Spotlight – Episode #7

Focused on a Safe and Inclusive Node Community

with Tracy Hinds at Node.js Interactive 2016


All Episodes

In this episode of The Future of Node series recorded at Node Interactive 2016 Adam talked with Tracy Hinds, the Education Community Manager for the Node.js Foundation about the efforts being made towards a safer, inclusive community and their events, open source documentation and tooling for conferences, and everything in-between.



IBM – Use IBM API Connect to manage your entire API lifecycle from creation to management.

StrongLoop – StrongLoop’s LoopBack is a highly-extensible, open-source Node.js framework you can use to create dynamic end-to-end REST APIs with little or no coding.

Node.js Foundation – The Node.js Foundation’s mission is to enable widespread adoption and help accelerate development of Node.js and other related modules through an open governance model that encourages participation, technical contribution, and a framework for long term stewardship by an ecosystem invested in Node.js’ success.

Notes & Links

📝 Edit Notes

This “The Future of Node” Spotlight series was produced in partnership with The Linux Foundation, the Node.js Foundation, and sponsored by IBM and StrongLoop. It was recorded at Node Interactive 2016 in Austin, TX.


📝 Edit Transcript


Play the audio to listen along while you enjoy the transcript. 🎧

[01:25] What role do you play in the NodeJS Foundation?

I am the education community manager, but my hats are many.

Like any organization, right?

Yeah, we run lean. I also have been taking responsibility recently for the Inclusivity Working Group, which is not under the foundation from the executive side, but we just needed the work to be sort of investigated, examined, and that’s something that we’re capable of doing. I took that on because it’s also something that I care about and have struggled with myself.

I understand from my conversation with Mikeal that you have some experience on that front, too.

Yeah, I run conferences as a hobby…

Okay, nice hobby…

Yeah, volunteering… It’s not paid.

Are they hard or are they easy? Both?

They’re both, yeah. The challenges are always the people, the human component.

Humans are hard.

Because the logistics or the money side - those are struggles, but with proper planning you can mitigate for those problems. The human challenge is always tough, because it’s something new every year, and I tend to learn from experience… I can’t learn as much from serving other people, so when it comes to trying to make conferences that are community-driven and making people feel welcome and also safe, experimenting with that can be tough, because if you make mistakes, it’s big mistakes.

Yeah, you tend to be… Dare I say it, not much grace, even if you mess up, right?

Yeah, yeah.

It’s like, “How dare you? You should have thought about this beforehand.” A lot of onus is put on conference organizers to really do well and do it right the first time.

Yeah, that’s something I’ve tried to – over the years I’ve noticed that 1) people don’t wanna know how the sausage is made, but when it comes to community conferences especially, when people aren’t getting paid to do it and they are sacrificing a lot of their spare time… But it’s just like open source - we can always be kinder…

A thankless job…

Right, absolutely. The volunteer work is taken for granted, and people really don’t get to see this sacrifice that’s made in order to make those things happen, and it’s such a temporary thing… Because it’s only a couple of days in a year. Before I was helping with open source, it helped me empathize.

So when was that for you, before you were helping with open source?

[03:56] My event organizing has always been attached to something like Node or JavaScript, but I haven’t been – I mean, outside of contributing to the event open source or tooling for that, it wasn’t probably until last year… I was making open source tooling for conferences, but that’s what my drive was outside of work, so that’s what got me interested into contributing back into the community in a way that I wouldn’t have to walk everyone through it personally.

Otherwise, I wasn’t working on things like Node until this year as an open source contributor, which is really whacky.

What kind of open source tooling goes around at a conference?

Everything from making the websites better, and making them apps instead of just sites, so that we can have a call for talks, or a review system…

You’d think that problem would be solved much better by now… Like, how many years later have we–

Well, it’s been addressed three times over, but it’s in different languages, or it gets worked on and then isn’t maintained, or it doesn’t fit the kind of conference that we’re running, and it’s enough of a not-fit that forking doesn’t work. Or things like we were bananas enough early on to do something like use a Google form for submissions, which is great, but then if you wanna do a reviews system… Or we pulled it into GitHub from there. So we wanted to pull that in and then we realized that we didn’t want people, we wanted that to be open or anonymous for people who were submitting.

…so you could make a judgment call based on the person’s name or gender, or color race…

Yeah, so then you’re pulling it back in, so you’re creating tools that’s like – you know, trying to deal with the GitHub API, and also the Google API. I know at least in the JavaScript community with conference organizers, a lot of people were doing that sort of thing, because one group does it and then you’re like, “Okay, great… Using Google forms is great, but how did you solve this problem?” and you tell them and they’re like, “No, I don’t wanna do that at all… That’s way too much work.”

