Month: March 2022

Do not punish learning in software engineering teams

What does it take to foster a workplace culture where employees, specifically coders, have the liberty to learn without feeling punished for it by the system? Innovation is impossible without failure, but most work cultures suffocate creativity without realizing it.

In this episode, I talk to Dr. Cat Hicks, a data scientist, a behavioral scientist, and a creative entrepreneur.

We talk about:

  • how she deviated away from a traditional path of a researcher to start her company, Catharsis Consulting, 
  • how to foster a learning culture within your engineering team
  • what learning debt is and 
  • how learning debt hinders software engineering teams to reach their full potential. 
Dr. Cat Hicks

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

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Transcript: Foster a learning culture in engineering teams

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

Dr. McKayla 00:03 Hello, and welcome to the Software Engineering Unlocked Podcast. I’m your hosT Dr. McKayla, and today I have the pleasure to talk to Dr. Cat Hicks. But before we start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring this episode Codiga. Codiga is a code analysis platform that automates the boring parts of code reviews and lets you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab and BitBucket. I’ve worked with Codiga for around one year now, and I love how it guides me in discovering the, well, not so nice parts of my code base. But there is more: Codiga also has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you are coding. Codiga has a great free plan, and so there is nothing that actually stops you from giving it a try. Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Codiga.io.

But now back to Cat. Cat, or Catherine Hicks holds a PhD in experimental psychology and is a principal researcher in Team Lead at catalysis consulting. She has designed researchers at places like Google Khan Academy and co founded a startup that builds tools for software engineers, and she led multi institutional collaborations in online learning. So I’m super, super, super thrilled to have a cat here with me, Cat, welcome to the show.

Dr. Cat Hicks 01:30 Thank you so much. I’m really excited to be here.

Dr. McKayla 01:33 Yeah, me too. I’m following you for a long time now on on Twitter. And I was very impressed because you have a similar not the same, obviously very different. But you have a similar background, like coming from academia and then going independent. And and so yeah, so it was very interesting to see how you built Catharsis Consulting. And you’re the founder of Catharsis Consulting, right?

Dr. Cat Hicks 01:59 That’s correct.

Dr. McKayla 02:00 How did it help people with empirical research and also empirical research? I really a software engineering area, and you are now empirical researcher coming from experimental. How do you help companies?

Dr. Cat Hicks 02:14 That’s right. That’s right. So it’s delightful to connect. I think there are a growing cohort of us out there, you know, in the world who have made this journey, and there’s not really a roadmap for us. So I’m always I love to talk about it.

Dr. Cat Hicks 02:27 I like to call catharsis and evidence-science consultancy. So this means that we help partners use evidence to inform their decision making and tell their stories. And in particular, we’re very focused on meaningful measurement. So I describe it to people as not just data for the sake of data, but creating research methods that give us data that’s fit for purpose. So I try to help partners who are trying to learn something real about the world they’re working in, and how to move forward. And we have a couple

areas of competency and special focus. But we’ve led projects, it’s easier to give examples right, then talk high level. So some recent projects are, I’ve asked things like how can we find evidence that a product design change in a language learning game actually increased the learning that was happening for children using the game. Another recent project is using surveys to help a small nonprofit tell the stories of how community members that they worked with, were helping people in their own families and in their social networks, learn about the COVID vaccine and make the decision to try to get that vaccine. So both of those projects, very different scale for those projects, very different types of data. But both of those projects connected to really immediate impact, whether it was on product design, or on an intervention, and programming that help doctors have better communication with their patients. So at catharsis, you know, we try to bring a few core principles to all of our research projects. One of them is just that people deserve to understand their data, and to really use the data that they already have maybe special access to, and to try to bring the tools of empirical research to everyone, even small organizations that may not have invested in learning those skills before. So one thing that we bring in a lot of our partnerships is an emphasis on teaching those research methods and taking it not just from, you know, findings on one project right now, but actually fitting any work that you do with data into a larger plan of moving forward.

Dr. McKayla 04:39 Yeah, and it sounds really, really exciting. And it reminds me, I’m more on the training side, right. So I’m helping a lot of software engineers actually get better at code reviews, but all of that also based on empirical research that I did around code reviews, but recently this year, actually half of the year I spent on I’m a research project with this startup and help them come up with a framework on, you know, what makes developers developer experience really great. And they created a product out of that. So I can totally relate to that. And it was really a wonderful experience. But the experimental nature of research and startup somehow there was also a lot of tension, I would say, right, there was a lot of, you know, it’s very different than in an academic world, you have like these questions, and here was, every day, I want to squash the question, is this impactful? Is this impactful? Right? I don’t know if you experienced that as well. And how do you handle that in your work?

Dr. Cat Hicks 05:42 I think we all experience right, right, you know, there’s a tension between things that you’re doing for the long term and, and needs that are in the short term, and then, you know, just to be really real about it, I think there’s a lot of people who have agendas about what we’re going to find. And yeah. And I, you know, I try very hard to always work with partners who, who have told me, you know, we are going to make changes based on what we find, even if the changes are uncomfortable to us for even if it it, it helped, we learned something that conflicts what we thought was before, this is very important for social impact work, you know, is very important for equity, when you’re going to do anything that has to do with people’s well being, but it is a core tension. And I think that researchers, we tend to be people who love the truth, right? And we’re just all about finding out the truth. And that can ruffle feathers. I love to do exactly what you described, where you go from working closely with people who are living an experience, and then translate that, you know, to leaders and to organizational structures. And I think it’s a beautiful role to be in, but it requires a lot of invisible work, right of explaining both sides to each other.

Dr. McKayla 07:00 Yeah, and, and working with this tension, right, which I think, is tell for me, it was a very challenging time at a time that I learned a lot. Because I’m, you know, for me, the rigor of the methodology is the most important thing. Right? And, and then comes time for the sort of, it’s more the time and then the rigor I think, right? Like, yeah, obviously, you know, like, at least a little bit, there is the priority or they are more stressed by a timing, then you know, then a researcher probably, yeah, and so on. So you have to deal with these tensions. And I think it was a very, very interesting learning experience for me. But what I really love this, that I could see, this research transformed into a product. And this was, this was actually the reason also why I loved academia because I was missing that. Yeah, getting real, right, I created a lot of prototypes in my in my research career, and actually think some of them maybe would even have had some potential even for open source, right, maybe not making tons of money, but some open source software that people would have used. But it was never the time. Again, we are coming back to time, but in a different way. Right. So the time was up after the paper is published, the time was up to work on that. And so I felt like I couldn’t really translate it into what I would like to see. Right. And that’s why I left for example, academia. How is that for you? Why did you leave this traditional path of a researcher and and start your own company and do your own thing go independent? Right?

Dr. Cat Hicks 08:40 Yeah, for sure. So you know, I think that it’s interesting because I am a researcher who likes to study environments. So whenever you ask someone about their choice as an individual, I think you have to see it also as a choice about what was around them. So I’ll be uh, you know, I’ll be real about that. I mean, academia is very hard to succeed in, not, not because of the quality of your work, but because of the opportunities that are around. And I but I think that there was a really core piece of what I loved. So I started out working in classrooms, I started working, asking about the beginning of how we learn to learn and even in my academic work, I was very interested in being in real schools talking to real children was where I started I did a dissertation with 3 to 11 year olds, so you can imagine Oh, yeah, yeah, asking young children about their how they were thinking about mistakes and how they were thinking about learning. So from the very beginning, so cool, you know, it’s amazing how much it pays off, right? Because we all we all start there and even now I work with adults, you know, and, and yet, all of the same questions come up all the time. So, you know, I think getting I found it beautiful and amazing that people are constantly scanning around them asking whether it’s okay to make mistakes and asking who they can talk to. And I just, you know, I saw a lot of exciting stuff out there in in tech. I think the journey for me too, there’s a personal, you know, that’s kind of the problem space. But being an entrepreneur is also a way for me to carve out this role that I did not see existing. So I always felt a little bit like, I’m a social scientist and a data scientist. I’m a data scientist, who cares, you know, about how we measure things. I like meaningful data more than big data. You know, it felt like with catharsis, it was a way to make the job that I wanted to have, you know, to do these kinds of projects.

Dr. McKayla 10:47 Yeah, that’s exactly what I did as well. I love create the job that I would like to do that, then that I feel like I can strive it.

Dr. Cat Hicks 10:57

And it takes courage. Yeah, no, you have to have to say, I know this is valuable, which I think you do as a researcher, just like you were talking about that startup, sometimes you have to be the person who’s saying, I know that this will pay off if you will do it, you know, you haven’t measured it. So you can’t see it yet. But I know it will. Because I’ve been there working with people and I see their pain and frustration or whatever else. And then they build it into a product. Right. And it does pay off.

Dr. McKayla 11:23 Yeah, exactly. Right. Yeah. So I looked at your newest report, which was super interesting for me, because it is around the software engineering teams. And there you shed light on the learning debt that we have, and how that can affect engineering teams. Can you tell us a little bit more about what this report is about what this software? Or what is research actually investigated? Or looked at? And what is what is learning data? And why do we have it as software engineers?

Dr. Cat Hicks 11:56 Yeah, great question. So as a part of Catharsis’ work, I can occasionally invest in this sort of work basically, for the field. So this is a report I did, because I found it really interesting, and shared publicly, and it’s called coding in the dark. I interviewed 25 software engineers or developers, and I asked them to share about their active problem solving as they were ramping up on an unfamiliar codebase. So this was people talking about their real jobs right now. They shared about code review, they shared about how they asked for help, how they collaborated. And I’ve shared a lot about, you know, what we talked about. And essentially, you know, what I found was even at these really big tech companies, most of the people I was talking to, we’re all at big tech companies. Even at these places, people’s experiences were really quite frustrating. So I called this report coding in the dark, because that was a quote from one of the people I interviewed, describing how they felt every day, like they were showing up, and the lights were all off, you know, and that they were having to fumble their way through learning without any help from anybody. And there was this core tension that they experienced between feeling like it was so important to learn to build their understanding, to experiment, iterate, but then when they showed up, you know, to code review, and to other moments where they were being evaluated, that learning was not being valued. So I described this cycle, you know, of needing to do this work, and then finding it devalued. And going back to your kind of heads down at your desk, you know, I describe that as learning debt. And learning is essentially the dynamic that happens when people know they need to put a lot of effort into learning. And they know that the kind of work they need to do requires these mistakes. And it requires this long term understanding. And there’s kind of all of this stuff that you’re doing that’s sort of invisible, because it’s not showing up in your productivity. And they also know that the environment around them is only measuring that short term productivity. So in this kind of environment, where there’s a lot of learning, debt, accumulating, essentially, you know, learning you have to be do that you’re not getting rewarded for there’s also a lot of performance, pressure, and what’s worse, you know, things like documentation, writing code, comments, trying to help other people, you can actually feel actively punished for doing that. Another quote in the one of the interviews I led was that learning would be seen as a waste of time. And I think one of the engineers called documentation and code comments, a red flag about your abilities as an engineer. So you can imagine how that feels. You’re in an environment that’s telling you to do all this complex work, but also telling you that it’s a waste of time if you help anybody else. Learn from what you’ve learned. So, you know, a big conclusion that I have in this report is this debt cycle this learning debt cycle can accumulate

damage for a long time because teams might look very productive on the surface, but you’re building what’s really an inefficient experience for learning. So I’ll stop there and kind of Yes, more.

