Saron Yitbarek, creator of CodeNewbie and the CodeNewbie podcast, joined the show to talk about helping more people discover software development, embarrassing moments, lessons learned along the way, and more.
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Alright everyone, we’re back. We’ve got a great show lined up today. We’ve got Saron joining us, the host of CodeNewbie… Jerod, we’ve been waiting for this show for a while. I think it started back as a ping, kind of, in a way…
Tell us about that.
Yeah, way back in January 4th, I think a GitHub user DoctorVinceKnight wrote in saying–
That’s an awesome name.
Yeah, isn’t it?
It is awesome.
He must be a Ph.D.
He must be a doctor.
Smart guy. And he said “Over the past three years I’ve gone from complete open source ignorant to humbly/shyly contributing to some projects. I still very much consider myself a newb, and would have thought there are others like me. I think a neat episode could be an overview of getting involved with open source”, and he goes on to suggest a show for newbs… Which I didn’t really know exactly how to put that together for a while, so I kind of just sat on it.
Finally, I thought, “You know who’s really good with news? It’s Saron Yitbarek, with CodeNewbie…”
So I kind of said “Hey, thanks for writing in. Maybe you could listen to CodeNewbie. That’d be great.” And then I just happened to @mention Saron on the issue, at which point she chimed in and said “Oh, let’s get together and have a show.” So here we go.
It was back in January?
That was January? Oh, wow…
Well, his original issue was January… It hasn’t been that long since you chimed in. I think it was July, so…
I was gonna say, “Well, that’s a long time.”
I’m kind of glad that you waited, because I think this has gotten a lot better, so good job. Good job waiting until we got better. [laughter]
So I guess without further adieu, since we’ve been chatting here, Saron, for those who don’t listen to your show, or only listened to it a few times and don’t know fully who you are, could you introduce ourselves to our audience?
Sure. I am Saron, I’m host of the CodeNewbie Podcast, and we actually do a lot of stuff beyond the podcast… But the idea came from really my own coding journey. I guess it’s been a little over two years ago at this point… So when I first learned to code, I learned mostly on my own for a few months, just in my apartment; I quit my job, I did it full-time. I did Treehouse and Code School, and a bunch of other resources that your listeners are probably familiar with… And it was sad, and lonely, and frustrating, and it was really hard to learn on my own.
[03:59] Then I applied and got accepted into a programming bootcamp, and I did that for three months. It was a great experience for me, I learned a ton, but what I really got out of it was the community; it was really just sitting next to a bunch of people who were just as excited, just as passionate, who were just as terrified as I was learning to code… And that’s really where the value was. And I felt that to get that value, it cost me $11,000 and a total of six months without a job… Which fortunately I can afford, but a lot of people can’t. And I really wanted to provide a community for people who were struggling and learning to code on their own, and making the switch the way that I did.
So it started with just a Twitter chat, it started with using the hashtag CodeNewbie, and just me tweeting out from my personal account and saying “Hey, if you’re out there and you’re learning to code, what are you learning? What are you excited about? What are some languages, what are some resources that you’d like to share?” And the people responded. We did that for many months, and it kept growing, and it kept building momentum, and it got to a point where I said “These Twitter chats are great, but you can’t really do in-depth conversations with Twitter chats.” So I said, huh - a podcast is a really good format for in-depth conversations, so that’s how the podcast got started.
Yeah, it’s really neat. We’re launching that one actually very soon. By the time this goes on air, we will have done a couple of them. And the best part is we’re not an education team, we’re not a school. We’re a place where you can come and find support, and you can work on things together. And we find these little excuses to bring people together. That’s what we’re about.
Very cool. Man, that was a whirlwind tour… Let’s camp out a little bit – I mean, you come a long way; it’s really quite astounding, but you mentioned Flatiron, you mentioned trying some Code School and code academies yourself… Unlike many people, you’re coming to this - and like many, there’s many of us out there, but… This isn’t your first career…
Maybe take us back a little bit. Tell us what you did before you decided you’re gonna be a code newbie, and then… At the tail end of that I’ll just ask a follow-up, but just to lead into that - why would you even wanna switch to this career? But start with where have you been before.
Yeah… So that second question is really funny, because very senior developers ask me that all the time, and I’m like “This is awesome!” Hopefully I won’t be jaded and sad later on in my career, but right now I’m still really excited. But to answer your first question, when I was in undergrad I thought I was gonna be a doctor, and I did all the pre-med courses, I studied organic chemistry, I taught organic chemistry, I was a biochemistry research fellow, I’m a published author - I’ve done a lot of stuff in the hard sciences… And then I think it was the end of my junior year I actually shadowed a doctor - which I should have done much sooner - and I realized that what I liked about science was the problem-solving, and it was the figuring out “What really is going on? What caused this? How did this happen?”
And it wasn’t so much the saving lives part, it’s just me being very honest… And I thought, “I probably shouldn’t be a doctor, if that’s not the part I’m really excited about.” So I thought “What the hell do I do now?” And I’d always done journalism. I interned at an NPR member station in DC, I wrote for a college paper, I was an online editor for a college magazine… So I decided to pursue journalism.
I worked at NPR for a short bit, I worked at discover magazine… And in that time, I read the Steve Jobs book. And to me, that book just changed my life, because for the first time technology was presented in a way that got me excited about creating, and I’d never ever thought of myself as a creator when it comes to tech. I always thought of myself as a consumer.
The ridiculously long bio, that one. And it was great, because it was this guy who wasn’t a very nice person, but he brought together design, and emotions, and storytelling, and beauty in all these things that I could connect to, having written stories and done a lot of media stuff, with the hardcore tech. So I said, “I need to get in on this. I don’t know what this is, but I need to be here.”
So I worked at a few different startups, doing everything that was not technical. I did that for – I think it was 2-3 years, and I felt like every time I was hitting this wall, where I couldn’t do what I really wanted to do, I couldn’t make anything, because I didn’t know how to make things. I couldn’t even have a real conversation about UX, and UI, and anything, because I didn’t have those skills. So I felt like if I wanted to make products, and if that’s the person I wanted to be, I really did have to learn to code.
Yeah, because as I was just kind of back-chatting with Adam, the thought that crossed my mind when you said that Steve Job’s bio inspired you, is that he’s famously not an engineer, right? He’s a salesman, and an innovator, and many things, but somewhat criticized because he was not a software developer.
He’s a leader.
And I think that’s what we need. Something that you said a bit earlier, Jerod, was that those who are already developers kind of ask the question to someone like Saron, that say “Well, what is it that you like about software development or engineering?” and Saron, your reply was “It’s awesome!”
Because it’s so much fun! [laughter] And that’s the thing. Right now I actually work at Microsoft as a program manager, and I was hired on not to be a developer or not to be a coder, but to manage a program that I think we’ll talk about a little bit later called Tech Jobs Academy… And recently I’ve gotten to do a lot more software stuff, and I’ve gotten to both do product development, but also code; and what’s really fascinating is I feel like having worked at startups, having done a lot of product stuff, I’m able to bring that to the table… But because I also know how to code, I can connect with our engineers much better than other people can.
And it’s not that I feel like I need to be the best programmer and that’s the goal, but I think that even being coding-literate, and having built enough - and I plan on continuing to build my skills - I think that that perspective and that knowledge is incredibly valuable when you’re making business decisions in technology.
You can bring a certain amount of empathy to the position, whereas somebody who has that wall which you said you kept hitting, because you couldn’t create, you didn’t know enough and you hit that wall with someone if you’re trying to manage them, and you’re just like “Make the magic, okay? You’re the magic man. Just make the magic”, and they’re like “Wait, that’s not how the magic works.”