So are any of these tools available, open, in the process? What’s the state of these things?

That one is under I believe the I help run EmpireJS as well as advise for Empire Node, which I helped found. Those are two conferences in New York. I think we also created a document with my co-organizer for Cascadia… We have a How To Conf; we actually have documentation on how to run a JavaScript event like we run it. I think we also give some justifications on why we do the things we do; why do you go to JavaScript conferences that are max of 300 people? That sort of thing.

So the How To Conf repo is everything you know about how to put on CascadiaJS or a conference like it?

That’s interesting. I’m looking through the contents… Organizing a team, picking a date, sponsorship, CFPs, website…

And it does really need to be updated, because I don’t think I’ve even worked on that this year.

Is this readme, is it documentation, or is it actual working code that you can launch your own site from, and stuff like that?

That’s a readme. We have many of the years of the websites that we ran for the conference, because they tend to be one-offs. Cascadia’s is documented in a way that you should just be able to clone it and run it. The How To Conf repo is not a whole package, so that’s definitely the readme documentation of how to run it, but it also has spreadsheets for budgeting and keeping track of volunteers… We live in the world of spreadsheets.

[07:59] It was sort of like, “Well, we can spend that time to create apps that would help us organize this in a better way, but there’s either pay tools that do that, so we don’t wanna spend too much time because people are already using it”, or we’re just fine with using spreadsheets.

How do you feel about the site for this conference here? I know I talked to Mikeal earlier, maybe this is a touchy subject, but…

It’s not a touchy subject… It doesn’t engage people; it’s really hard to dig in and find things, and I think the ability to be able to – I mean, Mikeal and I are both developers and it’s tough when we want to just be able to step in and fix something really quick, because we’re used to doing that, and we don’t have the agency to do it. I know that something that I wanna see front and center, during a conference - not before - is Code of Conduct, Emergency Contact and the agenda, and also Wi-Fi. Because sometimes people don’t notice that it’s on the badge.

Right. How many times today have you been asked what’s the Wi-Fi password?

None, I was surprised. I think people are starting to get used to this, and I think this is the best thing ever.

I love the lanyard, by the way… It’s great, because I hate when they flip.

I know.

And you’re like, “What’s your name?” and it’s like, it’s the back of the lanyard, it’s not the front. Great job, I like that blend of lanyard best with a tube, so it doesn’t spin.

Yeah, that’s all our events team. Lara and Cassandra, they think of everything. That’s all on them. I always forget to do these, and I end up doing the center ones, because they’re everywhere.

Or if you don’t have that, the way they attach well, they can make a lot of noise, so all you hear in the background of the conference room is the clinking sound of the metal clinking together. Because if it moves - which it does, because people are gonna move and shuffle, and you can’t make everybody stay still, so next thing you know you’ve got this lanyard that flips over, or it makes a bunch of noise.

Ours are terrible and beautiful… For Cascadia, the last three years we’ve done wooden engraved badges, which is great, except they’re terribly loud and very heavy. And then you’re also not gonna do double-sided, because it’s really expensive; we’re paying an artist to carve that stuff out, so…

Wow. A lot of attention, though. I mean, it’s about an experience.

Well, my dream is that – New Relic has a conference that they’ve been doing for a number of years, and… I’m so embarrassed I can’t remember it right now; one year they did a really incredible – I mean, the only time I’ve heard of anything like this is when DefCon did it… And they did, they absolutely did hardware badges. We’ve been trying for years…

Mikeal and I talked about this… It was FutureStack.

Yeah, FutureStack, which I’ve heard is a great conference, which is always something interesting too when you’re talking about a company or a suite of products… Running a conference is always – it’s peculiar to me, because the way I run conferences, I see it as very neutral and objective. That’s not to say that they aren’t, because Twilio is another company that does a really great job with SIGNAL, and they get a lot of different companies coming in. I guess they just have a good enough rapport with everyone to make sure that they trust that…

They’ve always been developer-first, Twilio… They’ve got a good rapport relationship with the community. I think once you begin to toe the line of exploitation, to a degree, or making it about yourself and not about the community, you get in the danger zone.

Yeah. Well, I’d imagine when you’re managing sponsor expectations, you have to be very careful when you’re walking that line, ensuring that they can trust you, that they get equal footing alongside you.

Right. What’s the challenge there with sponsors? Are you involved in that with this conference much, or other conferences?