Dr. McKayla 15:09 So yeah. Tons of question for now, the first one is really what kind of persona did you interview? You were saying people that are new to a code base, but it is, are you? Did you ask them when they were onboarding? And is that the onboarding experience for people? Or is that somebody that’s already on a team, but within you problem, it sounds more like an onboarding, experience. And, and, and heavy onboarding experience. But

Dr. Cat Hicks 15:37 yeah, it was a mix, it was a mix. So I think that one thing that’s interesting is that you might think, Oh, this is somebody who’s just new to a whole company, you know, they’re experiencing the, but actually, I found this was a repeating cycle. So some people were fairly junior, you’ll see there’s a, there’s a cross section of seniority. So we really wanted it is a qualitative project. So it’s, it’s not intended to be a representative sample, I think, you know, follow up surveys on this kind of thing would be really, really fun to work on. But in this cross section, we did have a good number of junior folks, but also senior folks, even a couple people who are leading the engineering teams at their organization, I did ask them to bring in an exam, think about before the interviews, when they were a recent problem they had of basically trying to understand someone else’s code. So if this for some people, this was a really brand new codebase, right, like the whole thing as they were joining a company, but for some people, it was just a piece that they hadn’t really touched before. So yeah, it was happening really all over the place. Right? Yeah. So the

Dr. McKayla 16:48 other question that I had, when I tried to envision this is, what kind of learning because there are many things that are you know, that we can learn as software engineers, and I feel that everything that has to do with technology is rewarded, and is seen as something, you know, that that you get some credit for at least, and that it’s also very internally, a lot of engineers like to learn new technology. But then if you’re coming to code basis, the main knowledge, right, all the work that you have to do to understand this piece of code for code review, and so on, right? I can maybe relate more than this is the kind of learning where would see this, you’re, you’re supposed to already know it. Right? So let’s skip that step. You know it, and then you do your productive work? And why do you you know, this is somehow the invisible thing? Is that is that, you know, is my just guess, here? Is it going in the right direction? Or what kind of learning? Did you? Did you investigate here?

Dr. Cat Hicks 17:48 Absolutely. And I love that you have called out the complexity of learning. And you know, it’s learning is a big word for a lot of different things. Right. And, of course, you’ve had some really phenomenal thinkers who have broke out on this podcast that I’ve really enjoyed, who’ve talked about, you know, productivity is not one thing, satisfactions not one thing, the same could be said for learning. So, you know, I, I thought a useful contribution in this report would be to talk very broadly about the beliefs we have about learning. But the actual specific examples are a lot of different things. And I think it does map on right to, to exactly what you said. So developers feel like, Oh, if I’m learning a new language, or

a new piece of, you know, a new tool, something that’s very explicit, right, that’s easier to defend. And it’s easier to justify. But the focus is always on the technology, right? And the production and not so much on, oh, now I really understand how this other team has a mental model of, you know, this connection piece, or I really understand this dependency that happens. And I understand these trade offs.

Dr. Cat Hicks 18:55 So you know, there’s actually a tremendous amount of content I got in these interviews, that’s not even in the report, because it was so much. I think it could be another report on the kind of active learning that they were doing. And a lot of it felt, you know, almost secretive, like people were saying, oh, you know, I’m sure no one else has to do this. Like, I do have to go back and remind themselves, you know, because I don’t want to talk about it, because I’m afraid I won’t look like an engineer. But the reality was, to me a lot of that stuff, like thinking about the trade offs of different decisions you made thinking about whether a design decision, you know, that we put on paper really was that way in the code and even questions that are kind of like, is it worth the investment to fix this inefficient piece when I could instead be working on this other piece? You know, these are very abstract things for people to be thinking and learning about but they’re really, really critical. And I was reminded to, there’s a lot of myths around learning, right? And as a social scientist, I recognize some of these myths. So people will tend to think, once I learned something, it’s just learned forever, right? It just goes into like, my brain is a bucket, and I just dumped something in there. And it’s always gonna be there. But actually learning is really a behavior over time. So the mourn environment cannot see it as shameful, but see it as beautiful and productive and great that sometimes we’re asking each other for help. We’re reminding ourselves how things work, you know, and you see that when developers talk about googling for answers, right, and asked on Stack Overflow, and all of these other kinds of things that people do. But it was interesting to me how much they hid that stuff from their environment. Yeah,

Dr. McKayla 20:44 yeah. Because the real engineer knows all the keyboard shortcuts.And I think it’s so it’s so true, what you say, right? So learning what is learning? And if we are making a decision around trade offs, I think very often it’s not framed as learning. And then it’s also how, you know if I can write it down. And you know, if it’s not in a book, if it’s a very specific instance of something, another general thing that I can learn. What does this even mean? Right? So we learn, for example, about object orientation, and you know, how to how to have objects, but then to really think about this piece here. And the instance of should I create an object here? And how should the object look like and that I have to think about that is a little bit shameful, because, obviously, I learned object oriented programming. And so it should be easily coming to me, you know, what methods I should put in here, or naming, right? naming a method? Yeah, it’s also learning somehow, or we have to put the time into, and then it’s hard. And even though we make jokes about it, if somebody sits next to you, and you have to think about a good name, and only stupid names come to your mind. It’s horrible.

Dr. Cat Hicks 22:07 Yeah, and I think you’re, you’re, you’re pointing out something that’s actually really, really important here, which is, you know, there are good jokes and bad jokes, right. And we’ve, we’ve been around, we’ve all probably been around someone who has made a joke, you know, that has made us feel really

bad about how we learned or a mistake that we made. And this is something that came up in the report to that, you know, I think one of the quotes was, I’m always watching, like, I’m from a junior code writer, or someone said, I’m always watching the senior members of my team, because I want to know, what an engineer is supposed to sound like. And that can be really beneficial. If the people around you are saying things like, we all make mistakes, we all forget something, you know, we all help each other. That’s a good learning culture. But a negative learning culture, right? A bad culture is a place where people are, are saying, oh, you know, don’t waste your time, like doing this documentation. Like in order to get ahead, what you actually need to make sure you’re doing is putting on this performance. You know, things are very multifaceted, as you know, all of these things are always happening at once. But I do think that there’s in engineering culture, there’s a lot of myths around what brilliance looks like. And this is where I’ve pulled from some research from people like Andre Symbian, who’s done some work on, you know, when a field thinks that you don’t make mistakes, you have to just be born brilliant, then that is a story. That is not how it works, right. But we’re all kind of upholding that myth.

Dr. McKayla 23:41 Because we all want to be the 10x Engineer, right? And then we had to have 10x engineer. Oh, my God. Yeah. No, but something.

Dr. Cat Hicks 23:51 Yeah, something that, you know, just just hurts my heart, honestly, to is is like, the people who people do this work, right. People do mentor other people, they do support learning. And that actually is what creates 10x results. It I mean, investing in learning is one of the most evidence backed ways that we have to you need to do work together. And I had, if we could see it as something that we are sharing, and that we’re all working on outside of ourselves, you know, it’s it’s never about, you write bad code, I write bad code. All right, fine. Like we work to make the code better. It’s outside of us. And it does not tell me who you are as an engineer. In fact, a good engineer is someone who’s written a lot. Yeah, I mean, we need to, you know, we need to improve things and give feedback, right. But I think we need to value the messages that that feedback sends.

Dr. McKayla 24:47 Yeah, I think that I want to come back to this different kinds of things that we learn and, you know, writing good code, whatever that means. And it’s also I think, changing over time. What is good code, right, whatever, what is a good way to write code but a good applications, how to structure them that also evolves? But again, I would say this is this textbook knowledge, right? And then I think what’s, and this comes back to code reviews and to the data day to day work that we have to do and to productivity a lot as well, is this constant learning? Right? I cannot stop learning. I cannot, you know, it’s not like, Oh, now I work. You know, obviously, you get better at this code base, and more familiar with the terminology and with your, how your team works, and so on. Yes, right. But still, even if I’m at this team for three years, and have worked with this code base for X years, right? If I have a new change that somebody else wrote, then I have to look at this code. Yeah, starts right there. And you know, and I cannot come in and have this full bucket of knowledge of how that works. And then, you know, supposed to already point out what was going wrong here. And maybe it has to do with how we measure time, and then a lot of people I think, have really problems with time, I have a lot of problems with time, like, when when should I leave the house to be on time, right? And I think very similar, we

estimate, for example, how long will it take to make to look at this code and give comments. And very often people reduce that to the time to make the comments, but this learning part that is never stopping continues and will have been added nobody wants to talk about and you know, nobody actually wants to have and nobody has time for it. That’s that somehow gets forgotten or is forgotten. Right? Yeah. Oh, I

Dr. Cat Hicks 26:42 agree. I agree. And I time came up a lot in these interviews. And it doesn’t surprise me because, you know, we all have felt this time pressure. And what I kept asking was, you know, if you’re experiencing this time, pressure, like, what is the the first thing that gets cut? is, honestly, to me some of the most valuable stuff, and that is really hard for people. So, you know, there is a sense in which I think I totally agree that doing this work, the learning will never stop. And you’ll you know, it can feel a little overwhelming. But I think that that’s a reason to say, you know, what success is not you getting to the end of your learning. Like that’s not what success is success is having enough space to make a good decision instead of a bad decision about how we move forward. And I, I did see people go through that. And actually, you know, I agree that it’s very difficult sometimes with this work to predict how much time it’s going to take. And I experienced that with my own work. People ask you to do a research project. And you say, okay, like, it sounds, it all sounds good. But I need to get in there and see what the truth is. And we might learn, it’s way more complicated. So I think about things like, you know, can we have measurements of productivity, that is dynamic, that we’re able to come back to and change it, and I think people will get get very, very frustrated, you know, when they are assigned a project, they dive into it, they do all this learning, actually mapping out how complicated it is, is a very valuable piece of learning that they’ve done, and they turn around and they want to share that with somebody, and there’s no way to share that, you know, there’s no way to kind of get credit for it. So that’s, you know, that’s one thing I think about is if we can make some of that more visible, right, like, like, allow you to use the learning and share it with collaborators, I think that people really enjoy that they feel the productivity of it, even if your goals of the project change. Another thing is, you know, can we talk about where time pressure makes sense? And where it doesn’t make sense, right? So can we prioritize and and see the cost of putting everyone under a time crunch all the time? And where that is just creating these learning cycles? Yeah. So

Dr. McKayla 29:06 what I want to understand a little bit more is, there were definitely some outcomes from this report, tell us how prove right? How can we reduce these learning that how can we have this growth mindset? How can we, you know, how can we in our at least in our engineering team, a celebrate learning and make it a bigger priority? What are some of those outcomes? What can you suggest engineering teams that want to improve their learning experience? And, and the valuing of that?

