundtrack to evoke an emotion. I started getting into user experience, his whole aspect of design, and stuff like that… Muzak had a really good brand design…
I always thought it was elevators.
That’s how it began. It began in the early 1920’s…
…as a combination of Music and Kodak, because the person who had founded Muzak - it was a whole different era, but he loved music and he loved Kodak…
[laughs] So he just threw them together and he had a…
Muzak! There you go.
Not the silliest company name origin story.
Yeah, you could do worse.
You could do worse. So I got into sales there, I started making good money… And yeah, I never made it to school though. So to answer sort of a long-winded version of “Did you go to school?”, the answer is no, but I found a really awesome job that helped me learn all sorts of skillsets that I literally use today to help build our business.
Yeah. And I guess, to some extent – they used to say going to the military was an alternative to going to school, because you learn a lot of the same things… You learn how to operate in structure, and everything…
And by that time you’d already traveled around the world and done a lot of things to expand your horizons anyway.
Yeah. I was used to traveling, I was used to being a vagabond, for a lack of better terms… I’d just pack a bag and go somewhere, or take a few things only… I’ve slept in some really weird places, and I’ve also showered - and not showered - in some really weird places. Actually, the longest stretch I’ve gone not showering was about three-and-a-half weeks…
Yeah, we were on a field problem, and we were lucky – it was just a certain kind of field problem where it was simulating a real-world in-battle environment kind of thing… And we were learning, because we were going to Bosnia, so we had to train. When you go in the military you just don’t know how to be a soldier and how to do these things, and go overseas and do different stuff… You have to train to do these things. So we went to training to learn how to go overseas and simulate that. Now, I showered over there, which awesome… But during this - they call them field problems - field problem, I didn’t shower. I mean, I washragged myself maybe a little bit, but a legit, in-the-shower shower… [laughter] I might be pushing it a little bit… At least two weeks, maybe three weeks.
Yeah. Man, I don’t know if I could do it.
It was tough, man…
I’d knock myself over every time I lifted my arm.
I was gonna ask you if it wraps around if it’s bad for a while, but eventually you just kind of get used to it and it goes back to normal.
Yeah, after a while it just sort of normalizes. I will say though, when the field problem was over and we all got back to the barracks, the first few in that immediately went and showered came out from the shower, and then everybody else that’s still coming in, you’re like “Oh my gosh, you guys smell so bad.” It was pretty bad. At that point you can smell the difference.
Man, the line for that shower must have been tightly packed. Everybody’s just like anticipating the hot water.
Yeah… I may forget that, I don’t really know. But I’m sure it was…
You’ve blocked it out–
But there’s always a line. There’s a line to brush your teeth even.
Yeah. So how did you transition from doing sales for Muzak? And you said you were doing something in the direction of user experience design, like choosing music and trying to evoke specific emotions, and communicate certain things… Explain the process of transitioning from that to getting more and more passionate about tech, and ultimately doing what you’re doing now.
Yeah, it’s interesting… One of the things that made me realize I was more geeky than I’d ever thought I was – because I was never… Like, I guess when I grew up computers weren’t around everywhere, to sort of like easily stumble into, or more easily get into. You almost had to really try. So the first time I had a phone was at this job. They gave me a cell phone. It was Nextel, that’s how long ago that was. It was a Nextel flip phone. It was crazy.
[23:56] And the very first time I had my own laptop was at this job. The first time I really used a computer for anything that was not like online chats, or whatever, dinking around, was at this job. So I’d kind of gotten into – I don’t know if they’re still around, but it was called Act! An Act! database. Maybe you’ve seen this, Jerod… But it was a databasing system for like a basic CRM. And I started to tinker with that; I was never really good at it, but I’d sort of taken some classes around it, and just realized that I had this sort of inkling into like a geek, or what I considered a geek at that time… Geeky things. And Muzak had a really interesting brand, a really clean design, a real focus on how they say things…
And it’s funny, one thing we actually have that’s a behind the scenes repo on GitHub - it’s a repo we call OneVoice, so that Jerod and I can sort of like say the same things and define the same things around our business, to say “When we talk to somebody around a partnership, or a sales opportunity, or our guest guide”, various things are in this so that Jerod and I can have (and begin to develop) one voice for whomever - sort of leads, commands, and interacts with these levels of our business. So that’s something that they had; they actually had this entire book called One Voice, and I was like “That’s really interesting, how much you think about the emotion that you wanna invoke as a part of your brand.” Who you say you are really mattered to Muzak… And it could have just been they had some really good branding people, and people believe in it… But hey, I drank the Kool-Aid, man; I was all in it. So that’s kind of what got me into it.
I’d mentioned at some point I moved to Canada… I moved to Canada as part of my job. They had an affiliate there, and I was working in Canada. Long story short, this is when George Bush was president. Americans did not have a great reputation abroad, whether it was Canada, Europe, wherever else… At least from my perspective. Because people would not buy from me because I was an American. So I was an amazing salesperson, killing it; I think at age 21 when I was working at Muzak in the United States I was making like 80k-90k/year in sales.
I was just doing full-time sales for less than a year, almost barely two years, if that… So I was really killing it. I was like top five in the country for Muzak…
It must have been a dramatic transition for you…
Yeah, and then going there… And it’s nothing against Canadians, but I felt really – I don’t know how to describe it. I just felt really sad that these people would not buy from me because of where I’m from and because I have an American accent, and I’m not Canadian and don’t say “eh”… I love Canadians, they’re amazing… And I was like “Okay, I just can’t make ends meet.” Long story short, I went there to work for this company, and I just couldn’t cut it. So I knew somebody who ran this IT business, which is really where my story of technology and true web and software and stuff became a thing… And networking… Because this business was called IT Weapons. They were IT Weapons… You get it, right? Okay… It was pretty cool.
[laughs] Pretty cool.
They did Citrix, they did VMware, they did WatchGuard… So they did hardware and software, they would do large-scale Citrix implementations… And this is when it was all about “thin client, fat…” what’s the other–
Yeah. You did all of it on servers. Citrix was like – you know, you had a thin client that was kind of stupid, and all it was, it was just a terminal to your server… So everything was server-based. And it was just an interesting era. This was around 2003-2005 timeframe. That’s kind of the era then. I learned about servers, what they were, all that good stuff… And it’s just pretty crazy to think this job at IT Weapons opened up doors into software, hardware, technology… And at one point I didn’t even know what a server was. I’d hear people say server, but like - what’s a server?
I’m still working on that…
Describe “increasingly technical”.
I mean, ultimately of course you went on to found one of the most important podcasts about software, and yet you were working in sales… There must have been a pretty big transition there. Give us some broad strokes about how you went about getting more technical.
This was kind of interesting too, because I kind of stumbled into it. When I was working at IT Weapons I was learning more, I was starting to take over the website for IT Weapons, and I was starting to deploy it, and stuff like that, which was basically just drag-and-dropping in FTP… You know, it was those days… I started getting more and more responsibility there around that kind of stuff, and sort of defining where the brand went, how we spoke… We would have in-office conferences (for a lack of better terms), where I would organize them… I would get the people there to speak from Citrix, from WatchGuard, from VMware, or whatever… And I would coordinate people and I would coordinate the clients, and just kind of layering on all these different things of like biz dev, design, sales…
Then a buddy of mine, which – ultimately, I came here to Texas; I was in Canada, and a buddy of mine reached out to me about… Like, I don’t know why he asked me these things, but he’s like “Hey, I’ve got this issue with this web page that I’m making. Can you help me?” And I just started to solve his problems, and he’s like “Hey, can you just build these things for me? I’ve got some clients…” So the next thing you know, I started to just moonlight in freelance, in web design and development. So I would design it, I would develop it, I would ship it, I would support it, and I would help, to some degree, even land the deals.
So it was sort of like a full spectrum of like identify people to work with, understand what their problem set was, design something to fit it, and then build it and make it and ship it and support it. After a while, he was like – because he’s a good buddy of mine; I grew up with him. I was kind of telling you that some of my friends had plans… He was the one that had a plan, went to school, and he was the one that went to Full Sail. His name is Donald Kilgore.
He was like “Do you just wanna become a partner in my business and help me do this?” So we did. We started landing some really big clients… I think probably the biggest deal we landed was $20,000 or $30,000. For a website, I thought that was a big deal. It was an RV dealership here in Texas called DeMontrond. They’re really well known around here. They have Chrysler, Jeep, Ford, whatever… And they have an RV place. So we built out – and this is actually leading into Rails too, because this is like 2005. David had recently just said “Whoops!” and we were all watching… You know what I’m saying, right? [laughs]
Right, David Heinemeier Hansson’s…
That’s right, David Heinemeier Hansson. DHH.
…video on the Rails blog in five minutes.
That’s right, yeah. And so we had built this version of DeMontrond and we didn’t really like its functionality… That’s when Rails was really cool; I started getting into that more. I reached out to some people and kind of put together a team… I was on the front-end, and they were building out the back-end.
We built out this really awesome site in Rails, and I think I just kind of stumbled into it, because I wasn’t trying to be – even though I know my mom said I’m really good at it, I wasn’t really thinking I would be a web developer. I kind of like just was doing it. I was into biz dev… I really liked to create and develop relationships, and I just see that as one more way to do it, because I could do it well; no one else was really doing it. I had an opportunity, I could cultivate clients, I could do a lot of these interesting things, and… The door just opened up.
[31:47] Yeah. And I imagine a lot of the job was communicating with the clients and understanding their needs, and you’ve got your stakeholder…
Yeah. I would talk to clients for hours even. On the phone, for hours, talking through things and figuring things out… A lot of iteration, a lot of feedback from them… It was really fun.
So would you say Rails was one of the key inspirations for you starting a podcast around open source? I mean, Rails is one of the most important open source projects; it’s brought so many people into the field. It revolutionized how a lot of CRUD-based web apps were built.
What version are we on at this point?
Well, who knows…?
Still using HTML5 and CSS 3, right?
There you go, yeah.
That’s right. So he had a show, a podcast called The Web 2.0 Show. It was one of the very earliest, first technical/tech/software-focused podcasts. And at that time you didn’t have to do much; you just had to be a podcast. You could be terrible quality sound-wise, great content… It didn’t matter. You had all the listeners, because there was no one else doing it. So his partner had quit, and this is how I got into podcasting, and more specifically how I got into talking to people that weren’t just like my buddies nearby, about software or technical-related things.
So I became his co-host in late 2005, early 2006. I’ve literally been podcasting since 2005. I can say 2005, but it was at least November 2005. So not all the whole year, but I can claim 2005.
Yeah… Wow. So you were on the ground floor of podcasting as a medium.
Yeah… In a lot of ways. I can remember using a really crappy, snowball – it was like a white microphone… It was crappy to me because you can see the mics we’re using now, and over time I had to learn about audio, too; things that I never even really cared to learn about, that you sort of had to be forced to learn these things, just by way of producing audio.
Now you have to deliver a show that sounds really good. We used to get away with it before where we could – not that we wanted to, but we could ship something to our listeners that wasn’t immaculate sound quality. But now we kind of feel like, because of what listeners desire and demand, and because so many people are doing it - and it’s also a lot easier to produce it well… But if you go back and listen to the Web 2.0 Show, you will hear what I’m talking about.
Yeah, even some of the earlier episodes of the Changelog, listening to them… I mean, it’s just night and day, with today, in the production quality.
Yeah. It’s funny… If you go back and listen to episode number one… Even go from 1 to 100; just go on the hundreds - go to one, one hundred, two hundred, and three hundred… I think this week we’ll ship 367… So yeah–
But the way that Changelog came about - I was working with a buddy named Wynn Netherland, and…
Wynn Netherland. Kind of like the Netherlands, but Netherland. I think he used to say that, too. He goes by @Pengwynn on Twitter, so look him up… But he was in an interesting space because he ran a consultancy called Squeejee. Now, Wynn’s got some really interesting, witty humor, so it was called Squeejee because he liked to clean things and make things nice… And their brand was a lot like you might imagine a cleaning products brand. Kind of like sheeny and shiny… It was really interesting. I love that aspect about him.
But he was in this crossroads because he had just decided to leave his consultancy and go a new direction, and so did I. So we were both in this sort of like “Let’s establish our name for ourselves. Let’s etch out some new territory.” And obviously, I had a background in at least doing something with podcasting, so talking about things…
[36:04] And I was like “What if we were both talking about how fast open source was moving…?” I’m like “You know what people just need? They need a way-finder through the versions; so if something changes, if Rails 1.0 versus 1.8, or whatever it might be, somebody just needs to chronicle the changelog of a software product, or a software open source whatever. Someone needs to tell that story. That’s what’s missing - what happened here and what happened here, and what’s happening in between. People don’t have that. So what if we just did a show called Changelog?” So it was just Changelog at first. And Wynn was like “What about The Changelog?” [laughter]
It sounds like the opposite of The Facebook to Facebook…
Changelog to The Changelog. It sounds more definitive.