[laughs] Right, exactly. Yeah, it’s really hard to do a good job managing something if you can’t speak the language, if you can’t understand the process and the pieces… It’s really hard to do that, so…
So you got started on online trading courses, and yet you’re here saying that it’s awesome, and it sounds like those things were kind of like false starts for you. Is that fair to say?
[11:43] Yeah, I mean, the thing with the online stuff is it helped me enough to know that I wanted to keep going… But I was honestly shocked at the difference between learning online for a few months, and being in a more structured program for the same amount of time. I feel like I was able to skip nine years of what would have been very frustrating, very slow learning, and condense it down to the things that I needed to know to be productive.
And honestly, a lot of people that we interview on the CodeNewbie podcast are – at least half of them are mostly self-taught, mostly using online resources and books, and I have so much admiration for those people, because I think it takes a very specific determination, and work ethic, and discipline, and faith in yourself to be able to be productive and get a job purely on online.
Yeah, I’ve had a similar experience; not personally – I am a bit self-taught, although kind of formally trained in computery things, and then self-taught on software development… But back when I was trying to learn software development there weren’t code schools; these are great things that we have… But what a lot of people that I talk to find is that they go through those motions and they get the excitement, and that hit of adrenaline that you get, but there’s no comprehension that really goes with it.
And some people can just power through that, like you said. It’s an amazing characteristic for somebody that can go completely through that… But others need a structure, they need other people, and then that paired with an online course, with a Lynda or a subscription to Treehouse.
Code School, sponsor of this show?
Oh yeah, Code School. Thank you. They’re all great. We love Code School, we love them all (cover all your bases there). It’s a great adjunct in that sense, but for a lot of people it’s not gonna take you all the way home.
And I think that the big thing is just direction. I wrote a blog post months ago called “I am not a tinkerer”, and to me, I feel like those online resources are really – they’re great for tinkerers. I think it’s great if you wanna try things, and you’re learning things… And it’s okay if there isn’t a very specific goal, and there’s not a specific purpose, there’s not an end that you’re trying to get to and you’re just kind of following along, and I think that a lot of people are like that, and that’s awesome. I am not one of those people, I know that about myself. I need to have a very clear purpose, I need to know why am doing this, in this order, when am I doing it, how long am I doing it for… I need to have that to make the most out of my learning, and to me that was the missing piece.
I think that if I had a senior developer or someone say “You should do this course. Don’t worry about that one, go to this one next…” If someone could kind of give me directions, I think then it would have been helpful. But for me it was really about the structure and the direction that was really valuable.
I’m a hands-on learner myself. I need to have some guidance. I like team, even though I work at home, like you, Jerod, and Saron - do you work from home? I’m assuming…
Once in a while.
Once in a while… As a loner, so to speak, my office doesn’t have two desks in it, so I’m usually alone… But even though that’s the case, I have a team; I have Jerod, I have others around here that work with us, and make this possible what we do. I love team, and I cannot take – I can’t learn very well at least in an isolated environment. It doesn’t work for me.
Yeah, it’s sad. It’s just sad. I just get sad when I’m on my own. And then when things go well, there’s no one to high five; you’ve gotta high five yourself.
That’s not fun. Exactly.
You’ve gotta take pictures of it, put it on the internet… [laughter] Just to prove that you’re doing something.
[15:49] I’ve spent a lot of my career as a solo developer, in my basement… So I have stretches where I don’t have a team, and I’m okay with that. It’s nice to be around people, it’s also nice to be around by myself… But what I miss out on is I wonder am I missing out on – like, could I be better, even as a developer, or as a thinker, or a problem-solver, if I had somebody else that was riffing and jiving with me? And would I be learning faster? Some of those are reasons why I listen to all the podcasts, and I read all the blogs - I feel like I don’t have that much of a community physically there with me of people who are awesome developers and I’m just learning from constantly.
So I can definitely feel the sense of need for a team, and I do like developing by myself and being solo, but I’m always wondering, “Is the grass really greener over there?” It sounds like perhaps it is… [laughter]
You know, I have my moments where I really like being alone, especially if I’m working on a feature that I already know how to build, tools I know, and I just put my headphones on and I go, and it’s wonderful. But when I’m doing anything new, when I find myself getting frustrated, just having someone I can just tap on the shoulder and say “Can you just look at this for me? You don’t even have to say anything; just be my rubber duck. Just look at it and let me talk at you.” That alone is incredibly valuable.
I like how you said that, because I’ve learned over the years that - and maybe you’ll lament with this, maybe you won’t, but I feel like as soon as I personally say it out loud, whether it’s… Sometimes it’s to the wall, and sometimes I don’t have a rubber duck there, or whatever… But I feel like the moment you say something passionately, from your conviction, from your heart, you believe it. It could be anything… It could be describing how it should work, and you get your own a-ha moment; you don’t really need any sort of reciprocation from the person you’re working with. So I feel like the moment you get a chance to speak out loud is when things happen.
Right. Or you think you have a great idea, and then you say it out loud and you’re like [unintelligible 00:17:58.28] “That’s a terrible idea!” [laughter]
But then you’re embarrassed, you’re like “I wish I didn’t say that at all…”
“You think I’m just talking to a wall…”
Yes, exactly… You know, something that you said, Saron, about your shadowing experience - and this was back when… I think you said you were gonna be a doctor, is that right?
Yes, I was pre-med. My parents were very proud of me.
Your parents were very proud, pre-med, shadowing… And you said that’s when you hit this point where you were like “I know I don’t like this thing.” What was that like? Were you let down? Were they let down? Was it hard? What was the experience like, trying to step away from – that’s a pretty ambitious and courageous career.
Yeah, it was awful. It was really, really rough. I shadowed this cardiologist for a couple times. Most of the time it was just him talking to patients, and I just sat in the room and just listened. One time I actually got [unintelligible 00:18:54.27] into a surgery; that was actually really awesome. I had to wear – do you know that big lead suit thing you wear to protect your private parts?
I had to wear one of those. It was so heavy… That’s when I realized how weak I was. And I had to just stand in the corner for hours, just watching them cut this guy’s chest open and put a – what in the world is it called? I think it was a pacemaker in it… And it was insane. It was the craziest thing I ever saw. But even with that, I still didn’t wanna be a doctor… So at that point I was pretty convinced it wasn’t for me.
But it was really hard… I worked so hard in college. I worked so, so hard. I graduated in four years, and by the time I graduated I had enough credits to get three full degrees. That’s how hard I worked. And I was very active, I stayed up very late, I sacrificed my social life, and at the end of it I was like “Crap, I have no idea what I’m gonna do now.” And it was really disappointing for me; it was incredibly disappointing for my parents, especially when I went from well-paying, secure job as a doctor, to journalist. That was not fun.
[20:04] But I think that as sad as I was and as disappointed as I was, I knew that eventually I would figure it out, and getting through the crappy parts where you haven’t quite figured it out was way harder than I thought it would be, but eventually I knew I’d get there… And I just asked my parents, and my friends and all that to just be patient with me as I figured it out.
But yeah, it was hard, because among my family and my friends I was always the one who did things right, and who played ahead, and who was really organized, and had her crap together… And then I just didn’t. And dealing with that was rough.
Maybe you said this or maybe I missed it, but when did you actually find the software side of you?
So I read the Steve Jobs book a year after I graduated college, and then I got my first startup job – I think it was actually just about a year after I graduated…
Where was that job at?
That was at Content.ly.
Okay. Still around?
They’re still around, yeah.
I know… [laughter] I say the name and people are like “I think I’ve heard of them.” Like, “Yes, they’ve made it! Or they’re making it, currently.” And I think it was two years after that where I actually started learning to code.