[11:44] This conference I wasn’t, no. Todd Benzies and [unintelligible 00:11:50.00] lead the charge on that for us, and thank goodness, because we’ve all got a lot of ownership in these conferences, but for me for this it’s content, recruiting speakers, making sure that we’ve got a good variety of lineup, as well as diversity of speakers, making sure that we’re also including people who are newer speakers, as well as speakers from all over the world, because in the U.S. it tends to be U.S.-centric, so we wanna make sure that…

Right, or even English-centric, or language barrier…

I talked to Shiya from Autodesk, and we talked a lot about just the language barrier there in China. They work in Chinese, obviously, versus Japan, where they primarily work in English; they speak Japanese at work, but the can work in English. And you never really realize until you flip the coin how different it is on the other side. You just don’t think about it, I guess. You can call it arrogance or whatever, but it’s just like a bubble we live in sometimes… Tunnel vision.

Oh, sure. When I was talking with my friend Juan Pablo - he is from Columbia, and he has done incredible work with Columbia dev, which is a group that is really strengthening the tech community in Columbia and around it because of what they’re doing… So there’s other countries that are sort of networking and building it up together, and I was talking with him one day and he was telling me, “Go look and see how many learn to JavaScript books are in Spanish right now.” Spanish, a language that I would have just assumed that…

At the time I think it was zero… And this wasn’t ten years ago. This was two years ago.

And I was just like, “What?” I speak Spanish, I’m terrible at it, but I can read it. I was like, “If I can do that, why is no one translating…?” No one’s doing it. And that’s even with an alphabet similar to our own. Then I hear when people are learning in other countries, like Japan and China… Their letters and numbers don’t look anything like ours - how do you deal with that with programming? So when I started learning about – people are just having to program in English for the most part, regardless of the language that they speak or write… It’s just like, I can’t even imagine what the challenge would have been for me when I was teaching myself programming if I had had to also be doing it in another human language.

Yeah. We have a similar problem on our podcast, the Changelog… We were talking to the fellas behind Crystal, which is like a faster version of Ruby, basically; it’s the easiest way to say it.

Oh, okay.

And we got to the end of the show, and Jerod and I, we’re both from the central time zone. I’m from Houston, Texas and he’s from Omaha, Nebraska - we got into the whole show, great conversation, but they were mentally tired. And we were like, “Why?” and they were like, “Well, English is not our first language.” So the whole time, they’re trying their best to talk fluently about a fast-moving topic anyways, in a second language. They just talked about what mental hurdles it was to do that on the fly, to try to maintain the listenership of the other persons speaking… There was two people on their side, representing Crystal, and me and Jerod, so it’s four people total on this recording. It opened our eyes to think how difficult it might be to then ask like, “Okay, if English isn’t your native language, how can we best appreciate you being here? Should we speak slower?”

It just might make us more aware of what words not to use; just use more simple English, or just speak slower… Anybody who gets excited like I do – I probably just talk fast. It’s just a thing you never really think about, until somebody brings it to your mind.

Mikeal and I went to Beijing for a Node live where we met Shiya, they had translators. They had no problem providing translators either, but I just couldn’t imagine… We have a number of folks who came over that we met when we were in Beijing who were speaking this weekend, and fortunately, I think they have - they may not think so, but I think that they have an excellent grasp of the English language, and that’s a huge hurdle.

[16:15] These folks are so smart, and the topics that they’re talking about are so complex… And they’re able to do it in English. That’s what I just can’t – we’re very lucky, we have it very easy.

We have it very easy. Let’s talk about an uneasy subject sometimes - it depends upon which side of the fence you’re on in terms of getting it right or getting it wrong; it’s going back to our other conversation… A big effort for you in particular has been working on inclusivity at this conference, and making people feel safe and comfortable… A great post on Medium, which we’ll link up in the show notes of this conversation, but a lot of great stuff happened at this conference in particular just to make people feel more welcome. Everything from childcare, to college stickers, to identify the comfortability of being photographed or talked to… What effort goes into making a conference like this feel safe, feel inclusive, and not just feel it actually be?

Yeah, I think… One, it takes a community that wants those things to happen, and I think that we were fortunate enough to have that. Our entire team - not just the events team - they get it. It’s really comforting when you have a team that you’re working with that you don’t have to get on board; when you have folks who are supporting what you think is right and you have leadership at every level, where people are saying, “This is important, it matters and we’re gonna prioritize it”, it makes a difference. People take that for granted.

I have people who approach me for even just saying, “How did you get a diverse lineup of speakers at this conference or that conference?” and I say, “That’s a really complicated question because it’s not just a mandate.” You can’t just say, “We’re gonna have half of our speakers be from under-represented groups.” Cool, does that exist in the community that you’re talking about? It might not, so then what should you be doing? You should be supporting those efforts throughout the year.