Dr. Cat Hicks 29:40 I think there’s a piece of this puzzle for every different role, right? So, you know, from leaders, from engineering leaders, these people could have a really outsized impact on the culture and I think that you know, a lot of places will put a poster on the wall that says everyone could learn or or maybe there’s a bullet point in a slideshow about like we’re alerting culture. But if you go to work and you see someone actually get rewarded for a complicated learning situation like, hey, you know, we gave, we

told you to go try to do this thing in the codebase, it turned out the thing we, you know, the thing that we proposed was not possible to do. But you did all this learning, you figured out a better way forward, we’re gonna celebrate that instead of, you know, coming down on somebody for it being not what we expected, those kinds of moments. And I think leaders have the ability, you know, to, to notice that to try to push themselves to amplify that that can have an impact. Another thing I would suggest, you know, that I suggest in the report is, we honestly need to separate some of our development feedback from some of our performance feedback. So okay, I don’t know how many conversations you’ve had with engineering friends, about perf cycles. But perf cycles are a huge source of stress. And even though we have invested, this is a whole area of research this ton of people, you know, who look at this, but even though we have invested huge structures into it in tech companies, a thing that I keep seeing as a learning scientist, is that we are rarely letting people have psychological safety to talk about them learning. So I think that a very simple step that leaders could take, is to make space to separate when you’re talking about how you want to learn and grow and develop and maybe explore areas of growth for you. And separate that from promotion, performance, reputation management times that you are trying to defend yourself, which is very difficult, you know, you can’t really do those two things. At the same time. I have a number of other recommendations in the report, you know, I think that there are some simple steps like, have we put any time in our calendar for documentation? Or are we just acting like that’s gonna happen magically by itself? You know, so there are small and big steps to try to make yourself a learning culture. Does that all make sense?

Dr. McKayla 32:05 Yeah, totally. And I think documentation again, is, maybe it’s the last thing that I want to talk a little bit about. Because I think there again, we have these two different kind of learnings of information of sharing. So you have this external documentation of how things work, right? And, and people agreed, and you know, in API needs documentation, but then the nitty gritty part becomes a little bit translucent, right? It’s like, oh, this method, actually, you should be able to understand it just by looking at the code. Otherwise, the code is not good. And don’t put a comment there. That’s really bad. Right? And I, I, sometimes I, I really can’t understand the problem here. Because while it’s great, if you know, and there are different learning types, and you know, in different people that maybe somebody is easier, you know, it’s easier for them to look at the code and really get it then skip the skip the comment, right? And some people like the comment, and it gives them context. And you can really know in, in, you know, native in your native language or in in, you know, in written language instead of code. But again, here, there comes this the myth a little bit as well, right? We say, well, code shouldn’t actually be documented. And you shouldn’t need documentation to read this. And there is also some research around that. And they showed that if there are comments in the code, people are slower with reading the code. But why? Because they are reading the comments. Right? And would they read the comments if the comments are useless? No, they are reading the comments, because they’re actually helpful. Right? And

Dr. Cat Hicks 33:45 that’s such a good example. Yeah, that’s such a good example of a measure that like is taken to be a negative measure. But why it might actually be a positive measure? Yeah. Yeah, I think it’s, you know, you bring so much rich lived experience on this, and I love hearing it because it’s, the reality is that these are going to be contextual decisions, like a code that was as you said, code that was good,

quote, code, quote, unquote, in one time, my deal if the context has changed, and then that then, you know, you need to make a different decision. And I think that there’s, there’s there were these interesting quotes, you know, when I interviewed people about who, who is this for? Is the documentation actually, for me? Or is it for, you know, like, some idealized scenario where we’re describing the technology and point of view that I have in my consulting, you know, is that I like to focus on people as the heart, you know, and that code writers as learners, like if we, if we take this approach, where we center they’re learning, we can be a lot less afraid of things like sometimes the trade off is that you have more comments and that that doesn’t work for all situations, but you have preferred did some really deep losses in efficiency and invisible losses that are happening? So if someone’s able to ramp up a lot more quickly, that’s a huge game. And I think something difficult about it is that sometimes that gain is really invisible. But you know, it’s, it’s not really possible to have a single way of describing code that’s going to work for everyone who’s ever learning. Yeah. And similar to measuring developer productivity, I think it’s, it’s a question of what is the best thing for us right now. And what’s going to pay off the most, even if it slows us down a little bit in this way, then I think it will really pay off. If you know, later, this person who we gave all the support to is able to become this champion contributor. And I just think, you know, I use the learning debt cycle, like the learning debt metaphor to, to evoke tech debt, because we understand tech debt right in this field. And we understand that technologies with all these dependencies can start to break apart, even if it made sense when we built it. And I think the same is true for collaboration. Yeah,

Dr. McKayla 36:11 Yeah. Yeah, there’s so much goodness in that. And I really want to dig into the productivity. So maybe what I want to do is I’m going to invite your again, a whole episode just on productivity if you’re up for it. Yeah. And then we can really dissect that, because I would love to hear your, your opinion also on, you know, you mentioned or hinted a little bit towards that. Can we measure learning as part of our productivity? Right. And I had a podcast where was just me talking about productivity. And there, I was asking the question, I was saying that all these productivity measure that we have focused around activity, right, coming from an area of the industrial age, right, where, well, it was the activity that better Yeah, exactly. And it was that the activity that we did, right, you had only to do very mechanical tasks, and the small task, and so you could count them, and so on. And all those measurements actually stem from there. And now we put them on knowledge workers, were probably the most productive thing is that I’m sitting here doing nothing, but I make a really good trade off this session. Right? That’s right,

Dr. Cat Hicks 37:21 that’s right, or you help someone else and they do something, I would love to have that conversation. And I do think there are ways we can measure learning. And you know, if anyone is going to be listening to this, like, go to your team right now and ask, what are the things that we do that really make a difference, that are not being captured anywhere that are not being rewarded? Like what is the stuff that you know, is important to do to keep this all of this running? And they will tell you?

Dr. McKayla 37:53 Yeah, yeah. And coming back to what you say, with the sharing, I think what I have seen work really well is small things like brown bags, right? Where we come together, and somebody just explains what they have learned this week. Or if you go back to code reviews, right, that you that every Friday, for

example, that’s happening on GitHub every Friday, they are sharing, and sometimes they are sharing, what did I learn this code review? That was really excellent. Right? You know, it’s a comment that, uh, no person really took the time and gave me great comment. Or I’m showing some code that I have seen that I haven’t seen before, or, you know, some some Yeah, paradigm or something that I’ve seen. So and we are sharing, we’re making some of those very implicit things that are internal that are not, we are making them explicit and sharing them. And I think this is a celebration, as you said, I think those are themes can maybe do to celebrate what’s also often referred to as blue work, right? Oh, this, this colleague helped me or that person, you know, they didn’t work on their ticket, which had them for their promotion, but they actually went out of their way and did this and that, right. And so, we open openly sharing this and making it explicit. And I think, especially in our remote world now is more important, right, that we have shared that somehow. Yeah, no, I

Dr. Cat Hicks 39:16 think that that’s a beautiful point. And really, really important. And, and something that I also thought, you know, something again, that people people said in the interviews, which was, I want to see specific examples. I want to sit next to somebody and see them, see them code, you know, and, and that just I think people don’t know how much that doesn’t happen. I think they assume it’s happening or they say, oh, go get coffee, you know, with this person who wrote the code, you’ll, you know, go talk to them. But people often struggle, especially if you’re remote, you know, if you’re new person, there’s all kinds of ways in which people you know, reasons that people might not ask for help. And as I told you, I started out my career looking at Three and five year olds and in classrooms and when they ask for help, and even when we are four and five years old, we’re looking at the people around us. And we’re asking, Can I Can I ask for help? Can I talk to you about my real learning? So that continues? And the more you see those small messages, and those small social moments can just have a huge impact.

Dr. McKayla 40:23 Yeah, yeah. And I think team culture and psychological safety, and all of that is so important. And it’s, it’s, it’s not something that you can just fix by doing three things today, right? It’s something that you can start. But it’s a continuous process. And I think this is one of those very rewarding things and you know, things that pay off, but are a little bit invisible, that you have to constantly work on that right, and that you have to raise the bar and say, we are actually allowed to have questions be wrong, you know, growth mindset, and I think it’s really, it’s a continuous work in a team, but the teams that managed to do it, they are so much better off than That’s right.

Dr. Cat Hicks 41:07 And it just is a beautiful part of it, you know, I try to make these problems easier for myself, and for other people by saying, who’s already doing this, right? Like, how do we give them a stage to do it? Like, you’re who’s the person that someone always everybody goes to this person to ask for help? You know, how do we make sure that they are instead of being like, burdened by this invisible work, they’re actually rewarded for all this support that they’re doing? Yeah.

Dr. McKayla 41:34 Yeah, that’s so true. Well, it kinda, it actually brings us to the end of this show. I said, I’m going to bring you back. If you have time. I will continue. We can continue this discussion a little bit more. But is there

anything that you want to tell my listeners, maybe that you think, you know, wraps up some of the learnings that would be powerful for them for the software engineering teams? How can they, you know, be in a better place? What are what is the one advice, you know, that you would give them?

Dr. Cat Hicks 42:08 Yeah, great question. How, what a lovely question to be asked, you know, I think I end the report that I recently released, saying, learning matters. And I would I would like to leave with that, which is that, you know, learning matters and measurement matters. Like whenever we measure something, I think, Who is this measurement for? And is it bringing us closer to this culture that we want to have, you know, where we feel free and happy and, and like, we’re all learning together, which is what we need in order to tackle these huge, complicated problems in the world, you know, we need to get past some of these myths about where brilliance comes from, and the myths that we all need to hide, you know, are learning from each other. But that people will only be able to do that if we make the environment around them safe. You know, so it kind of comes from both sides from from us building the environment as individuals in it, but also from people who are able to kind of say, well, I’m gonna, I’m going to do something to make this environment safer. So that’s what I would say, you know, learning matters, it pays off. Let’s let’s work for it.

Dr. McKayla 43:18 Yeah, that’s beautiful. That’s really great. So thank you so much cat for being on my show. And I will definitely ping you again and ask you for more of your input. Thank you so much. Okay. Bye bye.

Dr. McKayla 43:35 This was another episode of the Software Engineering Unlocked podcast. If you enjoyed the episode, please help me spread the word about the podcast, send episode to a friend via email, Twitter, LinkedIn, Bell, whatever messaging system you use, or give it a positive review on your favorite podcasting platforms such as Spotify or iTunes. This would mean really a lot to me. So thank you for listening. Don’t forget to subscribe and I will talk to you in two weeks. Bye.

 

Running a developer community

In this episode, I talk to Bekah Weigel, who runs the virtual coffee community about community building. 

Bekah graduated from a Bootcamp in 2019 and quickly created a striving and very special developer community in just under two years. 

We talk about:

  • how she kick-started the developer community virtual coffee
  • what it takes to run the community
  • how sponsorships make it possible to be sustainable, and
  • how community members take over a large part of running the community. 
Bekah Weigel

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

Subscribe on iTunes, Spotify, Google, Deezer, or via RSS.