So you ended up at Flatiron Academy, which is today a 12-week program…?
Flatiron School, and yes, it’s a 12-week program.
Excuse me, Flatiron School. A 12-week program, full-time, $11,000, as you said… Huge jump there, right? You just jumped in…
…which kind of seems like something you just do. You seem like you just jump in. Because you got out of Flatiron on the other side of it, and not before long you’re doing conference talks, you’re on the Ruby Rogues… Did it all move really fast once you got out of Flatiron?
No, it all felt very slow. I’m very, very impatient, so things never come as fast or as quickly as I want them to, but I’m very all-or-nothing when it comes to really everything that I do. So if I decide I’m gonna be a developer, I’m gonna be a developer; and I’m gonna be in as many places as I can, I’m gonna be as involved as I can, I’m gonna give everything I have to it. So speaking, and podcasting, and CodeNewbie and all that - it just falls into the same bucket.
The hard part for me, specifically with the speaking, was I applied to RailsConf – I think it was two months after graduating from the program, and I no way expected to be considered and to have my proposal taken seriously. I actually didn’t even like my own proposal, but I submitted anyway… And for me, I knew that it was a step I had to take; I knew that the act of filling out the form, and putting my idea on paper, and pressing Submit - that was the act that I wanted to do, because that for me was really, really hard. That was like my most impostor moment that I had so far. And when I think of a speaker, I think of someone who’s an expert, who’s been doing it for years, someone you look up to; I have very big expectations for that title, and the idea that I dare submit myself to be one of those people was just a huge mental hurdle that I just knew I had to get over. So for me the real win wasn’t the speaking, it was pressing the submit button.
Wow. How did the speaking go?
I think I threw up the night before, and then I got my period immediately after. So that was fun. Oh my god, I was so nervous… I was shaking the entire time. Apparently, you can’t tell it from the video, which is great. And I found out that I do this nervous thing where when I speak I actually clench my butt cheeks really hard, to the point where my left one twitches. So that’s what that was like.
I did. I’m like “Why is it twitching? Oh, because I’m clenching them, because I’m so nervous…” So that’s what speaking is like.
It wasn’t a constant distraction…
I have to commend you on being so forward about things that could be embarrassing, or which probably are embarrassing.
Well, you know…
Yeah, whatever. It’s already happened. What are you gonna do…?
It doesn’t come through on the video, so who cares…?
No one sees it twitching.
Exactly. What a great place to have a nervous tick, right? On your butt, where no one can see. It’s great.
Well, let’s pause here… I know we wanna dive deeper into the story of CodeNewbie, where this came from, all that, but we have some awesome sponsors that make this show possible.
Alright, we’re back from that awesome break. We’ve got Saron here, we’ve got embarrassing moments, we’ve got potential doctorates, new communities forming, nervous twitches we didn’t know we had… And then we’ve got this new community, CodeNewbie, and it’s so thriving now… You said earlier you’re kind of glad you didn’t come on earlier, because the show has gotten better, but you’ve also grown the community quite a bit… But we like to go back to the beginning, where things first, first began, and I think you said it started on Twitter. Maybe start there, if that’s where it began for you.
Yeah, that’s where it began. I saw a lot of people doing Twitter chats. And if you don’t know what a Twitter chat is, it’s when you pick a time - we do ours on Wednesdays at 9 PM Eastern time - and you pick a hashtag. Our hashtag is #codenewbie, and we tweet questions for one hour, and anybody can answer. We have a system where we’ll say “Q1 is what language are you coding?” and then you’d respond “A1”, and that allows people to easily follow the conversation.
We did that for a while, and when we started, I had absolutely zero plans to start a community, or a podcast, or team projects, or any of that. I just saw something that I thought was interesting, I saw something that I thought would help people, and so I just started tweeting. I emailed everyone that I knew and I said, “Hey, I’m starting this thing. You should totally jump in and join the chat. I’d love for you to tell your friends and tweet about it.”
[28:06] That’s where it all started, and eventually it got to a point where it needed to really be its own thing, where people were using the hashtag outside of that one hour, and people would tweet us questions, and specifically would tweet questions using the hashtag, and we’d have conversations around the hashtag… So I thought it makes more sense for CodeNewbie to have its own Twitter account and be its own thing, and then we can talk about being a code newbie full-time, without it being directly tied to my account. That’s what happened next.
It’s one of those things that I thought would last maybe a couple months, but it just kept going, and people kept coming back… And people started adding it to their calendars, and people were really looking forward to it, so… That’s how we got started.
It seems like you really struck a chord, because there’s so many more new developers now than there even were a few years ago; some thanks to the bootcamps, some thanks to the incredible demand that we have in the industry, and also because it’s awesome, like you said… Did you know there were so many of them out there when you got started?
Yeah, I did. I knew, because just being part of the Flatiron School and a part of the team there, I knew the number of applicants who were applying. I’d done a good amount of research on other bootcamps and other programs as well, and I knew their numbers, I knew how many people were looking to apply. I’d seen the tweets, I’d read the articles, so I knew that there were definitely enough. There was definitely enough demand to have a thriving community.
I didn’t necessarily think that I would be the one who started that community, but I knew that a community was there somewhere.
Yeah. But you had a voice. You had your conference talks to give you a voice, and then you were also a regular on Ruby Rogues. I think you were gone for a while, and you seem to be back now.
Yeah, I got guilted into coming back. Avdi Grimm sent me an email and he was like, “Yeah, I know you’re really busy, but we really miss having you; it would be really good if you came back”, and I said “Well, if Avdi asks, then you have to say yes.”
Right. You can’t say no to Avdi.
Right. So then I came back.
Maybe speak to that experience a little bit, because here you are, you’re fresh out of a code school, and like you said, you have a moment of impostor syndrome, you’re very much a beginner when it comes to an experience of programming, and then you’re invited on to – or maybe you can say how you came onto the panel show of very expert developers… Can you speak to that experience?
Yeah. That was very surprising. As part of the bootcamp experience, we’re expected to blog about what we learn… And the very first thing that I blogged was on a talk that was credited to Matz, who wrote Ruby… But it was the wrong person; it was actually a talk given by James Edward Gray. And I wrote my reflection and my feelings about the talk, and it kind of went a little bit more emotionally deeper than I think I mean to when I first started writing it… And he read it – maybe it was like seven or eight months after that, and he said “Hey, I read your blog post, I really like it. The talk that you wrote about was actually by me.” I was like, “Oh, that’s equally awesome.”
He saw my RailsConf talk which came out by that time, and he saw my cartoon, which I drew for the Flatiron school, and then he invited me onto the show and he said “I’d love to hear more about your experience and what that was like.” So I came on as a guest to start.
Around that time they were starting this kind of three-month guest panel – I think we called it a Rogan Residence Program, where they have different people coming on for three months at a time… So they really liked the show that I did, and they had me on for just a three-month period. And after that, they wanted to keep me on, so they asked me to become a full panelist.
[32:06] I think that was the second most terrifying thing that I’ve done in code so far… Because every week I had to show up and talk to these incredible people about stuff I didn’t really know about, and try to follow along as much as I can, and try to be present without sounding too stupid and too beginnerish… And it was really hard; it was really, really hard. But just like submitting that talk, I did it not necessarily because I enjoyed it every week, but because I knew that that was a really big step for my career, and I knew that it would help me in the long run… So I kind of took my feelings, I put them in a drawer and I closed it, and I said “Just stop it. I can’t deal with you right now. I have work to do.”
Just stop it… [laughs]
My husband likes to tell me to punch my feelings in the face… So that’s kind of what I did, I punched them in the face until they subdued.