Right, not just the few months it takes to organize…

Yeah, because otherwise you end up with things like speaker fatigue, where you have five really talented speakers from under-represented groups who absolutely deserve to be on stage, but they’re not the only ones that should be speaking, and that’s not fair to them. They’re there because they are excited and talented, and they also don’t want to be considered tokens; you have to show them that they’re there for their good work, and for that reason alone.

Not because of being under-represented.

Right, not because they check a box.

That’s tough, because while you want to have an equation that matches what the community wants, which is more inclusivity, more invitational, but then not choose people based on their attributes.

Right, because you’re doing them a disservice.

It must be really hard.

Yeah. You’re doing them a disservice because they don’t – you make them think twice about them being there, when they deserve to be there and they’re talented. You don’t want that, right?

And we all have impostor syndrome, every single one of us.

Yeah, so you don’t need to erode that. And then you also don’t want the folks who are still struggling with understanding the inclusivity and diversity challenge… Maybe they applied for a conference and they didn’t get in, and then they hear that there was an effort to make a more diverse lineup, then maybe they’re just gonna say, “They’re not actually a good speaker, they just got there because they’re a woman, or because they’re black”, and that’s not okay.

[19:54] It’s not fair to the talented speakers for anyone to think that of them, because that’s not why they’re there. So it’s definitely those sorts of efforts, and that’s one of the reasons why I like to be so involved in the communities that I live in, because I wanna make sure that people are being – you’re bringing that back down from the conference level to the meetups, and making sure that people are feeling that at every level. I got really lucky with New York, that we have that. A lot of the organizers there do that. It was a lot harder work in Portland.

Portland is historically a less diverse city, so it was much more of a struggle to have a good mix of backgrounds for people who are attending a meetup, and who were practicing in giving talks, and then going to conferences. The work there is very different, I think.

The team doing things already had all of these things in place for months, which was really spectacular… Having the emergency phone numbers on our website, along with the code of conduct, and saying “These are real people that you can contact if you feel unsafe”… Having someone like Brian, who reached out as part of our community to also run that extra effort and then we were able to blast that out as well - that’s another blessing of having community members who care that much to do that.

Having on-site childcare, having the stickers that communicate whether you wanna be talked to - I loved that too, those special touches.

We understand those are the details that people just miss… For good reason; conferences are tough anyways. Then you naturally want to care, because you do care, it’s just… It’s already so many things happening, that if you don’t have the right kind of team, the right kind of support and the right kind of attention to detail to those things that really matter, you will just miss them. And it may not be on purpose, like we said earlier. No grace given whenever you mess up.

We all want to do well… Or maybe we don’t all want to; generally, we all desire to do well, but we all mess up to some degree, at some point in our lives.

Yeah… I appreciate when folks don’t – like, it’s your job, right? People say, “You know, it’s just a job” vs. caring, but people also like to do their job well. We’re lucky that there are more folks who are running conferences now - including this one - that see that as doing a good job… That it’s part of running a conference.

What kind of feedback do you get that makes you feel that way? Do you get people that come up to say things to you? Do you have a comment box? Is it anonymous? How do you provide a feedback loop from attendees as a response to the things you’ve done, the details that you paid attention to? Is it pictures on Twitter, is it tweets?

Well, it’s tweets, we run a post-event survey, we also have… Anytime that we kind of get these wins, where we have someone come up to us personally and say “This thing was really important to me… I wasn’t able to attend without this diversity scholarship and because of that… Now I’m gonna go to the Code And Learn”, that’s incredible, because that means that we may have someone new contributing to Node, which is a huge challenge, and they’re welcome, and that’s something they didn’t have before - those sorts of things we’ll share with each other on the team, because it’s wins. It helps you on the days when things are a little tough, because it reminds you that we’re doing a good job and we need to continue to do those things.

Can you talk about the childcare portion of this? What impact does that have? When I talked to Mikeal Rogers, he mentioned the experience in the history of the Linux Foundation having had already a system in place. Can you talk a bit about that system if you’re familiar with it, or what it took to put childcare in place well?

[24:06] I’m not familiar with the system that the Linux Foundation established specifically; I know that having childcare on site is a hurdle. You have parents who don’t wanna trust someone that they’ve never met before, even if they’re a certified caregiver.

I can feel that, I have a son and a daughter.

Yeah, I can imagine. I think it’s very gracious that they will trust us, and making sure that your venue will allow for that, it has the space to entertain those kids…

Right, there’s a lot of moving parts…

Yeah, and liability…

Security even.

And security, yeah. Absolutely.