Yeah. So we were The Changelog. And as a matter of fact, it’s really funny because it began as – we still own these domains…
Yeah, when did you get Changelog.com? Because that’s a really good domain.
Yeah, it took a couple years. And it wasn’t very expensive. There’s a story behind that…
We had TheChangelog.com, which we still own…
Yeah. It began as ChangelogShow.com, and that was actually what our original Google account was set up under. Our email was actually firstname.lastname@example.org, and then we aliased TheChangelog.com. And then eventually I’m like “You know what - we just need to shorten it to just Changelog on Twitter and wherever we can”, and so we only really did that because they became available to us. Somebody on Twitter gave that handle to us. Thank you… I can’t recall your name, but we wrote about this at some point.
Wow. Never heard about somebody on Twitter actually responding – they just voluntarily did that, or did you ask them?
Yeah, they were in software and they liked what we were doing… They were like “I see that you’re gonna use it for good things. It’s not like you just want it because you’re some jerk, or whatever…” So they knew we had good intentions. Changelog.com was owned by somebody else in software. I don’t think they were really interested in selling it until I made them an offer, and then he agreed to it. We got Changelog.com for a thousand dollars.
A thousand dollars, yeah.
What year was that?
I wanna say like 2015 maybe…
Not that long ago.
Yeah, maybe 2014… Probably 2014.
Man… These are some really chill people.
That’s a great deal.
He could have been like “Well, the writing’s on the wall. You’ve been doing this for a while, and you’re probably gonna keep doing this… I want more than a thousand bucks.”
But it sounds like he believed in the mission if he was willing to give you that kind of price.
Yeah… I don’t think he believed in the mission.
I think he just saw us as someone who could do something with it, that wasn’t just – I don’t know, just something useful. And we were willing to give him what he desired, which was a thousand bucks. And we ended up using Sedo to do the whole escrow situation, where we put the money in there, he is able to collect the money… It’s a nice, easy way. So I recommend if you’re gonna buy a domain from somebody - I don’t have all the details, but that’s how we did it. I would do it that way if you don’t know the person. Do it with some sort of exchange scenario. Somebody in the middle that can facilitate it. I don’t know if they would actually press charges if they didn’t follow through, but there’s something; there’s some sort of commitment.
Well, with an escrow in the middle they can hold the funds…
Yeah, exactly. Especially if it’s an international transaction, which court you go to…
There’s a few things, you know? So that’s smart…
But changelog.com was pretty cool. It was a big move. You did all that. Tell us some of the technical parts to that.
It was five years ago. A lot of redirects…
A lot of redirects…
Before we dig in all that… So of course, I had to listen to the first episode of The Changelog for doing the research…
How did it sound? Did you like it?
[39:51] It was pretty rough. I’ve got a podcast tool that just makes it very easy to pull up old podcasts… I don’t know how they archive it. Because even when I go on iTunes and try to scroll all the way down, it doesn’t go all the way back…
It’s terrible, yeah.
…which is kind of disappointing.
Jerod could share some reasons why, at length, and in detail…
Yeah… That’s an unfortunate scenario, but…
Yeah, but I was able to find it, and pull it up. We’ll link to it in the show notes if you wanna give it a listen, just to hear the contrast.
It’s really easy - changelog.com/1.
Yeah, it’s really easy.
Okay, good. That’s a good path. Yeah, so Wynn–
Wynn Netherland, yeah.
Wynn sounds like a really cool guy. He ultimately went to get a job at GitHub, I understand…
Right, yeah. There’s some story there, too. We can go into a little bit of it…
So Wynn and I became close friends; we had actually done some teaching together. Wynn was more developer, less designer, and less front-end, but he really had an eye for aesthetic and an eye for design, and he loved to always tinker. If I had to describe him, he always had a minimalist approach to things… But he wasn’t the kind of developer who’s like “I can’t touch CSS.” He just loved to dive into things, and he just thrived at that.”
So we did a class at a Lone Star Ruby conference and a couple other places, called Design Eye for the Dev Guy or Gal…
[laughs] That’s quite a name…
Yeah, it was pretty funny… So what we wanted to do was just help software developers who were just primarily in code and back-end type stuff, and not at all on the front-end feel a bit more comfortable with early technologies like Sass, precompilers, stuff like that… And this is early days of Sass. This is even before the SCSS syntax. This was super-early days.
One side, small tangent would be that before there was the Changelog I’d actually wanted to do a Sass podcast, but nobody would do it with me… [laughter] So I died on that sword, and instead decided to do this show, The Changelog, because I had a partner who would be willing to work with me on it, so there you go…
No one was really interested in the Sass… They were like “Why not just do a CSS show?” And there’s CSS-Tricks…” I’m like “Yeah, but Chris is nobody…” I’m just kidding. [laughter] Chris is not nobody.
He’s the man. If you’re listening, Chris, we love you.
But that was like 2009 though. Where CSS-Tricks is today, to where it was then…
Yeah, Chris has done an amazing job. We were all early days, and that was before it’s where it’s at now. So the field was more green. There was a lot more opportunity in terms of making –
Carving a niche.
Right. Whereas now – we wouldn’t start a front-end focused website or podcast like Chris would do, because somebody’s already doing it well. We would do something else where there’s a hole to fill, not to cramp in on somebody else’s style.
Yeah. And open source was clearly something that needed some [unintelligible 00:42:54.27]
Yeah. It was moving so fast… GitHub – I mean, this show began in 2009, and GitHub had just become a thing in 2008. And a little bit more history, going one layer deeper - so on the Web 2.0 Show we actually met up with Chris Wanstrath, and Tom Preston-Werner, three months after GitHub was founded.
And we had them on the Web 2.0 show. So if you wanna go back and listen to some really interesting, old days of GitHub - not owned by Microsoft, not bought for billions… Like, dreamers. These were developers who were like “Wow, we somehow found a way to tie in this front-end, and this collaboration in Git…” It was before all these visions and dreams had come to fruition like they have.
Before they invented the pull request.
Right. So to me that’s super-cool. That’s what really got me into loving this medium - it was because… Even with our show, we can go back and chronicle the paths of some developers. We’ve had some people on four times, three times, several times, and we’ve seen not only their changes as individual people, but the software they command, or the things they maintain, or the communities they lead… It’s just really interesting.
[44:09] I love the fact that we get a chance to be kind of what that drill sergeant was to me - the encourager. We like to shine our light in places where it’s not always being shined, and just encourage people to press forward, to congratulate them for working really hard.
Maintainers who don’t get any thanks - we love to pat them on the back and say “Keep going, you’re doing an awesome job”, and just do what we can to put more focus on the things they’re working on.
Fun fact - GitHub had their own podcast in the very, very early days of GitHub, called Gitsplosion.
Which was Chris Wanstrath and Tom Preston-Werner and P.J. Hyett, the three founders of GitHub… Basically just sitting in a room and talking to each other. It was very low rent, and it was very raw, and I think it’s disappeared off the internet once they probably raised funding and started becoming corporate…
It was probably a liability…
PR was like “Yeah, we’re gonna yank that.”
I used to listen to that, and it was very raw and I loved it. I just thought of that when you talked about the early days with the Web 2.0 Show. They actually had their own show, about Git and GitHub, and they really just hung out. Anyways… If you can find that, send us links, because I’d love to listen to it again; it’s some interesting content. But it’s probably gotten–
Yeah, and if you– oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt…
One more layer to his story though, speaking to GitHub and podcasts - we were actually syndicated for a while onto github.com/explore. This is early days, too. They loved what we were doing, they loved The Changelog, they loved what we were trying to do about open source and sharing all the things happening, and they’re like “Let us help you somehow.” So they syndicated – the most recent five episodes were on github.com/explore. Now, it’s not there anymore, so if you go there, don’t be disappointed. I am, but… If anybody at GitHub wants to reignite – I’m just kidding.
Yeah. Now, that’s some prime real estate right there.
Yeah, it was. Such an interesting time then too, because that GitHub was not at all the GitHub it is today… Which doesn’t mean it’s bad or good, it just means that it was interesting because we could work with – it was ran by developers. And not like “Oh, businesspeople are bad”, but it was like, people who wanna help other developers do well and do cool things - they were willing to share what they were doing and prop up the show.
For a while there people actually thought that Changelog was owned by GitHub. That’s how closely things were. It was just an interesting time… I appreciate the time we were on Explore, but it was really interesting that they were able to share that, and it was developers who ran it, not some bureaucrats or VC that didn’t have this humanity connection to us as software developers… At that time this show was just a hobby. It was after that it became a business, for a lack of better terms…
Yeah, and that’s what I’m really excited to talk about next. Of course, there was kind of like a – UrbanDictionary has this definition of this word called “podfade.”
Essentially, a podcast will start publishing less and less frequently, and maybe they won’t’ admit to themselves that the best days of the podcast are behind them, but maybe they are kind of heading toward the door, so to speak…
Often times with a podfade there’ll be a long gap and there’ll be one last episode in which the podcast announces that it’s returning. [laughter]
That is when you know you have a podfade…
That’s the worst…
That’s the last episode in the feed - the apology, “Sorry we’ve been so quiet. We’re back”, and that’s the end.
That happens a lot on YouTube, too.
We had that, but we continued.
Yeah. So let’s talk about that - that struggle for the soul of The Changelog.
[47:41] Okay, so… Slight back-story on that, too… So Wynn and I both met this guy named Josh Copher, who was starting a nonprofit. He actually met Wynn first. Wynn and I were both freelancing, as I mentioned, and doing The Changelog podcast as a hobby, fun thing just to do… And when Wynn was building his team for Pure Charity, this nonprofit that Josh Copher was forming, to be a place for nonprofits to coalesce, to get information on how to best fundraise, how to lead their charges, how to unify their followers, their supporters (for a lack of better terms), Wynn was like one of the first picks.
I was the second hire after him, so I guess I was the first pick… He was like “Adam, do you wanna do this kind of thing?” So next thing you know, we’re working for this nonprofit called Pure Charity. Wynn was CTO, I think I was UX designer, or something like that; I don’t remember what my title was. It doesn’t matter. The point was we were just sort of like fleshing out our careers a bit more, and about two years pass and the majors call. Wynn is in the farm club, at Pure Charity, the majors, GitHub calls and says “Hey Wynn, do you wanna come out to San Francisco? We’ve gotta talk to you about some things…”
So long story short, he got called to the majors. He couldn’t say no. We both loved what we were doing at Pure Charity, but he couldn’t say no to it. And like any podcast, it’s just a hobby. You only have so much love for it and so much time for it; when you have family, you’ve got your career, you’ve got other things… So Wynn was like “Hey, I’m out of time, I just can’t do this anymore.” I think that was around September 2012. I was kind of bummed. I’m like “Hey, I get it. I don’t have a lot of time for it either…” And then I sat in this sort of lull for a while, just thinking like “You know, it’s not worth much, but would anybody wanna buy it? Should I keep it going? What should I do with it? I know what it means to so many people, and what it could mean if we just keep it going…”
So I was just really in this whole space where I was just questioning whether it made any more sense for me. Because I’m definitely more on the design, front-end side than the developer side… And Jerod has to remind me all the time to drop my impostor syndrome and say “Dude, you’re a developer…”, because – even right now, I feel less developer than I had been before, but I was always more on the front-end, user experience, sort of like biz dev side of things, relationship side of things; how it should look, how it should function, how can we deliver it… Than the follow-through, that the doing part of software. And I’ve worked with great people, but it’s just not where I shine. I can do it, but I shine better in other areas. So I was like “Am I an impostor by just keeping this thing going? What can I do?”
Yeah. Man, that is some hardcore impostor syndrome, and I’ve definitely been there with FreeCodeCamp as well, where I felt like a total impostor… But thank goodness you didn’t sell it… [laughter] Because there’s no way that anybody could have taken it over and brought it to such heights as it is today.
So that’s something that I’m extremely grateful for, that you stuck with it. So you stuck with it, and… A phone call, or – tell us the story behind Jerod entering the stage.
I’ll tee it up for him.
Tee it up for him.
Okay, tee me up.
My tee-up is super-short. He emailed Wynn, and Wynn forwarded the email to me. That was it.
Yeah, so I was a listener, and I was tracking the blog. Wynn has an uncanny skill of finding new things…
Yeah. He could find gems… And you know, over the years I’ve tried to imitate that and I’ve gotten pretty okay at it… I like to find things, too. New open source projects here, a new technique, a great blog post. And so I was following the blog, mostly. I was also a podcast junkie back then, and that’s why I know about Gitsplosion, where most people don’t even realize that was a podcast… I’m like “The GitHub guys have a podcast? I’ll listen to it.” And so I was a listener of the show, and I really appreciated the blog, because I was in Omaha, Nebraska, doing my thing, writing software for people, and I very much felt like I was on an island, so to speak, in the open source world.