[laughs] Love that. Punch them in the face. Probably what you had to tell yourself - and maybe you see it now - is that actually a beginner’s perspective is a breath of fresh air to people who have been in the industry for a long time. When you came on that show, it was an angle, it was a new perspective on things that nobody else there could bring, because as an expert you can’t feign fresh eyes. You don’t have them. It’s very difficult even to empathize and go back. You try. So maybe that explains a little bit of your success there.
Very good job punching your feelings in the face… [laughter] And really just facing the fear. Because that gave you a little bit of a platform, and visibility as a very respected newbie in kind of the greater software scene.
Then you decided “Twitter’s not quite good enough. We want deeper conversations. I’m gonna turn this into a podcast.” Can you speak to some of your early podcasting?
Yeah, sure. We do our Twitter chats very differently from how other people do them. If you follow other people’s Twitter chats, what they usually do is they’ll bring on a guest and they’ll do an interview with the guest using the hashtag, and then other people can chime in and ask questions as well. And I think that’s just a terrible way of using Twitter. I don’t think Twitter’s meant to have interviews. I don’t think you’re meant to have deep conversations; I think you’re meant to tweet, and have little conversation starters.
So what happened was we had all these really great conversations happening, but they weren’t being explored, they weren’t being captured, there wasn’t really a way to dive deep. Previously I’d worked at NPR member stations, so I always wanted to get back into audio, and I thought “Great! This is how I’ll do that. I’ll start my own podcast.”
The podcast setup process was really hard. I don’t know how it was for you guys when you decided on what tools you were gonna use, but…
Yeah, it’s really hard.
I’ll just listen to Adam.
Yeah, it’s not easy. I mean, it never gets easier, but it was harder in the beginning, and it’s still right now.
Yeah. My husband is a techie as well; he’s not a developer, but he loves technology and he does a lot of tech stuff, and he loves audio and video editing, and knows a ton about that stuff… So we spent almost every evening for about a month trying out different tools, and different recording software, and different ways to upload audio – we tried so many different combinations before we found the one that worked, and before we found the one that we really liked.
[36:11] I wanted to make sure my audio sounded as high-quality as it could, and I wanted to make sure that the guest’s audio was as good as it could be as well. So there was just a lot of trial and error.
Now that we have a process set up, it’s fairly straightforward… But I think it was two weeks ago, he went to visit some family in Florida, so I had to do one of my interviews on my own… We usually run the server, and the upload, and all that stuff on his computer, and this time we had to do it on mine, so we had to redo all that setup on my computer… And there were just so many pieces. I’d forgotten how many pieces there were to get it to work.
A lot of you will ask me “I’m looking to start my own podcast. What equipment do you use?”, and I have this set email that I’ll just copy and send it out to people, and there are a lot of steps to it.
So it was really hard, but I really wanted to do it, and I love just the excuse of getting to talk to so many incredible people from all over the world, doing really interesting things, and being able to just sit and ask questions. That’s such a great job to have; you just sit and you’re the one that knows the least, and everyone loves that. And getting to really ping people about their lives, it’s awesome.
I’m curious to know a bit more about the tools and the pieces to your process. Ultimately, I’d like you to tell that story that you told us in the pre-call if you don’t mind, but I’d like to start with the process, if you can.
Sure. We use Mumble. Do you guys know Mumble.
I don’t know Mumble.
Mumble is basically like a Skype, and it was actually created for gamers. A lot of gamers use it when you’re – I don’t know how games work, but I assume there’s a lot of people and they need to talk to each other sometimes, so they use it for that.
Yeah. I think that’s how that works. And so a lot of people have repurposed Mumble for podcasting for really two reasons; one, there’s a record button directly on Mumble, and when you do record, it records your local copy, not what comes through the internet, which is nice. So you don’t get that processed stuff.
And then two, it records in multichannels, so when the guest is recording, they’re recording their local stream, separate from your internet stream. So it’s super-easy, it’s just one place, and we don’t have to open up different software to do the podcast.
So do you record everybody then, or everybody records themselves.
Everyone records everyone. Exactly.
So that’s what we use for that. So we run the Mumble server, usually off of my husband’s computer, and then we have them connect to us, and then we use – do you know Pydio?
It’s a program for Linux that does really easy file uploads… So we have that also set up on Ubuntu on his computer, and then that’s where people upload stuff as well. And then for editing we use audition. So it’s not so much that these pieces themselves are complex, it was more about – for Mumble, one of the other benefits to it is you get really granular control over your audio settings… And we had to figure out what the right settings were. And it took a lot of trial and error to figure out what the right settings were. And the very first episode podcast we did, we did not have the right settings at all. And luckily, the person that I did it with was actually a person who started the Twitter chat with me way back; his name is [unintelligible 00:39:36.23] Really great guy, a really great developer… And when we did it, I picked him because he has a great story and he’s awesome, but also because I knew that if I had to re-record, or if anything went wrong, he’d be the most understanding person.
[39:51] So when we interviewed the first time, all the settings were terrible; we had to re-record the whole thing and threw it away. The second time that we did it, he sounded fine, but I sounded like crap, so I had to basically redub myself, which was really awkward, because it was over an hour’s worth of a conversation, and I had to fake all the laughing, and all the sighs, and the pauses and the breaks… And I also wanted to time it so that the timing just fit in with the existing time.
So I did that, and then my audio was still totally wrong, and I was basically clipping the entire time… And I said to myself, “I can’t believe I have to do this a third time.” So I did it again, and I had a transcript of everything I said, and I’m just like –
[laughs] Right. I was like, “We are getting this right…”
This is drive at its best, right here. I mean you really wanted to do this show…
Do it again…!
I really wanted to do this show. I really wanted to do it well. So I’m doing it again, and I’m just going like “Yes, that was great! Hah-ha-ha!”, and it sounds so awful. I put it out, and for the most part people liked it, but then I got this one tweet that was like “That sounded really scripted”, and I’m thinking “That’s because it was…!” [laughter]
Only halfway scripted.
It was dub-scripted…
It was based on a true story.
Right… [laughter] That’s how I should have introduced it. Darn! Oh, that would have been great!
What would be great would be like a [unintelligible 00:41:19.14] where you release another track, only you change all of the things that you say, to make his answers be completely ridiculous.
Those would be probably the greatest hits.
That’s gonna be CodeNewbie podcast number two. And I’ll just be taking the interviews and making them sound ridiculous. I think my guests would really like that.
I think the listeners probably would.
I’ve gotta give you credit, because I just recorded a three-second redub - didn’t I, Adam?
And I couldn’t do like three seconds… [laughter] I’m like “This is pathetic…”
He even had the visual to go with it, because it was a redub for a piece that he did on video, and the audio wasn’t perfect, but what he said was good… So if you can get the rhythm right and he can get the enunciation right and the enthusiasm right, it would be a win…
I can do one or the other…
But it was kind of tough, wasn’t it, Jerod?
Yeah, and then you’re like “Can you do it again?” I’m like “I’m gonna be here all night.” I can’t imagine doing an hour show…
Oh, it was grueling.
Do you have it scripted, Jerod?
What do you mean?
I mean what you said.
Oh, do I know what I said?
Could you give us a tease right now what you said?
Nah, that was Tuesday. I flushed my RAM, so… I’ve rebooted since then. [laughter]
[unintelligible 00:42:31.29] That’s very interesting… I mean, it’s an interesting way to start, because – I mean, I think there are so many people out there that would love to do something with podcasting, because it is a fun medium. Like you said before, it’s really fun to be the person to ask the questions, and you get to really meet a lot of interesting people, depending upon the show type that you have…
I think there are so many unknowns. There are so many technological unknowns, there are so many audio unknowns, there are so many personal unknowns… Like “Can I actually perform? Can I actually do it three times?”