I mean, you don’t think about security, but you think about the folks taking care of the kids, and then also making sure no one comes in and does anything to anybody, or does something that they shouldn’t be doing. It’s outside of just those people taking care of the kids. Even this gear here, we’re sitting around all of our podcasting gear and audio gear - we had a guard on duty sitting right there, and that made me, as someone who comes here to participate, feel very welcomed, because I was like, “They care about me enough, not just to have me there to produce these podcasts in partnership with you all, but also to take care of my stuff whenever I’m not around.” I felt like even that detail - maybe that’s not something that was even intended, but I felt really awesome about that. That’s cool.

Yeah, absolutely. Linux Foundation… With the history of open source communities, I did not expect – I’d only been the Node Foundation and the Linux Foundation since March; I did not expect, I was not aware of the history of the Linux Foundation trying to prioritize these things, so it’s been a pleasant surprise. Honestly, I didn’t have any negative thought or assumption otherwise, but I just didn’t know.

It’s exciting to see what the Linux Foundation is setting as example. It’s easier for us, because then we also have precedents to point to when we decide to do something. We can say, “Well, they’re setting this example.” This is easy for us, because we know we’re not the only ones doing it, and we ‘re gonna make this so commonplace that people don’t question it.

So the things you’ve learned from this conference and many others is the How To Conf? Is that your bible, or the things you’ve done for this conference, is there something new you’d contribute back? Where do you share things like that?

This is a very different conference. How To Conf is a single-track conference, and it is purposefully kept to 300-ish people; that’s in order for people to have repeated connections over a couple of days. SingleTrack allows for sort of like the intensity of having to watch all of those speakers, you don’t get a choice… But that’s also a very different type of conference. This conference is trying to bring everyone together, and as part of that there’s a lot happening - there’s a lot of companies…

Salon one, salon two… Various places people can go to.

Yeah, and I think we owe it to folks to be able to give them the opportunity to get to say all of those things; if we’re doing one conference in a year or two conferences in a year and we’re trying to run this flagship conference for Node, then we sort of need to have high-quality, but a fair volume of choices. That definitely makes for different things to choose for running a conference, because multi-track is a different beast…

It’s a whole different game.

[27:47] It is, and it also means for far more people. If you want all the experts in the room, there’s a lot of people, if you’re trying to get everybody in. So single-track can be a little difficult for that.

Just for size, what’s the rough attendee range here?

I think we’re at 700-750 in attendance.

So double How To Conf, basically.

And how many tracks was it? Two tracks?

This conference I think was three tracks. Or, well, seven tracks, but three or four rooms.

A lot of choice.

Yeah. Some of the tracks are sort of like fledgling in Node; we know that they’re popular in the ecosystem, but we maybe didn’t see as many talks, or just trying to balance all of that out with time.

Right. Back to How To Conf, the reason why I asked you that was more or less to see if you have - since you shared that portion of your experience, and I’m sure other contributors as well - some sort of playbook that says, “This is how we did this conference right”, and you care enough about the community to share what you’ve already done with How To Conf; maybe there’s a version of that playbook for Node Interactive. I mean, it’s not an exact way of “You do this”, but some of the things you’ve learned - everything from childcare to the colored stickers, to just various things you’ve done that are details that people just don’t think about.”

Right. Yeah, that’s an excellent point.

Any plans for that?

Well, there weren’t plans for it yet. [laughs]

Maybe it could be How To Interact for Interactive.

Yeah, that would be cool.

Lame name, don’t listen to me. I’m bad at naming.

[laughs] I’m terrible at naming things, so I always take suggestions.

Well, what else can we talk about in terms of – what good takeaways can we share with the audience listening to this? This is a series we’re producing with the NodeJS Foundation, the Linux Foundation, sponsored by IBM, to give a picture into this conference and the future of Node… So what can you share about some of those things as it relates to this conference or the future of Node as you see it? Maybe some of the roles you’re playing, not just in this conference, but other things around NodeJS Foundation.

Yeah, yeah… This time next year I think it’s going to be a very different conversation I’m hoping to have, because a lot of our inclusivity strategy that I’ve been working on has been receiving input by a bunch of different parties. It’s a careful conversation that we have to have around what we want the future of Node to look like, because that’s essentially what we’re talking about when we’re talking about inclusivity and we’re saying that it’s important enough that we need to invest real energy and resources in, and part of that is how our conferences operate, and who’s speaking, and what our panels look like, and the topics that are being considered.

How about the project itself, in terms of onboard of contributors…? Mikeal and I talked about how over the years, since the io.js fork with the merge with Node, the Foundation being formed - each year you’ve one hundred percent doubled the Node community, so I gotta imagine that trying to be as best you can inclusive to that kind of community and outreach, there’s gotta be a lot of things around documentation, learning… Do you play a role in that?