[51:56] I cut my teeth on Unix, and Linux, and networks, and I was a Vim guy early on… I was just always in open source. I learned Perl, and then I learned Ruby, and then Rails blew my mind, and I was building Rails websites… So I was in the open source universe. I didn’t even really realize that there was much else, even though there was this entire Microsoft side of things that I just didn’t – people started talking to me about C# and I didn’t know what they were talking about early on… And then they started to fade.
He said “Nooooo…!”
The blogs were coming less and less often, and the podcast was happening less and less… And I was running my own single-person consultancy, basically making web apps for people. And I had known Wynn because of Ruby, I believe. I think he had a Ruby Gem that I used… I can’t remember which one it was. He actually was involved in the Twitter Gym for a while.
Yeah, he was.
And I remember I had contributed to that, and then basically followed each other on Twitter, and I started listening to his podcast… And he started reading my blog, or something. Anyway, we were just mutual connections there. And I didn’t even know about Adam very much, except for he was the guy that was always talking to Wynn. Wynn did a lot of the interviews on the show back then. I knew that Adam was involved in the Changelog, and The Changelog was Wynn and Adam, but I didn’t know who Adam was, I knew who Wynn was.
So when it started to fade out, basically I had the capability of just helping out with the blog, because I had my own business, and so I could fill in gaps and I could do that kind of work… And so I just offered. I just emailed Wynn and I was like “Hey, I see you guys are struggling to keep it going. Can I help? Because I can blog once a week, or whatever it is.”
So Wynn, that I think had actually moved on already - it was all behind the scenes; he was already working at GitHub, or something - he just forwarded… He was like “Hey man, thanks for reaching out”, and he forwarded me to Adam. And Andrew, who was also a co-host at the time…
Yeah. Because Andrew and I worked together at Pure Charity as well. Andrew Thorpe.
Yeah. And so that’s how I got involved, was through that.
I didn’t wanna see it die.
A listener. This could be you. [laughter]
This is amazing. This reminds me of the story of Judas Priest, how Rob Halford had to leave the band for whatever reason, and they found a guy who was running the – he was the singer of a tribute band for Judas Priest, and he became the singer of Judas Priest.
Really?! That’s amazing.
It’s like a Cinderella story… And it sounds kind of like this was a Cinderella story. One day you’re listening to The Changelog and the next day you’re on The Changelog.
Yeah. It was very surreal the first time that I was on the show… Because I wrote for the website for a while before I was on the show, because Andrew was at Pure Charity; Andrew moved on to Stripe, I think…
He went to work at Stripe, wasn’t gonna co-host anymore, and eventually I came into the co-host role. But I remember the first time I was on it, it was like a reunion episode, with me, you, Steve Klabnik…
Yeah, Kenneth Reitz, and Andrew was on the show as well…
It was the five of us, and we were just kind of shooting the poop, so to speak…
It was supposed to be live every week, and I think it was the first and only live show… [laughter]
I could be wrong, but… We had ambitions.
But it was very strange hearing my voice on the show that I’d been listening to for all those years. That was back in 2012-2013 time range, was when I got involved.
Give us a little bit more background about yourself, because to even get in the position where you were, contributing to these libraries; Twitter Gym, for example, was the one I used early on as a developer as well… So I didn’t even realize it until you said it, but I’ve used some of your code. How did you ramp up, what’s your origin story?
So it’s somewhat humorous to me that you’re asking both of us about our origin stories… We used to do origin stories on the show.
In fact, you were on the show about four years ago and we might have got your origin story as well… And we stopped doing those over time, because we found that they were kind of hit or miss. The first one that I remember was Kong, or Mashape, I think. Ahmad Nassri.
He had an amazing origin story.
I missed that show, and I was so bummed, too.
Yeah, I interviewed him by myself, and I was like “Adam, this guy had an amazing – we have to ask everybody their origin story. It was so cool!” And then we started asking more and more people, and it became to where somebody would have an amazing one, and the other one would be very boring and straightforward… So that’s what you’re running into right now, because Adam just had his origin story, from poverty, and the military, and all of these things… And my origin story is very status quo for somebody in America, growing up in the ‘90s. I was raised by two parents who loved each other and loved me, they’re coming up on their 50th anniversary…
…in the suburbs of middle America… Pretty typical, public school education. I went to college, learned some stuff, got into technology, and here I am. I mean, there’s not much to dig into that’s unique or different, and so I don’t think we need to cover too much.
The one piece of your history that I do like, that’s kind of interesting, is the government job you had planned for you after school. That’s an interesting caveat that – I don’t know how much you wanna share about that, but that’s an interesting caveat to your story.
Yeah, absolutely. So there are some things in there that we might be able to dig into… I’ve always considered myself to be a cautious opportunist. So when I see opportunities in my life, I just kind of cautiously go into them, versus either like rambunctiously going in, or…
Jump right in, yeah.
…or not go in. So that’s where I’ve been. And even with The Changelog, this was not like I decided “Hey, this is gonna be a new part of my career.” I was just more like “I could contribute to the blog…” I saw a need and it just like slowly, slowly steamrolled.
So that’s the story of my education, as well. I wasn’t into software, I wasn’t into technology. I got my first computer when I was 18 years old, which was relatively late for a lot of developers. The only thing I did on it was Napster, pretty much, and then I played video games…
A friend of mine in high school told me I should apply for a scholarship - there’s a thing in Omaha called “The Walter J. Scott Scholarship.” Walter Scott is a guy who’s done very well for himself, and has a scholarship for certain students to go into the technology industry, and then stay in Omaha; that’s kind of his deal.
I had never heard of it. My friend said “Hey, you should try this out. It’s an IT thing”, and I was like “IT? What’s that?” [laughter]
Is it “it”?
[laughs] Internet Things…
Right. I mean, I was actually planning on being an architect. But I wasn’t passionate about – you know, in school they kind of like make you pick something, and I had done pretty good on the CAD machine. I could draw a thread… I remember my CAD design teacher was like “You’re gonna make a great architect one day.” I’m like “Okay, I’ll be an architect.” And that was like the extent of my passion for architecture. But I was like “Okay, I could do that…”
Looking back, I think I was just good at manipulating the computer to make a thread design, not the actual design itself… So I was probably just better at CAD than I was at architecture, because I do have a knack for these things, but I just didn’t know it. Anyways, my friend Chad told me about this scholarship, and my other friend Aaron had gotten the scholarship a year earlier. It’s for people who test pretty well on scores… And Aaron tested very well, and I thought if we could do it, I could do it. That was kind of my attitude.
So I applied for the scholarship, got the scholarship, and it included a computer and stuff like that. A full ride to the University of Nebraska. So that was really cool… And that’s what really got me into software at all. I was at Management Information Systems, which is kind of like Computer Science, but it’s not Computer Science. They try to sell it as the best of both worlds, of like business and computer science together. I found out that actually means like the least of both of those worlds; you’re not a computer scientist and you’re not a business person either…
So it’s kind of like just a lukewarm version of either of those other majors. I don’t recommend it; just go Computer Science if you are gonna go to a four-year school.
I’ll second that recommendation.
Yeah. Or just start out FreeCodeCamp… And I didn’t really learn–
[01:00:11.20] I would encourage people to still go to school if you have the resources to go to school, yeah.
Yeah, I would, too. Well, there’s lots of routes. Actually, I’ll say this… Everybody needs something a little bit different. For some people a FreeCodeCamp is like 100% the way to go, even if they have the resources. For some people a bootcamp, an in-person immersive, but still short thing is a great way to get started; they can go from there. For other people, they may need a four-year degree before they go into it. Your age matters, your life circumstance matters…
So there really is not a single solution to rule them all… Which is why I love how many options there are and how it’s like an ecosystem. Anyways, a little bit off-topic…
I like that, though… A lot of facets to how you can learn, that’s what’s important.
The important thing to communicate is there’s not one way that rules all. Your way may be different than mine, or Jerod’s, or Quincy’s… And it’s just a matter of persevering through it, getting over the humps and hurdles that sometimes – I mean, that’s why it’s hard, because hard things… If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s hard because it’s worth doing, so… Persevere, find some friends or your tribe to guide you through or support you through, get people around you, mentors, all that stuff. There isn’t one way that’s the best fit for everybody.
Yeah. So I cautiously walked into that opportunity, and it worked out. That moved me off the architecture track and into the computer world, so to speak. I didn’t really learn very much about computer systems in the first few years of my college. That’s just an unfortunate fact. Some of that was me, a lot of that was the school…
My last year I found another potential scholarship, and I liked scholarships because it’s free money. [laughter] And this one was cool. So a cool thing about the Walter Scott scholarship is it’s stackable. There’s actually a term; I can’t remember what it is, but certain ones you get like a full ride and you’re done. You can’t actually get other scholarships. Well, for enterprising students who would rather get scholarships than jobs, like myself, you could find ones that stack, and if you can get those, then you’re basically getting more money. So I found another scholarship called the National Science Foundation Scholarship for Service, and it was all about information assurance. This was like a push into getting some of these CS people and MIS people into software security, so assurance that your software is–
Information Assurance… I haven’t heard of it. It’s like Quality Assurance and Information Security mashed up.
Exactly. It’s like “How sure are you – can we be sure about our systems?” So it was very much a government thing. It was two years of schooling, which stacked on top of my other scholarship, with a concentration on information assurance, which was a new thing at the university at that time. I think it still exists… But basically, I learned penetration testing, securing and hardening systems, Defense in Depth… All these security concepts. And then I was supposed to go into – attached to that is two years to work with a government agency upon graduation. It was really great, I actually learned a lot in that program. You learn the really nitty-gritty of how systems work, networks especially, and how insecure they are, and ways that you can pick those things apart.
Upon graduation there was a hiring freeze in the government. So we had a circumstance where, you know, sometimes the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Well, on the right side of the government’s hand they were creating a new scholarship for service to get all these new, bright, young minds to go work for a three-letter agency… And on the left-hand side they had a hiring freeze on. So we were the first class that did this scholarship. There was 200 of us nationwide, and there were no jobs for us. But we had this agreement…
Yeah, commitment. A two-year commitment. And so it was kind of like–
Did they make you peel potatoes for two years, or what happened?
They wanted us to wait. Sit around and wait.
Really? They expected you to wait for just two years before starting your career?
Yeah, sit around and wait. So that was unfortunate… I was in this weird no man’s land, where I was graduating, I had this commitment, but there was no job to actually fulfill a commitment, so what was I supposed to do? Well, in that timeframe - this was when I was in the 21 to 23 time range… At age 22 I became a Christian, and I started to attend a local Bible church in Omaha. I really felt like it was important for me to stay there.
While I was there I met the pastor, who’s also an IT guy, and ran a software company with a networking need… And he was like “Oh, I’ll put you to work.” I was like “Really?!”
He’s like, “Yeah. In fact, you can work for me as long as you want, and then if they come knocking, then you can just leave.”
No strings attached.
It’s hard to find a job in that place, because you’re like “By the way, I might have to quit at any moment’s notice and go work for the government.” He was like – he did that for me.
Oh, stand-up guy.
Yeah, spectacular. He changed my life in many ways, that guy. His name is John Malone. And he also thought it was ridiculous that they were basically holding this commitment to us, and so he helped me petition the school, and the system, and basically they let a lot of us just off our commitment… Because there was no jobs. So he was instrumental in providing for me during that time period, and then also helping me to get that commitment erased.
So I just kept working for him. I was like “Well, this worked out pretty well.” He helped me out when I was in a bind; he’s a software guy from way back in the day, he knows all the nuts and bolts of the old-school software guys, and he’s got work for me to do… So I just worked for him for a while.
I never really considered myself a programmer back then. I was kind of like a networking scripter. I considered myself a scripter.
It’s how funny how reluctant people are to consider themselves programmers and developers…
Like “I’m not quite a developer…”
I know. I took some of the developer – like, I took C++, and I took C programming, which I actually liked more than C++… We could talk about that, but we probably won’t… And I learned Perl. And as a penetration tester, as a person who’s trying to break into systems and stuff, or find holes, or even as a script kitty – there’s a reason why they’re called script kitties, it’s because they don’t have the skills of a cat, but they’ve got the scripts. So I would learn scripts, I would read scripts, I would write scripts. I considered myself an automater. I wrote a lot of Perl scripts, and then I found the Ruby programming language and I was like “Why would I write Perl scripts when I can write Ruby scripts?”
Kind of the spiritual successor to Perl…
Yeah, it borrowed a lot of the great things from Perl and then it discarded some of the warts. And so I started writing Ruby. I knew some Perl, I knew some Ruby, I considered myself a networking guy… I ran some mail servers, and I would automate a lot of things around that job… So while I was working for John, I automated a lot of the things that he had for me to do on the network.
So I could either twiddle my thumbs at work, because I had automated all my responsibilities, or I could continue establishing my skills… So I was tweaking WordPress blogs, mostly my blog. It was kind of like “Pimp my Blog” early in the day, where I had this blog – it was probably slightly better than Adam’s in terms of content, because I was trying to write interesting things; it wasn’t – what did you say, it was family photos and stuff?