Transcript: Kickstarting and running a developer community

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello, and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Michaela. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Bekah Hawrot Weigel, a web developer and creator of the virtual coffee developer community.

But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring today’s episode: Codiga.

Codiga is a code analysis platform that automates the boring part of code reviews and lets you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab and Bitbucket. I’ve worked with Codiga for around one year now and I really love how it guides me in discovering and improving, well, the not so nice parts of my codebase.

But there is more. Codiga has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you’re coding. Codiga has a great free plan, so there’s nothing that stops you from giving it a try today. Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Codiga.io.

But now back to Bekah. Bekah graduated from the bootcamp Flatiron school in May, 2019. And since then she started a consultancy specializing in front end development and created the developer community virtual coffee. She also recently started her new job as a technical community builder at deep gram.

She’s also a mom of four, so I’m totally impressed. And yesterday I went to pick her brain on how she could develop this awesome. Develop a community so fast in just a little bit under two years.

So that come to my show background, I’m really, really excited that

[00:01:41] Bekah: you are here. Thanks so much for having me. I’m very excited to be here. Yeah.

[00:01:45] Michaela: So can you tell me a little bit about virtual coffee, what it is? And for me it seems a little bit different than other communities. It seems a little bit, a little bit more niche, grit, like closer.

W how would you describe

[00:01:57] Bekah: it? Yeah, I think that’s a great way to [00:02:00] describe it. We always like to say that we like the intimacy of virtual coffee because we’re a small community of developers where all stages of the journey. So if you’re just learning, if you’ve been doing it your whole career we’ve got everybody and we’re tech agnostic, so it doesn’t matter what, what tech tools you’re using.

If you want to meet up with other developers and share and support each other. We’re here for it. So we meet up twice a week when we meet up on Tuesdays at 9:00 AM, Eastern and Wednesdays at 12:00 PM Eastern for some chats. So we go into breakout rooms. So we have small group conversation. We like to maintain that intimacy.

And then for members, so people who have attended at least one virtual coffee, they’re welcome into our slack and our members only. So we have lunch and learns on most Fridays, we’re running our third round of lightening talks soon. We’ve got monthly challenges and some other small groups that meet that are building within the slack community, which is just so great to see everybody supporting each other and working to meet the needs of the community.

[00:03:04] Michaela: Yeah. So there’s a bunch of things that you just mentioned. Right? So a virtual coffee. When I came to know it, it was mainly there’s. The weekly, or I don’t know if it was even PVT at the start, but it was like this virtual coffees where you. We’re seeing each other and chatting to each other and now it grew into something really big.

Right. And so you say you it’s, it’s a small community, but, but how large is it? Like how many people are participating here and, you know, , what else do you do to keep this , intimacy, Ronaldo and Messi. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. How do you, how.

[00:03:43] Bekah: , Well, you know, we’ve got our slack has almost 600 people in it, but I would like to just note that I think that, you know, there’s a lot of people who used to be active that aren’t active anymore.

And one of the things about the community is we’re really close, but it is transient in nature [00:04:00] because sometimes people are looking for their first job and they get it and they can’t come around much anymore. Sometimes people change jobs and their availability changes.

So, you know, one of the things that we really like is being able to celebrate wins with other people.

It’s bittersweet a lot of times because you know that they won’t be around much anymore, but you know, like occasionally I’ll get messages from people who came at the very beginning and it’s just so great to, you know, still have that connection and know that, you know, we support each other, whether we’re in slack or not.

So I would say maybe we have about 200, 200 or 300 active members, which I think is still pretty good. 30 to 50% of our slack is fairly active. And I think, you know, We maintain that intimacy by doing, by focusing on small group conversation and a lot of ways. So the small group conversation that happens when we meet up on zoom twice a week we try and keep our breakout rooms between eight and 14 people, but we have.

Start in the big zoom room together. And we go over some announcements, like our code of conduct and what the mission of virtual coffee is a little bit of our history just to allow people to get a glimpse of this is how long we’ve been doing things. And this is how, how things have grown. And so. By having that interaction with other people by seeing faces or hearing voices or interacting and a synchronous way, it provides some kind of connection and friendship that doesn’t happen as easily in async only environments.

And then it’s great to see what the community members are doing. We have let’s see here, we’ve got all of these small groups meeting within the community and. Tech interview study group. These are all led by members that happened on Monday. We have an indie hackers meetup on Wednesday, a react meetup on Wednesday and [00:06:00] a monthly challenge check-in on Friday.

So, you know, the members are really there to support each other and to see what the needs are. And so not, everybody’s going to come to indie hackers. I like to go to that one. It’s one of my favorites. You know, maybe there’s like. To eight people there, but it’s great because you can really dive into those deeper conversations and get to know people in the, those small moments in ways that you can’t when you’re in a large group of people.

So I think that’s one of the things that, that we’ve done well is have people who care about each other and, and see them supporting each other in their new.

[00:06:39] Michaela: Yeah, that sounds really good. And there are a couple of things that I want to touch base on that you mentioned, first of all. So I can imagine that there are like a hundred people joining your soup, and then you have this announcement.

Remember you’re members of what is all about, which I think is really good for the mission also, and for new members to, you know, Just introduce them to your culture code of conduct and them so on, but then how do you announce the different breakout rooms? Do you know, do people speak up and say, oh, I want to do a breakout room.

Is it like, I don’t know if this is an a term in English by the bar camp where you, and non-conference where it just self-organize itself or do you have to announce it beforehand? Did you know already, these are the topics of, you know, today’s

[00:07:24] Bekah: Yeah. So that’s a really great question. So we also, I should have mentioned this before, because I think one of the ways that we also have been able to support everybody is we have documented most of our processes thoroughly.

And that allows us to bring new volunteers on and to support new people. We think of pretty much every interaction as a opportunity for onboarding new members and to constantly remind people of the things that matter to us, which is, you know, being kind and recognizing that the impact of our words matters.

And so we have all of that created and we [00:08:00] have let’s see maybe about 30 room leaders in note takers. And so we have a process on Mondays where we see who’s up for volunteering to be a room leader or note taker. And we pick a introduction question, just a random question. It can be something silly.

Like what kind of dinosaur would you be? And so everybody in the breakout rooms answers a couple of questions, including that. And we have a Backpocket topic, but we always say that we like to prioritize what folks who are in the room want to talk about. So if they have a question or if they have a topic they want to talk about, we start with that.

And then if not, we’ve got that back pocket topic. We had virtual coffee today and our back pocket topic. I’ll read it to you. Just so you have a sample of some of the things, actually, all of them I think are listed on our discussions in our repository. Our topic today was what are some transferable skills you bring to tech either from a previous career or from other parts of your life.

And so actually my breakout room did talk about that. And so everyone there’s okay. So we have the. MC he’ll gives all of the announcements. And then we have a host who controls zoom and the host puts everybody into breakout rooms. So we already know who our room leaders and note takers are. Those have already been set up the day before.

And so we make sure that they all get in room and we try and have backup ones. So, you know, if we need a fifth room, then we’re going to have this person as a backup room leader. Which today I think we did end up using our backup And then the host goes through and fills all of those rooms and we do our best.

It gets chaotic when people come in late or at the end or drop off and come back in. But we do our best to make sure that we get a pretty well-rounded room. So new folks, people who have been there for a while, you know that some people maybe are leading for the first time. And so you want to put some.

[00:10:00] Dependable talkers and their room. And so you try and make sure that you do that, but that’s kind of the process for what we do and how we do it. Wow,

[00:10:07] Michaela: that sounds like you’re having a conference and the organizational, like I say, not a burden, but burden ID. It doesn’t seem like it’s a burden to you to organizational fun.

Every week, twice sounds like a lot of work.

[00:10:22] Bekah: Now that we have the process down, it makes it a lot easier. And we’ve got some, you know, Slackbots reminding us about some of the things that we have to do and where to look for things. And it, it is a lot of fun. There is definitely work behind the scenes that happens to make sure that we have a, a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

But, you know, it’s worth it. If people feel like this is a safe space that they can grow. Yeah, definitely.

[00:10:46] Michaela: And I can really see like with this organization, I mean probably if, if, you know, like if you started there like five people come in, you know, showing up, you don’t need a lot of organization. Right.

But then if 10 people, and then it’s 20, then you know, you started developing those processes and you probably see also what works and what does not work. And what are some of the things that you tried that didn’t work out. So.

[00:11:08] Bekah: Well, I will say that when I first started virtual coffee, I didn’t even know that zoom had breakout rooms.

So that was a totally new concept to me. And I feel like I’ve got some expertise in it. Initially. I so virtual coffee started. I had been working as a developer for about eight months when the pandemic hit. And then I lost my job because of the pandemic. My kids were sent home from school. That same day.

They never went back to school that year. I think. And so I was really interviewing for the first time for jobs and I just didn’t have a great sense of the developer community out there, what the expectations were, how to make it through the interview process. And so I asked, you know, Hey, does anybody want to meet up for virtual coffee on Twitter?

And, and that’s why we’re so called virtual coffee. And so I’ve learned so much. And [00:12:00] initially I was kind of resistant to having a slack because, oh, I don’t know if we need it. You know, this is just going to be something we do for a couple of months. So I, I would say that maybe some of the things that didn’t work were, you know, pushing some of those things off for a while or being resistant to.

Adding we, we lean on project boards and get hub issues a lot in our organization. We want to make sure that we use tools where our members lived. And so I initially I was resistant. I was like, I can not look at one more repository no more. And now I’m like, yes. Yeah, we need a repository for that.

So. I think that my, my, the thing that didn’t work was my frame of mind around it, because for a long time, I thought this was going to be a temporary thing. And when we did our first heck Tober Fest event two years ago, that’s when I finally thought, oh, this is, we’re not going anywhere. We’re w this is not just a pandemic thing.

Like we’re filling a need for a lot of people, even outside of the pandemic. And so that’s kind of where. Things started shifting in my mind, like, what is the, what are the long-term processes and how can we make this sustainable?

[00:13:12] Michaela: Yeah. And it’s really nice. Yeah. I’m also like, I, I’m often thinking of creating a community around se unlocked, for example, the podcast.

Right. But I’m not sure about how it will, you know, what are the right tools? What is the right kind of community. I’m also more a person of like, I’m not really good at. Participant in the slack channels and this core channel, I get very easily overwhelmed. And then, you know, like maybe a week I’m trying really hard, but

If it already starts with that, you know, I don’t, you know, I don’t think that I can run a community like this, but having, you know, chats or, you know, soon conversations. I was also thinking about Twitter spaces. Is that something that came to your mind that you could maybe do as well?

[00:13:57] Bekah: Yeah. So I [00:14:00] went through, I ran a lot of Twitter spaces myself.

I went through a string of them. I was doing them weekly, and then I started live streaming, I think instead just trying to get a feel for everything that’s out there. But I think with my job at deep gram, we’re going to start doing some Twitter spaces that I’m really excited about because of the support of the team.