Yeah, so there’s been a lot of discussion around rebooting documentation in general, because we’ve seen a lot of slowdown on that; that could be not just documentation for the API, it could also be on “What are the values of the Node community?” Because it’s grown so much, you’ve got folks who’ve been here for five years, and they certainly have an opinion on what the values are of someone who’s in the Node community, and it’s nice to be able to onboard other people to that and make sure that they understand that this is a friendly place, this is a place that people are excited to nerd out with you on things, and you can find your niche and run with it. But sometimes people don’t get that experience when they start, and that’s unfortunate, so that’s why it would be helpful for us to have guidelines… Or, it’s not guidelines, it’s like a guide for people to understand where they can go when they get started in the community and when they get started in the language, for help or for encouragement, or for just learning.

[32:15] There’s definitely a lot of room for us to do that, and we need way more people working on it. Core is so important, but it’s a very small footprint of what Node is. For instance, right now I’ve drafted up a charter for a new org in the Node Foundation, alongside the TSC, which would be the community org.

So much of our success over the years has been stuff like Node school and Node bots, and the meetups that happen around the world, and the other conferences that happen. They don’t need to be under the Node Foundation in terms of paperwork and governance, but they absolutely need representation, because we’re doing things at a high level that they need to be giving input on, and it would be nice to have formal mechanisms for that. That’s actually part of the inclusivity proposal that I had laid out.

It doesn’t sound at first like it would make sense to be a strategy in inclusivity, but all of those people around the world who have been organizing these things have been on the ground and have learned and scaled, so they have a lot of lessons learned and the cross-collaboration that we could support by having that organization would be awesome.

Right. It shouldn’t also be only on your shoulders either, as the Foundation, to do all the work. You wanna disperse that amongst the community and empower the people to do that.

You want them to own it, right. Exactly. That’s the key. If people don’t feel like they get to own things… No one’s gonna raise their hand to say, “I’ve got this.” They’re gonna think somebody’s handling it, and there’s a lot that’s happening in Node right now where that’s the case, and that shouldn’t be. We need to make people feel like – I think we’re getting the word out; William Kapke’s been great about getting the word out that “There’s a lot of work to be done, it needs to be done, you should be annoyed about these things that aren’t happening, but you can also help with it. So capture that energy and run with it.” That’s absolutely what we are trying to work on doing, sort of evangelizing that, making sure people know that help is needed and that the help can come from them.

What kind of support then are you thinking about for not so much Node School in particular, but things like Node School or meetups across the world…? What kind of support can they look forward to? If they’re listening to this now and they’re not simply just a new user of Node or a potential contributor to Node that needs to be onboarded in terms of a user or a consumer of it, but more so guiding the localized communities… What can they look forward to? What are you thinking there?

I would say coordination of efforts and resources. A good example is you don’t wanna give them water, you wanna lead them…

…to the well.

Yeah. A lot of events - and it’s not just events that would like help, but a lot of them see the challenges around sponsorships or getting money, and they want money. But that doesn’t actually sustain their project or their organization. So having folks who would like to offer advice, or having a repo where we talk about these things… Because it’s not just about money, it’s also about the challenges, about not having internet and trying to npm install everything.

[35:54] I saw that with Node School early on, how much the organizers helped one another with that. I mean, I was one of them, and that helped us all rise in our local groups, and really build communities there. But we’re seeing new rounds of support needed, such as… Maybe one of those orgs wants to establish governance, and they know that we’re slightly more experienced at it than them.

So they come to you for advice on how to set up things…?

Yeah, they come for advice because they didn’t know how to do that before. Or just even helping them organize a little bit… Having meetings on a regular cadence, or having some sort of accountability to a larger group where they’re reporting in may also drive them a little bit to help out more just in their org, so they have something to report back to.

Have you ever considered things like localized community managers where you almost have - I don’t wanna use military terms, but like lieutenants out there in the field so to speak, that are doing the day-to-day, they’re in the trenches, they’re in the fight, they care about the local community, they care about Node, they care about being inclusive and inviting in and welcoming, and they’re taking the main mission of the community to the local communities… But rather than being this unknown person, there’s somebody that you have a rapport with; maybe that’s the meetup organizers.

Yeah, that’s a really great idea. I would say that some meetup organizers or Node School organizers, they tend to take on that role informally. It’s someone that just kicks butt locally, and they maybe have their hands in a couple different pots, so they’re able to kind of see a slightly larger picture, and they’re well connected. That’s what I was for a while myself.