Pretty much, yeah.
Yeah, a little bit more general…
And occasional personal thought, but nothing very profound.
[01:08:03.28] Yeah. And I was writing about software, and just blogging… It was a WordPress site and I really wanted my latest – I remember when I started realizing “Oh, I can just program websites.” There was like a flip in my mind… And I wanted my most recently played iTunes songs in the sidebar of my blog. Because this is the blogosphere days.
Yeah, you were trying to share the little things you were doing.
I wanted to pimp my blog. I wanted the cool stuff in my sidebar… So I had to basically start writing PHP. I wrote a WordPress plugin, or something like that, and it talked to the iMac at my house, or I can’t remember exactly the details… And I got it done. That was really cool. Then I was like “Okay, what else can I do with my blog?” I started integrating the Flickr stuff into it.
That’s right. Flickr, not Instagram. Flickr.
That’s right, back in the Flickr days. We were just mashing stuff up back then. That was the cool thing. Open APIs, mashing them up, coming up with something new… I love that stuff.
So that’s when I started thinking “You know what - I could just do this for other people, because it’s pretty cool.” I saw the power of the web platform really, and I was like “Every business needs something like this, or could be advantaged by having one.” Today it’s kind of table stakes to have a certain web presence, but back then - we’re talking 2006 - it was not table stakes, it was a competitive advantage.
So I started helping people do that kind of stuff. I learned Ruby on Rails… And because I had this job where I was doing networking, but also this boss who was like “Hey, you’ve achieved all of these goals that we need. If you can go make money in another way, go ahead and go do that.” So I started bringing basically freelance consulting clients into his business, and operating on like a one-to-one basis with them… And I did that for years.
From that, I eventually went out on my own and started my own entity, doing very similar work. I bought my customers from him. Still great friends to this day; it wasn’t like that. Started doing it on my own, and that circumstance is when–
It’s like “Fly away, bird. Fly away. You’ve graduated.”
Yeah, exactly. So under those circumstances I could help out with the Changelog. So in 2012 is when I hooked up with Adam and Wynn.
You know, you’re hearing this somewhat for the first time, right? And kind of I am, too. I’m kind of mind-blown that – what’s interesting about the story of success… This overnight success actually took many years. And then when you dig into the details, you get to see all the little things that sort of had to happen to make things successful or happen.
If Jerod wasn’t fortunate enough in those ways to have a good friend give him that opportunity, him thrive in it and then excel at it, to a point where he can actually go off on his own, and have that freedom and flexibility - well, geez, he would have never emailed Wynn, I would have probably podfaded forever, and it would have been just a dead dog.
Yeah, you’re right. What I’m getting from hearing your respective origin stories is there are so many people along the way who were almost guardian angels, in a way…
…and cleared the path for you to go toward your destiny of running The Changelog together.
One more aspect to Jerod’s story that he’s not sharing yet - I’m sure he might - is the same person, John, told him what a good communicator he was.
And he’s the person that sort of like gave that insight to Jerod. So sometimes you have these truths about you that you don’t know. It’s kind of weird to know you, but not know all of you… And somebody else sees this thing in you… And he shares this with Jerod, that he’s a really good communicator - tell that story, of course - and it sort of gave Jerod a new perspective on how he could be as good as he is in software and technology, but then also a good communicator, and to bridge those two.
[01:12:04.10] Yeah. So that’s one of the insights that John gave me at some point; I can’t remember exactly when. I’d been working for him for a while, I’d known him for a while, and we were good friends… And he saw my programming skills, which are, I would say, average, to slightly above average. I can throw down, but I’m not gonna blow anybody away. There’s hundreds, if not thousands of better developers out there. Maybe tens of thousands, I don’t know. We don’t measure these things. The point is - could I be the best software developer in the world? No. But I can hold my own.
And then on the other side, with communication skills and the ability to write well, to think off the top of your head, to speak to people in ways that they understand - am I the best at that? No. I’m not the best at that either. But there’s very few people that kind of play in both of those playgrounds. The stereotype of a developer, which I believe we’re finally starting to break out of that mold, and I love it… There’s so many different kinds of developers now, but it’s like the anti-social person in their basement, doesn’t wanna talk to people… “I just wanna code all day, and drink Mountain Dew.”
That stereotype - there’s some truth in stereotypes; generally, there’s truth, and then specifically, they’re wrong/false. But the general truth there is that developers are not the best communicators, and so there’s very few good developers who can also communicate… So John said to me – and I didn’t realize any of this; I’m looking back at it realizing it… He said “Where you’re going to succeed in this industry is that you can bridge the gap between developers and communication skills.” And I was like “Oh, cool. Maybe you’re right.”
Oh, cool. [laughter]
And then it’s like, well, a podcast about software development - yeah, I guess that kind of makes sense in retrospect. So yeah, he definitely made me aware of that as a possibility. I didn’t even think about it. I think everybody has influencers, or enablers, or that drill sergeant that says “You’re a leader now.” I think everybody has those stories, and sometimes it takes introspection and reflection to actually think about that, because so much we’re just iterating forward, and not looking back, so… Lots of people.
Yeah. Thank God for him, too; I mean, geez… That’s why I think it’s so important if you’re in that position; that’s why I made that point earlier, and to make it again - if you’re in that kind of position to enable somebody, what a blessing it is to enable somebody. The feedback loop is a nice-to-have, it’s not a need-to-have if you’re in that position, because – just help people along the way. I can’t even imagine how many people have listened to your show, or our show, or have been influenced by FreeCodeCamp, or The Changelog, or whatever we’re doing, that we’ve never even heard of, that their lives have literally changed and we don’t even know. We’ve just gotta show up every day, do what we do; if we say we’re gonna do it, do it. If we say we’re gonna be there, be there… And just help people to find respect, compassion, empathy, and sometimes even the benefit of the doubt.
Not everybody is bad, not everybody is good, but finding that balance and encouraging somebody and being that person - that’s what I love most about what we do; being able to influence people’s lives and to love on people.
Yeah. And I know we’re not to that part of the interview yet, but I would just say the impact that you’ve had with FreeCodecamp in the first five years - we’ll get to that later…
…it’s amazing to watch what you’ve done there, and the amount of people whose lives you’ve helped. It’s astounding. I’ve read those numbers that you’ve put in that blog post, and I was just like “Wow… This is some serious impact”, and that tide is rising a lot of people’s ships and it’s really cool, so props to you on that.
Yeah, thank you. I’m doing my best… Just like you all, I’m just trying to be consistent. The three C’s, right?
Well, why don’t you just go ahead, since we’ve mentioned the three C’s…?
[01:16:10.29] Yeah. This is something that I kind of just recognized whenever I thought about the recipe for success when it comes to producing a podcast, or basically any piece of content. You have basically three C’s: Quality Content…
That’s like Q.
…or just Content, produced on a Consistent basis, to a Community of people. So if you’re producing content that’s good, that people wanna consume, enjoy, share, whatever it might be, on consistent basis, or at least something, where you set an expectation… You know, “Hey, I’m gonna do a show every week”, and then that’s your rhythm, that’s your cadence. And then if you wrap all that around to a community, or either develop a community or do it for a community, then you’re gonna have some success, because that’s all it takes.
You could be talking about knitting, you could be talking about software, you could be talking about cameras, and lighting, you could be talking about microphones, whatever. If you do that on that kind of rhythm, that kind of basis, or that kind of focus, you’ll find success.
And that’s not easy to do either.
No, it’s not.
The three C’s - it’s nice to remember them, and it is somewhat easy to say, even though it’s really Q in there, it might mess you up.
It’s easy to say… But especially the consistency part. Like you said, Quincy, you’re just trying to be consistent.
Oh gosh, yeah.
And even now, we’ve transitioned into a full-blown business, we’re established, we’ve been here for ten years… But consistency – you know, quality content is hard as well; I feel like we’ve gotten better at that over the years, and you can develop an eye for it. And sometimes you still strike out, or–
In our case an ear…
Yeah, an ear for it. Community is something that comes naturally to people who commune with other people, so… Yeah, you have to put effort into that, and it doesn’t come without effort, but it’s not as hard as consistency. Consistency, consistency… It’s so hard, and that’s why the podfade is a word in UrbanDictionary.
I would say for me I think the harder thing is community… Because it’s not like Field of Dreams, build it and they come; you’ve gotta be there, you’ve gotta show up every day, you’ve gotta be invitational…
So you’re saying the consistency… With the community?
That’s right, that’s right.
Man, all three are. [laughter]
I find personally for me it’s been a little easier to be consistent with quality content, and harder to be part of the community and develop that. That’s me. Just like with learning, you have different paths. For me, that’s the area where I fail more often, I think, or don’t thrive as well.
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about how Jerod came aboard and you had circumstances that were repelling you to professionalize The Changelog, if you will.
Yeah. Well, I think when Wynn left, it certainly put a kink in my thought pattern for it. I had made some money, just enough for server cost, pay the bills, make it somewhat worth it. It wasn’t like we could leave our full-time jobs and even remotely consider doing that as a full-time thing. We had some early sponsors; we’d work with GitHub early for different things, when they were promoting GitHub jobs… And even then, we didn’t have a keen eye on how to best partners with brands, to help them share their messages in ways that developers really wanna hear. So relevance is one, but also not objectifying, like “Oh, you should get the–” I don’t know, just finding a way to humanize these businesses and help them reach developers in ways they just weren’t able to in other ways. It’s like, it’s not a display ad, it’s not this, or whatever.
[01:19:50.11] I think when it became a business, the one thing for me personally - which is sort of embarrassing to even mention - as I’d mentioned, I was a freelancer for a while, and didn’t really have a “job”, I was my own self-employer, so to speak… I didn’t do the best I could have done with filing my taxes properly, and paying my taxes properly. And thank God the government has an option where you can establish a payment plan, and I did… But that didn’t mean that the tax debt was gone right away. I had accumulated a little bit of tax debt, having essentially bloodied my knuckles as a freelancer. I didn’t do things so well, learned how to do it better, and then corrected those things.
Yeah, and this happens to a lot of freelancers. The U.S. tax code is complicated…
Yes, it is.
…to put it lightly.
Well, basically, pay your taxes.
Even as a nonprofit that doesn’t have to pay taxes, we still spend a huge amount of time figuring out how to report everything. It’s a big event over here.
Making sure you keep that designation, right?
That’s even it, too - the difficulty of reporting it, especially as someone who’s only collecting 1099’s… That’s really difficult, it really is. And you’re so focused on just like – at least for me, in my experience… I was so focused on just showing up and doing that I felt like “Gosh, could taxes be a little easier to do?” And so I just didn’t do them… [laughter] For like a couple years. It was no big deal. But the point was this - what started to move it into this full-time business, or even an option for it, was 1) obviously, we’ve heard the back-story of Jerod, and all these things sort of orchestrating and coming to be, but then 2) I had just been recently married; my wife and I, we met in 2010, we got married in 2012, and this is around that time I mentioned when I stepped away, late 2012… And I would say 2012 to 2013 was the years we began to formulate what has become a business.
It had been in place since 2009, didn’t really become anything business substance until 2012-2013, and that’s when my wife helped me as a man guard my time… Because as somebody who’s just ambitious, you will often throw yourself into things that you probably shouldn’t say yes to. You probably should say no more often. And to help me understand that and guard me from that, she said “If you’re gonna do this, if you’re gonna take time away from our relationship, our future etc. you’ve gotta find some way to make money, make it worth it.”
What was really interesting about that was having the heart to love on and care for our community and show up and do these things basically for free; no one downloads a podcast and pays a buck, right? It’s all for free… But somewhere along the line we’ve gotta find a way to make a business model or develop a business model that can help us do what we plan to do, which is create this awesome content, and thrive in the community, do it consistently, like the three C’s say… But have a model that allows us to operate that way. So that was the hardest part, figuring out what that model was.
It gets kind of easy, because sponsorship for podcast seems to be the most typical - especially now that it’s become a thing - earlier, in 2009-2012, even in that era, there weren’t a lot of podcasts; it was still early. It was before Serial, and the big boom of podcasts, and whatever. So obviously it would make sense to build a business around sponsors.
Now, the early version was like no sponsors, members-only kind of thing… And in all honesty, I would love to run a membership-driven only kind of business… Maybe not love. It would be nice, it would be fortunate to do that, but it’s just not enough to do what we try to do. So we’ve tried some different models…
[01:23:50.19] Especially back then, when we tried it. This was pre-Patreon, this was pre really the modern era of the web, where I think people are more forward to support things that they love because they don’t want them to go away. Back then it was more random. It just wasn’t something that people were used to doing. Maybe now it would be more feasible, whereas when we tried it - which was around the time that I joined, 2012… I remember the announcement was - I wasn’t there yet - “Member-supported only”, and I was like “Really?” And I was even a die-hard listener; I don’t think I signed up. So it’s really hard…
It was just five bucks…
It’s hard to get people to pull out their wallet.