It’s a performance, yeah…
Things like that.
Yeah, and what’s interesting… So when I worked at NPR, I wrote the scripts, which means that I interviewed the guest ahead of time, I wrote out all the questions, I did all the research, and the host - I wrote for Michel Martin for the show “Tell me more”, and she would read from that script, and then ad-lib as much as she wanted to… So I went into the podcasting world thinking I needed to write a script every time. And I did an hour research on every guest, wrote out the questions etc. and it honestly didn’t go as well as I wanted… And over time I learned to trust myself. Right now I don’t script. I don’t even – I’ll do a quick Google search, just so I have main highlights, but I realized that I do a lot better as a podcaster when I know very little about the guest, when I know just enough to ask the right questions, but I don’t know the answers… Because then I can naturally take the conversation where the listener wants it to go, because I’m reacting and I’m not planning. And that to me was really surprising.
[44:17] I’m with you there, because I’ve been in the same position; I’ve had other shows before besides this show here, The Changelog, and there’s times when we scripted just to give us guidelines, not to script it.
And I think that’s the better ground. If you’re gonna do anything, give yourself some guard rails to operate around. Jerod and I - we prepare sometimes a couple days in advance, sometimes 30 minutes in advance of the show… And it’s not so much like preparation. We know who the guest is, we know what they’re about, but we haven’t sat down together as co-hosts and sunk, and figured out like “Okay, this is my angle, this is your angle…”
I don’t know, synced?
Sunk sounds like we’re in a boat and we sunk… [laughter] Sometimes we may do that.
Well, scratch that, and make sense of it.
We synced it up…
But the thing is - I did the same thing with another show I had, called Founders Talk, where I would do an hour of research and I would figure out the back-story and figure out all these different details, and I did have certain questions I did wanna script, because I wanted to ask it a certain way, but I still let the conversation play into it.
Just go, exactly.
Yeah. So I knew how I wanted to ask the exact question, but how I worded it when it all came out – the question kind of came up the way I scripted it, but the way I spoke that fragment of the show wasn’t scripted.
But there’s a lot of technical pieces, there’s so many nuances to podcasting that make it a tough job, but at the same time a very fun and rewarding job.
Yeah, I think that people underestimate how many hours it takes. I don’t know how long it takes for you guys, but between booking the actual interview, editing and publishing, I think we spend about 6-7 hours/week on it… And for our editing we spend between two and three times the length of the show. So if we have an hour show - well, there’s your three hours.
And I think that doing that consistently is hard, and I know that a lot of people who started a podcast and kind of fallen off - it’s because they do it the first time and realize “Holy crap, I’ve gotta process this and I’ve gotta put it in all the podcast directories, and I have to publish it on the website, and I have to do show notes…” There are a lot of pieces that go into it.
And then there are people who don’t care about those pieces, and they do a quick 20-minute show and they don’t do any editing at all. I’m not one of those people. I’m way too much of a perfectionist to be okay with that. I think if you do it that way it’s less work, but even then it’s definitely a commitment.
There’s two sides to that coin… We can go deep, deep into this topic, and I’ve kind of been on both sides, where I used to edit; I used to edit uhms, ahs, I used to make it perfect… Then after a while I was like “This is gonna kill me, this is gonna burn me out.” It made me start hating podcasting, because it was so much work… And I started to live with the – like I told you before, if your husband steps in when he comes back, that’s okay. We’re gonna roll with it. Let’s embrace our mistakes, so to speak. And there’s a term in radio called “live to tape.”
It’s essentially just take what you do live and put it right on tape, and don’t do much editing, or any editing at all. Maybe you do some EQ-ing, or if it’s visual you do some color correction or whatever, but it’s pretty much what it is is what it is; it’s gone through the door. And I like that approach with the option to edit a little bit, but not the uhms and the ahs, and not to make Jerod’s question come perfectly after mine, at the perfect half a second or millisecond later; it’s more like just to make sense of the matter, so that it is a good show and it’s listenable. That’s our angle when it comes to our edits. Our edits - just so everybody knows - are probably about at least one time the length of the show, because you’ve gotta listen to it…
But we watch the timeline, we know where the breaks are at, and we’ve gotten to the point where we know… And I would say maybe at least a length of the show and a half, or twice the length of the show. So if it’s a one-hour show, two hours to edit. But that’s rare, a two-hour edit.
So do you all timestamp and know where the breaks are, and stuff like that? Are you doing that right now, as we’re speaking?
Well, we take some sponsor breaks during the show; I just look at the sound wave and say “Okay, there’s emptiness there.” Or I listen to it, I jump around the timeline and I just sort of know how long – for example, where four minutes pass taking a break, for example. We should have taken a break four minutes ago… And I know when the breaks are in our show, so because of that it’s easier for me to sit in the editor chair later on and say “Well, the breaks should have been around this space here. Let me jump to that part of the timeline and listen.” That’s where I don’t have to listen to the whole show, I just listen to two or three minutes of different segments… I think you just kind of get that through experience. Just like with programming, with experience you get new super-powers, so to speak.
Yeah. So for the uhms and ahs, we generally – we don’t edit them out unless they’re distracting. If we have a speaker who just does it so often that it takes away from the message, then we’ll start removing those to just gather the message a little bit better. And we also kill a lot of dead air…
It’s funny, as we’re talking about audio editing, my husband’s about to walk in. Hey, babe. Do you wanna say hi?
We’ll edit this whole out.
Nah… [laughter] We’ll leave it in there. Just leave it in there.
That’s the whole point, right?
He is! Do you wanna say hi real quick? It’s The Changelog Podcast. You can say hi. [laughs] He ran away. He got really scared and then he ran away.
He ran away… We don’t bite.
That’s a sign to take a break then. Let’s take that break I said we would, to listen to a sponsor. Again, we love our sponsors, they’re super-awesome… And if you wanna support us, support us by supporting them. When we come back, there are a couple more questions I’d like to talk to you about around your podcast… Well, not just your podcast, but where you’re going with CodeNewbie, and I think you might have the same questions, Jerod; I’m gonna assume that. Then we have another topic we’ll dive into, but let’s start there when we come back from this break, and we’ll go from there. We’ll be right back.
We are back with Saron, CodeNewbie, this great story… Jerod, I don’t know about you, but I’m amazed, honestly. I’m so excited to have her on the show, and I’m so excited about this story. It just doesn’t seem to get any better, I guess… Saron, you said with CodeNewbie - when it started, you did some market research and you kind of knew the opportunity. Jerod, you asked the question about how wide and vast the developer space is, and what opportunities you might have to educate and teach and lead newbies. So I’m wondering… I don’t really know how to ask the question, but I kind of wanna open up the topic of the business side. There is some sustainability. We’ve talked about open source sustainability on this show before; there’s some sustainability to what you’re doing, and I’m kind of curious with that research and with what you’re doing, if you thought about how can you do this for not just now, but the future… So what are some of the things you’re doing to make it sustainable?
I’m very, very lucky to have such a great mostly volunteer team. I got to point in the podcasting where I got really annoyed editing, and I looked at him and I said “I’m about to just hire.” Because I used to do all the editing myself… And I said, “I’m about to just hire somebody to do this for me”, and he said “No, don’t worry about it. I’ll do it myself.”
So every Sunday evening I poke him and I go “Remember we have to do the podcast this week?” So I’m very lucky to have him take care of that part for me.
