Today we’re bringing our appearance on DevDiscuss right here to The Changelog. Jerod and I guested their launch episode for Season 7 to talk about deeply human stories we’ve covered over the years on this podcast. For long-time listners this will be a trip down memory lane and for recent subscibers this will be a guided tour on some of our most impactful episodes. Special thanks to Ben Halpern and Christina Gorton for hosting us. Check out their show at dev.to/devdiscuss
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Welcome to DevDiscuss, the show where we cover the burning topics that impact all of our lives as developers. I’m Ben Halpern, the co-founder of Forem…
…and I’m Christina Gorton, developer advocate at Forem. Today we’re talking about deeply human stories in software, with the hosts of The Changelog Podcast, Adam Stacoviak and Jerod Santo. Thank you so much for being here.
Great to be here. Thanks for having us.
Thanks for having us.
Alright, so The Changelog has been around for a while… You’re on episode 463, as my notes say, and we’re very excited to have both of you on. I’ve been on The Changelog, and someone can look up that episode if they want…
Episode #310, “Open sourcing the dev community.”
So before we get into it, can we get a little bit of background from you two? Adam, why don’t we start with you - how did you get to do what you’re doing today as a software developer, and then as an entrepreneur, podcast host, and that sort of thing?
The way I got here really was – we’ve shared it several times over many shows and whatnot, so I’ll try and give you a more recent version of a straight line; we did this with Adam Jacobs recently, talking about the business model of open source…
For me, things began really with Geocities, and wanting to put something on the internet, and then WordPress and the open source nature of it, being able to see the source code, and putting something on the web… And a personal blog that turned into something that was meaningful for me to learn, but then meaningful for my family… Like, “You’re actually really good at this. You should do more of this.”
Timeframe-wise, I would say this was like 2004-2005… So I hadn’t really considered at the time – the web wasn’t as mature as it is now, to say “Okay, there’s a real future here.” Because I think now it’s more mature, to the point where it’s pretty clear there’s a future here… Whereas then it was sort of like “What’s gonna happen here?” It was still sort of like being proven.
[04:06] But it was so far back, I was like “I should try this, I guess. I should dig a little further in.” So like with any good advice – I took my mom’s advice. My mom said “Adam, you’re really good at this. You should really do something with it.” And that’s when I took it more seriously. I didn’t go to school for software development, I didn’t go to school for design, or user experience, or the things that I consider skillsets I have as a frontender, or something like that.
I sort of just played, and tinkered, and there you go. I got into more design stuff, I eventually got into Sass, I had a blog called The Sass Wave for a while there… The repo is still there, but the domain actually expired accidentally… And so the domain isn’t there anymore, unfortunately, but the Twitter handle is still there, and the repo is still there… But the impact was still there around Sass as a processing engine around CSS, and programmatic stuff around it. It was really interesting, really pushing CSS3 at the time forward…
I think I pushed a little bit further there, got into open source, and it was around 2009 a buddy of mine and I was sitting there, and I was like, “You know, we should really do a podcast around this idea of open source.” Because GitHub had just made itself exist basically the year beforehand, and it was like “Well, open source clearly is moving fast. How do you keep up?” And so that became our tagline: “Open source moves fast. Keep up.” We established a blog called ChangelogShow.com, and we quickly named it TheChangelog.com, which was almost as bad as the first one… TheChangelog stuck around, but we eventually moved to Changelog.com. We decided to make a podcast and a blog really chronicling what happens between versions of open source software. And so that’s somewhat of a short answer to that story.
I’m imagining a Sean Parker moment when you got the change from TheChangelog to Changelog…
We moved from TheChangelog.com to Changelog.com. That did make it to the blog post, announcing the announcement…
It had to.
But it was kind of like that… But we didn’t really officially drop the The. The reason why is because there are many changelogs out there. There’s a lot of changelogs that exist, for good reason. So we don’t wanna own necessarily the brand of what changelogs are, but we definitely own the brand of what The Changelog is.
And Jerod, can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Absolutely. So we did do a deep dive with Quincy Larson… And if anybody wants a three-hour version on this, you can go listen to FreeCodeCamp… I think it’s on our feed as well, so it’s out there… But the brief version is I very much got into computers because of Napster and Winamp back in the ‘90s. My first machine was an HP that my dad bought me when I was like 17-18… So I wasn’t super-early into the game.
I’ve always been a cautiously opportunistic person… And one of my friends in high school said “Hey, Jerod, you should go into computers, because there’s a scholarship that you can get at the university here if you’re into computers.” So I thought “Oh, okay, I can be into computers.” Like most people do, just kind of chasing some free money… And I followed that into the software industry. It turns out I loved it, and I have a bit of a knack for these things…
I went through college doing scripting stuff… It was kind of like an InfoSec specialization, so I wasn’t really a programmer, but a scripter. And then I got into programming for the web very much similar to Adam. Mine was really like Pimp My WordPress Blog… So I had a WordPress blog and I wanted it to be rad; I wanted to put my latest scrobbles from Last.fm in the sidebar, and the things that we used to do back in the early oughts…
Flicker, and whatnot…
Flicker, yes. I thought you were like, “Yeah, just throw some liquor in the sidebar.”