It was a hard sell back then. Maybe it’s easier now, but… I don’t know.
So a membership program didn’t work out the way you hoped it would… But you were quick to adapt.
Right. Well, we had to. If I was following my wife’s advice, “Hey, if you’re taking time away from our time as a relationship and growing our marriage…”, then I’ve gotta find a way to make this succeed as a business. I thought memberships would work. I was really hopeful that it would. As Jerod said, we’ve now come into a new world where they are more possible, and you also have this new change where people want to support the things they love… And I think we have a small amount of people globally that would wanna give back to us, and I don’t wanna take that opportunity away. The problem I think was that we were relying on that completely as a business model, and that just didn’t work. It needed more than that.
There’s a lot of opportunity on the table. There’s so many businesses out there that are trying to reach software developers. Staple partners of ours like Linode, Digital Ocean, Fastly, Rollbar, GitPrime… And help me if I’m forgetting some, because it’s not like a long, exhaustive list I’m trying to thank everybody, but - some really strong businesses that want to help brands like ours do what we do, and at the same time reach an audience they couldn’t otherwise reach… That’s something we can latch on to. Fastly I mention in particular - hey, if you listen to our show, you might have heard this phrase before… “Bandwidth for Changelog is provided by Fastly, learn more at Fastly.com. We move fast and fix things here at Changelog because of Rollbar, head to Rollbar.com and check them out”, and… What’s the last one?
We’re hosted on Linode Cloud servers…
We’re hosted on Linode servers. Go to linode.com/changelog.
That’s right, I messed up my own thing.
So I stole that idea from Leo Laporte. I mean, gosh, Leo Laporte is an icon in tech podcasting.
He’s like the godfather of tech podcasting.
Right. If you’ve listened to their show, you know, “Netcasts you love…”
Netcasts you trust, from people you love.
That’s right, there you go. “THIS is TWiT…”
Yeah. They’ve changed to using podcasts now… I think they’ve finally ditched that.
He had a chip on his shoulder, he got over it.
Yeah. He was stuck on Netcasts for years.
They were really stuck on Netcasts, yeah.
He had a chip on his shoulder, but he got over it.
But then CacheFly was one of their core partners… I’m like “So if I wanna build a business around this, we’ve gotta find some…” I even remember talking to you about this; I’m like “Do you think we can get somebody to do this and give us money every month?” And other people advised us that’s probably not possible, good luck… But we did it. And find ways to support our business in ways that just – I’m astounded, honestly. We’re really fortunate; we’ve done a great job forging not just sponsorships… That’s sort of the industry term that’s known, “We’re interested in sponsorship etc.”, but we look at it more like partnerships. We thrive, our business, even personally - we thrive on relationships, so we wanna work with brands that know who we are, know what we’re trying to do, wanna support that, but then also get paid a dividend by being able to in authentic ways speak to the global audience we’ve been able to cultivate over these years.
[01:27:57.12] And do that in a way that doesn’t objectify our audience, or only come in for these reasons. It’s gotta be more to it than just that. And we help them speak to software developers in ways that are relevant.
Yeah. I think it’s worth pointing out that podcast advertising really works, in ways that other forms of advertising don’t really work.
So the medium is suited very well for that style campaign… Because you’re going directly into people’s ears, week by week, time by time. And if you can be a staple and supporting a show that people love and are getting for free… So I think as listeners - like I said, I’m an old podcast junkie - I know a lot of the sponsors who are supporting the shows that I love, and I’m fine with transferring a little bit of goodwill to that company. It’s like “Yeah, Casper supports this show.” A lot of the mainstream tech podcasts have the usual suspects of sponsors: Casper, Squarespace, Audible. These are brands that have years and years of goodwill because they’ve been supporting the shows that I love, and because they have their hosts, the people that I love their shows, talking about their brands. It’s just a very effective thing.
So the reason why I think podcasts are such a vibrant ecosystem right now is it’s very good for consumers, because it’s on-demand, niche, listen to what you want, none of the stuff you don’t want; it’s really low overhead for consumers, compared to radio, in terms of ads… Compare it to the radio ads, where they’re yelling at you for like seven minutes of the 30…
And then on the actual sponsorship side they really work. These sponsorships work… Whereas display ads and other things just haven’t had the ROI. The ROI is there for the companies that believe in it.
Yeah. We’ve been able to really help a lot of businesses like that. A recent example that I was really stoked about was KubeCon. The Cloud Computing Foundation has this conference (I guess) a couple times a year, sometimes in Europe, sometimes in United States, and we’ve been very good friends with the Linux Foundation over the years, and then that also bleeds into the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and their conference KubeCon, which we’ve gone to and we love going there. We’re actually going back this year. Gerhard Lazu is representing us this year, so that’s awesome…
But we have just ran some promos for them to promote “Hey, if you’re thinking about attending, use our code. Save 10%. Get the early bird pricing for extended times, whatever it might be, and join this kind of community.” We helped them share that invitation with a larger community, and their feedback to us was like “Your code was the most used over all the people that we used in these promotional ways.” And I just love that, because for one, everybody attending gets to save 10%, but then two, it’s proof that we actually can help willing community people in the software world to hear something on a podcast and actually take action. And it’s not like I’m selling Jerod something he doesn’t want, with money he doesn’t have.
Or even something generic. If I’m listening to GoTime and I hear an ad for KubeCon, I’m super-interested in KubeCon. Like “Oh great, it’s coming up. It’s gonna be in Brussels”, or I’m not sure where it is…
Amsterdam. San Diego.
Amsterdam. I wanna go to that. These are not Burger King ads, or Crest.
We’ve considered the Impossible Burger ad though… I’m just kidding, I’m just kidding. [laughter]
So it’s proven to be a very viable model for – you know, it really is a win/win/win, to just use Michael Scott’s phrase… Because the sponsors do win, our partners win because of the results like that, we win, because we’re making a living off of it, and our listeners get free shows consistently, quality content… We put out 60-90 minute shows, and you’re gonna listen to two or three ads in a 90-minute show; we’re not asking very much. And those ads are incredibly pointed and valuable; it’s content. It’s like “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m interested in that”, so it’s not annoying. So I think everybody wins. I like the model.
That’s what they’ve found with advertising - if it’s relevant, then it’s less irksome.
And in this case with podcasts, podcasts can be hyper-targeted… Like “This is a podcast about open source software.” You can never get that level of granularity with TV.
That’s right. That’s why some of the larger, more mainstream podcasts struggle with the sales to the sponsors, because they don’t have the targeted audience. They have huge audiences, but they aren’t targeted. So you’ll hear a lot of mainstream ones, even mainstream tech like The Vergecast, which is a pretty mainstream tech news and commentary show - you’ll hear them asking their listeners to take listeners, and stuff…
Because they have a more generic, mainstream listener base, they don’t know exactly who they’re talking to. Well, when you have a show called GoTime about the Go programming language, and Kubernetes, and these things, you know exactly who’s listening to that show… So you don’t have to survey them. You know. That’s the value of a niche.
Speaking of GoTime, I think this is the perfect opportunity for me to ask, at what point – so you had The Changelog…
That is the grand-daddy of open source podcasts…
We call it our flagship show.
The flagship show. And now you have several. You have several that were a shorter period, like Request for Commits, which was one of my personal favorites… I learned a ton from that one.
But how did you go about creating additional shows, and how do those all work?
So we have been working with Brian Ketelsen and Erik St. Martin of GopherCon. It was their second year – actually, I think the reason why we even did the show begins because Brian Ketelsen hopped in our issues on GitHub… We have a ping repo where we would say “Hey, community, if you have some ideas, suggestions, whatever…”, we’ve since moved it to different ways, but we used to have a repo on our GitHub called ping. Brian Ketelsen reached out to us on our issues there and said “Hey, if you haven’t thought about it yet, you should come to GopherCon. This is our invitation to you.”
That’s what I love about Brian, too - he is like the MacDaddy of like… And I’m showing my age here too, because that’s a ‘90s thing. He’s the MacDaddy of inviting people in. I love that about Brian and Erik. He reached out to us, we had them on The Changelog talking about GopherCon, they invited us to that conference, we went out there and did some fun stuff… If you go to Changelog.com/films you’ll probably see some cool stuff; we’ve actually done some video work there with them and whatnot.
So we just sort of fell in love with the Go community. They’re really different from other communities, because they just seem very… It’s like, once you – I don’t really know how to describe, maybe you can help me, Jerod… Just very, very protective and very close.
Very tight-knit, yeah.
Yeah. And it’s like, once you’re in, you’re in. We just loved that conference, everyone who went there, we just loved how people collaborated and mingled together and had fun together… It was just such a fun conference. I don’t know if it was the conference and the community, but we just sort of fell in love with that, and we’re like – we’ve always had desires to expand, and we were like “Well, the next one we do makes sense to be a Go podcast of sorts.” But Jerod, you came up with the name, so… Take it from there.
Yeah, what an amazing name it is, too… It’s GoTime!
It’s GoTime! Yeah, it seems obvious in retrospect… Naming is one of my favorite things. Naming things is hard, as we all know as developers, and so I love to do it, because I love challenges. Sometimes it takes a thousand bad names for one good one to be born, and we’ve definitely been through those thousand bad names, because we have a portfolio of shows now.
[01:36:02.11] In addition to just the Go thing happening, we have with The Changelog one opportunity a week to spotlight something… And it’s very polyglot, as you know as a listener. Open source is kind of the crux of the matter, but we even go beyond that and we’ve even changed the word to software development in terms of the things that we talk about, because even though open source basically permeates all of software development, it’s bigger than just open source even now, just because our interests have grown over the years… That being said – I mean, that’s 50 shows a year, if you take a couple weeks off… And there’s so much more things to talk about, there’s so much more things to spotlight, and we had a lot of listeners who were like “Hey, I love The Changelog. I would love to hear more, but more about this topic… Or more about that topic.”
Yeah, because if we covered Go or a specific language even for four weeks straight, it’d be like “Well, did this turn into a Go podcast, or are you still multi-faceted, like you say you are?” So you have to – there’s one way you can diversify. You can either diversify and add more shows to that particular podcast, and just diversify by multiplication… [laughter] just picking some words here ya’ll.
So we could ship more shows a week on the Changelog feed, but then we would have to have series, and people do seasons… There’s lots of different ways of slicing it. But what we thought would be a lot cooler is instead of the two of us doing more shows, because you hear our voices all the time anyways, and we’re here to spotlight the guest - we want more voices. That’s what we’ve always been about, when we had the opportunities. More voices, more people, different voices than ours. So let’s extend our network and our production skills and the tastes that we have and the interests that we have to other people… And let’s enable them to do shows. So that’s what really became the portfolio right now.
Some of us are on – like, I’m on JS Party regularly, Adam has a show called Brain Science, where it’s himself and Mireille Reece… So it’s not like we’re not on those shows, but it’s not like The Changelog. They’re different shows, they’re different people, and we’ve been able to expand the number of voices on our network to much larger than ours… That’s pretty cool, I think.
Yeah, and one thing that I think is really cool is you’ve figured out ways to take that kind of like cool fractal logo and create variations of like radial symmetry.
I’m wearing The Changelog shirt right now…
There you go.
This is my new one. By the way, my old one is right here, that I got four years ago… It’s been washed about 100 times, but for everybody who’s watching…
I love it.
This is what it looks like. And you’ve even got a framed one over here… But yeah. Adam sent me this after I was on The Changelog four years ago.
That’s your old-school credentials right there.
It’s the OG.
Yeah, but the way that you’ve branded them all, and they’ve all got really cool, short, punchy names, and they have kind of a consistent sound… And a big part of that cohesive consistent sound is Breakmaster Cylinder.
Can you tell us about Breakmaster Cylinder?
Not much, because we don’t know much, honestly.
The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Well, it’s interesting, because I obviously heard of Breakmaster Cylinder through Gimlet Media and the work they’ve done with Reply All, and Startup, and other shows… So that’s where I learned about Breakmaster Cylinder. And just one crazy night on the internet, like most things happen, I was like just figuring out Breakmaster Cylinder, the kind of stuff they’re into, whatever, and I turn up to their website and there’s like an invite to reach out. And I thought it was like a typical Contact Me kind of scenarios, where you reach out and they just never talk to you, there’s no response. Well, the very next day Breakmaster gets in touch and says “I love what you’re doing. Let’s work together.” I didn’t expect that.