And we can do some really great stuff. Start build community and fill some of the needs that we see out there in the tech community right now.

[00:14:31] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. And do you think that there’s a difference between a zoom? It assumed seems a little bit more intimate for me because you know, it’s, it’s a community that’s not completely public it’s public, right.

Because people can just respond and be part of it, but to the spaces for me, just because it’s there on Twitter and then you see at least some of the bubbles and then it’s broadcasted through other, you know, sort of followers of the people that are in there. And so on. People can drop in and go out.

Do you think it’s different and, and has a different need or fills a different need, a different purpose for the condition?

[00:15:07] Bekah: I think, you know, there are expectations when you meet with other people in a small group setting, face-to-face, you know, you, and we say like, if you want to leave your camera off, if you want to stay muted, that’s totally fine.

If you want to throw things in the chat, that’s a great way to communicate as well. But still you see other people there, whereas Twitter spaces, you can kind of come in and out. You, there’s not the sense of, oh, I have a roll hill here that I have. Bill because you’re not a speaker. You can be a listener.

And so in. Twitter spaces I think is closer to watching a live stream because you can interact through the chat, but it’s a little bit more personal because if someone’s live streaming at Twitch on Twitch, you don’t see everybody who is there, but in Twitter spaces, you can see those other people and they do connect you.

Other like, you know, if we follow [00:16:00] each other, I can see whose space you’re in. I’m like, oh, okay, well, she’s there and she’s cool. So I’m going to go check out, you know, what she’s listening to. And so there’s a, I think a little bit, maybe more community happening in Twitter spaces, but there’s less like barrier to entry or friction if you’re shy or an introvert or, you know, just kind of want to check something out one time.

so

[00:16:24] Michaela: another thing that I wanted to talk with you, and I think they are a little bit connected. One is that, so I looked on your website, virtual coffee.io, and there are a couple of people publicly listed. Right. And apparently they are not all of them. Not everybody wants to be listed there or it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

Hasn’t edited themselves. But a couple of people are really listed there. And then I also saw that there are different roles, right? You were also talking about the different roles for the meetings, but there were two particular ones that were like labeled there. And one was the, the. Maintainer and the other was the community maintainer.

So what are those two roles? Is that all the roles that you have and how do you select people or how are people selecting themselves to be in those

[00:17:07] Bekah: roles? Yeah, that’s a really great question and it’s kind of evolved over time. We’ve had so many people step up and offer support and offer help. And Sarah, McCombs, they were really great support at the beginning of.

Virtual coffee and, and making sure that we got this stuff done and helping build out these processes. And when we launched our first hack Tober Fest, we had a whole team that was focused on that. And a number of the people who were on that team ended up coming on as maintainers and. I’m both a, a core maintainer and a community maintainer and, or a, an org maintainer rather.

And what that means is we kind of look at the overall organization, the health, the strategy where should we go from here? What decisions need to be made in terms of the entire organization? I would say the community maintainers are [00:18:00] looking more at the day-to-day, the community management project planning that, that kind of more day-to-day focus, I guess, in, in making sure that the team is supported there.

So we all work together as a core team and we make decisions together and there’s always going to be overlap in all of those things. But it’s funny that you ask about these roles because I was just working on this. Actually we have some team leads and they should be going up on the site there.

They’re already listed there, but. You know, we have leads for our monthly challenges as Areli, Varo, and Andrew Bush for our audio visual stuff. So getting things put up on YouTube, helping with live streams, that’s bogged in. For documentation, we just onboarded a new team lead named . Who’s absolutely great.

I met with her this morning to kind of like walk through the process of, you know, how do we prioritize, what needs documented, where do we put these things? And she’s so great about, you know, asking questions and getting issues up on the site before I even think about them. So I hope I didn’t miss anybody.

I know that, that we work with. A number of other people as well to support the organization. But I think that, that those will go up on the site soon. We want to also have like a community health team lead and we’re talking to someone about doing that. Job search is a big thing at virtual coffee.

It doesn’t matter what stage you are. Somebody is always looking for a job. And so we have some great folks who do a lot of work on that. And so, you know, that might be up on there soon too. So, you know, we’re, we’re, I think we’re in the phase where we’re trying to figure out how do we best support our members and help provide those leadership opportunities that we want.

[00:19:56] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. So when you describe all [00:20:00] of that, it seems to me this is a full-time full-time job already, but so how much, how much time does really go into that? I mean, there’s the meetings themselves, right? That you’re a participating and I’m even, I’m not part of virtual coffee because I don’t have the time to do it as.

Just as a participant. So I can imagine you have to be at the meetings, you have to plan the meetings and there’s the chat and you’re making all this. You have all these thoughts and meetings also with other members of the community, how to grow the community, how to, you know, keep it alive and make it healthy.

So how much time off your week goes into data? I can imagine

[00:20:39] Bekah: a lot. I don’t know. That’s a good question. At some point, I think. Stopped keeping track of how much time was going into it because it was a lot and it’s not a job, right. It’s a volunteer position. But I think, you know, now we have so many supportive members and with the core team that I’m able to do, where like we’re all able to do a lot more and to lean on each other.

And to grow in that way. And a lot of the stuff is almost like muscle memory. Now, you know, I’ve been doing it for so long that it doesn’t feel like it’s one more thing to do. There are always things that, you know, I have a whole board of things I would love to do for virtual coffee and I have to try and pace myself because sometimes I go for it anyway, and then I.

Well into something and I’m like, oh, I, I might, I might die after that. So I try to avoid that feeling now.

[00:21:38] Michaela: Yeah, I can imagine. So I have seen on the GitHub page, there are some, there’s some sponsoring going on, right? Is there, are there other ways that you’re monetizing this community or that the community monetize it itself, that it has some budget around that you can also do cool stuff.

[00:21:55] Bekah: So right now, sponsorships, we launched [00:22:00] sponsorships maybe in September. And so up to that point, we were just paying out of pocket for everything. But sponsorships is the primary way that we cover our costs. We had a monthly challenge sponsorship, which was nice. We have the podcast there’s opportunities for sponsorship there.

Oh, oh, we just launched a store, so, oh yeah. Cool. That’s really exciting. It’s just really exciting to see people like wearing the virtual coffee and sharing their stickers. So those are some ways that we’re, we’re working on covering, covering the cost of what we want to do, and then, you know, hopefully providing new services and.

Yeah. Yeah.

[00:22:38] Michaela: I think at one point you have to think about it because even like this lag is probably not free, right. You have to pay per month membered and.

[00:22:46] Bekah: Nope. So we’re on the free version of slack because it costs, I think $6 per member per month. Yeah. I saw there’s no way that we could cover that.

That’s so

[00:22:59] Michaela: crazy. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So there’s a free version of that as well, because I looked into that, I thought like maybe, you know, slack channel and it’s not like $6. Why am I God, not.

[00:23:11] Bekah: Right, right. Discord, discord, we’ve gone back and forth about it. It has a lot of great tools. We’re just not in love with the user experience of discord.

But you know, we have class. So one of the things that we have Put a lot of money into zoom because we have accounts for our core team, but also we have a coworking room that stays open all the time. So folks can join in slack and the coworking room is always open. So that’s its own account. We, you know, producing a podcast can be costly you know, producing.

Transcripts and providing the services for that. We’ve got like Zapier and air table. So, you know, like we’re, we’re using all of these tools that we can to you know, make things a little bit easier for us, but do cost money. And so what we, we try and keep our costs minimal, [00:24:00] but you know, there, there are some, but I think that.

Covered right now for our CA our monthly costs by our sponsorships, which is really, really great. Yeah. That’s

[00:24:10] Michaela: really good. Yeah, that’s really cool. So what would you say to the listeners today that would like to, you know, start their own community, have a community? What would be the MVP, a MVP version of a community that you, you know, from your experience would.

Suggest to them, should they start with fitness spaces or should they have like a meeting or a slack or a discord channel, you know, what are the options and what are the pros and cons for each

[00:24:38] Bekah: one of those? That’s really a great question. I think that, first of all, I feel strongly that. You, there are a lot of really great communities already out there, and a lot of them really need support.

So if you are not all on board and starting your own community, explore some of those and see how you can help because, you know, you might be able to be on a core team or something that allows you the experience that you want from that. So I’m not convinced that every, every person needs to start their own community.

But I would say that I think trying to fill a need within the community is a really great way to start one, because if you see that there’s a gap or that people are asking for things, or, you know, like one of the things we’ve been doing virtual coffee for almost two years now, and we get the same questions in our Our zoom sessions.

All the time. And so I can tell that there’s a real need for more work, to be done around interviewing about supporting junior developers about creating positive workspaces. So for sure there are. For groups that focus on those things. And then I would say for me, if you start a slack or a discord, that’s probably the most time-consuming [00:26:00] thing that you can do because you want to keep people engaged.

You want to keep them talking, you need to answer questions. So if you don’t have a core group of people, Then it’s going to be really, it’s going to be a lot of work to try and keep up with that. I also think that we’re in the pandemic now and people have been collecting slacks and discords, and when things in the pandemic start to ease up, we’ll see that a lot of those communities, I think, start to fade off just because, you know, people are going to prioritize the couple that they’ll keep and stay active with.

And, and then they’re going to be, you know, doing. In really stuff.

[00:26:42] Michaela: Yeah. Yeah. Which is good. I’m I’m waiting for that.

[00:26:47] Bekah: Yeah. Yeah. So I mean, thinking about like, okay, maybe you want to then create some kind of hybrid model or, you know, do an online meetup that translates into an in-person thing. Or if you, if in-person is not your thing, then, you know, figure out how you can build your online environment around that.

I think it’s tricky because it’s not one size fits all, but you know, in-person or async, if you’re a really async person, then, then slack or discord is a great way to go. So yeah, there’s, there’s a lot, there’s a lot there. Yeah.

[00:27:21] Michaela: I think it probably really about personality as well. I think a lot of people really enjoy.

Writing and, you know, participating in this estrone coroners conversation, even though they are often very synchronous right in discord. That’s why I always feel like I missed that conversation. Oh, I missed that conversation as well. And then I just leave without writing anything like anyway, so the last question that I have for you is you just started as a technical community, like.

What, what are you doing dead? Are you doing actually the same thing that you just learned yourself? And you’re not like your master now and the expert here for, for deep gram or what’s your role there?

[00:27:58] Bekah: Yeah, it’s kind of, I [00:28:00] feel like it’s such, it’s been such a good fit for me. My background, I spent 10 years teaching college English.

And so deep gram is a speech to text. AI company. And so there, there are so many different experts in different fields there. So, you know, whether it’s data science or linguistics or engineering and, you know, the devil team I get to talk to everybody and. Understand where they’re coming from, but I sit on the dev REL team as a technical community builder, so I can do dev rally things.

I can write if I want to I can contribute code, but my focus is on creating those systems and processes for community and the external community at deep gram. I always say that your community starts with the internal community. You want to make sure that you have a strong internal community before trying to start an external community, because you have to have that support network to help you and that trust to be in guidance.