Nah. That would be fun.
Flicker, for sure. Yeah. Right at the advent of Web2, right?
[07:50] So I learned really how to program for the web through that, and then I saw DHH’s Ruby on Rails, and his “Build a blog post in 15 minutes”, and I was like “Hello!” I found my way in, and so I really started doing that. I did contract software for many years.
So that brings us to the Changelog… I was not there in 2009, when Adam and Wynn Netherland began. I was just a listener. And I listened to the Changelog because I was doing contract dev out here in the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska… A little bit in the middle of nowhere. I very much felt like I was on an island, and so I would listen to podcasts to feel like I was connected to other developers. The Changelog was one of my favorite podcasts. There were some other ones back in the day… Did you know GitHub actually had a podcast, that was just the founders of GitHub sitting around - they may or may not have been drinking beers - and just BS-ing? It was called GitSplosion, and I loved it. And as soon as they got some investment money and got official, they had to kill that thing off. But I was just loving podcasts, because it kept me connected.
I saw the Changelog started to fade out, and I ran an independent consultancy, so I had some free time, I guess disposable time that was up to my own discretion, and so I just offered to help out. This was around the end of 2012, beginning of 2013… And I started blogging on Changelog.com… Actually, it was TheChangelog.com probably at that point…
It was, yeah.
Blogging interesting things, and eventually started co-hosting the show… And our relationship grew, and the podcasts grew… And here we are.
A lot of details in there that are missed. And it’s fun to hear even Jerod share some of the history, because this has definitely been a journey. We heard a tweet recently that said – and I don’t like to say this to be boastful, but it’s really interesting when you’re putting a lot of hard work out there and it’s recognized by the community… It said “At this point, the Changelog is an institution.” And I was like, “You know what - we’re 12 years deep in this thing… We’re definitely an institution.” We’ve done so many shows you can go back and listen… We just had a show recently that’s gonna come out soon on Oh My Zsh. Robby Russell was on the show more than ten years ago, came back on recently for an update on one of the most widely used Z shell frameworks, or I don’t know what you call it, really… But that’s just interesting. One thing we say often is we came for the tech, but we stayed for the humans.
Yeah, absolutely. And I’m glad there are some three-hour interviews with each of you, or both of you, and there’s plenty of backlog on the Changelog…
So our episode isn’t gonna be too meta or centric on what you two do, and we’re gonna get into some of these episodes… But I wanna ask you about how Changelog has grown up alongside open source… Because I think 12 years ago a lot of what happens in open source was way less mainstream, way less understood… You’ve been at the forefront, and now it’s like a lot of things which were a little bit more niche are just established… So how has open source changed alongside this show with you two?
I would just say obviously it’s matured; I think a lot of things have changed… I think the way we form around it, the way that community happens around it, even projects maturing, the way we think about open source has matured… There’s a lot of things you think that are the right way now, but it’s just matured over time.
I think about even things with Nadia, and funding, the funding of open source and sustainability, this idea around that… Even how we think about “Okay, the only problem in open source is money.” Well, that’s not true. Because even when projects have money, they have other problems than just simply money. Some projects do have money problems, and some just don’t have money problems.
I think there’s different styles of open source, that’s what’s matured; there’s obviously the idea of commercial open source now, there’s this idea that you could become open source and then re-license and no longer be open source, because you choose SSPL or what the OSI deems is or is not “open source licenses.” Which does make sense, we need arbiters out there like the OSI, doing great work, to help draw that line and that distinction… Because you know, there’s just a lot of different ways you can leverage open source - as a business, as an individual to create your career, as a software developer to gain new knowledge, as just a curious person to just get more into a different language. It’s so many different facets.
[12:08] In terms of being important, I think it’s the most important thing we have going on in the world today. Everything is run by open source software. Linux is a phenomenally, insanely used piece of software; it is everywhere. Everywhere. Sure, Windows is out there, and so is macOS and whatnot, and different commercial operating systems, but Linux - anybody can grab it and do something different with it. You can change the kernel, you can make your own flavor and your own distribution. It’s just so malleable. As a tinkerer, everybody’s invited. That’s awesome.
Yeah. I would definitely say that it has engulfed the world of software… You know that Marc Andreessen quote about software eating the world, and open source has kind of eaten the world of software. We used to say that Changelog was about open source software and people, but we actually even took that off, because where is the distinction? I mean, everybody has an angle into open source today, whereas they didn’t back then. And so we even just say “We interview the hackers, leaders and innovators of the software world”, because what’s the difference, really?