[01:39:56.26] That turns us into the scenario where Jerod and I are sort of riffin’ with Breakmaster on some different ideas for brand new music for The Changelog podcast, and I think – was it GoTime…
It was GoTime and RFC, and the reason why GoTime was so important - so this was kind of a milestone for me, where like “Okay, we’re gonna do this for real…” Because up until this point – so the original Changelog had the California song, which has a tight story with Adam and a band that he knows, and all that… But then we also just had some – Adam would go out onto SoundForest, or what are these websites…? The sound equivalent of ThemeForest…
Yeah, and just buy something… It’s a royalty, or you pay a license fee…
…but it’s not an exclusive license. So he would just pick music he likes, we’d put that at the front of our shows, and that would be our theme song. It was like that for a very long time. And in fact, when we expanded from just The Changelog - GoTime was our second show - when we did GoTime, Adam found this song that was beloved. It was probably on the first 10 to 20 episodes of GoTime…
Yeah… Enough where people like “Don’t. Change. Anything.”
Yeah, so we had some resistance on that one… But what happened was because it’s just a sound clip that you can buy a license to, anybody could do that… And it showed up in a commercial. What commercial was that?
But it was tasteful.
So one of the GoTime listeners is like “Why is the GoTime theme song on this Disney commercial?” And we were like “Okay…” That was when it was like “We have to get our own music.”
Yeah. And it happened with our music on The Changelog, too. It was a John Deer commercial, or a craftsman lawnmower commercial, and it was like this grungy rock kind of – and then also that can put people off too, if it’s too rough… It’s not really inviting. We wanted it to be inviting with everything.
Some people over the years would complain about our Changelog theme music… So what was funny about that was –
It became clear we weren’t unique… And if we had licensed music, we wouldn’t be unique.
Right. So we started working with Breakmaster Cylinder, and with The Changelog and RFC, which was a great show, and had I think to this day the best music…
The best, yeah.
…which we don’t use now, because that show is retired - but we should somehow remix that - but it was greenfield. Like, okay, people knew The Changelog song, but they weren’t in love with it. With new shows, it’s always brand new. Well, with GoTime, the GoTime crew, the listeners, who as we said, is a very tight-knit and enthusiastic, and very active audience, they already loved this song, and now we had to replace it with a custom song. So we asked Breakmaster Cylinder to basically do a different version…
Make a remix of it.
Make it Breakmaster, but make it us, but also make it kind of sound like the one that’s already out there.
And some people didn’t even notice when we swapped it in, but some people were mad.
Yeah. When Breakmaster hands us anything to listen to, I’m always like “It doesn’t have enough BMC in it. Can you do these glitches…?” Like, Breakmaster Cylinder is just known for certain things, and we’re like “Can you bring in some of these trademark Breakmaster Cylinder stuff?” We always love – you know, to speak very well of Breakmaster Cylinder, we keep saying this name… We don’t know, guy/girl - we’re not sure if it’s one person, many people; we’ve never met them, we don’t really have a first-name basis at all, besides maybe Breakmaster. That might be the first name, just cutting off Cylinder…
Drop the Cylinder… [laughs]
But they’re in our Slack, so hey, if you’re out there and you’re like “I wanna talk to Breakmaster Cylinder”, well, go to Changelog.com/community, join that, hop in our Slack, and DM or say hello. It’s just that easy. But I’m always talking to Breakmaster about different stuff we’re working on, or just catching up. They’ll just reach out and say “Hey, how are you doing?” We’ll have like a 20-minute conversation, and then three weeks go by and that happens again, or something like that.
But so easy to work with, so not even like – what often happens with creatives is they’re very attached egotistically to what they’ve done. Their creations are often a variation of their identity. With Breakmaster there’s like zero of that.
They just throw it out.
They’re just like “You don’t like that? Cool. Let’s keep riffin’, let’s keep riffin’, let’s keep riffin.”
That’s great. They have a professional detachment from their artistic work.
Always willing to – Breakmaster is one of the scenarios where I can say they always deliver way more than you expect them to. They just wanna keep delivering more and more value, and that’s a lesson to be learned. Always deliver more value to the people you’re working with.
If you think code reviews are hard, reviewing somebody’s music that they’re creating for you is incredibly difficult.
And it’s custom, it’s– yeah…
We don’t even have the language to describe… And I’m expecting from Breakmaster’s side, similar to a code review, or even a feature review with a user.
You can’t speak my language, to critique me…?
Yeah. You can’t do that; you’re almost offended by how juvenile–
[laughs] Make it pop.
Yeah. Exactly. So when you’re trying to give feedback, I can imagine from the other side, they’re like “Who are these fools?” You know, like “I don’t like that hi-hat at eight seconds”, or whatever… Like, how do you – we’re always like “Yeah, it’s not groovin’ enough. Make it a little more poppy”, like the stuff you’re saying. It’s very difficult, so… They have extreme grace.
And they’re talking like timecode, and maybe even majors or minors, or what key it’s in…
Right. And we’re like “Take wobble-wobble out of there”, you know? [laughs]
The naming is even cooler, too. When Breakmaster hands us new stuff to listen to, it’s always got these unique names attached to it. It’s like, “This one was a little bump-bump-bump”, or something like that…
The file names…
The file name is literally named… Some really interesting stuff. So it’s just a lot of fun working with Breakmaster. And I’ll say, having done all of our shows, redone the song for The Changelog, and all that stuff… Having only Breakmaster Cylinder stuff, it would be a sad day in our history if we never got to have a Breakmaster Cylinder – and I’m kind of getting a little bit weird about it, but if something ever happened with Breakmaster and we couldn’t ever work with them again, for whatever reason, whether it’s they move on, or something bad happens, who knows… It would be a day I mourn. I love working with them, and they produce the best stuff, and we wouldn’t use any other music besides Breakmaster Cylinder music.
That’s a pretty strong endorsement.
Yeah. Just because. They’re just so easy to work with, they get our DNA, they get our branding, they get what we’re trying to do, and I feel like they just add this special flair that – like, you’d mentioned the artwork. Well, there’s a reason why… Because we sat down in a room for two days, basically in a bunker with Jake Stutzman and – what was the guy’s name? Micah (Yost)… I can’t remember his last name though. I can’t recall, but Micah, you’re awesome too… But we basically sat down and said “Hey, who are we? How can we understand what we wanna be and how can we create a brand - both a visual brand and a voice, how we speak brand?” And from that we got our artwork, we got these concentric circles, we got this framework for developing new album art.
Then from that we also knew “Well, if we’re this unique here, we have this unique in our music, too. The ways we audibly present ourselves.”
Yeah. Well, it shows… And also, the design of changelog.com - everything kind of reinforces that visual design, that visual identity that you all have established for yourself. And now I really wanna learn more about the website… My understanding is it’s written in Elixir, it’s snappy, and it just has a really good, clear user experience. You know exactly what is going to happen when you click on different things, and everything’s pretty clear. For me it’s been a real benchmark, and we’ve taken a lot of inspiration from it with FreeCodeCamp and our recent efforts at redesigning and simplifying, and things like that.
So everything’s a team effort, and I think one thing that you might notice through this conversation is that we do sweat the details. We have a few sayings that we use internally. One is “Slow down to move faster.” We also say – what’s the one…?
Well, slow and steady wins the race… A lot of stuff about being slow. [laughter] Slow down and check yourself…
Slow down and check yourself… That’s my favorite.
Yeah, because we can get out over our skis a little bit…
Well, all too often in anything you feel like - especially when there’s opportunity and you’re ambitious - all too often do the opportunities trump your ability to say no. And next thing you know, you’re going in places you don’t really want to, for other reasons. And it’s like, if you feel pulled in anything you’re doing beyond your capacity, slow down and check yourself. That’s what we say.
Slow down and check yourself. Because if you have some DNA and some guidelines – so if we know that we wanna slow down to move faster, or retreat to attack, or slow and steady wins the race, if we have those as underlying mantras to ourselves, anytime we get pushed beyond those - slow down and check yourself.
And it’s worth reminding ourselves these things, because we are in an industry that moves so fast, and the pressure is to – I mean, move fast and break things is the unfortunate slogan of a major player in our industry, which we don’t like that saying at all… So slow down and move faster that way, even when you think about software development practices. Thinking things through upfront is slower, but you also move faster in the long run. Setting up that test harness before you move on to writing the code is slower, but you move faster in the long run.
People who are TDD advocates will say the same thing - you think through things first, and you move a little bit slower. It seems like you’re not getting that head of steam, but two weeks from now, two months from now, two years from now you’re moving a lot faster.
So the brand is an evidence of that. We took the time, we slowed down, spent two days in a room, and then many more beyond that… That was the foundation. Building this system and this design, and then we can extend it over time; we can move faster on new things when we have all this stuff in place.
So a lot of the website is a result of those initial branding discussions. A lot of the design is done either by Jake, or by Cody Peterson, who is a long-time contributor and really co-laborer with us on the project. He does a lot of our front-end, a lot of our design work… And then Adam and myself, whether it’s giving feedback, or cranking out the code that renders the pages. I’ve done a lot of the actual software work on building the Elixir app, but everything we do is team efforts.
One interesting thing to note is that Jerod said earlier “I was a Perl guy, then I was a Ruby guy… So I built the site in Elixir.” [laughter] This doesn’t equate, but maybe you could share why.
Yeah, so I’ve always been a polyglot, and I like programming languages. I like the Go programming language, even though I don’t write it on a daily basis. I like a lot of languages, so I’ve never found one that didn’t have any redeemable qualities. I even like aspects of PHP, even though it has probably less redeemable qualities in it with regard to syntax than many others slight dig I like PHP, too.
We talk to a lot of people about programming languages. I mean, that’s one of the things about our work - we’re exposed to everything. In fact, I was just thinking about something that became mainstream recently, and I was like “We did a show on that three years ago.” Not boasting, but just like reality - we are uncovering things before they blow up. In fact, Changelog Nightly, one of our emails that goes out every single night - its whole point is to… It automatically just gets the most starred repos on GitHub, before they blow up (that’s the idea) or right as they are. And maybe those things are gonna go on to greatness, maybe they aren’t; we’ll pick through them and try to find the ones that are interesting.
It’s an indicator, yeah.
[01:52:08.27] But it’s an indicator. So just because of what we do, and our show, we’re just at the forefront… So we talked to a lot of people about programming languages, and some people assume therefore we’re deep into these things, or we adopt everything… And it’s like, no. 99% of the stuff - we hang up the call on a Wednesday afternoon, and I’m like “Adam, I’ve gotta check this thing out”, because we’ve just spent 90 minutes with a person who’s got something cool they’ve created… And I’m excited, because I get excited about cool stuff.
JAMstack - actually, I think that was the one, where JAMstack is becoming a mainstream topic; you guys built your stuff in JAMstack.
We did the show on JAMstack…
Two years ago, at least.
Two and a half years ago. And that’s just because I saw this Smashing Magazine - I mean, they were really the ones that were forefront of that…
…with Netlify. We had the Netlify team on, we talked about JAMstack, and now it’s becoming a thing. But then there’s other things that we talk about and they don’t become a thing. So that’s just a fact of how the industry works.
The point is we don’t then adopt all of the stuff that we talk about. That would be impossible and ridiculous to do. But there are certain things that catch your eye, and almost nothing do I follow up on, because we move on to the next week, or the next show, and we have other things to do… But Elixir actually did catch my eye, and I tried it, and I fell in love with it, and I wanted to use it. So that’s why it was written in Elixir.
And it extends from Ruby. It takes a lot of impression from it.
It was created by a prominent member of the Ruby community, and so it looks Rubyish when you look at it, the more you get into it.
But it’s not Ruby.
It’s a Trojan.
It’s interesting… It’s almost kind of like there’s this DNA that goes back to Perl, through Ruby, and now to Elixir.
Yeah. And the thing about the Elixir combination there is it’s like a – I wouldn’t call it a facade, but it’s more like a carrot on a stick; it’s something that attracts you, and you’re like “Oh, this is interesting…” And then as you figure it out, you’re like “Actually, this isn’t what I thought it was, but it’s still very interesting.” It’s almost like – I mean, calling it lipstick would be another bad analogy, but there’s something to it where the Ruby relationship is there, because José, who created Elixir, knows Ruby inside out, and he knows all the best stuff… So when you see it, it almost looks like Ruby code. But then when you start to learn it, you realize “Oh, this is something completely, entirely different.” And yet I feel at home, even though I’m in a completely new paradigm, which is functional programming.
Changelog.com of course is open source. You’ve got a whole lot of contributors, not only contributing to that platform itself, but also contributors who are hosting shows.
Who are some of the key people within The Changelog?
So many to name.
So many to name.
We’ve mentioned a few by name… Cody Peterson is a key player on the website, with the brand, with the design work. Jake was crucial to developing The Changelog brand guidelines, and the album art. BMC we talked about in great depth… Gerhard - you mentioned Gerhard is going to KubeCon on our behalf. He’s been working with us for a couple years on infrastructure, really helping us roll out…
Yes. I guess since we first rolled out the site in 2016 on Linode, wasn’t it?