So I’m doing. You know, some educating I am doing well, hopefully some speaking in the near future and hopefully some writing and building out that community strategy and trying to figure out, you know, where, how can we. Fill a need in the tech community or how can we support existing communities out there?

So it is, it’s pretty much a mixture of everything I’ve ever done in my life to this point. And it’s been really fun in the first three weeks now having a team to work with them. Yeah,

[00:29:31] Michaela: it sounds super exciting. Yeah. I can’t imagine everything coming together for you. And you can really strive now with the competencies that you, I think not only developed you probably had already from the beginning, right?

Because it’s not something that you. You make the first virtual coffee? I think a lot of people did that and then it grows into something that’s, you know, so probably not in the deaf community as well, so well rounded. So yeah, so [00:30:00] congratulations to that. And thank you so much for sharing so much about the process and about virtual copy, how it worked.

Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Is there something that you want to tell our listeners? Maybe how can they sign up for virtual coffee? He said, you know, do you, do you have to have some commitment there or accountability?

[00:30:21] Bekah: That’s a great question. So we make everybody come to at least one virtual coffee for before getting an invitation and to our slack and that’s to, you know, help them experience, you know, our community and to see what it’s like, because, you know, we feel that we demonstrate that pretty well in those meetings.

And so it’s really. Figuring out if it’s in the community for you, because it’s not the community for everyone, we all have different needs and, and things that we like. And don’t like, and so if it’s for you, then it’s great. Then join our slack, fill out our new member form. You can find those events@virtualcoffee.io slash events.

So come and check out a virtual coffee and then.

[00:31:05] Michaela: Yeah, cool. I will link everything in the show notes. And thank you so much for talking to me being here today with me. I enjoyed it.

[00:31:14] Bekah: Great. Thanks so much. I’m going to, can I mention one more thing? Yeah, sure. I just want to say to ’em if you follow deep gram devs on Twitter, I think we’ll be running some very cool Twitter spaces through there soon.

So if you want to check out some Twitter spaces, you can do that as well. And thank you so much for having me. This has been great. Yeah, I really

[00:31:35] Michaela: loved it. Okay. Thank you for caring. Thank you. Bye

[00:31:38] Bekah: bye.

Predictable profit through small bets

Daniel Vassallo left his cushy job at Amazon, where he made over half a million per year, to start his own business.

We talk about:

  • anxiety when start-up attempts do not work out as planned
  • how he overcame failure
  • his strategy of small bets to reduce uncertainty
  • and all the little products that provide him with an average of 23K USD of profit per month.
Picture of Daniel Vassallo

Today’s episode is sponsored by Codiga, a smart coding assistant and automated code review platform. Try Codiga for FREE!

Links:

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Transcript: Entrepreneurship as a developer

[If you want, you can help make the transcript better, and improve the podcast’s accessibility via Github. I’m happy to lend a hand to help you get started with pull requests, and open source work.]

[00:00:00] Michaela: Hello and welcome to the software engineering unlocked podcast. I’m your host, Dr. McKayla. And today I have the pleasure to talk to Daniel Vassallo, a former Amazon engineer, and now an entrepreneur and freespirit. But before I start, let me tell you about an amazing startup that is sponsoring the podcast Codiga.

Codiga, is a code analysis platform that automates the boring part of code reviews and let’s you merge with confidence on GitHub, GitLab, and Bitbucket. I’ve worked with Codiga for around one year now, and I love how it guides me in discovering and improving, well, the “not so nice parts” of my codebase. But there is more: Codiga also has a coding assistant that helps you write better code faster. Find and share safe and reusable blocks of code within your favorite IDE on demand while you are coding. Codiga has a great free plan. So there’s actually nothing that stops you from giving it a try! Learn more at Codiga.io. That is Codiga.io.

But now back to Daniel. Daniel got internet famous by sharing that he left his Kashi job at MSU. Yeah, half a million per year. Can you imagine? And his main motivation for leaving was that he wanted to be more independent, but also challenged again. After that you shared his attempts to build a successful business on Twitter.

And since then he managed to get a really large Twitter following. And even though his first SaaS business did not work out as planned, he ever reaches around $23,000 in profit each month. So I actually also asked Daniel if he would give away one of his products, to my listener and he agreed. So that’s really awesome. And so today you have the chance to win a couple of things, right? You can either win. Everybody can build a Twitter audience, which is a video course from Daniel, where he really goes into depth on how he, how he built this to the audience.

And how can you do the same? Or you can. When a digital [00:02:00] copy of the good parts of AWS. So it’s a book, a very technical book and tell us your, everything that you ever wanted to know about AWS, where he’s really an expert in. So how do you want to do that? Right. You ask them, you have to like, and retweet today’s episode’s link.

I will put that in the show notes and for an additional chance to win, you can also leave a car. On what are you doing to get a little bit more independent, some side income, or maybe a hobby that you have that just gives you more energy, which I think is equally important.

Yeah, but without further ado, let’s dig into Daniel’s interesting success story. Daniel. I’m really thrilled that you’re on the show. Thank you for being.

[00:02:41] Daniel: Of course. Thank you, McKayla, then. Nice to meet you. Happy to be here. Yeah,

[00:02:45] Michaela: I’m super, super excited.

So when I go to your website, I have a list of products that are linked there. Right. And they are very, very diverse, which is super exciting for me. I’m just two of them I already mentioned. Right. Which was a video course on how to build a Twitter audience.. Then you have the good parts of AWS.

Then you have cutting boards. They’re like wood, wood cutting boards. I was like, wow, how does that fit into that? Then you have like profit and loss, which is some status updates on your business finances. And then finally you have this SAS business user base which I’m also super interested in.

How does that come about, right. That you have like a cutting board in between. All of those is a little bit more technical parts or products that you have. Yeah,

[00:03:34] Daniel: yeah, yeah. So I think I sort of, I started this journey, I think in a traditional way, like many other software engineers, I thought I was going to be doing the boots.

I was going to sort of focus on one idea and build it inside to make it successful at all costs, putting all my effort into it. And I think what’s happened. And that’s what I started with. That’s what, that’s what user base. What is the light? When I, when I started [00:04:00] a few months in, I started to have a little bit of I was public call it like a small crisis of anxiety.

I was thinking I was getting very sort of uncomfortable by the uncertainty that I was imagining. In front of me, you know what, when we’re like, when will, I know if this will succeed? What if it won’t succeed? Like what sickness should I be watching for? What if it succeeds, but slowly that should I be shifting attention to other things and sort of, I had all these questions that I didn’t really have an answer for.

And I was noticing that I probably was underestimating. How much uncertainty that is in doing something like this, that it’s very hard to know. And th this was a bit more confounding because actually I was getting very strong sickness about user base back then, very song. You know, I just liked the term validation because I think sort of it implies something that it isn’t there, but the typical size that people look for.

For validation. Like I was sort of had a mailing list of about 4,000 people waiting for the launch. I had endorsements by highly influential people, sort of the CEOs of like Netlify and various publicly. And those, the products that I sort of and were very welcoming and sort of wanted, wanted to collaborate with their teams.

So many other tanks, even, even on launch. I sort of, it was front page on hacker news, number one on product hands, even, even the initial day 11, you were strong was actually about 40 customers, about $1,500 in sales. But yet I was still noticing that, you know, it was uncertain and I tend to find that that’s what happened.

It was much harder to keep the momentum of all the sickness that, that had been. So, so th that’s crisis a little bit opened my eyes. And I basically, I started thinking if I want to make this as an arrangement, the self-employment engagement, successful public, and it’s a different strategy. I can’t just be going all in into one thing, because I was worried that I was just going to run out of time savings and I have to go back to full-time employment, which isn’t the end of the world.

Like, it’s not like it would be the end [00:06:00] of the world. I was enjoying being self-employed. I enjoy the flexibility, the, the, the sort of freedom, the ability to work on what I wanted and all those good. So I don’t really know what has happened, but sort of I had the smaller epiphany and I wondered what if instead of having plan a plan B plan C and plan the about, you know, if this fails, I go to the next thing and so and so forth.

What if I decide to do a bunch of things at the same time, small things? Of course I was there. The stick. You know, I had limited finite time, like for the one. And that’s sort of changed my attitude to things instead of sort of focusing on one thing. I started looking around with me and I started asking myself, what can I do?

Low-hanging fruit. That’s what I kind of do. That is a small thing. Doesn’t necessarily need to have large upsides accounting because I’ve been new or, and this is, they be sustainable for a long time. It was mostly looking at small wins. That’s what, what can I do? Something that can be, can make me some money into the month’s time, which are these, the higher odds it’s still unpredictable.

You never really know whether something’s going to work or not. Even today. That was when I launched new things. I have no clue sometimes whether things are going to work or not. But it’s changed my perspective because before. Looking at things, does this have upside? Is this going to scale? Is this sustainable?

And I think that side of that comes with dads. Those things that do have those properties tend to have low odds of succeeding and they just to be hard, you know unpredictable sort of affected by them, them things, good timing and other things that are very opaque. And this has worked out well for me.

So now sort of the, to get back to your question, so to these and why now it looks like I have a very diverse portfolio of products is, is because I, I I’ve been the products are a manifestation of inspiration that I had over the last two and a half years or so. And I ask myself, is this something that’s going to be a small bag?

This is something that I can give it a shot. And maybe if it’s works, I keep it. If it doesn’t or if it becomes, you know, too, too, too, too hard [00:08:00] to do or something that I’m disliking, I can just drop it. So don’t, it’s been sort of a stream of experiments. Some things work, some things worked more than others, some things beyond my expectations, some things work, it worked a little bit, but didn’t meet my expectations.

So as you can imagine in a poetry. It’s like an investment. I mean, I did, I don’t think the idea is that we tend to do the same thing with, with how to, how we invest our money. For example, that we almost considered food. To deploy or your life savings, like in a single stock or a single assets that we tend to want to diversify, to tame uncertainty.

And I think more or less, it’s the same episode to my own ideas and my own small ventures, essentially. So I know it’s a general answer. I hope happy to dive deep or deeper into all the individual tanks, but sort of the general idea at the Titanic.

[00:08:52] Michaela: I think when I look at your projects and your products I think what’s also distinctive here is that they have started that end.

So a lot of people have a lot of ideas but there continues, right. So they are, I’m starting with it and that can actually not stop them. But it’s more something that I’m doing and. I keep on getting busier and busier because I’m adding things to my portfolio, right?

Let’s say I’m a SAS business user basis. Probably the exception here, right? It’s not something that you start and then it already ended. It has some maintenance cycle, as we all know, it’s software. Right. And if it gets more successful, you will have more, have to be more involved in. But like a cutting board has a start and end.

Right. You have the idea, you design it and then it’s finished and then maybe you have to sell it. Yeah. Okay. But there is not really a lot of involvement in it. The same for the video course. . You recorded it and now you’re selling it the same for the book. Right. You start it, you finish it.

so do you think that this is you, you deliberately think about that when you’re looking at your small bats? I mean, there’s [00:10:00] like as, as we have time, Infinitive ideas on board we can do. . And, and I think long enough people have struggled with that. I’m struggling with that. What should we, you know, what should we take on?