We also have a volunteer community manager; all of our team project leads are volunteers. We actually just opened up two local in-person meetups. We have one in Austin, and we have one that we announced very recently in Atlanta, and those are also volunteer organizers.
When you asked about market research and this community, I think that there’s so many people who are excited about making that transition, and so many people who are just really excited and really passionate to be creators for possibly the first time in their lives, and getting involved is a huge honor for them… And I think that’s a huge part in the sustainability question.
We also just did a Patreon account, so we do accept donations if anyone is interested in supporting, it’s Patreon.com/codenewbie. And we also do sponsors on the podcast itself. Those resources have been really helpful.
I think that for me the biggest question has been “Where does CodeNewbie go? What is it going to become?” and it took me honestly a really long time to really understand what it was. When I told people about CodeNewbie, a lot of people assumed that it was ed tech. They said “Oh, you can turn it into an education startup”, and that always made me very uncomfortable. It wasn’t until recently that I understood that better… And I think it’s because we’re not really solving an education problem. There is not a lack of resources when it comes to learning to code. There’s a lack of empathy, and community…
…and people, exactly. So the problem that we’re solving is not education, it’s loneliness. It’s just that feeling of being completely overwhelmed by this incredible thing that you wanna do, and you feel like you can’t. That’s the problem that we’re solving for. And once I was able to crystallize that and really focus on that, it became about making sure that the space we’ve created, the community that we’ve created continues to be incredibly positive.
[56:10] About half the tweets from CodeNewbie come from me, and the other half come from our community manager. When I tweet on CodeNewbie, I take on a very specific persona. I am the ultimate cheerleader. Any tweet that I have, my responses are filled with exclamation points, and smiley faces, and we try to celebrate all of the little wins, all the big wins, and it’s really important for me to be overly positive and overly enthusiastic. That has really defined the community in every aspect of what we do. So I think that as far as sustainability, it’s about being very clear about who we are and what we wanna do, and continuing to nurture that.
Do you have an endgame? Do you have a master goal that you’re trying to reach?
I do and I don’t. My master goal is to give anyone who wants to learn to code a group of people that they can lean on, that they can reach out to; a group of people who will cheer them on, who will share resources, who will help them get unstuck, who will help them feel less alone. The way that we do that is gonna change with the needs of the community.
We did the podcast in response to this need of diving deeper into conversations. We started the team projects a couple months ago in response to the need where, you know, when you learn to code on your own, you are not [unintelligible 00:57:38.04] you’re probably not doing pull requests and code reviews, you don’t have a Trello board, you don’t have a lot of these very essential tools that are part of being a professional developer… So we created these team projects to create his very friendly, collaborative experience where you do have to do code reviews, and you have to do pull requests, and you have to contribute, you have to pick up an issue. That was a response to a need that we saw. So I think that the needs of the community will evolve, and our goal is to make sure that we’re there to make sure everyone is happy and learning.
How do you feel that’s been going so far? You’ve obviously grown quite a bit beyond just yourself. Even just looking at your blog… I don’t see on here at all Saron. You have so many contributors - Kaya Thomas, Phillip Gray, Jamal Hansen, Jonathan Colin, Farish Kashefinejad… Just so many people writing, and it already seems like such a vibrant community.
I’m curious if there’s a language divide. I see you have Ruby Monday. Obviously, you have a background in what you’ve been taught, in Ruby and Ruby on Rails, I’m assuming… There’s Python Thursday, and there’s code newbies in all these different camps, and if you’re a code newbie learning Java, maybe you still might feel alienated. Have you tried to bridge those gaps?
Yeah, there are many different ways in the community where you can be all excluded. I think that the language is definitely a big one. I think in the beginning, especially for the podcast guests, my network specifically is in the Ruby community, so I honestly didn’t even notice it, but I ended up having a lot of Ruby developers in the beginning of the show… And I think someone called me out on that on Twitter, and I was like “Crap! I need to not do that.” So I said, “Okay, I will not have a Ruby developer for the next ten shows”, and I kind of gave myself a little quota…
Now I think that we’ve had slightly more front-end developers, and now I’ve gotta get back to the back-end… So I’m constantly thinking of making sure I have a diversity of people when it comes to race and gender, but also skillset, and experience, and age, and background, and all these different things.
[01:00:01.27] I think that it’s really hard to have a community where 100% of the people you want to reach out to are being catered to. A big one for us is also timezones. Everything that we do is very U.S.-centric, and I’ve had a lot of people tweet at us and say “Oh, it’d be really great if we could have two Twitter chats - one in the morning and one in the evening, so people in different parts of Europe can join in.” And for a while, I really wanted to cater to that, and I wanted to get as many people into it as I could, and I find that that is really hard; it’s really hard to make everyone happy… So what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to listen as much as I can, and to understand what the major pain points and the major subjects are, and build around that.
Actually, Swift is one I would really like to start, because I know a lot of people are looking into that. I’m open to it, but it’s a matter of limited resources and this being a part-time for me, how can I best serve the community with what I have.
Yeah, so part-time kind of rings a bell, because you do have a full-time job. This is not your day job.
It’s my night job.
It’s your night job… [laughter] So you have two jobs going. And one of them, interestingly, is at Microsoft, and I’m trying to pull up the title - Tech Jobs Academy.
Can you tell us about your work at Microsoft?
Sure. That role I got directly because of CodeNewbie. A person, Tom Black, who works at 18F in DC, had been keeping up with CodeNewbie and the work that I’ve done, and he found out about this position and he emailed me and said “Hey, I’ve seen the work that you’ve been doing for the coding community. There’s a position where they’re starting a bootcamp-style technical training program. It’s four months, it’s full-time, it’s free, it’s serving underemployed and unemployed New York City residents, which sounds very similar in spirit to what you’re doing with CodeNewbie, so if you’re interested, I’d be happy to recommend you.” I looked at it and I said, “I cannot believe this is a job. I can’t believe that the thing that I’m doing on the side is a job that I can get paid for and have the support of a really big tech company for it.” So I was incredibly, incredibly excited to interview and to take that position.
It’s a four-month program, we’re doing it in partnership with CUNY, which is the community college system in New York, and with the city government. I think it was a year ago the city government pledged ten million dollars to help in workforce training, and specifically to get our residents tech skills that were valuable and that would help them be employable, and to get good, high-paying, secure jobs. It was a 10-million-dollar fund called [unintelligible 01:03:33.09] and we were one of the projects in a portfolio of project who were working towards that mission. It’s four months, it’s full-time, it’s free. We’ve been doing a lot of community work and community outreach with a lot of organizations who are working in a very similar space of reaching these members, and it’s been really interesting to me, because my network is primarily in dev; it’s in tech, but on the coding side of tech. And a lot of my network – the networking that I do is online.
[01:04:07.23] I tweet all the time, and I love Google Hangouts, and I love just online communication, for the most part… So this was an opportunity to actually talk to people who were on the ground, who were a couple streets away, and to meet with them and to look them in the eye and get to really see what they were doing very hands-on; that to me was very different and really incredible.
I feel so honored and amazed at how much work is being done to help other people get jobs and to find their passion and to launch a new career specifically in tech… So that’s what that’s about.
Wow. It sounds like a great gig.
Yeah, it’s awesome.
It is crazy that that’s actually a job, though.
I know! It’s one of those jobs where I thought, you know, maybe there’s something interesting like this that I would get to in a couple of years. But to be able to do it now, at this moment, at this point in my career… It came a lot sooner than I expected, but it’s been great.
How did you deal with leaving the coding world, to a certain degree, to take a role like this?