Yeah, exactly. I didn’t really know how to roll out an Elixir app in a way that was old school… I’m very old school, like SSH into the box and run start apache by hand… And that just isn’t really the smart way to do things, if you can do them better… So Gerhard has really helped us pave the way, with smart ways of rolling out our infrastructure over the years… And he’s gonna be representing us at KubeCon, which is very cool, so thanks to Gerhard.
The idea there is that you’re at a party, or you’re at a meeting - GoTime is the same way now, by the way - you go to a place where you wanna hang out with people, and it’s like, it doesn’t have to be the exact same voices every single time, but there’s regulars, and there’s that familiar voice. And it’s a place to go where you’re gonna get variety, but you’re also gonna get familiarity… Just like Cheers, when you go to the bar… And you go back and watch the show, some episodes are about this person, some are about that person…
So that’s really the model that we came up with for JS Party, which is they don’t have to be the exact same hosts every single time, but you should have regulars. So we have nine people who mix and match, and then we invite guests. We could definitely name each and every one of those…
Good luck. I don’t even know them. I mean, I know their names, but I don’t have them in my mind.
Yeah, Suz Hinton, Feross Aboukhadijeh…
Kevin Ball, goes by Kball, Nick Nisi, who’s a fellow Omahan…
Hoy, hoy, that’s his tagline…
Yeah, Christopher Hiller, b0neskull. He’s one of the maintainers of the Mocha JS test library. Divya Sasidharan…
@shortdiv on Twitter. She’s awesome, she’s on the show. Have we gotten to nine yet? Myself…
Emma Wedekind, yup. And I think that rounds it out for now.
Mikeal Rogers… See, I was counting on my fingers, but I wasn’t actually counting, I was just doing the visual, and so I lost count.
Yeah, yeah. Rachel White, who hasn’t been back, but she’s trying to come back.
It’s been a while she’s been on, but I love hearing from her. She’s got an awesome laugh, I love her laugh. And so much fun, too. I’ll try on GoTime; geez, I’ll probably stumble on some of these… Mat Ryer, of course. I love Mat. Jon Calhoun, Johnny Boursiquot, Carmen Andoh, Ashley McNamara, JDB, Mark Bates…
That’s the cast, that’s seven people.
I think so. I feel like I’m missing one.
Did you say Johnny?
Okay. We should pull up the website.
Well, and obviously, the original cast, we can’t forget those guys either.
Right. Brian Ketelsen…
Carlisia Pinto, you’ve got Brian Ketelsen, you’ve got Erik St. Martin… Now, we started that show three – how many years ago? Many years ago.
Probably three years ago.
2016 we launched that show… And we learned a lot of things from JS Party; not to sort of explain why the cast is different, but just to sort of like evolve that a bit… We learned some things about JS Party in the fact that this whole Cheers model that Jerod has just mentioned – but it’s really nice to hear more than just a few voices…
And then also, what I look at as like representation of a community. So rather than just one, or two, or three people that are always on the show, why not have a rotating cast, like we’ve learned from JS Party…? But one layer past that is like - those are people that are out in that community, sort of bringing their perspective to it, and then even bringing in content or different topics that the three people or the two people or whatever don’t always see. It sort of gives you a larger, more wider perspective, and then also this opportunity of fresh voices, more voices, more representation… And that’s why that show has also evolved to borrow and learn from a lot of what JS Party has gotten right.
It’s also worth pointing out as a podcast hack that - in addition to all those things that we’ve just described, which are great virtues of that format - we wanna have great people on all of our shows…
[02:00:01.19] And the thing about great people is they’re very busy. And so it’s very difficult to get the same great people, week by week, at the same time to show up and do a show, prepared and all the things that are required to put together a good show.
So we’ve learned that because we started those shows with a smaller cast… So one of the things we adjusted and it’s worked out very well is that with three great people it’s hard to get all three of those together all the time, so scheduling is one of the major challenges of podcasts; another reason for podfading. With nine people…
So much easier.
…we can get three people together out of nine. And it’s less pressure on us as panelists.
And even if they’re unprepared or not as well prepared as they’d like to be, especially if you’ve got a lot of gelling or cohesion in the folks involved, it gets a lot easier to sort of like throw a show together last-minute, if it came down to it.
It’s just a lot more flexible, too.
Yeah, and less pressure on us as individuals. One of the things about the consistency of a podcast is - let’s face it, you’re just not excited to do it every single week. Or you have a conflict. Or that topic is not necessarily something you’re into, or that guest is somebody that’s rubbed you the wrong way, or whatever; there’s a thousand different reasons. And if you’re the only person that does the show - well, you’re gonna do that show, right?
But if you have a cast of nine, somebody could take a month off and the show goes on. And we want the shows to go on… So that’s the other reason why we’ve moved to, in those particular shows, a panel format.
Also just to spread the burden. Because what would happen in that case isn’t just that they couldn’t show up, it’s that they would feel guilty for not being able to.
And that leads to a spiral of burden, burnout, guilt… All these things that plague us, this sort of self-voice saying “You should do this, you should do that…” All these things that make you feel bad for not doing the things you wanna do, because you have ambitions or you’ve got a busy schedule or you’ve got a new job, or whatever it might be. We like that, because somebody could be a panelist on one of our shows and take a quarter break. They’ve got a teaching thing, or a new job spun up, or they’ve got some travel planned. No big deal. It gets a lot easier to collaborate and work with us, because we’re flexible, we’re – for a lack of better terms we say “family-first”; it’s the easy way to say that…
Yeah, and you both have kids, so you can empathize with…
Life, period. I mean, you’ve got a sick kid, you’ve got vacation, going to see parents, going to see family… Whatever it might be. We want to bake that in. Because I think what happens is you start to form relationships that get very rigid and very tested because you just can’t measure up every time. You’re not excited about the topic, you’ve got a busy schedule… Whatever it might be, if you bake that flexibility into how things work…
Now, those shows in particular work well. The Changelog is Jerod and I, essentially, talking to somebody. There’s several shows where I can’t show up, or I’m busier, or whatever it might be; Jerod takes over, no problem. Or I’ll take a show by myself, whatever… But it’s different for those shows; that’s not how we do those shows. Those shows that are more community-focused shows need that – one, it needs that community representation, but then also that flexibility to enable people to say “Yes” and be a part of it.
I think there’s something important there beyond Changelog, with regard to sustainability in your work… Because as you can tell, we care about this work a lot, and it’s something that started as a hobby, and was a passion, and we’re still passionate about the things that we’re doing. But we do not want to create a thing that then becomes our lives and defines us as humans, and we wouldn’t want that for any of our collaborators as well. We live in an industry and we serve an industry that deals with burnout all the time. In fact, I got burned out on talking about burnout, because all of our guests are people who are in this circumstance, and they’re all having the same terrible thing happen to them.
[02:04:04.28] And it’s a huge topic of conversation on our shows, and in our industry in general, because this is a thing that’s happening on a way too frequent basis. And we wanna be in this for the long haul, we can’t allow ourselves to burn out by going non-stop. That’s why we say “Slow down to go faster. Slow and steady wins the race.” We have to remind ourselves that it’s okay to move a little bit slower, because we have these other things. So we try to maintain, even though we have the complete flexibility and freedom to work all the hours or do whatever we want, it’s like “Let’s maintain a consistent schedule and not burn ourselves too much”, because that will first of all burn us out, but also it’s gonna reflect onto the people who collaborate with us… And they’re not full-timers; they have jobs, they have open source projects. They’re coming on our shows because this is something they want to do… But you know that that can create, like Adam said, the guilt and the…
…the shame… And we don’t wanna be having to do with that stuff.
Yeah. Essentially, through having a lot of redundancy (is the word I’m hearing), you have a lot of people who can step in if somebody doesn’t feel up for it, or if somebody needs to take a break… It’s almost like a big distributed system, in a way… [laughter]
It kind of is.
You’ve got like a pub/sub system where you publish, and some people sub to that. They’re like “Alright, I’ll take this gig here. I’m hopping on this podcast.”
Right. For instance, KubeCon. We would love to be at KubeCon. The timing doesn’t make as much sense. Adam is having a baby, I’ve traveled a lot this year… One of the things we do when we talk about conferences - we limit our travel. Because that’s another aspect - we love to go to conferences and be in the community. We love it a lot. But we limit that ourselves, because every time we go to a conference we’re leaving our family.
So that’s a circumstance where we want to personally be at KubeCon, but that’s not gonna work out, and so we have Gerhard, who’s over in London - he doesn’t get to come to the States as often. It’s gonna be in San Diego, he’d love to have a trip to San Diego, and he’s gonna be there. That’s a situation where it’s like “Okay, that makes sense.” And we’ve just kind of slowly built these relationships with folks where it’s a win/win/win.
Win/win/win/win. What’s also cool too, specifically with Gerhard, is that it gives us a chance to invite him in further to the fold. He’s already worked with us and done tons of amazing things for us to help us with our infrastructure, but from a content perspective we’ve had him on the show, we’ve talked about Changelog’s infrastructure, but nothing specific to giving him more opportunity, so to speak.
So this was a change for us to say “Hey, we can’t make it there…” And rather than being like “Oh, we just won’t go” or us stretching our limits and…
…trying to go, we were like “Well, who would be better to go for us, and also have other wins (or win/win/wins) behind the thing?” So I love the fact that 1) Gerhard is ready to go and he’s excited, because I see him behind the scenes in the emails, and stuff like that, planning his trip, and he’s fired up. So a year from now we may have a whole new thing we’re talking about because of these – just like with the drill sergeant, this invitation to come in. Gerhard is already a leader in other ways; it’s not like we’re inviting him for leadership. It’s the invitation into the family, deeper. More things. And we think of it like a family, really. I do, and I know Jerod as well.
Yeah, that’s great that you give people opportunities to just take on more and more responsibilities, and also just to travel.
Yeah. And truth be told, he’ll speak much better about Kubernetes than I will. Just saying.
So on the topic of conferences, just real quick - you all do go to a lot of conferences, and I’m glad to hear that you have recognized that you don’t wanna go to all of the conferences, because–
Right. Well, we want to go to all, but we don’t want to go to all of them… Yeah, exactly.
Yeah, yeah. It’s the same thing with me. I just need to spend time with my family too, and the travel time, and especially - depending on where you’re going - the jet lag has consequences as well…
So what are some conferences that you all try to make it to regularly? That’s the first question, and I’ll ask another question about conferences in a second.
[02:08:14.02] Sure. So I would preface by saying that our circumstances are unique, similar to education, where each person is different. So when it comes time to pick a conference, go to a conference, you have to ask yourself “What are you trying to get out of the conference? What are your goals?”, and that will inform which ones are a good fit, because there’s so many shapes and sizes.
For us, I line it up with The Changelog, the show, which is broad and polyglot, and open source-focused, and community-focused. So we try to find conferences that are along those lines… Also because we only get to go to a couple a year - maybe four a year, once a quarter makes sense, but we don’t always hit that. Fall time seems to be – there’s lots of conferences in the fall, so we tend to go a little bit more then.
We tend to go a little bit bigger conferences, because we wanna meet more people; we wanna see more listeners or meet people that could become listeners… So the staple for us has been OSCON.
Yeah. That’s the big one, right?
We’ve gone to O’Reilly’s OSCON the last four years straight, I think. Maybe three?
Yeah, since 2016, every year.
Yeah. So OSCON is the big one. It’s always a blast.
KubeCon… This will be our third year back.
GopherCon… And All Things Open. OSCON and All Things Open have a lot in common. GopherCon is obviously a language-oriented conference, so it’s different than the other ones… And then KubeCon is obviously Kubernetes and all the cloud-native - which is a big thing, but it’s not as cross-sweeping as the open source-focused ones. So those are the ones that we always try to get to.
Node Interactive, too. I went to that one one time, Kball went there last year, and I think Nick’s going there this year. So this is our third time going to – it’s changed too, the name of it; I think this year’s iteration is just Node… I don’t know if Node Interactive or not, but it’s always been just known as Node Interactive.
Awesome. And my other question regarding conferences would be “What would be your advice to somebody out there who’s listening, who has been a developer or is getting into software development - because you all know a lot about different conferences out there - what would be a good first conference and what would your advice be to them if they wanted to attend one of those conferences?
First, a small plug - we have an entire episode of JS Party called “The Conference Scene”, in which we do an hour (four of us) about this specific topic. So go listen to that if you want the long-winded version.
Sure, I can link to that, yeah.
Cool. Short-winded - my advice would be pick something small, single-track. The cool thing about single-track is that you don’t have any decisions to make… Because the less you know, the harder it is to make decisions. “What do I want to go see…?” And there’s the FOMO of like “There’s three tracks. Am I missing the good thing?” Single-track has a shared experience. Everybody saw the exact same thing, so it’s much easier to make conversation, because you saw the exact same talk that person did, and you don’t have to say “Hey, did you just hear what Chris Coyier said?” and they’re like “No, I was in the other track.”
“Oh, okay… We can’t be friends.”