And for me, I would say it’s not just matured, but it’s gotten more corporate, and somehow, because of that, mainstream, and often kind of shilly, and boring, in some regards. So I try to uncover the obscure, and talk to the people doing the weird and whacky.
For a long time, it was very much hobbyists, passionate people giving a gift to the world… And those people are still out there. So the motivations - not that they’ve changed, but there’s so many more people doing it that there’s more motivations now. And a lot of those motivations are just mainstream, capitalist-driven motivations, which is fine. We talk about those things as well.
But for the things that I like to uncover and talk about and discuss, we have to work a little harder to find what’s interesting now, because there’s so much noise and so much things that aren’t – they’re just not all that different, or weird, or worth talking about.
If you can look back and think of the time over, what’s been the most challenging aspect? I know you just mentioned the noise, and things like that… Can you kind of summarize, what’s been the most challenging thing for you as you continue on, or even in the past, with podcasting?
I mean, that’s a cop-out…
I would summarize – yeah, it’s challenging to summarize, because there’s the business behind the thing itself…
So I think being able to produce a high-quality show that has those characteristics has – you know, when Jerod mentioned his history, he came in at the time whenever we were gonna legitimize in terms of our business, how we can actually turn it into a business. Because prior to that, it had really just been – and the reason it faded was because it was just a hobby, really. I had a full-time job, I was product manager at a non-profit called Pure Charity; it’s still there, it’s awesome. PureCharity.com. I love everybody there, they’re amazing.
And Jerod came around at a time when we were gonna change this into a business. So I would say the challenges aren’t just simply creating a podcast. It’s 1) being in the trenches enough and caring enough to show up for the people that matter, to have them on the show, to shine our spotlight in areas where it’s not being shined, for example, and to chase down different ideas, like Jerod’s talking about… But also building a business behind it. And I would even say growing simply from just The Changelog Podcast to JS Party, Go Time, and all these show that we have now - that’s been the challenge of like being able to show up every single day, and just delivering excellence every single time. Doing that consistently for 12 years or more - it takes a lot of work… So that’s why I say everything.
So one thing that we’ve focused on is – three things, actually… We call them the three Cs. And we didn’t invent this, Adam… You handed this to me. You didn’t invent this idea, with the three Cs…
I invented this.
You invented this?
Okay. So the first one starts with a Q, which is hilarious, but the three Cs are Quality, Content… So there’s your C, is the content, and Consistency and Community. Those are kind of the three pillars that we focus on. And I think of those three things, I spoke a little bit to the content, concerns and struggles, especially now versus back then. For a while, it was like, “What’s interesting? Where is it? Can we find it?” Now it’s like the same question, but now there’s a lot more noise.
I don’t think the content is the hardest part, because there’s so many interesting discussions, so many people doing cool things, overcoming challenges. There’s always somebody worth talking to. For us, it has been the consistency, which we continue to struggle with, to this day. I think most podcasters do, because as you all know, podcasting is very much a grind… And a show every week, whatever you decide your cadence is, maybe you go on seasons, maybe not; there’s different ways you can attack consistency. But scheduling, cancellations, flubbed recordings, a conversation that went off the rails - all these things that go into it, they all attack your consistency. Vacations, sickness, whatever it is. And so I think for us, for me, on my side of it, especially now that we do have a portfolio of shows that record every week - some record live, some have panels, five people, we had nine people on a show… Some are more like The Changelog where they’re every Wednesday afternoon, and it’s kind of reliable… Just staying consistent and then keeping that quality each and every time - we’re doing our best to do so. But that’s hard work.
Alright, let’s get into the meat of this episode. This episode came to be because we were talking about some news stories, about some folks who were creating AI chatbots to replicate the dialogue they’d had with deceased relatives, and things like that… And talking about not just the fact that this is happening, but sort of the way it’s such a deeply human and personal type of story… But who do we talk to about that, aside from just the folks doing it themselves? And that conversation went to a bit of discussion of – you know, some of the episodes I feel like I’ve heard on your show touched me, or were like really authentic dives into some deeply human things… And an episode that came to mind was the episode you did with Pieter Hintjens called, “A Protocol for Dying”, was the name of the episode, and it was also the name of a blog post that he had written.
Pieter Hintjens, a very notable open source software developer, who at the time had terminal cancer and was thinking deeply about death, and how it related to everything else, thinking of it in their own terms… And Pieter has since passed away, but I thought it was a very good episode. I learned a lot. If one of you two want to get into what recording that show was like, how that happened and how you two felt about the whole thing.
[20:12] Sure. I’ll start on this one. I’ll say this was Adam’s idea. And I didn’t know Pieter Hintjens prior to Adam telling me about him… So he had already written that post, but Pieter was a prolific open source person. The creator and lead maintainer of ZeroMQ. He has the C4, his licensing agreement, or Covenant, whatever it’s called, the way that you can interact with a governance model… And many other protocols. But he hadn’t crossed my radar.