Sadly. I left it sadly. It was weird, and it was weird to explain it, because – I don’t know, I felt like people would think that I was abandoning code, that I was only gonna be there for a short amount of time, and it wasn’t that at all. To me, this was an opportunity to impact lives in a very, very tangible way, and to throw myself into something that I basically do in my spare time, for free. So that’s really where the pull came from. But I was very clear with my team that at the heart of it I see myself as a developer first and foremost, and I wanna make sure that I’m maintaining those skills and that I’m still getting to code as much as I can. Actually, for the past three weeks I’ve been coding 80% of the time that I’ve been working.
So that’s been really great. But I was worried about it. I think people took it better than I thought, and I thought that people really understand what I’m passionate about, and they’re more happy for me than they are disappointed that I’m not in specifically a coding-only job.
What about CodeNewbie with regard to Tech Jobs Academy? Are there synergies there, are there conflicts of interest? Is there anything like that that you feel between the two institutions?
Yeah, it’s very different, but the spirit is very similar. For me, a lot of the people in the CodeNewbie community come from very different backgrounds, and have very different experiences. We have dancers, and teachers, and truck drivers, and stay-at-home moms and dads, and we have veterans… We just have so many different types of people, and one of the things that most of them have in common is that they’re using code as a way to improve their lives. So in that way, I feel very connected to that mission of helping people improve their lives, provide for their families, build better futures by having a really exciting career that they’re passionate about.
My favorite parts of meetings that I get to have, with the city, and with CUNY, and with other Microsoft team members, is when I get to say “As someone who went through this process of going through a 3-month bootcamp and learning how to code, this is what it’s like.” And I can bring a perspective that really no one else at the table can bring. I think that is incredibly valuable. And being able to not just speak on my experience, but to speak to the experiences of all the people, or as many people as I’ve talked to in our community, has been just a really, really great synergy.
[01:07:58.13] This also introduces me to something I had no idea existed, which is Microsoft New York.
[laughs] That’s a thing.
I figured Redmond - that was Microsoft, but apparently there’s a New York…
Yeah, we actually have two buildings. We have our main building in Times Square, which is beautiful. It’s absolutely beautiful. And then we have our Microsoft Research Center, which is in the Flatiron District.
My team is the Tech and Civic Engagement Team, and our job is to engage with the city and with the government on issues like civic tech, and politics, and education, and city planning, and just a lot of citizenship-type things. So this is one of our education initiatives that we’re doing.
And we actually don’t work in either one of those buildings, we work out of this co-working space called Civic Hall, which we’re one of the sponsors for. Civic Hall is a co-working space for people who do civic tech, and it’s such a great room of people who do more politics, and policy, and that side of things, but then there’s also developers, and designers, and more tech people, too. So that’s where I get to spend my days.
Do you get to cross any paths with the Code For America people?
Yeah, I think they had a Code For America Summit recently, like a month or two ago… And it was at the Civil Hall. So yeah.
Very cool. Are you an NYC native, or are you a migrant?
I’m an immigrant and a migrant. I think I can be both, right?
I don’t know… Yeah.
So I was actually born in Ethiopia, and then I came to the U.S. when I was almost three years old, and lived in the DC Metro Area for most of my life. Then I moved up here to the New York City area four years ago.
Very cool. An immigrant and a migrant. That’s quite an accomplishment there.
[laughs] I think it’s my biggest accomplishment.
You think so? I don’t know… You’re stacking them up here. It might be a good point for us to take our final sponsor break, and hear from another one of our awesome sponsors. When we come back, we will continue the discussion, and of course, close up with our awesome closing questions. We’ll be right back.
Alright, we’re back, we’ve got Saron… This is the final piece to this show; we love going deep with our guests, and Saron, it’s just so easy to just talk to you. I love this conversation, honestly.
It’s great talking to you. Let’s rock!
Thank you, thank you.
This is the most conversational podcast I’ve done. I really like this style, it’s fun.
Awesome, awesome. Well, speaking of style, I like your style, and I like what you’re doing with Microsoft… And during this last piece, if you didn’t notice as a listener - and as a guest, obviously - I was sort of taking a back-seat, because Jerod’s got great questions. I love some of the directions Jerod takes the show sometimes, and I just wanted to sit back and listen… And while I was listening, I couldn’t help but think that the synergy that you described, and that Jerod kind of pulled you into, is that the thing that you’re doing at Microsoft now and what you’re doing at CodeNewbie is so close… I’m curious if you think - because Microsoft does like to acquire things - they would ever acquire CodeNewbie, or empower you and employ you to build CodeNewbie. If that’s a thing, and if you would do it.
Yeah, that’s something I honestly hadn’t thought of before… Which is kind of surprising, because I think about that kind of thing all the time. I think that the reason why I didn’t think of that is because at the core of it, CodeNewbie is a community, and acquiring a community feels funny.
Maybe adopting. Supporting…
Maybe adopting, yeah.
It’s all about semantics here… [laughter]
It is, it is.
Because you’re right, they couldn’t acquire it, but they could empower you to…
Because when we asked the question about sustainability - for example with Node, you’ve got companies like Joyent supporting Node for years, and other companies… So there’s definitely this - and Jerod, you can lament at this as well…
VMware supported Redis for a time, and it wasn’t out of goodwill - obviously, they had a vested interest in Redis - but they weren’t therefore running the project; they were just letting Antirez - I can’t remember his real name…
Salvatore, yeah. Thank you. They were just letting him work on it. So maybe it’d be more like that relationship. Not like “This is our thing now”, but like “We love you, we love what you’re doing, we love this community”, you know.
Make it into like a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(6); I think there’s an option for – I forget which (c) it is, but something that makes it not so much that it’s not a real thing, I’m not belittling it by any means by saying that, but… Giving you this layer of the same support that you said you love by going there and doing what you’re doing… Because you said “I can’t believe there’s a job doing this”, and what I thought was kind of funny when I was sitting there listening was like “You’ve already got the job. You already have the job, right? Now you’re just doing it for Microsoft.”
[laughs] Yeah, that’s true. I’m doing the job in a more official capacity, with definitely more support. But yeah, I would totally be open to that. I definitely see it as being, at the very least, like a 20% project, or something that I do for a part of the time. Microsoft is so invested in the community, and we do a lot in terms of supporting - specifically in New York, we do a lot on the team with supporting local hackathons, and organizations, and community members, and things like that. So I definitely see this fitting into that portfolio.
[01:15:59.16] On that note, I see this happening, too; I see Microsoft commercials, and there was a time when I was like “I just want them to come back in a good way”, and this was like 4-5 years ago. And I think they have been coming back. There’s a side of Microsoft that is like this corporation, and then there’s this product side, and there’s the side that you’re on, which is supporting and loving developers, and rethinking the way they think as a corporation about technology and the people that make it. And I’ve been – I love Microsoft; I think they’re doing great, and I love what you’re saying here about how they’re supporting the community.
I think - listeners out there, I don’t have a ton of knowledge about it, but I’m just for Microsoft. I think it’s great what they’re doing, and I’m excited about that, because we need more people like that, more things like that happening.
Yeah, I totally agree. And it’s funny, because when I first heard about the position and the program, I was honestly kind of skeptical. When I think about a really big tech company, regardless of who it is, doing a program like that, I thought to myself “There has to be an angle. There has to be a thing where they’re greatly benefitting in some financial way.” And the great thing about the team that I work on is we don’t report to sales, we don’t report to a business division… We’re under corporate affairs and relationships, so we’re all about relationship building and genuinely about community. Our metrics are “How many people did we help? What did we do to improve lives?” That’s how we measure our own success.