And there’s always a pros and cons list, or however people make the judgment is this affinitive thing of I’m starting this and, you know, in. Three weeks or in three months I have it finished and then I’m done with it. And so on. Is that something that crosses your mind that you’re thinking about it?

Okay. Yeah.

[00:10:30] Daniel: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It’s sort of, I think I’ve developed a selection criteria. I like to call it. It’s it’s sort of it’s I think, I think back when I started, I almost fell into the trap of. London can do the first opportunity to tie fell that I could do. And I would just jump into it. So I don’t, because it seems like, okay, I can do it.

Let’s do it nowadays. I’ve become much more vigorous. I would say that’s what my selection criteria and I feeling completely okay at peace ignoring things that I feel like I can do. I can give a shot, but if it, if they don’t set up. My strict selection. Cause I too, yeah. I just leave them for someone else or whatever that they’re just not mine.

And what you mentioned is a, is an important part of it’s that this is like, Is is this something that’s I like to call it? Is this something where time is going to be my friend, not my enemy. I think what you, what you’re doing is you, you need to have the payoff happened before a certain period of time. Otherwise you’re going to run out of.

Money or out of time out of frustration or get the motivated. And I disliked that situation. I disliked that property. So I try to avoid those as much as possible.

I think with user base, I also made the mistake of what the kind of SAS was. It’s the kind of SAS that’s acquired. Unfortunately in our 24 7 support, I have a PagerDuty app. I sort of, sometimes I get paged until 2:00 AM in the morning. Like nowadays I would almost certainly avoid something like that. So I thought I would go for something simpler almost certainly.

Other parts of my selection [00:12:00] criteria. I also is this something that I can build in blink to markets by myself? Not because I think I had no after the thing go, I can do everything, but I think it’s a good test to keep things simple. Right. It’s sort of a proxy for is the simple enough that I can bring good to markets by my.

Like if I change my mind I, or I decide it’s not worth pursuing, getting a more, I don’t have to make sure that everyone is on board or I’m not sort of haircutting anyone else.

Concerns go away. If I keep things simple that I can sort of do do, do on my own. . I just, with user base, I type invested so much that then I started falling into the trap of sunk costs.

Now I should invest even more. And I ended up spending, you know, a ton of time, money, and more than what my, this capital to the other was light. And definitely a lesson learned. And, and what you mentioned, I do like projects and ideas that sort of ideally have a start and an end where time is my friend.

[00:12:55] Michaela: So what are some of the products that you started or the ideas that you started that haven’t yet? That haven’t succeeded yet, or maybe that you haven’t even shared with the artists, some that you haven’t shared even with, with, you

[00:13:07] Daniel: know, with the people.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. So there’s various defense of failure degrees afraid as well. Certainly I think we’ve already mentioned the user base, probably the biggest failure that I had. And this one I did it before. I was thinking about sort of the strategy that, so I think it’s a failure that led me to see things differently, but I almost feel embarrassed to say this, but I’ve spent almost $150,000 of my own.

Building user base. It’s crazy. It’s talking about what does, and this is only making about $5,000 in annual revenue, not monthly. That’s almost certainly I will never recoup my money may be I might sell it in the future, but even though I’m not expecting a sort of large amounts, and I don’t know if even that is an option, but as I mentioned before, I think my mistake was in the.

Underestimating uncertainty. I invested too much. I went to all, then the more I went all into my life as I can need to invest. And it was sort of this [00:14:00] cycle of, of bad decisions, but think that has side. However, I do a few other small things that I would spend, not necessarily they weren’t big failures, but there were things that didn’t see the work as I expected.

In fact, the very first digital product, the tight side, not many people know about. Was I’d say to sell a spreadsheet there’s a bit of a technical project that I started to sell a spreadsheet about benchmarking different, easy to servers during network speeds. So, so back then, back in 2019, AWS didn’t really advertise accurately.

What network speed you are getting and what network bathymetry are you getting when you’re buying or using a particular instance type? I thought I’m going to run a benchmark test and measure exactly what type of performance you’re going to get.

I was building in public and talking about, as people got interested and tights, basically long story short, I spent a week cause I was. Open source the tool had benchmarked. Everything spent about $500 I did prepare a very sophisticated spreadsheet with pivot tables. Very fancy spreadsheet. I was very proud of it. I posted it on Twitter. Post is on hacker news and a few other places. There was lots of fences into this and that tension that’s actually surprised me.

I think the sort of lending page got about 30,000 views, which was even nowadays that’s compared to my other products, but this sold nothing. Cause I mean, nobody paid and I was, I was charging $10, like not like a crazy amount of money, nobody bought it. So I tend to, in fact, a few days later I released it for free.

I, and I think. Lesson that I learned that is back then. I remember thinking, wait a minute, this is what back then it was 2019. I, I said 2019, you know, information wants to be free. Nobody wants to pay for information, especially developers, but I think actually I’m happy that I didn’t sort of take that lesson too seriously because it was, I jumped to the wrong conclusion.

And my now in hindsight, it’s not really to do in fact. Money now selling information, different kinds of information that’s and sometimes even to developers, that’s sort of that belief or that [00:16:00] conclusion, the developers don’t pay for things. So in fact, I think a lesson that I learned with sort of these experiments is that sometimes we tend to jump to conclusions. The tire not warranted.

So that’s that’s that’s why did this fail? Why did, why were people not willing to pay for it? Maybe I can take some educated guesses,

but nowadays I’d say to be careful not to be too much from these things, because I know that things that are affected by that. bye. Good timing and other unpredictable things that sometimes whether something succeeds or not is just things that we can’t even see that it’s just opaque. Yeah. So that was another example.

You know, we mentioned the cutting boards, so the cutting boards started as purely as a, as an experiment. I started with working just this time, last year as a hobby, . And at some point I was wondering, could I try to sell some of the things that I’m making? And.

Oh, eventually I bumped into the idea of within cutting boards I launched the sort of the offering, I think in October of last year. So maybe four months ago, I sold about $5,000, not a big tank, sort of probably if I, if I consider all the tools and the tank, I might have just broken even .

So it’s sort of it’s that failure in terms of expectation. Nevertheless, I still think that I gained something from the novel. Because I did ship F you know, I bought a dozen around the world and learned a lot. But I think what’s more important is that now, nowadays I feel much more, I feel less daunted by a physical product offering.

So you know, the, the, you mentioned, for example, I have the profit and loss membership.

That’s another thing that was purely an experimental. If I was so a bit of, a bit of a background story, I always also have sort of this quarter time freelancing arrangement with. Are you familiar with gumbo such as this platform for, for, for digital? And back then when I, when I joined the team we were launching a feature memberships that the ability to, to, to do the CareLink sort of payments.

And I wanted the next cues to try to use the feature. Essentially, this was, this is how it started. I [00:18:00] was wondering what could I sell for the carrying fee? And I had already been very, very open with my finances for a long time on Twitter and other places with my business finance, at least like with how things are doing.

And I talked, what if I talked to. Sell an even more detailed financial view. Like we built and done by products, broken down with all the expenses and where the costs basically the full profit and loss per product. And I started at then when I started it, I was hoping that I could build like a community at ons.

And then with these ideas of making money online and figuring out small bats and building a portfolio. I could use the circle group. I was posting updates. So not only I was posting my financial desires, but some comments as well, long story short, even though this financially know did okay. I did about $40,000 in total in about a year or so.

I’m quite happy compared to the input I’ve put, but sort of the, the, the, my goal of building a community, it didn’t tell the happen, like. Originally, there was some momentum. I was getting lots of questions, but it never really changed some of my talking about my own topic and eventually things sort of Sort of stops the energy disappeared and barely any activity continued to happen.

Nevertheless, almost by surprise. These simply my mostly synthetic jackets actually is a cohort based cars where we’re meeting 25 members at a time that I launched this about two months ago or so where we were having sort of this synchronicity. Basically cars that we meet together, a small group. And we talk about these ideas in much more detail that we’re discussing here, sorts of finding inspiration, finding opportunities, juggling multiple things at the same time.

And funny enough, even though it wasn’t my intention, I set up a discord server just for housekeeping purposes to share the zoom links and the slides and whatever, and the community that I was hoping to build back then sort of happens there now by accident that this wasn’t something I was. The time to do it, which is fascinating.

It sort of became the [00:20:00] community almost became the main selling point of this course that people are word of mouth is spreading. You know, there’s about 200 people now, like, and people are encouraging others, you know, come here, we’re talking and getting good feedback and brainstorming ideas and things like that, which is again, it’s quite fascinating to me.

Most of the things that have been successful and even the failed things, but particularly the successful things are things that I have wouldn’t have even imagined I’ll be doing. Just a year ago or so that’s what sort of ready for the interesting sort of the, I had the idea before I used to believe, you know, business success is going to be a, a self directed top-down you come up with the idea and you execute it.

And now it’s almost, I tell myself that, send them things, see what works. So I wait to that. Yeah.

[00:20:48] Michaela: Yeah. And it’s also interesting to see that while you have this idea of having a community and then you have an intention and the deliberate effort to do it and it doesn’t work out. And then it’s. By chance somehow creates itself.

Right? I think this is really an interesting perspective. I want to dig a little bit into your motivation and, do you think that you will be bored by what you’re doing right now

and what is really your motivation behind that? For me, for example, I’m definitely an entrepreneur because. I want to have the freedom to be with my kids. And I didn’t see how I can do that in a job that fulfills me being employed just wasn’t possible. There was nobody that would offer me the flexibility that I need, right.

Working in the middle of the night or on the weekends, or, you know, having like crazy two weeks of work and then three weeks doing nothing because the kids are sick or, you know, and I feel like this is more important now for. And that’s definitely my motivation for being, I think self-employed, what’s your motivation.

Why do you, why do you do that?

[00:21:52] Daniel: I think the motivation to become self-employed I think is similar to yours and similar situation, I would say. So also two small kids[00:22:00] I was feeling like I’m leaving the house before they wake up.

I live home, very tired. They’re about to go to sleep. And in the weekends, I also thinking about work. So maybe it may be a bit different for me as a dad, but still sort of the same concept that I’ve felt like, you know, my kids are going up and they spend time with them. So I was looking at people around me at Amazon and there was noticing, you know, things are probably going to get worse, not better.

I wasn’t envying the lifestyle and being, getting a good sense of other people, no matter how much more they’re getting paid or how much higher up they were. So I’d be fooling myself. If I were to believe it’s going to be different for me is if I just get the next promotion or the next bonus, suddenly things are going to be better.

So it’s I jumped into to the self employment. And then once I did.

Get all this flexibility I take immediately. I realized that I didn’t see the one, this to be taken away from me. So suddenly I w I joke sometimes I joke tweet about this as well as my own. The business plan is not to go back to a full-time job. I’m not thinking about goals that I want be. A successful SAS or this particular product or some idea or whatever, it’s literally to make this lifestyle sustainable.

So that’s, I would say is it’s, it’s a different, I think it’s a different attitude. And I think it’s helps me with my decision making process as well, because when I do bump into these opportunities, so I get inspired to do something. I ask myself, is this going to increase the odds or is this likely to increase the odds of making this lifestyle sustainable or not?