And when Adam brought that show idea to me, he had already written A Protocol for Dying. So this was something that we were well aware of. And I will say that going into that episode – I mean, Pieter was basically living out the end of his days. He knew he was going to die, and it was going to happen somewhat slowly, and he was deliberately living his last days, spending his time as he saw best. So first of all, it was a complete honor that he would come and talk to us. I had never met him. Adam, maybe you had met him previously…
Secondly, I’ll say that that episode absolutely terrified us in terms of like, “Is this a really bad idea?” Because things could go very south on a show like that. And I would just say that anytime that we felt that trepidation, then usually the answer is, “Yeah, you’ve got to do that show.” If a show makes you nervous and a little bit scared, isn’t that like the proving grounds for something amazing?
And from my perspective, I was just honored to talk to the guy and learn about some of his precepts and the way he saw things. At the tail end of the show, at one point, I remember, I just said, “Hey, why don’t you just tell us some more stories?” It was almost like we were around the campfire, and just letting him tell us stories from his life. It was quite touching. Adam, what do you have to say about that?
I totally agree with everything you’ve just said. It was a challenge even been pitching this idea for this show, because I had paid attention to Pieter on Twitter, had been paying attention to what he had shared, his blog posts and whatnot… And terrible news, obviously. He had obviously family, I believe he had a daughter as well… And as someone who is also a father, I just looked at this main story and just thought – just total sadness for him. But then I was like, “I would love to know more about how he’s living.” Because his whole idea was how to pass on the software in a way that didn’t interrupt everyone else’s ability to use his creation. He respected the process of open source and of software so much that it really mattered to him to spend time with people like us, on our show, to share what was happening; this protocol basically for dying, how to do it well.
So I had this thought internally, like “I want to get this kind of a show. I would love to do this show.” I had no idea what it might be. I’m like, “There’s no way I’m going to reach out to them. There’s just no way.” And then I saw him tweet, like “Hey, if you want to reach out to me and talk to me…” Like, he invited people to reach out to him. And so then I was like, “Okay, great. I can do it without being like a total jerk.”
So if he hadn’t had that invitation, I probably wouldn’t have emailed him or got in touch. I would have just wanted to do the show and we just didn’t do it. But he put the invitation out, I reached out and he’s like, “Sure, let’s do it.” And then we talked basically, like, as soon as possible, because of his situation. And I remember near the end of the show even, that we were like – like, e say goodbye to everybody on the podcast, right? A podcast is normally just a podcast. There’s no seriousness to this point of anything. In comparison to life and death, most of what we do on a podcast is pretty meaningless, in comparison, to life and death. No one leaves our podcast and passes away days later. Pieter did.
So when we were saying goodbye on the show, it was challenging. Like, even almost now I’m a little crackly, because we were really saying goodbye to Pieter… Because one, I’d just met him, never met him before, had a deep conversation about his life and his legacy, what mattered to him most, and his daughter and his family, and all his plans… And saying goodbye at the end was like “We’re literally saying goodbye to this guy.” And I know Jerod almost cracked up in terms of tears.
Because we were on video at the time, and this even a day – I don’t know how often we did video, but we did for this one… And I was just like “Wow, this is probably the most profound show we have done”, because – just the weight of it.
Yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever gone from not knowing somebody, to genuinely appreciating and borderline loving the guy in the course of two hours. It was just like that. He was that kind of person. You just loved to listen to the guy… But to this day, it’s definitely in my pantheon of our greatest hits, for sure. So I’m with you, Ben. I think that one is powerful.
If either of you want to, could you talk about some of the moments of that podcast that struck you the most? I know you’ve kind of talked about it in general, on some of the things… But was there anything specific that you all talked about, or said, or even just felt at that time, that you would like to bring up?
I remember even him sharing how he had gotten this – he had a metastasis of bile duct cancer in both lungs… And I think he said the way he got it was some sort of thing where it may have been from something he’d eaten.
Well, it must’ve been about seven, eight years ago, I ate some bad sushi. That’s what I think happened. And there’s this little parasite that lives in fresh farmed fish in South-East Asia. And if you don’t cook the fish or really freeze it very solidly, then this parasite gets into your duodenum, and attaches itself to the bile duct, and begins to produce carcinogens. And this is one of the major killers of men – men specifically, around 50, in many South-East Asian countries. But these are very poor people, and this disease is basically just an ignored disease.
And it was just like so bizarre how fragile, I suppose, human life is… Like, I can go eat the wrong thing… Or there’s some sort of debate whether that was even the cause of it, or whatever… And life can unfold.