Having folks that are on the ground like that gives you a less myopic perspective, I think; it allows you to know what’s going on in an area and not just a user group. Sometimes those user groups are big enough, and that will be a pretty representative sentiment if something’s really good or not good, but that’s a really interesting… I think we were talking about that idea of Node advocacy in different parts of the world. We did Node Live this year in Bangalore, in Beijing, in Paris, in Chicago, in L.A., and…

What’s Node Live?

Node Live was initially tagged as a mini-conference; it was a one-day event… It could be on a weekend, all day, or it could be in an evening for a pretty long evening. It’s essentially a fancy meetup that’s bringing in people from potentially other areas, and also uplifting maybe a speaker who is there locally that doesn’t speak at the meetups…

Or too hard to travel to the U.S., if it’s from abroad…

I was talking to Thomas Watson, he said he got in…

Oh my gosh, he had the hardest time.

Yeah, he had some troubles with his travels and he had to flip his time clock, basically. So I sympathize with that, having to be jet-lagged.

Yeah. So those sorts of visits were really awesome, because it also opened us. Mikeal Rogers and I, we try and meet new people all the time, we have tons of emails and DMs and conversations on GitHub, and it’s so not enough; those networks are still walled, in some ways.

Beijing was an especially powerful visit for finding out how was behind the Great Firewall. We knew we were gonna run into some surprises, we just didn’t know how rich that community would be, and we have no connection to it. So that’s… They’re running their own npm.

[40:01] It’s the language barrier and it’s also the actual firewall barrier, so you get two huge hurdles to tackle when it comes to opening the doors to be more inclusive to China.

Right. So that’s something that we could really work on. I was thinking the idea would be sort of like this research effort - because it takes a lot of work to build those networks. Being in person is a much more natural way to do so, even if there’s a language barrier. But it’s pretty cost-prohibitive and it can be physically taxing to travel that much, so we have to be strategic about it.

Well, you can’t Google Hangouts with them either.

Yeah, exactly.

I’m not sure if Citrix is blessed or not, but Google is not.

I think they use Skype… I think I used Skype when I was having a meeting.

Well, it’s a Microsoft thing, so it’s probably okay.

I was also calling Microsoft people, so that might have been part of it. [laughs] I was a part of their campus in Beijing. But yeah, we need the power of saying, “I’m part of the Node Foundation/Node Project.”

Some clout.

Yeah, it resonates with people and they wanna talk to you, they wanna see what’s going on. Sometimes they want you to help their business, and you can’t do that, but you can certainly make relationships and see how you can connect people when it would be really fitting, right?

I’m a terrible salesperson; I can’t lie, I can’t sell anything unless I really love it.

You’re not supposed to lie when you sell.

Oh, you’re not? I don’t know.

No! Selling is helping.

Well, see? That’s how I see it… If I’m not helping you, it’s not worth it.

Then you’re great at it… That’s my feeling. I can’t stand those kinds of salespeople. If you lie, you’re not a salesperson, you’re a sleazebag. It’s a whole different term.

It’s a different skill set, I guess.

That’s a different podcast too, but back on topic, sorry… I derailed you.

No, you’re fine. So I think that that was really powerful. I don’t what 2017 holds for us with Node Live, because we want to make sure that we’re focusing on the community and lifting them up, and not taking away fuel by running our own events. We wanna make sure that everything that we do is empowering them, instead of – because it’s also more energy that we’re spending having to run 12 events in a year.

Yeah. Well, you said earlier “speaker fatigue” and I think I may have heard that once before, but it still surprised me when you said it. Then, as we’re talking about these localized organizers, meetup organizers, I’m thinking that I know for sure, I’ve met some organizers who have organizer fatigue. They run their local meetups, they care about the local community, but at the end of the day, if they’re the most looked-at person, or localized fame or whatever, then they’re always getting called to open up the doors, to just be there from beginning to end… They’re like, “Where’s the pizza?” or whatever it is; “Where’s the resources?” Everything from the projector to the seats… And you’ve gotta find ways to not let them burn out either.

Yeah, I agree.

But also give them the ability to do what they to do, versus do every event, like he had said.

Yeah… Taking advantage of what each of us are good at. You want the local community to feel empowered by running this awesome event that has maybe Node Foundation backing, and we’re helping encourage TSC or CTC members to come and speak about a topic that no one in the local community is really working on. That’s really exciting, because it just engages people in a way that watching a conference talk online doesn’t do.

[44:00] Right, face-to-face is better, but we do Skype, you know… Having a podcast, I don’t meet most of the people I talk to. If I had to, we would never get to do it, so we have to be thankful for what we do get. But face-to-face trumps it most times.

Yeah, absolutely. Well, or just being able to have the conversation. I love that NodeSource started their online meetup, which is great, because there are a lot of really awesome programmers who aren’t in major metropolitan areas…

Yeah, that’s another thing, too.