Yeah. So single-track is great for your first conference. Smaller size is great, because it’s less intimidating, more one-on-one opportunities… 200 to 500 people, versus like a 5,000-person convention.
200 is really tight. 500 is a little bit more loose, but still, small enough.
Yes. And then other aspects - regional is fun, because you don’t have to travel as far, so it’s less of a… The worst thing is like “Well, I’ve spent a bunch of money, I took three days off of work, and I traveled across the country and I didn’t have a good time.” It’s a little bit less risk if it’s like “Well, I drove an hour and attended one.”
Mine is very similar. Small conferences are cool, especially – I’ve got fun memories of actually Future of Web Apps, also known as FOA, 2010. Man, I met some awesome people… Allan Branch, Steven Bristol and several other people. They were quintessential friends, very influential… I’ve gotten some of the best advice in my life from Steven Bristol, just because we literally met at a conference. Because we had a podcast called The Web 2.0 Show and they wanted to meet these two dudes behind this show that didn’t have a gigantic audience, but just enough… Just enough is all it took. And they became great friends.
TXJS, yeah. That one was started here… Somebody else on JS Party.
Started Texas JS?
Alex Sexton maybe?
Yeah, Alex Sexton. That’s one more name for you…
I’m trying to remember all of them.
Round them back! …but the point is - I met some amazing friends. Maybe I was fortunate that – you know, just that conference, I got to meet people; at the same conference I also got to meet Gary Vaynerchuk and Kevin Rose, we had a podcast with them at that conference…
I happened to have lost my voice at that conference, so I sounded like DMX…
And Kevin said so, which was pretty cool too, but… Kevin Rose, Gary Vaynerchuk, and a bunch of other fun people. Kathy Sierra, who’s like an icon in user experience…
Oh yeah, she’s awesome.
Just amazing. So I met some really cool people over the years… It was a smaller conference, maybe 500 people, but I got to meet some really, really good friends personally. So that’s my personal experience from it.
One piece of advice before we move one… Those were advice on like which conferences to go to… But when you’re at the conference - nothing noteworthy ever happened when you stayed inside your comfort zone. You’re not gonna come back home and tell your significant other or your friends some great story, because you went to a conference, and you attended some talks, and you didn’t talk to anybody, and then you went to the hotel, and then you flew home… Or whatever the logistics were. Logistics aren’t interesting.
Going to the after-parties, meet up with people…
You have to actually push yourself outside of your comfort zone, and it’s not gonna feel good, because that’s what comfort zone means… But this is your opportunity to meet people face-to-face, in the flesh. Whether it’s somebody you look up to, somebody who is sitting by themselves and needs someone to talk to… Like, if you’re going to go to the conference – we can get virtual conversations all day long, and we get them. And they aren’t always that great, as evidenced by the conversations that we have online… But in conferences it’s face-to-face. You can have amazing conversations with amazing people, but not if you just go and you’re a wallflower.
So if you’re going to go, and you’re going to put in the effort and the money and all these things, you have to push yourself outside the comfort zone… Otherwise you’re not gonna get out of it what you can.
I’ve got one more extra on top of that. Not just that, but – we learned from Eric Holscher this thing called the PacMan rule.
PacMan rule, alright.
Do you know this one?
I have never heard of this, no.
I’ll give you the short version… There’s a whole podcast about it; we’ll point back to – we’ll add more links to the show notes, but… Eric Holscher was a big fan of inviting people and including people. And if you can imagine being at an after-party, or in the hallway track, whatever it might be, and you’ve got a circle of people, and there’s no openings, you don’t feel invited to come in, right? You don’t get invited to come into that space. So if you leave that wedge there, that PacMan shape, well there’s room for one or two more. And the circle will get bigger and bigger, but you’ll always have that gap in there to invite people in. He gave talks about it, he wrote a blog post about it, we had a podcast about the talks and the blogs… You know, Inception overload, but…
That’s right, that’s right. [laughter] But the point is if you’re at a conference, describing Jerod’s scenarios, one more layer to that is always leave space to invite one more into the crowd.
Right. If you’re standing in a circle, look around and see if you can make more of a PacMan shape, because that invites one more person in. It’s a great tip.
Yeah. And I’ve heard - keeping your body language open, where you keep your toes pointed out… That also makes people feel more welcome.
Also just saying hi.
“Hey, how are you?”
That’s a good tip.
Looking at people.
Keeping it simple.
Having eye contact with them.
Yeah. Well, these seem like obvious things, but they aren’t easy, and we’ve all been in the awkward circumstance where you’re approaching a circle and there’s no gap there, and you’re like “Do I…?”
“Do I just hang out until they let me ease in…?” There’s all these awkwardnesses about that…
Yeah. I mean, it’s already hard enough to get outside of your comfort zone and approach somebody who may reject you, or whatever the fears are. But when there’s no openness from the group, it’s even harder. Anyways, we’re rambling on now…
It took me years to get comfortable just approaching developers at a developer conference… And now when I go to some non-developer thing, where nobody knows anything about me, and I’m just like some interloper… Then I have to reapply all those strategies again, to break into circles and talk to people…
Yeah. It’s hard every time. It gets easier, but it’s never easy.
Yeah. It’s a good practice though, for sure.
We’re also in many cases in distributed environments, or very virtual environments, so the awkwardness is gonna be there. It’s gonna be there, so… I guess just own it.
Yeah, speaking of embracing things - you all have embraced a lot of changes, right there at the beginning of the Changelog name…
…and you’re heading into a new decade, a new era of the Changelog… And it looks like the field is very open, and you’ve got a lot of possible things you could do with the next ten years… What are some wild ambitions, or areas that you wanna explore? Or courses that you’ve already charted, that you’re planning to head in, and that you can share with us.
I’m usually more visionary and have some sort of cast, but I feel like we’re doing what we need to be doing right now… And for me that’s okay. Because I think we do a lot, and I’ve got a growing family… So personally right now I feel like I’m a little short-sighted on my vision. I like what we’re doing. I think there’s a lot of things we can improve on.
We mentioned the fact that our codebase is open source. Every year we like to participate in Hacktoberfest, we like to invite people in to contribute… There’s always room for more shows, but we’re also not trying to grow our podcast count tremendously. I think over the next several years we might grow by one, maybe two shows a year, or basically as topics or interests come to fruition. I would like to maybe do a bit more on the membership side…
That’s what I was gonna say.
…and invite people in in that way. Because there’s so many people that reach out and say “How can we help you? How can we support you?” And in all honesty, the best thing we can say right now is like “If you make a list of podcasts, if you’re on Twitter, if you tell somebody about your favorite things and we’re one of those things, that’s the best way.” But for some people that’s not enough. They actually want, for some reason, to give you money, or some sort of exchange of value, and I think we’ve gotta find out – if it’s not just money or some other ways, we’ve gotta find some way to exchange value with our listeners, beyond us freely giving our podcast to the world.
It’s gotta be something where they can come in and do something of value, whether it’s monetary, whether it’s contribution to the codebase, whether it’s something involving the community… A lot of opportunity is also on the written side; we’d love to find more people to share their big ideas through our platform… So there’s a lot of things in that area that would make sense to expand more. Growing by more podcasts isn’t that interesting to me right this very moment. It’s already hard, so…
[02:20:13.04] Yeah. I think we have a good portfolio. I’m proud of it. I think we serve a lot of niches. I wouldn’t say that we’re comprehensive, like every developer niche. There are a couple of holes – if you pin me down, I could name a couple of holes in our line-up, but… I think revisiting memberships at this point makes sense, because of the sea change in the attitude toward memberships, and I think we can provide unique value to a paid membership that we didn’t provide back then. I think there are people who would love to support us in that way, especially if they get some add-ons, and maybe like an ad-free option, or something like that… Create your own feed… These kind of ideas are things that we’re tinkering with, where we could revisit that and really serve more directly.
I mean, I love the idea of just directly serving your audience, every single time. The purity of that. I don’t think we would ditch our current model, because this model works, and it’s sustainable, we’ve proven that out… But we could augment and provide options. So that’s something that we’re interested in.
Personally, I agree with Adam, that I’m not super-stoked to add a bunch of new podcasts. Maybe just focus on growing vertically, versus horizontally at this point. In terms of my own interests, I would love to do more writing. In the last six months or so (maybe even less) I’ve been able to finally become full-time on Changelog, and slowly wind down my consulting company, which was a long burn, but we’re basically down there at this point, so I can concentrate fully on Changelog.
I have lots of things to say and to write, I just don’t have often the time to write them… So I would love to be able to execute on more of those opportunities, and use our writing as a way to really augment the shows, and bring people back to the shows.
Yeah. Let me say this too real quick, because you’d mentioned earlier with when Jerod came on to the team - while you were speaking, one thing I was thinking, an adjective to describe Jerod would be “instrumental.” If it weren’t for – we didn’t even talk about me going full time ever in this conversation, which… It doesn’t need to go that far. But the point was that Jerod was a source of encouragement for me. I was working at Pure Charity - just a quick version of the story, and this is basically me giving Jerod a long thank you, and appreciation too, because he’s an amazing partner, and I couldn’t do this alone. This would not be what it is if it was Adam solo. It just wouldn’t. And I’m so thankful for Jerod.
But ages ago, he was like “Dude, you could do this, you could do this”, whatever. I forget the exact wording, but… I’ve always been an entrepreneur, but I wasn’t like “Yeah, I wanna quit my job, that’s cushy…” Because I was working for a nonprofit. It was amazing work. I loved what we were doing, I loved the team we were building, I loved what I was building, I loved what I was doing… And then one day I just loved this a little bit more. And I was like “You know what, you’re right.”
And for me, a silent partner for me at least, not a contributor to a show, but a huge contributor to my life is my wife. If it weren’t for her, if it weren’t for Jerod encouraging me and saying “You should do this, we can do this”, and for my wife to agree and believe in me, I wouldn’t have done it, honestly. So thank you, bro.
You’re welcome, man. I’m glad that you made that leap, because a few years later it’s allowing me to make that leap. I was already out there on my own at that point, and so – I mean, we all know that resistance, of like “When are you going to?” or “Do I, or don’t I…?” or “When do I…?” And so I already had the confidence. I was like “I’m out here, swimming in the water, and everything’s fine. The water is warm out here.” That’s kind of the stuff I’d say to him.
[02:23:52.02] And I was in that water, and I was like “I like that water too, but now I’ve got this warm water…” and I just was less – also newly married, so it was, like, timing, but… I still have mad respect for Pure Charity, the team that runs that. I still consider them all friends, they do amazing things.
As a matter of fact, a community member, Beverly Nelson - she’s done some stuff with it. It’s been a while, she’s been really busy, but she is CTO. CTO at Pure Charity. She began – I don’t wanna say “just as a developer” in a negative way, but she kind of came in when we had a budding team. She came in, was very instrumental, and I don’t think then she would have believed that she would have been CTO at some point. Now’s she’s CTO of Pure Charity. That’s awesome. And we love Beverly, she’s amazing.
Yeah. Well, it sounds like you all have a lot of people who have been on the periphery or directly involved with The Changelog over the past ten years, and I want to wish you all a fun, prosperous next ten years to the life of The Changelog. I’m gonna be listening… I know that a lot of the people in the FreeCodeCamp community learn about open source and learn about software in general, and get introduced to a lot of the people whom you’ve interviewed… DHH, you had Yehuda Katz on a while back… Just a ton of really, like, developers’ developers. And they’re able to get a lot of exposure to those people, and a lot of inspiration from those people. So I just wanna thank you again for everything you’re doing for the community, and… Long live The Changelog! Ten more years of awesome learning.
That’s right. Quincy, you’ve always been a staple for us, too. You’ve always encouraged us and congratulated us along the way, too. We’re obviously huge fans of FreeCodeCamp, we can’t say it enough… And thank you for caring enough about us, for one, to drive from your place to my place here in Houston. We are in - for a lack of better terms - Adam’s studio… So he came here, we flew Jerod in for a day trip–
What better term would there be? I mean, this is your studio…
That’s right. Well, I almost called it like “Changelog HQ”, but it’s not that… [laughter] We don’t have an HQ, we’re a distributed team…
I mean, it looks a lot more like an HQ than my closet does. [laughter]
But we really appreciate the time that you’ve put into this too, the research, and just sharing your community with ours, honestly. We really, really appreciate that. We can’t thank you enough.
Alright. Well, hey, Adam, Jerod - it’s been an absolute blast. Everyone still with us, thank you again for listening to the FreeCodeCamp podcast. Be sure to check the show notes, where we’ll have links to a lot of the different episodes of The Changelog that we mentioned here, and some of the articles as well. Also, if you’re not subscribed to The Changelog, be sure to subscribe to it. The FreeCodeCamp Podcast will come back in early 2020. We’re just, as I said, doing a lot of other things, but in the meantime if you can just tell your friends about The Changelog, tell your friends about FreeCodeCamp - that would mean the world to us. Have a fun day, and happy coding!
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