So I just think, for me, it was just reinforcing that, you know, hold dear the people near you. We show up every single day – and sure, tech moves fast, and it’s like, “Well, you’ve got to raise a venture, and you’ve got to do this, and you’ve got to push that, and you’ve got to show up every single day…”, and you almost have to burn out just to show up, just to like “succeed” to somebody else. And I don’t mean to paint venture capital by any means in a bad way. We just feel like this weight, just like “Move as fast as possible…” That’s not our model at all. We are “Slow down and check yourself”, or “Slow and steady wins the race.” And that’s because of stories like Pieter… And Jerod and I both are fathers. We love our families deeply. I’m sure everybody loves their family deeply, but we just know how much it means to show up for them. And so we make choices for this business or for our show.
Pieter and his story just helped for me reinforce the reasons why we choose slow and steady. The reasons why when we’re moving too fast, we say, “Slow down and check yourself.” Because we can move fast and we can accomplish some sort of goal that might be financially-driven, or whatever driven. But if we don’t show up for our families or for our kids or we miss these moments, our lives are so fragile. There’s just such fragility… And just to enjoy those moments and just to really show up for the people you care about. So for me, Pieter has reinforced those beliefs for us and for me.
Yeah, so I touched on the campfire stories near the end, and that was definitely the most enjoyable part… Because when you just say like “Hey, tell us some stories…” and then he just started telling us stories. I don’t remember the stories. I just remember he was so open, and so like “Yeah, let’s do this.” That really touched me.
[27:59] One thing that I noticed is that he was really proud of his C4, which – I always butcher the acronyms, so I looked i up. That’s the Collective Code Construction Contract. This was his favorite protocol. So we asked him – you know, he’s written over 30 protocols, his blog post was “A protocol for dying”, he’s going into very nitty-gritty of how he’s gonna go spend his final days… And he said that his most favorite or most proud protocol is this C4, because it’s a way of working with people on software. So it was very meta.
I really like that protocol, because it works really well. I mean, we’ve tried it now for years and it works almost magically well. And it’s written kind of from an artistic viewpoint, where you don’t really care what people feel as such, but you do care that they do feel. And so there’s this kind of very brutal approach to human nature in there, where – you know, how do you solve bike-shedding? Well, you look at the emotions involved, you look at why people argue, you look at the fallacies that people have in their minds, and then you reposition if they go away. And to do that takes a certain distance… If you’re involved and you really care too much, then you can’t do that, I think.
So I love working with people and I think I’m hyper-social. I’ve made hundreds or thousands of friends in the last years as I’ve gone around the world with conferences and so on, and that’s one of my great pleasures and happiness in life is people, other people.
He was more proud of that, than any other – and it’s not very popular. They use it at ZeroMQ. It’s very permissive. It’s radical in very many ways, and I think that’s why it’s not widely used… Because most people can’t be that open with their open source project. But I think he might accept all commits and then just like rewrite them afterwards? I don’t know, it’s got some interesting bits in it. I should go back and read it again, but… The details of that protocol aside, the fact that that was what he was the most proud of, is this thing he wrote about how we govern ourselves amongst these projects I think really speaks to how deeply he thinks about these topics.
Yeah, I do remember this episode as being really impactful for how I thought about how open source software can or should be maintained, in a lot of ways. I didn’t go around adopting any of this literally - it’s pretty radical - but it was a big influence for me.
Also, Pieter passed away, he hasn’t been around to see the evolution of things as they’ve happened in the past half decade… But I think pretty much everything he has written about, if you take it from its principles perspective, is pretty timeless. Not stuff everyone will agree with, but I think timeless in the nature of how to think about really the chaos of software development, and that sort of stuff.
His blogs are still around to be read… He’s written a lot of personal stuff. You’re not gonna go there and find a million things that personally you agree with or worked for you, but I think your episode really distilled a lot of the most impactful stuff he’d written… And I think he was thinking about it very lucidly when he came out and talked about it. I think it was pretty meaningful, and I definitely suggest that people who are curious about thinking deeply about some of this stuff give that show a listen, and anticipate it impacting them in some way.
You all had another really powerful episode with Lara Hogan, author of Resilient Management, titled “Leading leaders who lead engineers”, which obviously hits on some of the most human aspects of software, which is managing people. Can you give us a little description of that episode, and about Lara herself?
Lara, man… She’s awesome. I’ve been paying attention to her for a bit, in terms of her leadership style; I pay attention to her newsletter, and… Jerod and I were just talking about this the other day, because I was a little nervous having her on, because I had been just such a fan of her for years… And we even say in the episode, this was a years-in-the-making episode, because I had actually held off (because of my imposter syndrome) emailing her and saying “Hey, come on the show and share a lot of your ideas.”