And to be able to watch these talks or have these conversations… It’s nice that people are trying to experiment with these different types of mediums in order for people to still have that. Because early on - Slack is a very neat thing, but I lived and breathed on IRC, and I had a really great community. There were people I didn’t know, that I had never met in person for a long time before I got to meet them, and it was still like a genuine friend.

Yeah. When I saw Mikeal Rogers, I gave him a hug. I was like, “Hey, dude, how are you?”, but I’ve never met him face-to-face. I just met him face-to-face yesterday, but I’d been talking to him for years off and on, either through the podcast or now working with us on Request For Commits and other fun stuff… So it’s just like that - you’re in this friendship that even when you meet them it’s still a little fresh, too.

Yeah, so that’s also a challenge that we’ve been talking about with education in Node moving forward, or even with Node Together, which I was helping with the group that Ashley Williams founded… That’s very physical-location-based, and right now there’s only one teacher. That’s especially problematic when you’re trying to do this throughout the world, and exhausting.

One of our organizers, Tierney, he’s lived in rural areas for a long time; I like that he has this position and he holds to it, which is “We need to have more of these distributed communities, because I want to be a part of them.” That’s the best way to hear it, because when someone says, “Oh, well we should do this thing”, I wanna empathize, but I don’t know anyone who actually needs that, and it’s because I’m not there in that tiny town. I grew up in South Carolina and I moved for job opportunities, but not everyone has that luxury.

I think that will help us reach a lot of folks throughout the world, so long as they have an internet connection, to maybe be able to build that up more.

So for those out there listening to this as part of this series, they wanna contribute, they wanna help your efforts - what’s the best way to reach out to you? Is it you personally, is it your team? What’s the best way to help make Node more inclusive, to support local organizers, to help in the ways we have talked about in this conversation?

There’s a number of places that you can go to look… I believe has a “Get Involved” tab, and it lists out the working groups and the projects that you should absolutely check out to see if it’s something that interests you. There’s also community organizations that are outside of that, such Node School and Node Bots. Check in to see if there is a local meetup around you - it’s a really awesome way to get introduced to the community. We’ve also got repos for Inclusivity Working Group, which is looking like it’s probably going to be getting rebooted very soon; it’s not had a lot of activity there, because I think of all the stuff that I’ve had in limbo with my proposal.

And education… Education is in full swing, and we’re in this phase now, looking into the new year, where I have to see what the priorities should be, and I’m waiting for my survey to come back.

[48:04] Greg Wallace and I - Greg is in marketing for us - helped build this really awesome survey to try and figure out who is writing and using Node, and that’s gonna help us figure out what we should be focusing our resources on for next year, or our energies, because I wanna know…

We are gonna have a certain audience; when people are filling out the survey, it’s not gonna be people coming to Node, it’s gonna be people who are already in it… But sort of seeing, if they’ve been in it for a little bit, how much of a struggle it was for getting started, or docs… And also asking if they’re interested in helping change that.

Once we have that data, we’ll have more to inform us on what we should be doing for the next year. This year has been very heavily focused on building a certification exam, and that should be…

Yeah, Mikeal mentioned certifications when I talked to him. He didn’t go into detail, though.

We’re actually meeting this weekend to hash out the domains and the subtopics that the exam will cover. The aim is to be a low-cost certification exam for someone who’s been writing Node professionally for a year, full-time. We’re gonna be bikeshedding that and figuring out what that means. The test will be in browser and third-party proctored, and we’re aiming for it to be in English as well as Chinese.

And not using Facebook Login, because of the Great Firewall.

Yeah, the challenge is around… What we’re gonna do for hosting for the exam in China is still up in the air; that’s still being researched.

I talked to Shiya about that, and I don’t wanna derail the tail end here, but she mentioned that you actually had to have a business in China to have a server in China, and some of the red tape that goes into “we want to be inclusive.” I won’t go into it, but long story short, you have to have a server in China, and you have to have a business in China, so you have to kind of be legit in China basically, to serve them like we desire to. And it’s just another hurdle.

Yep. Hopefully that works out. The certification - the English version will happen regardless.

That’s exciting.

Yeah, and we’re aiming for end of Q1, but the challenge is technically around hosting Node in browser in a way that feels real. It needs to be some sort of a contained operating system for people to be writing Node in and then test for it. We have to be able to run those tests against what they programmed, so that’s not an easy challenge.

More challenges… You’ll rise to it.

Oh, yeah. It will be good, we’ll get it through.

Alright Tracy, that’s all I had today.

Thank you so much.

Thank you.


Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚

Player art
  0:00 / 0:00