[00:23:28] Michaela: It’s true. Yeah. We started sort of at the same time with the entrepreneurship.

And I’m a big believer in that you have to enjoy the process, which I think is a little bit the different way of saying the same thing that you just said.

Right. So I only take on things where I feel it’s not the end product that I will enjoy, but I enjoyed the way. The only problem. And I tried to combat that, but I think it’s very deeply internally in my, in my, in my genes or something. DNA is That I have a hard [00:24:00] time having the money focused all the time.

Right? So that’s for example, say I did a PhD, right? And from a money perspective, this is such a stupid thing, right? It’s the worst thing. The worst decision that you can, that you can make is you’re not making, you know, money for a long time. You’re putting a lot of effort, a lot of work into something. But I think I wasn’t, you know, I wasn’t interested in the money.

It was okay for me doing it just for the process. And I survived in a small apartment, you know, like we were thinking of, you know, it should be by this this vegetable or not, it was definitely this kind of grinding. But then in hindsight, I really try to do things different than now because the sustainability part, you know, is also a very, very important part for motivation, right?

You can be extremely motivated and it can be such a fun to do something, but in the end of the day, and maybe this has to do with growing up and having a family and, you know, it’s not only you and you know, your crappy apartment, but you have to provide for your family. And, you know, and this comes with, with, with this aspect of also sustainability.

I try to have that mindset much more of thinking of is that actually something I can keep up doing. And unfortunately, you know, money is it’s a big part there, right? Is it, is it coming very naturally to you that you, that you think about those?

[00:25:22] Daniel: I, I actually, I think actually I there’s an, it sort of idealized that I am almost incapable of thinking properly about money, unless I feel I need that.

So that’s, and I think. I don’t know if it’s a different situation. Maybe that’s like now my wife is staying at home with the kids, sort of like now I’m I’m diploma income person. I tend to sort of, I think that stressor of needing to make ends meet soon because otherwise I would have had to go back to work.

I think that was probably the most critical thing for me to open my eyes and find [00:26:00] opportunities, ignore and not ignore. I would say that instead of being. Prudent and not being too idealistic and making the making better decisions essentially. And even now I noticed that, cause now, now with the types of work that I do, I have lots of ups sends hours.

My income is very volatile. If I launch something new, there’s like big spikes and then sort of zaps sort of very spike. So if I’m noticing there’s something very fascinating that I never noticed before. That’s when I’m riding the momentum of a, of a high period. My mind almost shuts down. Like I can’t work.

I can’t think I’m not creative. And I think this is similar to what creators talk about when they mentioned your constraints, bleed creativity. Now, for example, early 20, 21 last year, the first. I would say seven months was a good period for me.

I was riding the momentum of a couple of other projects that I, that I was doing. And I realized I don’t need to think about money. I’m just going to experiment with hobbies. We took a two month vacation that we were on back to you with it. I’m from originally. And we spent a whole summer there, like.

Just almost didn’t do any work until September, basically. Right. But then sort of by September things have dropped down to a point where it wasn’t critical, so there’s a buffer of savings or whatever. But I started to notice that if I’m not going to do something, things are going to start becoming negative soon.

So that was enough. But then suddenly I can almost see it. I can almost feel. I started thinking of new promotion ideas, new products, new opportunities, and very quickly I went to do September. Then I went to a very high focus mode. I started with working thing. I started the cohort based course as well for as much a month after I did a few new promotion campaigns for my existing product sense.

You know, again, I could change the subject to the, again, sort of, again, not everything worked, same, same thing. Cause somethings work [00:28:00] better than. But it’s sort of very fascinating, you know sort of it it’s it’s as if the assessors are what I need to make me make design decisions. I will feel almost incapable to work if it doesn’t.

And we talked before we started recording that, we talked to this a bit about the, the plot act of building a house custom built house. But I think it’s helping me as well because it’s giving me some, some meaning to my income, I think if I didn’t have debt, I felt that we were working much less a public, those Newlands would just sleep in my head and just, I would be less creative, less productive.

And I would be seeing the words differently and probably opportunities that. I would consider now I would ignore, I call it luck blindness. Like sometimes when you’re in the state you might bump into opportunities, but if you’re, if you don’t have that small successor, you almost don’t even see them.

The lights is just because we’re shut down. So I don’t know if it’s, I think I, I understand what you’re saying. Maybe the circumstances are a bit different. No.

[00:28:59] Michaela: Yeah, I can totally relate to what you’re saying, especially with the house now, because the house shifted my whole thinking around money tremendously.

I’m a very frugal person, extremely frugal. I have always been my whole life and you know, it’s just didn’t mean anything to me money, but you can’t be frugal with that. I was actually thinking like, now that we get our. We have a very, very small car. And there are no, there, there’s no way that you can fit three child seats into the last row. Right. There are just two and a half seats. So now we have to buy it.

Bigger car. And so I was brainstorming with my husband and it was like, okay. So, and, and it really helps me to think about products and my wig. It gives so much meaning to me to thinking about, okay, this quarter of the car can come from that. And, you know, I could do this to get the other. And so [00:30:00] having, having a very realistic way of how to spend the money definitely is extremely different.

Or life-changing for me, for my mindset, because, you know, having the managers on the bank account, or it has no meaning for me, but now it’s, you know, part of a car and can a kid sit there or not. Right. And so on. Yeah. And I think that I wanted to ask you and maybe it’s probably the final question that I have for you.

And that I think is super interesting for my listeners is how do we deal with scope creep? But also how do we, how can we let go? Because for example, one of the things, when, you know, when I looked at you and especially at the beginning, You were only on Twitter, right?

So you tried a little bit to be on medium, but very quickly realized, you know, you have a couple of very dedicated and deliberate clock posts. But you never started really like your blog or now, or you’re building like your audience on the blog. You were building your audience on Twitter. And this, I found that really inspirational because I was also like, I didn’t have enough time to be on Twitter and on Instagram and on, you know, like what not.

And then you’re doing a shitty job on all of them and you just but now when I looked at your website, I saw. Oh, you can find me on Twitter. Gumroad Instagram and clubhouse. And I thought like, is that a little bit of a scope creep? Is that are your you’re you’re now on many things, do you feel like you’re, you know, are, do you still have like a very deliberate way of choosing where you are and how to also say, okay, I tried clubhouse and maybe now it’s not working in a.

[00:31:37] Daniel: Yeah. Yeah. I wish I had the precise on. So I think it’s mostly goes by Gutfield to be honest, I think in fairness, this as a full disclosure in the beginning guide side, many, many different things, as you noticed, I was on medium, but not just that I was, I think, little bit of background story. I think what I realized the very first week when I started working for myself, I realized I [00:32:00] had no reputation.

Oh, outside of the couple of companies that I had worked from, nobody knew who I was and there was still, I wasn’t, I wasn’t thinking, building an audience back then. I was thinking, can I build some reputation? Can I make some people know about me? And I was thinking, how can I go out there and help?

I was doing some open source on that data was very active for a few months. StackOverflow LinkedIn Quora, Twitter on medium on hacker news, LinkedIn, almost everything that had given that side. I dedicated probably a couple of months just experimenting different things. Some things I gave up quickly.

Some things, it took me a few more months, long story short, mostly Twitter was the only one that stuck around. And if you were to ask me what were the exit signals that made me choose that? I constantly say exactly. It just felt there was something that was working better. The return on investment seems to be better.

And again, almost like procrastination or something similar, a cousin of procrastination, something was making me feel like what’s the point of going off of spending more time on stack overflow. If this is not conducive to more people knowing about me and that sort of thing. It’s not, it’s not that I wasn’t helping people there, but it wasn’t a translating to me building a reputation, which I know sounds a bit selfish.

But in that period, that was my goal that I wanted to get myself no, a little bit. And over time I still experiment. So I sort of cocktail party downside. But again, for some of these and I, I lost motivation, right. I, I stopped. I stopped going. But so I still keep my eyes open for various reasons, because again, the opportunities diversification as well, sort of who knows I’m nowadays with Twitter, I feel like I have something to lose.

This is a common problem.

Since I have, you know, a hundred thousand followers or so. Concerned, you know, to some degree that’s what if that were to disappear? What if the algorithm changes? What if I get kicked out for some of these who knows or [00:34:00] get hacked or whatever? So again, there’s the back of my mind, ways of diversify flying that I haven’t really found anything concrete yet, so I, you know, it’s not scope creep. I was called it, I think is just still part of my experimentation phase.

Yeah.

[00:34:17] Michaela: I think that’s perfectly fine. I think it’s really important that we experimented with try out thing. And what I like what I also do is that if I feel it’s not like, for example, Twitter, right? That could be that I’m not posting something for a couple of months just because I don’t feel like it.

And, and I really liked this freedom and maybe, you know, like there is no comparison between, you know, your Twitter account and micros with your account. It’s really a small account by. I don’t want to be like the slave of Twitter, right. Or whatever I want to have, you know, like, and sometimes like in the summer or something, and there was a lot of stressful time or even a beautiful time.

Right. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like I have something to contribute and, and then I’m not, I’m not doing it.

[00:35:07] Daniel: Yeah.

Yeah. And, and, and, you know, I’m, I, I’m really not a fan of sort of the, the, these ideas that you need to be prolific and tweeting all the time, all the days. Sure. That might be the best strategy to put the audience faster, but what’s, what’s the point as you were saying. I think what I wanted to my, my, my ideal situation is that this becomes something that I enjoy doing because.

If not chances are it won’t last. I told like I, in summer, I think between June and August, I almost didn’t tweet at all because I was spending time with my family. You know, I might have tweeted it a couple of times. Yes. You know, my follow workouts stopped and maybe even lost some, but like, who cares? So I did sort of.

This idea that everything needs to be done in the most optimal way, sort of the fastest coat subject to the, whatever. It’s just very, as you mentioned, it’s sort of it’s you become a slave of, of, of the process, but in [00:36:00] general, in general ideas, like these are all extrinsic, things like that. I think they feel very naturally.

That’s sort of, you need to come to keep the streak uninterrupted streak of posting daily or blogging after a week or whatever. It’s things that I feel. Those things that I feel liberated once I break them, that’s a sign that I should probably not be doing them.

[00:36:20] Michaela: Yeah, exactly. Yeah. You know, this is why I’m, you know, an entrepreneur to have this flexibility and freedom to choose. So, but I don’t want to take too much of your time anymore. Then you thank you so much for being on my show.

I really enjoy talking to you. We could, you know, continue for another hour, but let’s be very deliberate with our time as well. Just want to remind my listeners of of the chance to win, you know, one of your products, either the good parts of AWS, the book, or the how to build a Twitter audience video.

So retweet, like the episode, maybe tell us what you are doing, that you enjoy, that you know, is one of your small bets to have an additional chance. And yeah. And that’s it. Thank you so much, Danielle, for, for being one of my show was

[00:37:07] Daniel: really a pleasure. This was very fun ticket. Thanks a lot.

[00:37:10] Michaela: Yeah, it was great.

Thank you.