And I guess finally I was like, “You know what - let’s just do it.” So I emailed her and we got her on the show… And we talked through pretty much this excerpt that she had on A List Apart, which was Resilient Management, an excerpt. It was from her book. And we really broke down kind of this core construct of a mentor, a coach, a sponsor, and delivering feedback… These hats you definitely wear when you’re a leader. And I loved that people side of things, because it’s not just simply like “How do we learn this API and deliver this application, and then deploy it and keep it up?” I mean, those are all obviously phenomenal skills to grow… But just like digging deep into how you help somebody be a better player on the team. It is phenomenal. Her ideas around coaching and sponsoring, and the differences there in mentoring… It was just awesome. I was excited, but at the same time I was very nervous having her on the show, because I had been a fan for a while. It happens.
She really opened my eyes to really just thinking about sponsorship more, and the aspects of ways you can invest in somebody else and help somebody else. One of her emphases – is it an emphaze, and when it’s plural emphasizes…? I don’t know. One of the things she talks about a lot is how we focus on mentorship, we as an industry, and I think even individually inside that industry, we think about mentorship in ways of helping people. And while it’s legitimate, it’s not everything. And it’s also kind of the most self-centered way to help somebody, because it’s really like, “I know a thing. Let me teach you a thing.”
And so it’s a little bit about a mentor. I’m not saying there aren’t good reasons to be a mentor, but often it’s like, “Hey, I’m smart. Here’s how I can help you. Because you’re not as smart or experienced, so here’s some advice”, which is often needed, but it’s not the only thing people need.
She really emphasizes people’s need for sponsorship; just really going out and giving them opportunities. Going out of your way to voucher somebody, or to offer their name for that role, or whatever happens to be. Get them in the door in a place. Those things are incredibly powerful and incredibly helpful for people that you’re trying to invest in. And we often focus too much on the mentorship side, which is teaching somebody something, and not enough on the sponsorship, which is really opening a door or giving a leg up. Because those are things that people need as well. And I hadn’t really thought about it that way.
She shared a story too about that process, like – it wasn’t just, by any means… Not that she would, but it wasn’t pontificating. It wasn’t like, “Here’s how you do sponsorship.” It was like, “Here’s an example of sponsorship in my life.” And she was saying about a time when she was at Etsy, because she was an engineering manager at Etsy, and how her boss - at the time she wasn’t promoted yet… Her boss was away for a sustained amount of time, and they were like “While I’m gone - Lara.”
[38:08] He was a VP, I was not. And I was not prepared for what that was like. He didn’t ask me first… It was sponsorship. As you said, Adam, by force. Sponsorship by force. But again, it connected to so many different people within the business. I didn’t know what CapEx or OpEx was, I didn’t understand how headcount worked. It threw me in a deep end in a way that really, again, skyrocketed my growth.
She gave good, concrete examples of how to sponsor in ways that showed up in her life, to help her be where she was at today.
I was leading a web performance team, I was leading like a product infrastructure group, and my director was in the meeting, vouching for me, and all the other directors in the meeting were saying “Yeah, but maybe she’s not technical enough. Like, frontend… I don’t know. She doesn’t have the background, she doesn’t have other experience.” And my director was like “You know she wrote a book about web performance, right? I think we can say that she’s tactical enough to have the job of a director, like you all.” And that’s sponsorship, too. That was behind closed doors. I didn’t know about that till much later, but that’s also – sponsorship can be invisible to you also.
You all were all just talking about a lot of the takeaways there… In this episode you talk about needing compassion and empathy in order to lead… Can you talk about these traits and how they are a necessary component for leadership, even in tech? Especially in tech.
I think Lara could do it better than I could. I think we were asking her the questions on that front. But to that note, we have a show called Brain Science, and it’s because I’m super-curious about, I guess, just humanity… And I happen to have a friend who is a doctor in clinical psychology. Her name is Mireille Reece. And the show is now not in production, which just makes me super-sad, because I love that show… But I learned so much through the Brain Science podcast about empathy, and compassion, and all these different things… You know, from a psychological standpoint how does it manifest; what’s required. It’s just really an interesting process…
But I think empathy is sort of meeting somebody where they’re at… And I’m by no means giving a clinical terminology of empathy… But if you can meet somebody where they’re at and you can understand where they’re at, and still accept them and love on them, I think that’s a high quality of a leader. You have to care about somebody. And empathy is seeing somebody in pain, a challenge, or whatever, and not just like “Oh, sorry for you”, but “Sorry for you” and also “I wanna find ways to alleviate that pain.” That is a hallmark for a phenomenal leader. “I know you’re in pain…” It could be financial pain, it could be career ladder pain, it could be skill pain, it could be whatever it is; being ostracized from the community, or from the team, because you’re not fitting very well… Whatever it is. A leader steps up. A leader empathizes in those ways, and doesn’t just see the pain, but wants to resolve it. So I think that’s a critical skill. And it is a skill. It can be something that you don’t just get. You grow an empathy skill because you practice it, like anything else, day by day.
Yeah, anyone with kids knows that it’s a skill that they learn over time… [laughs]
Precisely. And we did 32 episodes on that show, and I think there’s people who still tweet about it… It’s been out of production for about a year, and it bums me out, because I loved that show so much. We just don’t have the time for it right at this very moment. But I’m hoping someday we might be able to bring it back in some way, shape or form… But there’s just so many great nuggets in there.