And then me being able to lead that program, I get to say what direction we go in, and how we approach conversations, and what we do… And seeing that they’re genuinely invested in the community has been a huge relief for me personally, and it’s really great to see that, and get to work with that.
Awesome. Well, unfortunately we are getting a bit long in the tooth here; we do have time, of course, for our awesome closing questions. I’ll ask a little bit of a different one today, specifically for the CodeNewbie audience and for the people who are interested in your experience and the experience of the community… So if you had the ear of the open source community, beginners to experts, and you had a tip, or a trick, or an experience as a beginner developer that you could relay, what would it be?
My advice is around getting a job. When I got my very first job from bootcamp, I was a hacker in residence, which is possibly my favorite job title ever. I worked at the New York Tech Meetup, which was the largest meetup organization in the world. I think they have over 42,000 members at this point. They do a monthly demo night, showcasing all different types of technology, in New York. It sells out in minutes, every month… And our job was to build a platform for it.
When I got that offer, the way that we did it was we had a science fair. I think we had about 100 employers come in, and we had little booths set up with their computers, and we had to talk through the thing that we built; we had to talk through our student projects. And I’m pretty sure I was the only person in our class of - I think we had 45 people - who only had one thing to show. I had exactly one app, and it was a note-taking app for video, where yo play the video and then you can take notes on the side, and it gives you timestamps, and you can play back the video when you click on the note, at exactly the point where you took the note. So your notes and your videos were always in sync.
And when I planned how I was gonna talk about the app, I focused on things that I knew would make me different. If you watched any of my talks, then you know that I love to draw, and I do a lot of cartooning… So I spent a lot of time focusing on the color scheme, and the design; actually, the splash page had a cartoon on it. And I focused so much on the UX and on the things that I knew that my classmates were not gonna focus on.
[01:20:15.28] And when I talked through it, I wasn’t trying to impress anybody with my one controller and my actions, because these are senior developers, these are CTOs, these are people who are not gonna be impressed by anything that I can make in three months. So instead, what I focused on was I focused on the design stuff. I pointed out the fact that I didn’t use Bootstrap, I did my own designs, I did my own CSS mostly from scratch… I talked about how I thought about the user flow, I talked about the things that went wrong and how I fixed them. I talked about the struggles that I had, I talked about the lessons that I learned, and above all, I was incredibly excited to talk about everything. I was so excited that usually there was no time for them to ask me questions, which was part of the plan; it was great. [laughter]
“Yeah, I guess our time is up…”
Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
“You’re hired! I mean, you’re not.” [laughter]
And I think that I kept meeting with employers for at least an hour after the science fair officially ended, and that evening I had my first interview. And out of that one science fair, I had booked – I think it was seven interviews for the following two weeks. And it’s not that I was necessarily the best coder, it’s that I knew how to pitch, and I knew how to communicate, and I knew how to talk and show the best that I had. And the best advice that I give to code newbies is to do just that - it’s to find the things that make you different, the things that give you the edge. And the great thing about people who are transitioning into tech is they come from very different fields. That’s an advantage, and I think that a lot of people are self-conscious about that, and they think “Oh, I’ve only been coding for two years. I’ve done marketing for ten years.” That’s awesome! Use your marketing angle. Talk about those experiences and talk about how you communicate and how you pitch. There’s so many other skills that you can bring that are valuable to being a developer, and knowing how to position yourself has been just an incredible, incredible part of my journey.
That’s excellent advice. Adam, we’ll cut that up and have a soundbite right there.
Let’s do our next one here, the old saw that everybody has to answer when they come on this show, which is who is your programming hero, and why?
I like that one. I like that one a lot. I think my programming hero is Katrina Owen. Katrina is a developer, an incredible, incredible speaker; we spoke together at Bath Ruby earlier this year, and I think she went on right after me. And I thought I did a pretty good job, I was pretty happy with my talk, and then she went up and she just killed it. Oh, my god…!
Yes, she does. Yes, and the reason why she’s my hero is because – I know a lot of really great developers, and I know a lot of people who hone their craft, and who are just very good… And when I talk to her – and we’ve become pretty close in the last year… When I talk to her and I’ve learned more about her background and her story, I’ve never met someone with such great work ethic. She really, really cares, and she puts in the time, and she puts in the hours. If you’ve been listening to this podcast, you probably know that I work very hard, too. I think she works harder than me; and I don’t know many people who work harder than me. And just seeing her grow, and knowing how much time and sweat she puts into her craft, and then her side-project Exercism, which she’s doing purely for the benefit of the community, and how much time and effort she puts into helping other people learn to code as well, and us very much being in that same space - that’s to me what makes a hero.
[01:24:06.02] It’s not just the end - because when you see someone on stage and you hear them speak, you think “Oh, they’re a great speaker”, but it’s knowing the back-story and the journey, and it’s knowing what it took to get there, and knowing what I know from what it takes her to get to where she is… That to me is very heroic.
Very good answer. For those interested in Exercism, we did have Katrina on this show, episode #108… So check out changelog.com/108. We also hung out with her a little bit at GopherCon, and are in talks to have her back on for a little bit of a catching up with Exercism here this fall, or perhaps in the winter.
Oh, that’s awesome.
I was gonna say, we’re due for a catch-up because that show that you just mentioned was October 16th, 2013.
That was a while back.
It’s a bit back. It’s when it first started, and [unintelligible 01:24:53.27] because the Exercism client that was written, the CLI was originally written in Ruby, and it was rewritten in Go, and that show is when it was still not fully transitioned… So she laughed at GopherCon, saying, “Haha, that’s a long time ago…”
[laughs] Yeah, she’s an incredible person.
Well, Saron, it’s definitely been fun having you on the show. I know that we tend to go deep – you said it was fun because it was conversational, it’s the most conversational show you’ve been on… But it’s been a blast having you, it’s been a blast learning about your journey from the different backgrounds you come from, into code. And I love what you said there, which was if you’re new to software development or design or programming or whatever, not to forget about the history you bring to the subject matter. Just because you’re new at developing a software program doesn’t mean that you’re new at developing something.
I think there’s a lot of knowledge to really bringing – that’s an important fact to not forget for the listeners out there. Saron, you hail from codenewbie.org, so if you’re listening - we do take show notes; check those out, codenewbie.org. We had four awesome sponsors for this show - Codeship, Toptal, and Harvest, as well as imgIX… I said “and” because we usually have three sponsors.
And Jerod, we launched something new ourselves recently, Beyond Code. Do you wanna mention Beyond Code real quick? I know it’s at beyondcode.tv.
And it’s something we do at conferences. What can we say about this fun thing we do?
Yeah, so for those who like our closing questions, we ask similar questions to those. Everybody gets the exact same five questions, and we really get to meet the people at the conference after-parties. We launched season one, which was at Keep Ruby Weird; season 2 is coming soon, Space City JS. Check it out, BeyondCode.tv. Super-short interview series, we think you’ll really enjoy it.
There’s a mailing list there too, so if you wanna know when the new seasons get announced, go ahead and subscribe; we’ll let you know. BeyondCode.tv.
We also have a couple emails, as well - Changelog Weekly and Changelog Nightly - both respectively at changelog.com/weekly or changelog.com/nightly. Those are awesome emails. If you don’t subscribe, we make sad faces, so you should subscribe. [laughter]
Saron, it’s been such a blast to have you on the show. Thank you so much for joining us and just taking the time to share so much about what you’re doing. We definitely wanna be an encourager of you and what you’re doing in the community that you’re building, so definitely stay in touch.
To the listeners out there and to the members that support this podcast and what we do at The Changelog, we thank you so much. Jerod and I, we really appreciate all the support we get. This is now the time to say goodbye, so let’s do that… Goodbye from me.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