And I think about things like mindset; a lot of the mindset I have, with empathy and with different things, I’ve gotten from exercising that part of my brain by producing that show… So if you’re listening to this, check it out. Not to grill this show, just grill yourself. It’s an awesome show. I love it.
[42:05] The next episode I’d like to talk about is entitled “Every commit is a gift.” Can we hear about what that show was all about?
So “Every commit is a gift” is an episode we did just recently… I think it was either this calendar year, or last calendar year… I think it was just this spring.
It was June, Jerod. It was June.
That’s right. Celebrating Maintainer Week with Brett Cannon. We’re in a bit of a time vortex at the moment…
We are. I forgive you. I forgive you.
This was for Maintainer Week… So we were involved in Maintainer Week, which was put on in collaboration with GitHub and Tidelift, and trying to get maintainer events happening, celebrating maintainers, talking to maintainers, helping maintainers, getting them together… And of course, as we’ve been long time in the open source world and we’re here for the people – the people of open source are the maintainers. I mean, there’s lots of users, but the best users become maintainers, and the best maintainers are the most, I think, giving people out there, so much so that they give themselves to the point where they completely sometimes destroy themselves, just giving.
And so this episode with Brett Cannon, who is one of Python’s steering committee core members, so he’s been very involved in open source by way of the Python project for a very long time, is really a conversation around a blog post he wrote, which is about how every single commit that an open source maintainer puts out into the world should be viewed – is, literally, but should be viewed as in terms of the recipient as a gift, and comes therefore with no strings attached, and no expectations beyond, and it’s really trying to set boundaries around how users of open source software and maintainers of open source software interact with each other. Because there’s lots of problems in that particular area of what we do… Mostly because of mismatched expectations, but also because of bad actors, and also because of real-world problems that we bring to our keyboards and take them out on other people, and the lack of empathy.
So as part of Maintainer Week, we spoke with Brett, who’s been on the show a few times, about how he views open source as this metaphor of him putting a present on his lawn. It’s like free USB sticks, and you walk up and you take it and now it’s yours.
It’s the Git repo, right? You can just come by and grab it and do whatever you want with it, and as long as I’m enjoying myself, I’ll keep refreshing that pile of flash drives. But does that give you the right to come to my front door and leave a flaming bag of something, because you’re upset of how I did something? Or leaving me an angry letter or standing from the street, screaming that Brett Cannon makes horrible software and you should never listen to him, and he ruined my life because he took away this API or something.
Now, that isn’t to say that people could end up with certain expectations, right? Like Tidelift’s model of paying the maintainers, so that they actually do have a financial not only incentive, but almost expectation to do certain things. That makes sense. And I do understand that, and I think that’s great. But for a lot of people where they’re not being paid to work on this stuff, that expectation I don’t think carries over. I don’t think it’s a “That expectation always holds. Oh, good luck and paid for it, I hope you do.” I don’t think those are equivalent. I think that the transaction here is different.
You know, we did this with Kara Sowles and Josh Simmons of Tidelift, and GitHub, and whatnot, and we did this as part of Maintainer Week, because we just absolutely love software maintainers; I’m sure you all do, as well. Every chance we get, we wanna find ways we can show up for them. And because Brett had become a friend of ours, we knew the perspective he has; not just simply “Oh, I wrote a blog post and it’s pretty popular” or whatever, but we knew that Brett has a good lens for the ways to justify the relationship of a maintainer in open source, in the community.
So doing that show as part of Maintainer Week was just perfect, honestly. It’s exactly the kind of show we wanted to deliver for that kind of event, which - Maintainer Week was just about celebrating open source software maintainers, so we did that with Brett.
[46:14] As someone who’s not a maintainer necessarily - because our whole team maintains our open source project - but manages our repo (I manage our repo), when there’s a project where a maintainer is… Especially when there’s a project where it’s a single maintainer, or maybe they don’t have a whole team behind them, and stuff, I definitely get that concept of “This is a gift, and I can keep putting stuff out there as a gift, but you coming at me and expecting things is maybe not the way this should be working…”
Also, I see – because we’ve had people before in our repo who are passionate (and I say passionate) about different things on our project, I also see that as a gift sometimes… Because if someone really deeply cares, and they want to comment on it, or even add to it - especially add to it, which is helpful… But even just comment and really kind of push you to think about where your project is going and what you’re doing - I also see that as a gift, too. And I know there’s a lot of pushback a lot of times from people in open source, but just kind of something to add there to someone who helps manage.
Totally. Well, I would call you a maintainer… Because we had a podcast yesterday, that one with Robby Russell. And the reason why I say that is because he expressed some challenges with finding help, co-maintainers of Oh My Zsh. And I think it’s because we – in the Brain Science show we say we have to name things to tame things. And sometimes naming something helps you define obviously what it is, because a name gives you a reference point.
But I think we can massage the idea of what a maintainer is to not just be like, “Well, I ship code to this repository.” I think you’re very much a maintainer. If it’s open source and it’s open source-related, you’re a maintainer for sure. And to not make people feel like they’re imposters by showing up and thinking, “Well, am I really a maintainer? I kind of contribute.” I think you’re definitely a maintainer, a hundred percent.
In terms of our situation with regards to this topic, there’s certainly some additional social contracts that need to exist, because we are a commercial open source project, and our responsibilities I think probably go a lot further than that pure unilateral volunteerism kind of component.
When we work with our community, ask for help in certain projects, from our perspective, we have to be really careful about doing so in a way where everything is mutually beneficial. And we really certainly try to maintain our open source projects such that, “Hey, if anybody wants to use this and download this, this is for everyone. We foster this thing, but it’s really for everyone.” That was the movement of taking DEV and turning it into this Forem thing.
But yeah, I just wanted to say that our responsibility as a commercial open source project - like people should scrutinize us I think in a different way they might your average volunteer maintainer. And from my perspective, I would want that, and I would also ask that of like GitLab, to be held to a certain type of standard, that like the pure bottom-up open source alternative to that project might not. GitLab went public today. They’re now officially a $14 billion company. It’s kind of like – you’ve got to ask different things of them.
Yeah. Well, that speaks to the maturity we talked about earlier though, right? Like when you said, how has open source matured over the years? I think that speaks to the maturity of it, because Brett’s perspective from what I recall in the post is his contribution to Python itself. Whereas your all contribution to Forem is different than his contribution to the same open source commons that we all lean upon. So it’s a facet, totally. But I think that speaks to the maturity, because a GitLab or a Forem, and the commercial aspect of it - you know, you still have the software and it’s still licensed permissively. You have AGPL V3 license. I could take that software today and go commercially use it. There’s probably some copyright conditions I have to adhere to, but for the most part, if I contribute to it, I can also take your software and do something commercial with it as well.
[50:22] So it kind of depends… I mean, licenses play a role in helping that line and being crossed too, because what makes open source open source is, one, I would suppose OSI’s blessing of the license… But then, two, its permissiveness, and its restrictions.
Right. And AGPL is not one of the more permissive licenses, but we don’t wanna necessarily bike-shed licenses at the moment. I will say that – that’s why I started off with it’s so important to set expectations. So I think you can layer on top of this gift concept and hold yourself to a higher standard. And if you put your higher STDOUT there, like in your documentation, in your readme, in your communications with your community, and like “Here’s where we are. We’re going to be here…”
I remember, we just had Richard Hipp back on the show, from SQLite. Another one of our greatest hits, episode 201; check it out. He’s one of my favorite guests. He says they want to maintain SQLite until 2050. That’s something that he holds himself to, and he puts that out there. Now can they get that done or not? Not sure, but that’s like a much higher standard than “Every commit is a gift.” Now, it’s still a gift to the world, but he’s layering on top expectations that he’s willing to hold on to. I think that’s what you’re doing in your case.
But the beauty of open source if GitLab suddenly lets all of us down, or Forem, God forbid, goes against their previous statements - like, fork it and start a revolution. That’s the freedom in open source. Spell it backwards. Or Moref, I don’t know. Start a Moref project. [laughter]
Right. Like Deno and Node.
That’s right. “Not less F, we need more F around here.” [laughter] Sorry. But that’s the cool thing about open source; that was a gift, as of that point. Now, maybe the next point it moves to something that you don’t want anymore; that sucks, and maybe you are let down by those people, but there are options. Whereas with proprietary, you’re basically SOL, right?
Yeah, precisely. It’s copyrighted, it’s intellectual in terms of IP… It may not be intellectual in terms of its actual codebase… Whatever. [laughter]
Yeah, for sure. And that’s the beauty of open source - we can all show up and accept this free gift, and we have choices based upon that. Whereas if its proprietary, there is no gift and there is no option, really.
Which is why I’m an advocate for people very clearly communicating on their own projects - the projects that you create and run, very clearly communicate the expectations of you and of the community… One of the questions we ask many people - what kind of open source project is this? Is this open source “You can look at it, but we don’t actually want any contributors?” That’s totally fine, by the way. That’s your choice. But make that clear. Or is this like “Come one, come all. We’re gonna federate a thing and have a huge community”? Then set that expectations.
And then there are more things people should expect than just what we’ve talked about with Brett on that episode, but… I think that’s a baseline.
I definitely have a backlog of podcasts to listen to now, so I really appreciate talking to you all.
Adam, Jerod - thank you so much for joining us today. We’ve really enjoyed it.
It was awesome. Thanks for having us.
Yeah, thanks for having us. It’s been lots of fun.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